A strong premiere makes many introductions and dramatically raises the stakes in a final scene twist.
This recap of Netflix K-Drama Queenmaker Season 1 Episode 1 contains spoilers.
The premiere of Queenmaker is, fittingly, all about introductions.
But it isn’t just characters being introduced here. This first hour-long episode is also about establishing a tone and a set of rules that are there, obviously, to be bent and broken, both within the show’s fiction but also on a meta-storytelling level. It spends most of its runtime introducing what should essentially be a villain only to pivot at the last moment to set her on a new path, where she might be the real hero after all.
Queenmaker Season 1 Episode 1 Recap
How does Do-hee get the charges against Chae-ryoung dropped?
That villain, or hero, is Hwang Do-hee, a fixer for the Eunsung Group. “Fixer” is a general term. In short, she makes problems go away, mostly by completely reinventing them, and we get a taste of her facility for this very early on.
Eunsung Group’s director, Eun Chae-ryoung, is psychotic. She abuses her employees and anyone else with the misfortune to enter her orbit for the slightest reasons. She has been publically accused of various workplace abuses and labor unions and various civic groups are up in arms about it. It’s Do-hee’s job to make this go away.
She does so in a variety of ways that all form a carefully-cultivated narrative in which Chae-ryoung is, magically, the victim. She outfits the director in chic fashion items that the Eunsung Group don’t yet sell, to increase demand for the products. She has an assistant pull out strands of Chae-ryoung’s already thinning hair so that when she bows to the media, she’s almost bald. She pays someone to create a furor in public, and when Chae-ryoung is held in custody, she takes photos of her pumping her breasts to provide milk for her young children while she’s away.
The story is of a mother’s rights being violated, her hair falling out from stress — and for a reasonable price, you can even dress just like her.
Why is Kyung-sook protesting?
Do-hee is so good at delivering these masterstrokes because, presumably, she gets a lot of practice. The Eunsung Group barely go to any effort to cover up their indiscretions. Only recently, they illegally laid off about 500 temporary workers from the food court of their department store. That’s why human rights lawyer Oh Kyung-sook is camping on the store’s roof, live-streaming her efforts to get the female workers reinstated.
Do-hee looks into Kyung-sook and discovers she’s clever, idealistic, and formidable. When she visits her on the roof to try and talk her down, Kyung-sook soaks her with a bucket of her own urine. She isn’t planning on leaving any time soon.
During the scuffle with Chae-ryoung, Do-hee lost a shoe, a red bottom heel that becomes a symbol of worker exploitation when one of Kyung-sook’s associates, Dong-joo, delivers it to her on the rooftop. The protest gets a ton of media attention because the news network IBC begins covering it heavily after the Eunsung Group pulled their advertising in retaliation against a journalist accusing Chae-ryoung of having intermittent explosive disorder.
Who is blackmailing Baek Jae-min?
Things only get worse for the Eunsung Group when Baek Jae-min, Chae-ryoung’s husband, is accused of sexual assault by a company employee, Secretary Han I-seul.
Jae-min has a reputation as a charitable businessman with an abundance of charisma. He has a connection with Do-hee since they’re both outsiders in the family — he married into it, while she was recruited and groomed as its weapon, which we see snippets of in flashback. Chairperson Son wants to install Jae-min as the new mayor, giving the Eunsung Group control of Seoul’s politics as well as its media and retail sectors, and she needs Do-hee’s help to do it, so the accusations are coming at precisely the wrong time.
Jae-min confesses to Do-hee that he had feelings for I-seul, but maintains that nothing ever happened between them. In a text message thread, she is threatening to accuse him of sexual assault for embarrassing her. Do-hee needs to make her and the claims go away.
Queenmaker Season 1 Episode 1 Ending Explained
So, she does. She calls I-seul into her office and, despite the fact that I-seul maintains that Jae-min raped her and that the supposed messages from her were fabricated, Do-hee demands her immediate resignation. If she doesn’t step down, Do-hee will expose the fact she worked at a hostess bar during a summer, ruining her reputation.
At the end of the episode, as Do-hee leaves the building, I-seul plummets from the top of it directly onto the roof of Do-hee’s company car. As she dies, she unclenches a fist, and out rolls Jae-min’s missing Eunsung Group cufflink, which was mentioned earlier. It looks like something happened between them after all, and Do-hee has just compelled her to suicide for nothing.
You can stream Queenmaker Season 1 Episode 1 exclusively on Netflix.