It’s fitting that we get the Professor’s backstory in this “Part 1”–ending episode. After all, he’s the person who started all of this. Tokyo may be our narrator, but the Professor put together the team. In this way, when someone dies from this situation — whether it’s Team Heist that pulls the trigger or not — he will have their blood on his hands. The Professor does not take this responsibility lightly. That quality of accountability served as the impetus for staging the heist in the first place. Before the Professor became a scholar of heists, he was a scholar of economics, specifically the economic factors in reunifying North and South Korea. In a flashback, we see him 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] has to be a desire. A desire to make both South Korea and North Korea rich.” Kim Sang-man, a National Assembly Member and Woo-jin’s husband, is there too, but he isn’t bored. He’s listening to Sun-ho’s dream of capitalism lifting both Koreas up together.
Sang-man recruits the Professor to devise an economic plan for reunification, and Sun-ho jumps at the offer. While I don’t think Money Heist: Korea has invested enough narrative energy in explaining just what life after the construction of the Joint Economic Area has been like, we do know that the Professor’s economic plan failed — or at least it has by the Professor’s metrics of success. It failed people like Tokyo, who came to Seoul looking for a better life and found only abuse and exploitation. (The true “dream” of capitalism?) When Woo-jin chases the Professor away from Carworld, the cars eventually leave the paved streets for the fields, as Sun-ho tries desperately to escape. The car chase is about the cat-and-mouse game between the Professor and the Negotiator, but it is about something much larger too. We see the workers Sun-ho believes he failed, the people who run the economy, in the hoop houses and the fields. Whether the situation at the Mint resolves itself or not, they will still have to show up for work. The success of the police does not better their lives, nor are they seemingly taken into account by politicians like Kim Sang-man, who revel in their power rather than see it as their responsibility. We get the impression that at least Sun-ho cares about these people with relatively little sociopolitical power, that there is something deeper at work in his aspirations to print trillions of won, but it has not yet been made explicit. So far, we have only caught glimpses of it — in the allusions to Tokyo’s reasons for joining the heist and in the smashed tomatoes protecting 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 at winning the fight for public opinion that she identifies as key to the Professor’s plan. Woo-jin’s plan to bring a cameraperson with her as she inspects the hostages is a risky one, but it’s a smart one too. If she can convince the public that the robbers don’t care about human life, she can ruin the Professor’s plan — whatever it may be.
Unfortunately for Woo-jin, she’s missing a significant piece of the puzzle — as are we, the 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 are not) in such quick succession, but it does, and it works. Just when the viewer thinks Woo-jin has successfully convinced her audience of families and politicians to make the robbers look like remorseless killers (which, given the massive guns and the audience’s connection to the hostages, really shouldn’t be such a hard sell), Berlin brings out Chul-woo. That’s right, everyone! Berlin learned from his mistakes and didn’t try to kill someone this time. Change is possible.
This episode acts as a quasi-redemptive one for Berlin. Like many characters on this show, he has choices to answer for, but he is also not irredeemable — at least not in the eyes of his teammates, who celebrate Berlin’s role in the plan. To be fair, it did involve a major sacrifice: He reveals his identity to the hostages and then to the world. It’s a punishment and key to making the Professor’s latest plan work because it gives a human face to the robbers. While revealing his identity is a massive sacrifice for Berlin, it is perhaps a slightly easier choice for the man to make as his days are numbered. The reveal that Berlin is dying necessitates the follow-up question: Why did he agree to do this heist? If he doesn’t need the money, he must have another reason for participating — one that “Part 2” will hopefully explore.
If this doesn’t feel like a season finale, that’s because it’s not. This is 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 some nail-biting cliffhangers (Captain Cha is lurking!), but no more so than any of the previous five episodes. This isn’t a criticism so much as an observation on how the broadcast model has shaped so much of the scripted-TV format. If viewers watched all six episodes of Money Heist: Korea “Part 1,” I feel they will be back when “Part 2” drops later this year — I know I will be. This show has yet to live up to its ambitious setting and only occasionally strayed from La Casa de Papel’s narrative blueprint, but, hey, it’s a good narrative blueprint! 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 some plot holes in Professor’s escape, most significantly perhaps the fact that he left his motorcycle behind as evidence. I suppose I will just accept his swimming ability and impressive lung capacity as additional character traits.
• Woo-jin’s husband is the worst.
• “I thought we were a team.” I am here for Captain Cha/Woo-jin friendship. After Woo-jin’s failure to sway public opinion, Captain Cha gets fired by the higher-ups as a way of demonstrating “strong action.” Woo-jin says that if he gets fired, she will quit, but Captain Cha already has a post-employment to-do list — mainly investigating Woo-jin’s hot barista boyfriend. Hey, at least he’s honest about it!
• “Didn’t you say you were really good at fighting?” Rio to Denver, after he gets pummeled by Young-min.
• Nairobi canonically slaps butts as a sign of affection. I think she may be enjoying this heist the most? She and Mr. Lee.
• Tokyo, girl, it’s not a good idea to be sleep-deprived when staging a heist. Especially after a prior night of heavy drinking.
• Mi-seon tears off the fancy necklace and scratches Young-min in the face with it. Finally. She then proceeds to have hot table sex with Denver after telling him she plans on quitting her job. This woman is really going 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 9 and lived there for 25 years. He is 41 years old, meaning he has been free for about seven years.
• While Berlin may have learned from his previous actions, Young-min has clearly not. After getting Mi-seon shot and almost killed with his earlier scheme, he recruits literal child Anne for his next one. To be fair, she is the most competent person — heister or hostage — in the entire Mint, but it’s still not a good look for the Mint Director.
• Shout out to the sole cameraman who not only agrees to go into an active hostage situation but also has to worry about cinematography all on his lonesome.
• The Professor says not to watch TV.
• “He’s not the type to hurt someone.” This is how Woo-jin describes Sun-ho to a very suspicious Captain Cha. I suppose I would agree with this statement.
• “I might get drunk and cry on you later.” Woo-jin has another bad day at work and gets drunk with her boyfriend. I love her.
• The Professor loves her too. We know this is true — not because of Tokyo’s narration, but because the Professor puts Woo-jin over his plan when he suggests that she quit. Ugh, Woo-jin and Sun-ho really do like each other and it’s stressing me out.
• Woo-jin finds the corner of one of the newly printed bills Anne impressively manages to stuff in Woo-jin’s suit pocket during the hostage check. I honestly thought Woo-jin had already figured out that the gang was printing money, but I suppose she has had a lot on her plate.