Photo: Jung Jaegu/Netflix
It’s only fitting that we get the professor’s backstory in this ending episode of “Part 1”. After all, he started it all. Tokyo may be our narrator, but the professor put the team together. That way, when someone dies from this – whether it’s Team Heist pulling the trigger or not – they’ll have their blood on their hands. The teacher does not take this responsibility lightly. This quality of responsibility served as the impetus for organizing the heist in the first place. Before the professor became a specialist in burglaries, he was a specialist in economics, in particular the economic factors of the reunification of North Korea and South Korea. In a flashback, he is seen speaking passionately about the subject to his mostly bored students. “If South Korea and North Korea shared the same dream, reunification would happen immediately… [That dream] must be a desire. A desire to enrich both South Korea and North Korea. Kim Sang-man, member of the National Assembly and husband of Woo-jin, is there too, but he is not bored. He listens to Sun-ho’s dream of capitalism lifting the two Koreas together.
Sang-man recruits the professor to come up with an economic reunification plan, and Sun-ho jumps at the offer. While I don’t think Money Heist: Korea invested enough narrative energy into explaining what life was like after the construction of the Common Economic Zone, we know that the professor’s economic plan failed – or at least according to the professor’s measures of success. It let down people like Tokyo, who came to Seoul looking for a better life and found only abuse and exploitation. (The real “dream” of capitalism?) When Woo-jin drives the professor out of Carworld, the cars end up leaving the cobblestone streets for the fields, as Sun-ho tries desperately to escape. The Car Chase is about the game of cat and mouse between professor and negotiator, but it’s also about something much larger. We see the workers that Sun-ho believes have failed, the people who run the economy, in homes and fields. Whether the situation at the Mint resolves or not, they will still have to report to work. The success of the police does not improve their lives, nor are they apparently taken into account by politicians like Kim Sang-man, who revel in their power rather than seeing it as their responsibility. We get the sense that at least Sun-ho cares about those people with relatively little socio-political power, that there’s something deeper at work in his aspirations to print billions of won, but this has not yet been made explicit. So far, we’ve only gotten a glimpse of it – in the hints of why Tokyo joined the heist and in the smashed tomatoes shielding the professor’s identity from Woo-jin’s view.
The Professor wins the car chase by somehow escaping down a river in broad daylight, but Woo-jin still has a good chance of winning the fight for public opinion which she identifies as the key to the professor’s plan. Woo-jin’s plan to bring a cameraman with her as she inspects the hostages is risky, but it’s also smart. If she can convince the audience that thieves don’t care about human life, she can ruin the professor’s plan, whatever it is.
Unfortunately for Woo-jin, he’s missing an important piece of the puzzle – just like us viewers. You’d think this series wouldn’t dare to play the same card twice (convincing us that someone was dead, only to reveal they’re not) in such quick succession, but it is. and it works. Just when the viewer thinks Woo-jin has managed to convince his audience of families and politicians to make the thieves look like remorseless killers (which, given the massive weapons and the audience’s connection to the hostages, really shouldn’t be that hard of a sell), Berlin brings out Chul-woo. That’s right, everyone! Berlin has learned from its mistakes and doesn’t try to kill someone this time. Change is possible.
This episode acts as a quasi-redemptor for Berlin. Like many characters on this show, he has choices to answer, but he’s also not hopeless – at least not in the eyes of his castmates, who celebrate Berlin’s role in the plan. To be fair, it involved a major sacrifice: he reveals his identity to the hostages and then to the world. It’s punishment and the key to making the Professor’s latest plan work, as it gives the thieves a human face. While revealing his identity is a massive sacrifice for Berlin, it may be a slightly easier choice for the man as his days are numbered. The revelation that Berlin is dying begs the question: why did he agree to do this heist? If he doesn’t need the money, he must have another reason to participate – one that “Part 2” will hopefully explore.
If this doesn’t feel like a season finale, that’s because it isn’t. That’s the conclusion of “Part 1,” with the rest of the season to follow later this year, but it’s a somewhat arbitrary stopping point. Sure, there are biting cliffhangers (Captain Cha is hiding!), but no more so than in the previous five episodes. This isn’t so much a criticism as an observation of how the broadcast model has shaped much of the scripted television format. If viewers watched all six episodes of Money Heist: Korea “Part 1” I feel they will be back when “Part 2” comes out later this year – I know I will. This show has yet to live up to its ambitious setting and has only occasionally strayed from Money Heistis the narrative plan, but hey, it’s a good narrative plan! And Money Heist: Korea infuses enough cultural specificity into its storytelling to keep things interesting, even for those who have (literally) seen this story before.
• There are a few plot holes in the Professor’s escape, perhaps the most significant being the fact that he left his motorbike behind as evidence. Guess I’ll just accept his swimming ability and impressive lung capacity as additional traits.
• Woo-jin’s husband is the worst.
• “I thought we were a team.” I’m here for the Captain Cha/Woo-jin friendship. After Woo-jin’s failure to sway public opinion, Captain Cha gets fired by superiors for demonstrating “strong action”. Woo-jin says if he gets fired she’ll quit, but Captain Cha already has a list of things to do after the job: mainly investigate Woo-jin’s sexy barista boyfriend. Hey, at least he’s honest about it!
• “Didn’t you say you were really good at fighting? Rio in Denver, after being beaten by Young-min.
• Nairobi canonically slaps the buttocks as a sign of affection. I think she might be enjoying this heist the most? She and Mr. Lee.
• Tokyo, girl, it’s not a good idea to be sleep deprived during a heist. Especially after a night of heavy drinking.
• Mi-seon rips off the fancy necklace and scratches Young-min in the face with it. To finish. She then proceeds to have hot table sex with Denver after telling him she was planning to quit her job. This woman is truly embarking on a journey of personal growth.
• Identity check: we learn that Berlin’s real name is Song Jung-ho. He entered the labor camp when he was nine years old and lived there for 25 years. He’s 41, which means he’s been free for about seven years.
• While Berlin may have learned from his previous actions, Young-min clearly has none. After having Mi-seon shot and nearly killed with his previous plan, he recruits the literal child Anne for his next. To be fair, she’s the most capable person — robber or hostage — in the entire Mint, but that’s still not a good look for the Mint’s manager.
• Shout out to the only cameraman who not only agrees to get into an active hostage situation, but also has to worry about the cinematography on his own.
• The teacher says not to watch TV.
• “He’s not the type to hurt anyone.” This is how Woo-jin describes Sun-ho to a very suspicious Captain Cha. I guess I would agree with that statement.
• “I could get drunk and cry on you later.” Woo-jin has another bad day at work and gets drunk with her boyfriend. I love it.
• The teacher likes it too. We know that’s true, not because of the Tokyo storytelling, but because the professor puts Woo-jin above his plan when he suggests she quit. Ugh, Woo-jin and Sun-ho really like each other and it stresses me out.
• Woo-jin finds the corner of one of the newly printed tickets that Anne impressively manages to stuff into Woo-jin’s costume pocket during the hostage situation. Honestly, I thought Woo-jin already figured out that the gang was printing money, but I guess she had a lot on her plate.