Queenmaker Season 1 Review – A riveting female-driven drama

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 14, 2023 (Last updated: last month)
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Queenmaker Season 1 Review - A riveting female-driven drama
4.5

Summary

A riveting and exceedingly well-made political drama that is — easily — one of the best shows of the year.

This review of the Netflix K-Drama series Queenmaker Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

Everyone in Queenmaker is awful. And that’s the best thing about it.

The Netflix Korean drama, another hefty binge-release spanning eleven episodes, each over an hour, is about the cutthroat intersection of business and politics. But it’s really a tale as old as time, a fable about good versus evil. On one side is the rich, powerful, and influential, to whom everyone is merely a piece on a gameboard that can only move according to rules that have been defined for them. On the other are the pieces that don’t want to play.

But even those pieces are complicated. They have foibles of their own and a moral ledger in need of some balance. I said everyone in this show is awful, but I meant almost everyone. Even the scant few who aren’t, though, have to play dirtier than they’d like.

Queenmaker Season 1 review and plot summary

At the heart of Queenmaker is a family. The Eunsung Group is a powerful conglomerate with a near vice-like grip on Korea’s essential institutions. They control retail, the media, and fashion. And they have their eye on politics, with a not-so-perfect mayoral candidate whose ruthlessness and questionable appetites make him, ironically, a perfect fit for the position.

The matriarch of this clan is Chairperson Son, who oversees bickering siblings — one with an obvious personality disorder, the other with a subtler one — and a son-in-law whose reputation as a charitable businessman is a cover for degeneracy and limitless ambition.

But most of the Eunsung Group’s activities are managed through a fixer, Hwang Do-hee, a mastermind of media spin and corporate cover-ups whose loyalties are tested by revelations and events in the first two episodes that even she can’t turn a blind eye to. When she teams up with a determined civil rights lawyer, Oh Kyung-sook, the race is on to determine the next mayor of Seoul.

Is Queenmaker good or bad?

Queenmaker is as riveting a season of television as Netflix has produced for quite some time. It’s the best K-drama of the year thus far, easily — yes, that includes The Glory — and might sustain that accolade for the remaining months without much fuss.

And there’s no novelty here. The general setup of Queenmaker is not entirely dissimilar from HBO’s Succession, which is also about a deeply dysfunctional media family trying to maintain and expand their own influence while destroying one another in public and private. The themes of power imbalance and corporate hegemony are nothing new. Even the show being almost entirely driven by women is familiar in the more progressive Korean TV landscape, which the aforementioned The Glory displayed once again only last month.

It’s all a matter of execution. Queenmaker simply understands storytelling fundamentals. It knows how to use its very long runtime to build and develop interesting, nuanced characters, how to shepherd them through situations that challenge their skillsets and moral codes, and how to keep an audience invested through solid pacing, considered plot turns and smart use of setup and payoff.

Is Queenmaker worth watching?

Queenmaker is inarguably worth watching. And that isn’t just if you’re a fan of the actors, the genre, or Korean dramas in general — those people will be checking the show out anyway.

No, Queenmaker is worth watching for everyone who enjoys sharp, dense, and efficiently made TV. It’s for everyone who enjoys good storytelling and who wants to see the truly despicable get a taste of their own medicine, which should, I think, be everyone, or at least everyone worth taking seriously.

Not being prone to hyperbole, I won’t call it the best overall show of the year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of people did.

What did you think of the Netflix K-drama Queenmaker Season 1? Comment below.


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Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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