Like Kim Yun-jin’s Lost before it, Kim Yun-jin’s Money Heist: Korea uses flashbacks to reveal how each of our characters ended up on the island — er, in the Unified Korea Mint. In this episode, we get further insight into Rio, who has previously been characterized as a phenomenal hacker and a pretty immature dude. Now, we have a bit more context for his behavior. He’s also a recovering rich kid! (Every show needs at least one, I guess?) “Everyone, even that asshole Berlin, is risking their lives here,” Tokyo tells Rio, who spends most of the episode letting other people make decisions for him. “And we’re all here for our own reasons, whether it’s money or something else. But you’re here because you can’t escape? That’s what makes you a kid.”
The concept of what makes someone an adult is a culturally specific one. In American society, traditionally, “growing up” entails getting married, having kids, and owning property — though younger generations have started challenging that definition for many reasons. For Rio’s parents, the definition of growing up has been clear for all of his life: It means becoming a doctor, like his father and grandfather before him, and starting a successful career. Rio’s dad doesn’t care that his kid cannot look at blood without fainting or throwing up. He sees his hemophobia as a weakness to be overcome rather than something to support his son through. In “Episode 4,” Tokyo and the Professor give Rio a much simpler goal: stop running away. Rio may not be destined to become a doctor, but he does learn to stop running. Yes, he still throws up after performing lifesaving surgery on poor Mi-seon, but he does what he has to save her life. And now that he’s no longer running away, he starts thinking about what he might want to run toward.
It’s not just Rio we see in this episode’s flashbacks; it’s also the Professor and Tokyo as they try to convince Rio not to run away from the heist. For Tokyo, who grew up in a much poorer North Korea, she doesn’t even understand how a family could have a $3 million home without stealing something. “If class is inherited in North Korea, in the South, wealth is inherited,” Professor explains. It’s a rough translation of a complex issue — and one that Tokyo would probably already have a handle on, given her Robin Hood routine — but the point stands. Whether you’re from the North or the South, the family you’re born into determines if your life will be one of struggle or one of “success,” and it’s not particularly fair.
Rio might not have a developed class analysis of the situation, but he doesn’t judge the people around him like his rich parents would. While characters like Berlin or Young-min may be tied to the familiarity of existing hierarchy systems, Rio has no such loyalty. When Tokyo implies they would have to kill his family if he blabbed about the heist, he drunkenly wishes for that outcome. I don’t think he wants his parents dead, but he does understandably wish he could be free of them.
While Rio spends most of the episode trying not to vomit at the sight of blood, the task force and Professor are busy negotiating a plan so that Young-min doesn’t die — which would be bad for both sides of this standoff. When the Professor agrees to allow a small team of medics into the Mint, Captain Cha sees a chance to gain an advantage. He gets Woo-jin to agree to send him in under the guise of the medic, one part of a larger plan that would see his special-forces team infiltrating through a system of vents. (Um, maybe they should have tried this sooner?) The scenario allows some cultural specificity, as Berlin recognizes Captain Cha’s dialect as Munhwaŏ, a.k.a. the North Korean standard dialect. Captain Cha’s decision to double down and admit he is a cop is a bold one — respect — but ultimately doesn’t pay off, as the Professor already recognizes him from his visit to the task-force tent. A quick mask switcheroo and a phone modified to be a listening device swings the balance of power back in the direction of Team Heist. But things get complicated when the Professor successfully woos an exhausted Woo-jin into bed. The closer these two get, the more complicated the Professor’s plan will become.
This is easily the most romance-forward episode yet. No one else is knocking boots (that we know of), but Denver and Mi-seon grow closer after Denver risks his life to keep Berlin from shooting Mi-seon and then literally gives her the blood from his body. Elsewhere, Rio sweetly admits that he loves Tokyo and wants to move to a private island with her after all of this is done — he’s found what he is running toward. After the first episode ignored the sexual relationship blueprinted for Rio and Tokyo in La Casa de Papel, I thought Money Heist: Korea might forgo the love story altogether. But now we know that is not the case — this show was just doing it K-drama-style by holding off on the sex in favor of a more chaste romance. I’m totally willing to go with it. Tokyo’s post-surgery conversation with Rio is the first time we’ve seen Tokyo smile since her days bopping along to BTS in flashback. Tokyo deserves some joy after all she has had to put up with, both inside the Mint and before.
“Episode 4” isn’t quite as strong as the last one, which gave nuance to Moscow and Denver’s dynamic without ever having to spell it out for us. Rio’s growth feels a bit too bold and a bit too easy. We’ve only just met the kid, and the episode has too much else going on to make his development feel earned. But it’s far from a weak episode. From Nairobi proving to Tokyo she was right to trust a con woman to Woo-jin breaking down at her kitchen table when her mother fell deeper into dementia, this show is putting its characters first — and it’s doing it with the help of some phenomenal actors.
• Young-min persuades the heist team to let him call his wife, whom, despite the affair, he seems to love. I like that this show isn’t interested in making any character irredeemable or without relatable human qualities.
• Woo-jin is about to face some consequences for making the call to shoot Young-min, which … she probably should. When Captain Cha tries to take responsibility during their smoke break, she makes it clear that, ultimately, it was her call.
• Berlin ends the episode duct-taped to a chair but seems intent on causing trouble. Meanwhile, a random special forces soldier is wandering the building. Two loose cannons in an operation proven to be vulnerable to surprise.
• “I can’t wrap my head around that crap.” “Do you need to?” Tokyo calls Denver out on his burgeoning feelings for Mi-seon.
• Upon finding out Young-min’s phone password is “1234,” Berlin muses, “It’s amazing you never got caught cheating.” It really, really is.
• Established cinephile Denver has seen Troy.
• Berlin teases Rio (and us) that Tokyo “didn’t come here for the money.” We know Tokyo’s backstory as a North Korean kid growing up in love with the Hallyu, and her stint as a vigilante in South Korea, stealing from those who abuse immigrants, but something tells me there is more to her story.
• “The fear doesn’t work if she is alive.” Berlin is really committed to keeping the hostages fearful. As if getting shot in the leg and almost dying without makeshift surgery performed by one of your hostage-takers isn’t also scary.
• “I can’t side with someone who wants to kill someone who managed to stay alive.” Nairobi admires Mi-seon’s resilience. Same.