Are you ready to start diving into everyone’s tragic backstories, team? In episode one, we got a tell-more-than-show prologue of Tokyo’s upbringing in North Korea. Episode two’s flashbacks are much more confident in their narrative presentation — and much, much sadder. We watch Boy Berlin grow into Man Berlin behind the bars of a North Korean internment camp cell in the space of one shadowy shot.
Berlin’s childhood is shaped by state-sanctioned violence. He watches his mother be shot and killed as she tries to lead her son safely across the border into China. At Kacheon’s internment camp, he learns violence as a way to survive. When he successfully escapes as a grown man, he ponders: “I think I’m gonna miss this place.” It’s flippant, of course, but it’s also an acknowledgment that this space shaped his worldview. In Kacheon, Berlin learned to become the biggest bully. Are the rules different in the outside world? Or is wielding violence still the best way to survive? From the looks of episode two, Berlin will certainly proceed as if it were. But it’s less clear if the show agrees with Berlin’s view of humanity.
“Fear is the only thing that works to control humans.” By episode’s end, Money Heist: Korea seemingly agrees with Berlin’s take. The viewer (and Young-min) are encouraged to believe that Denver shoots Mi-seon on Berlin’s order, going against the number one rule laid out by the Professor: keep the hostages safe. I doubt the conclusion — and what it means for our ensemble’s humanity — will be as simple as this cliffhanger leads us to believe. This show isn’t interested in telling simplistic stories featuring tidy morality or reinforcing the tired mantra that humanity is inherently violent. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have spent so much time showing just how torn both Denver and Rio are at the prospect of killing Mi-seon, or devote empathetically driven flashbacks to show just how much trauma Berlin has endured. This isn’t the story of good guys and bad guys. It’s the story of how existing systems are structured to make us think that violence is inherent to humanity rather than a tool used by capitalism and other systems to exploit labor and enforce social conformity.
This episode may give us flashbacks to Berlin’s childhood, but it also provides some clues into Denver’s pre-existing issues. We know Denver had at least one loving parent in his father Moscow, but, like Berlin, he lost his mother when he was small to some form of abandonment. It’s why, when he finds out Mi-seon is (maybe) pregnant, he goes into caretaker mode, scouring the Unified Korea Mint for snacks and presenting them to Mi-seon like a proud squirrel. It’s slightly absurd. He is part of a team holding this woman and her co-workers hostage, and he is worried the proffered milk might be too cold for her fragile, (maybe) pregnant body. But it’s also endearing and as recognizably human as the fear we see elsewhere in this installment. As the episode progresses and we learn more about Denver through his many emotional outbursts, it becomes clear that he is at least partially driven by a desire to secure the kind of outcome for this (maybe) baby that he never had: one with a mom who is present.
“Don’t resent me for this,” is the last thing Denver says to Mi-seon before pulling the trigger off-screen. I am guessing he did not kill her, but either way, Denver’s apology still stands. If he shot her, that’s certainly a thing to apologize for. If he didn’t, the apology is still warranted because making someone think they are about to die is also not nice. Because the threat of violence is deeply traumatizing and something Mi-seon will have to live with if she survives. She went to work in the morning thinking her biggest problem was telling her selfish boss/lover that she is (maybe) pregnant with his child — which, to be fair, does sound like a pretty shitty day — only to be embroiled in a terrifying hostage situation. Whether Denver killed Mi-seon or not, we know Young-min chose to stay silent, fully committed to his decision to throw Mi-seon under the bus. For Berlin, it’s proof that his system is working. For the viewer, it’s proof that Young-min is spineless (but also understandably scared).
Don’t worry, everyone — Woo-jin has mom issues too! Her mom seems to have dementia and is not interested in going to the hospital about it. But Woo-jin doesn’t have much time or energy to worry about that right now. Not only does the smartwatch give the task force its first advantage in the hostage negotiation, but she also catches her hot barista not-boyfriend spying on her work phone call. The Professor explains it away by saying he thought she might be seeing someone else, and she seems to believe him. If I didn’t know the Professor was actively in the process of honey-trapping Woo-jin to win his robbery, I would find Woo-jin’s reaction highly paranoid. Instead, I am impressed by her instincts. The camera lingers on the Professor’s face when Woo-jin lets him down easy, saying she isn’t in a good place for a relationship right now. (True, my girl’s got a lot going on.) The tears stay in his eyes even after Woo-jin has gone, and we’re left to wonder: Is this all an act, or does he have feelings for her? Only time will tell.
• Berlin thinks the Professor is naïve — an assessment that is almost surely influenced (perhaps rightly?) by their disparate backgrounds. We don’t know much about the Professor yet, and I’m sure that, like all of these characters, he’s experienced some real hardship, but Berlin and his North Korean cigarettes are still judging him.
• If you’re keeping track, Woo-jin’s mom is pro hot barista.
• “Call me when you’re ready to tell me about the last time you had an orgasm.” Did the Professor stage an elaborate heist just so he could find out if Woo-jin thinks he’s good in bed?
• The task force says that the robbers have enough food for four days within the Unified Korea Mint, but they don’t know about how many snacks Denver just threw at Mi-seon …
• “Mr. Lee, we’re helping robbers print money. There’s no need to do it properly.” “Since when do we care about who’s going to own the money we print?” Lee Cheongmyung, the creator of the “super note,” is my new favorite character. (Note: He was already Nairobi’s favorite character.)
• “Is it fun playing the same game you used to play in the north?” Tokyo is not Team Berlin. I hope we get to see more of her in the next episode.
• “If there is a tiny crack in a dam, the entire structure can crumble.” I wasn’t worried about that dam we saw in the first episode — which is maybe Peace Dam? — until this line of dialogue. Am I being overly paranoid? I’ve been led to believe by Woo-jin’s love life that there is no such thing.
• “You want me to carry out the most dangerous part of your plan?” This was a great Mi-seon episode, and I hope the show knows that she has value outside of whether or not she is pregnant.
• Ann sure is self-possessed for a teenager in a hostage situation (she pulls the trigger?!?). Also, any guesses on how old Rio is meant to be? The actor playing him is 29, but I think he is meant to be younger than that. (The actress playing Ann is 24. Yes, I looked this up after they kissed.)
• Berlin gets so angry at the smartwatch, throwing it on the floor and pulverizing it with his boot. It makes you realize how much anger he is holding inside. (And, again, Park Hae-soo is such a good actor.)
• When Rio sees Berlin send Denver to kill Mi-seon, he runs to get Tokyo rather than answer the Professor’s phone call. While the Professor may have planned this entire thing, his control has limits now that he is physically removed from the scene. In the end, he is only as powerful as the group’s loyalty to him.