Hot Stove League returns for its best episode to date; an incredibly tense hour of drama that sees Seung-Soo forced to renegotiate contracts with every player. This inevitably brings with it a whole host of different emotions and throughout the episode, this Korean drama does a wonderful job capturing all of this in its most raw and emotional form.
Seung-Soo begins by being forced into delivering the bad news to the management team regarding his conversation with the Directors. He remains stoic, reminding them they can get through this hardship. In fact, he calls a meeting the next day to move things along swiftly and get the unpleasantness over and done with. At home, Seung-Soo cooks some food and takes his usual slew of Instagram snaps and when Young-Soo returns home, he sees his brother has left him some food on the table. A kind gesture, and one that sees the two back on the same page again.
Having released 11 players back in November, the negotiations the next day are not easy, especially given the tricky task of releasing 10 players who all seemingly have their own perks and reasons for being in the team. It’s tough going and at a stalemate, Seung-Soo eventually decides instead to renegotiate all the contracts rather than outright release players. It’s even more tricky given the numbers he’s been forced to work with, and it’s something that the Junior Managing Director has orchestrated to test Seung-Soo’s resolve.
Meanwhile some of the players head out and share food together, discussing their upcoming salary hopes. With Du-Ki among them, he overhears one of the girls mention that money isn’t everything and winds up in deep thought over this statement before we finally see the negotiations begin.
As expected, it’s not easy and sees Min-Ho the first to suffer, offered 27,000 dollars and leading the management team to explain their reasoning behind this. He signs and leaves the room. Next up the team face issues when the recently fired Se-Hyeok arrives with one of the players he’s decided to be the agent for. He tells them he’s there to make sure they talk with reason and prevent slyness.
Unfortunately the initial amount of 160,000 is unacceptable for his client and with neither side backing down, Seung-Soo decides to talk later regarding the contract. Only, before he goes he happens to have a whole roster of other players under his care, all of which the ones they’re looking to renegotiate with.
Young-Ju’s contract is due to be dropped down by 100,000 and he certainly doesn’t take kindly to the news, leading Seung-Soo not option but to bring up his past injury and time off. Things go from bad to worse when he storms out the room and as he does, Jin Woo tentatively heads in, where he receives equally devastating news when he learns he’s only getting 50,000 dollars. It’s a horrible blow and as he heads home, he greets his daughter after drowning his sorrows in alcohol. With a heavy heart, he decides to ditch baseball and instead open a restaurant with his wife.
Jae-Hee meets with Jin-Woo again and he defiantly declines the contract, deciding to retire instead. Meanwhile, Se-Young and Seung-Soo deliberate over what to do with Young-Ju and Se-Hyeok. After the latter rejects a pretty good deal for one his players in the next round of negotiations, Seung-Soo seems to knows how to deal with him and sets to work putting that plan into motion.
While Se-Hyeok meets with the Junior Managing Director, who offers Se-Hyeok a position as manager if and when things go south with Seung-Soo, our protagonist meets with Young-Ju at a bar, where he who pours a drunk on the General Manager’s leg. It’s the final straw for Se-Young though, who snaps and screams at him, shattering a glass against the wall and staring the player down as we end the episode.
Well that was dramatic! Hot Stove League delivers its strongest episode here and a lot of that is thanks to its expertly handled character negotiations. Each of these perfectly capture the different emotions a player can go through during these moments and unlike the American film Moneyball, Stove League expertly taps into that emotional resonance in the best possible way. I genuinely can’t wait to see what happens next week with this one and so far, the Korean drama scene has kicked off 2020 in the best possible way.
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