“How can I kill a person?!” Denver asks Mi-seon, as he tries to figure out a way to get out of following Berlin’s order to kill her. It’s the kind of basic yet profound question Denver excels at delivering. He may be dumb, but he, you know, values human life, which I think is infinitely more important than brainpower — not just for a society’s success, but for a person’s success.
Not enough mainstream stories explore the high cost of inflicting violence on others. I’m not talking about an emo Batman staring off into the rainy mists of Gotham; I’m talking about the physical and mental consequences that come with causing others pain. Unless you’re a psychopath, hurting others will hurt you too. Moscow knows this. It’s why he is so distraught when he thinks Denver has killed Mi-seon. It’s what drives him out onto the steps of the Mint and into the crosshairs of the waiting task force.
The Professor loses control of the situation in episode three, or at least he becomes aware of this loss of control. It was probably inevitable, given that there are so many factors and he is physically distant from the action. Humanity is messy, and this heist is rife with humanity. While many examples of the heist genre like to pretend competency can predict human complexity, Money Heist: Korea understands the absurdity of that delusion. A lesser show would probably have the robbers decisively turn on one another, perhaps leading to a shoot-out that culls the group. Not this show, though. When Tokyo stages a coup to upset Berlin as leader, it swings from being supported by the majority to not when new information is presented (that Woo-jin knows the identities of Rio and Nairobi) before the group has to put their differences aside to respond to Moscow’s attempt to turn himself in.
Berlin uses the group’s eventual confirmation of his leadership as proof that his strategy is working and that fear is the best motivator. But fear can take many forms, and Berlin only understands the desperate, selfish kind. Moscow’s fear, for example, isn’t based on self-preservation; it’s based on love. Money Heist: Korea intercuts the mayhem inside the Mint with a much softer, sunset-tinged reunion of Moscow and Denver months earlier. When Moscow gets out of jail, the Professor is waiting for him with a job offer, but Moscow won’t do it without his son. It motivates him to take the job: a chance at a better life for his son. Moscow is probably afraid of many things, but he is most afraid of his son being doomed to a life like his. He would give up his own life rather than let that happen. It’s a lesson Berlin forgot, the one his mother demonstrated when she tried to lead her son to a better life and died while trying.
Even when self-preservation is the emotion that fuels actions, how the surrounding mess of humans responds can be unpredictable. When Young-min picks up one of the real guns and aims it at the mixed group of hostages and robbers gathered to bring Moscow and Denver back inside the Mint, Woo-jin and Captain Cha attempt to decipher the complexity of the situation in real-time. They assume that Young-min must be one of the robbers because why else would he point a gun at his fellow hostages? They’re missing the full, complex human context of the situation and how Berlin has intentionally aggravated existing tensions between North and South Koreans, between boss and employee. Young-min has learned how to be a bully, too, and, when he gets scared, he thinks he can use the threat of violence to save himself. In the past, he has abused the relative power society has arbitrarily granted him and gotten away with it. When he tries it here, he is shot in a situation that has been intentionally stripped of much of its social context and hierarchy.
It’s a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, especially if you haven’t seen La Casa de Papel, and one that could ruin everything for the Professor and his team. What will it mean for Woo-jin, who gave the order to shoot a hostage? What will it mean for Young-min, who is a selfish jerk but doesn’t deserve to die? Will Berlin see the faults in “ruling with fear”? So far, episode three is Money Heist: Korea’s most successful episode because it grounds its violence in the messy emotions that both drive and come from it. In the recognition that when we inflict violence, no one is spared. “Who are you to kill someone?” Moscow furiously asks his son. Moscow is so afraid of his son taking after him (“Don’t live like me,” he instructs his son through tears in the flashbacks) without seeing how maybe Denver should be like him. Denver values human life enough to question Berlin’s orders, enough to risk his own life to try to keep Mi-seon alive — it’s a lesson he learned from his parent in a way Berlin never could.
• While much of this episode’s flashbacks to Moscow’s pre-heist life involve rooftop fireside heart-to-hearts, the opening is a deftly shot action sequence that sees Denver running across rooftops and shuffling down the crevices between buildings in order to avoid some thugs. Later in the episode, we see more of Denver’s street fighter moves as he tries to take down Oslo, who is not easily felled.
• I could have done without the casually fatphobic Teletubbies references.
• The Professor risks his relationship with Woo-jin to find out what the task force has on the robbers. It is successful because he knows they have both Rio and Nairobi’s identities, but it could also cost him future access to Woo-jin, who basically tells him good-bye forever. A voiceover from Tokyo plays up this potential consequence. It also reminds us that she is telling this story in the past tense, implying that there will be a future for at least some of the team.
• The Professor uses a desperate request from Woo-jin’s mother as an excuse to storm into task-force HQ. We learn more about Woo-jin’s domestic situation here: that Woo-jin has a restraining order against her husband and that he isn’t supposed to see their daughter Mina — let alone kidnap her to eat pizza.
• “Would you let [Mi-seon] die if she was South Korean?” I wish we knew a bit more about the social tensions between North and South Koreans in this near-future reality. Obviously, we can extrapolate out from the complicated relationship that exists in our real world, but this is not set in our real world. Not really. This show follows the blueprint left by La Casa de Papel, but that show was set in our world and therefore had a different, easier relationship to establishing the setting.
• “Good job. You’ll get used to it.” Yeah, Berlin has probably killed a lot of people. “Why can’t anyone die? Is it a matter of ethics?” He really is trying to understand why the Professor might want to avoid killing people.
• Um, shooting someone in the thigh can be pretty fatal. I know Denver and Tokyo have a lot going on, but they really need to keep an eye on Mi-seon.
• “The belly never lies.” Moscow is honestly so likable.
• Real name check: Nairobi’s real name is Sim Young-mun, and she is 38. Denver is called Taek-su. The Professor is called Sun-ho — or at least that is the name he has given Woo-jin.
• There’s some effective editing in this episode, seen in subtle moments like a cut of the Professor opening his cafe door to Nairobi opening the office door to the robber’s group meeting. It’s not only visually interesting but links the Professor to the space in a more meaningful way. He may not be physically present at the heist, but his fate is tied to this group. In most ways, he is “with” them.
• “I’m always on your side.” Rio may not be in love with Tokyo in this version of the story, but he still admires her.
• “Thanks, but this isn’t about choosing sides.” Tokyo isn’t here to win a popularity contest. She’s here to win a heist.