EPISODE 1: The Beginning – A Rocky Start
City Hall Episode 1 opens with Election Day for a tiny village in the city of Inju. The village is voting on its Chief, and the vote is 25 to 24, with one abstention… we have a swing vote possibility! Who could it be?
We get our first look at our heroine, Shin Mi Rae, munching on kimchi pancakes.
“Hey, Shin Mi Rae! You haven’t voted!” Mi Rae, a junior secretary in the office of the Mayor of Inju, has learned from an early age that being completely neutral works for her, and she tries to do her best to become one with the food. The candidates immediately try to wheedle her swing vote, but fail to get her to vote at all, as the final tally remains 25 to 24, with one abstention. Mi Rae prefers the taste of fried spicy pancakes over the taste of power.
Civil Servant Rank 10 (lowest rank) Shin Mi Rae spends her days making tea and coffee for everyone at Inju’s government center, and does her best to keep out of the affairs of governance, which apparently, in Inju, means corruption as a daily routine.
But as Mi Rae is serving coffee to the City Council officials, she finds herself abruptly being questioned by irate Council members who are trying to get to the bottom of where Inju’s tax dollars went. Teflon-coated Mayor Go Boo Shil greasily defends himself by stating that he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “lobbying” (or the word, “chicken legs”) and plays dumb, which apparently isn’t too hard for him.
But with honest Mi Rae being questioned and struggling to find words that would neither implicate the Mayor nor lie outright… Min Joo Hwa, a City Council member and the chief brains behind Mayor Go’s corruption wagon – and honestly, quite a cutie in her own right – jumps in to save the day before Mi Rae is forced to spill the beans…
…which then leads to the typical ending of yet another day in Inju’s City Council chambers. What’s with Korean lawmakers and their penchant for “piling on”?
Following this near-debacle, Council Member Min Joo Hwa tries to browbeat Mi Rae, blaming her for nearly causing the Mayor’s slush fund, *ahem* budget, to be challenged.
But Mi Rae isn’t as defenseless as she appears to be.
“Hey! I may not have graduated from high school or finished middle school, and I may have been a Level 10 Civil Servant for 7 straight years without promotion, but don’t even think you can look down on me.”
But with greater scrutiny over the Mayor’s slush fund coming, Mayor Go needs a new way to make cash to send to his political cronies. The old “we’ll announce a bridge-building project but divert the funds” plan has been used too many times already. City Council member Min Joo Hwa comes up with a new plan: to use the remaining budget for a beauty pageant, rig it so that an accomplice wins, and divert the contest’s prize! It’s a plan so crazy, it just might work…
With the new budget corruption scheme in place, two more characters are introduced, responsible for running the beauty pageant:
Mi Rae’s best friend, admin office worker Jung Boo Mi, a feisty ahjumma and mother of three, and Lee Jung Do, Director of the Culture and Tourism Bureau. Both are honest and hardworking, but are also cynical enough to know what’s really going on in the Korean version of Tammany Hall, and pragmatic enough to keep their eyes facing downward.
Rounding out the initial cast of characters are the mysterious and powerful BB, the man rumored to have handplaced the current President of Korea into the Blue House (the presidential seat of power, like the Korean version of the White House), and his number 1 protégé, Jo Gook.
BB is a man with incredible presence, intelligence and political influence. Jo Gook is his protege, who is working his way up the political ladder at the provincial level (one step above municipal, one step below national). Jo Gook is drawn to BB for the same reasons that all ambitious men have – they are attracted to power… or so it seems?
From his Kennedy-esque compound, BB suddenly orders Jo Gook to go down to Inju and start doing… something. Jo Gook is bewildered by the clear backwards step in his career (going from the provincial level back down to municipal level, and to a backwater municipality of no consequence like Inju at that), and argues against the plan. An annoyed BB dryly notes that he wasn’t asking, he was ordering. Jo Gook has no choice but to go.
With his rather ambiguous orders to stir things up in Inju, Jo Gook stops by the Provincial Governor’s office and secures a sizable increase to Inju’s budget. With that, he waltzes into Inju with the supplementary budget and a condition – he is to be the appointed Deputy Mayor of Inju, replacing the current deputy.
This part resonates with echoes of a John Hughes 80’s movie – a good-looking, all-star QB with dreams of the NFL is transferred to a hick high school for reasons he can’t understand, and begins by facing off against the class president, his gang of flunkies and the student council / head cheerleader, and meanwhile replaces the current QB, and has everyone asking, “Who is this tall, mysterious and good looking new guy?”
Below, the “gang” of the Mayor, first lay their eyes on Jo Gook, the transfer student star QB.
…and in the middle of all of this, you have your unpopular wallflower girl of integrity and a generous heart, who is stuck in a dead-end low paying job.
Yes, Mi Rae is pretty in pink! (And she thinks the new QB is a hottie!)
To add to the clichés, it appears that Mi Rae has multiple part-time jobs, mainly due to the fact that she, in her unlimited kindness, has agreed to be responsible for the credit card debt of a man who then dumped her. Among the odd jobs she does, some for free, some for pay: delivery person, collecting and delivery of food donations, wallpaper hanger, painter.
A few days later, Mi Rae finds herself being called on to do various home improvement projects on a nice looking house, but when she shows up…
Jo Gook is there. Coincidences of coincidences, it is his house! And every time Jo Gook calls the Inju operator for another contractor, he is connected to Mi Rae. Ahhh, the perils of living in a small town.
So our first concrete story line is beginning to take shape. Chief bully Mayor Go and his brainy cohort Joo Hwa need a new way to run tax money into their political allies’ pockets, and decide to create a rigged beauty pageant, the Miss Baendaengi Contest (baendaengi’s are a type of local herring).
To keep the newly-appointed Deputy Mayor in line, slimy brainy cutie Joo Hwa makes plans on entrapping Jo Gook by giving him the Miss Baendengi Contest to run, since the whole contest is just a money-laundering scheme anyway, and Jo Gook will be inevitably knee-deep in that conspiracy.
And Mi Rae, the poor wallflower who happens to be $16,000 in debt, overhears that the contest has a $16,000 first place prize…
Looks like we might have our first contestant!
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