Itaewon Class: Episode 4
Last week was pretty heavy as we laid the groundwork for our story, but now that we’re in the present, we’ve reached a better balance. Our hero continues to struggle in true underdog style but he’s slowly building his own little army of loyal friends. Unfortunately, he has yet to realize there may be a traitor in their midst.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Outside the police station, Yi-seo and Sae-ro-yi’s conversation is interrupted by Geun-won. He tuts that Sae-ro-yi hasn’t changed, boisterously listing all the ways he’s ruined Sae-ro-yi’s life. Sae-ro-yi grits his teeth as Geun-won cackles in his face, daring him to rack up another assault charge. Removing Geun-won’s hand from his shoulder, Sae-ro-yi warns Geun-won to watch out because he’s only been enduring while he waits for the statute of limitations to expire. Sae-ro-yi walks away, leaving Geun-won shaken while Yi-seo watches with an unreadable expression.
The next day, Yi-seo and Geun-soo are forced to run laps as punishment. Geun-soo laments that Sae-ro-yi was right – as minors, they can’t take responsibility – and are only tasked with laps and an apology letter. Yi-seo questions why he’s referring to Sae-ro-yi as “hyung” but Geun-soo just wonders why he hadn’t been mad, even after his business was suspended. She grumbles that Sae-ro-yi is just full of himself, but as the pair write their apology letters, Geun-soo’s words are still on her mind. Looking down, her apology letter is just a sketch of Sae-ro-yi. Hee.
Over at Danbam, Seung-kwon is also beating himself up over last night’s events… literally. As he slams his head against a table (ouch!), he flashes back to prison 8 years ago. Unlike Sae-ro-yi, Seung-kwon had bowed respectfully to Hee-hoon (the gangster leader Sae-ro-yi shared a cell with). Hee-hoon asked Sae-ro-yi to watch out for Seung-kwon but Sae-ro-yi had his nose buried in President Jang’s autobiography and didn’t see the point. Hee-hoon chuckled but Seung-kwon clearly viewed it as disrespectful to his boss.
Later, as he walked with Hee-hoon around the yard, Seung-kwon asked about Sae-ro-yi. To Seung-kwon’s confusion, Hee-hoon grinned and hoped the two young men can get along like brothers. He asked what gang Sae-ro-yi is from, but Hee-hoon said despite his demeanor, Sae-ro-yi wasn’t like them. However, he warned Seung-kwon not to agitate Sae-ro-yi, adding, “He’s half mad.” Despite Hee-hoon’s words, Seung-kwon approached Sae-ro-yi.
Seung-kwon asked what Sae-ro-yi was doing, immediately taking offense to Sae-ro-yi’s casual reply. Without looking up from his book, Sae-ro-yi repeated in a more respectful manner that he was reading. Seung-kwon asked about the book, curious why Sae-ro-yi is always reading. Sae-ro-yi replied there’s a lot he wanted to learn and do, but Seung-kwon couldn’t understand why he’s bothered since they both came from nothing and no one will hire an ex-convict.
“You don’t think you have a chance because you’re a poor, undereducated ex-con?” Sae-ro-yi asked. He’d argued that nothing can be achieved with that mindset and Seung-kwon bristled. He accused Sae-ro-yi of being stuck-up, snapping that they’re in the same boat. Sae-ro-yi asked if that meant their lives were over, sighing that Seung-kwon was a moron. It was the final straw for Seung-kwon’s temper, and he knocked Sae-ro-yi to the ground, a kick punctuating each sentence as he demanded whether Sae-ro-yi was going to work construction or on fishing boats (typically the only places that hire ex-cons).
As the guards held Seung-kwon back, Sae-ro-yi spat that he had no problem studying and starting with manual labor, he’d do whatever is necessary. “You have no right to determine my value,” Sae-ro-yi bellowed, vowing to accomplish everything he wanted. Sometime later, Seung-kwon was released from prison, and narrates, “Time passes by. Every day is the same. And I was sick of it.” While we see Sae-ro-yi making good on his word and working hard, Seung-kwon had resumed his life as a gangster.
Seven years passed and Hee-hoon had decided to drop by Sae-r-yi’s newly opened bar, Seung-kwon and some other lackeys in tow. Stunned to realize Sae-ro-yi did exactly as he’d promised, Seung-kwon’s voiceover continues, “Everyone is given the same amount of time. But I realized that the depth of the time he and I had spent are completely differently.” Sae-ro-yi greeted Seung-kwon cheerfully and from that day on, Seung-kwon became a regular customer. Over drinks, Seung-kwon admitted to being Sae-ro-yi’s fan and wished he could live a proper life too. Recalling their rocky first meeting, Sae-ro-yi had smiled and asked if Seung-kwon was still a moron.
Back in the present, Seung-kwon continues to smack his head against the table, growling that he’s still a moron. From across the bar, Hyun-yi asks Sae-ro-yi what’s wrong with Seung-kwon, but he just looks on with a concerned expression. Meanwhile, Yi-seo flicks through her social media and decides to look up Sae-ro-yi. Unsurprisingly, she finds no results. She gets the same message when searching for Danbam and sighs that Sae-ro-yi ignored her advertising advice. Recalling Geun-won claimed they were classmates, Yi-seo tries his name. She finds articles about the assault that sent Sae-ro-yi to prison, confirming everything she’d heard that night.
The next morning at Jang Ga HQ, Geun-won plays baduk with President Jang and warns him that Min-jung has been meeting with investors. President Jang waves the accusation aside, saying Min-jung is like a daughter to him. Geun-won argues that’s all the more reason to be cautious – Jang Ga was started by President Jang and Min-jung’s father, so the company could’ve been hers. President Jang dismisses his concern, assuring Geun-won he already has a plan.
Geun-won drops the issue, instead revealing the bar Geun-soo was picked up at belonged to Sae-ro-yi. Geun-won doesn’t seem to notice President Jang freeze, and boasts that Sae-ro-yi’s business was suspended for 2 months and is unlikely to survive. Geun-won plays another piece and proudly declares his win. President Jang congratulates him, but once Geun-won has left, he tuts that Geun-won’s strategy was weak. Lamenting a poor game, President Jang asks Secretary Kim about Geun-soo.
Unlike his older brother, Geun-soo is a hard-worker, bustling cheerfully around a small restaurant. His face falls, however, when he happens to overhear the couple that owns the restaurant fighting about firing him in lieu of an impending increase to minimum wage. As Geun-won leaves his father’s office, he snickers to himself, imagining the look on Sae-ro-yi’s face when his business is forced to close… Except, Sae-ro-yi is currently beaming as he sings loudly at the noraebang. Ha!
Hyun-yi winces at Sae-ro-yi’s energetic – albeit off-key – crooning while Seung-kwon hangs his head in shame. She sighs that the business suspension is his fault, but then hands him some ointment and tells him not to do it again. When Sae-ro-yi has finally finished inflicting his (unintentional?) musical torture, the trio go out for drinks. Seung-kwon is still apologetic and Sae-ro-yi coolly asks how long he’s going to be like this. Seung-kwon apologizes again and Sae-ro-yi threatens to fire him if he says sorry one more time.
Hyun-yi cheekily goads Seung-kwon to apologize again and Sae-ro-yi pours Seung-kwon a drink. He tells his staff to consider this two-month suspension a chance to improve what they lack. He suggests they continue the party, suggesting they go to another noraebang. Hyun-yi immediately nixes the idea, while Seung-kwon begs Sae-ro-yi not to sing again. “Do you want to be fired?” Sae-ro-yi deadpans. Hee.
Just as Geun-won had warned, Min-jung is meeting with two other board members. The men think Geun-won is bad for business and worry that President Jang is losing his touch. They say executives are concerned and suggest it’s time to start preparing for the succession of the company. Min-jung plays dumb but the men assure her she’s their best candidate. She wonders if they think President Jang is a pushover and whether they’re willing to go against him.
“Do you really think the company will run fine without him?” Min-jung continues. The men quickly attempt to backpedal but Min-jung assures them she’ll pretend she didn’t hear anything. Min-jung admits she’s unsatisfied with Geun-won, but that she’s too young to be their cannon fodder. The men assure her that’s not what they meant, and the meeting ends in awkward laughter. Meanwhile, Yi-seo walks past Danbam, reading the sign that says it’ll be closed for 2 months. The shop cat meowls for food, but she ignores it and stalks away without a second glance.
The year rolls over and Yi-seo no longer needs a fake id. She narrates that she got accepted to every university she applied to and despite it being her first day as a legal adult, she’s already bored. Looking at her friend group, she tells us she only befriends people based on connections (one is the daughter of a chief prosecutor while the other’s father owns a clothing company). A guy approaches the group as a spokesman for his friends, offering to treat the ladies if allowed to join.
Geun-soo checks his phone and sighs that his text congratulating Yi-seo on her birthday have gone unread. He trudges dejectedly up towards his apartment, unaware of President Jang watching from a nearby car. Back at the bar, Yi-seo’s inner monologue declares that she’s already annoyed by the young men. She quickly identifies each as attention-seeking, horny, and thoughtless, in turn. While she holds no issue with hook-ups on principle, she doesn’t want anything from the men across the table. Feeling bored, Yi-seo wonders why ever since she met Sae-ro-yi, nothing else interests her.
Speak of the devil, Sae-ro-yi meets Soo-ah at a bar. Another cameo by Hong Seok-cheon, who gleefully offers Sae-ro-yi anything on the house, since his bar was suspended. Seok-cheon curses whoever called the cops as Soo-ah smiles innocently from across the bar. Having had enough, Yi-seo excuses herself, warning the guys that her friend’s dad is a chief prosecutor, so they should behave.
Soo-ah reminisces that Sae-ro-yi used to like her in high school and Sae-ro-yi replies that he still does. She wonders if he’s drunk and points out that he never actually asked her out. Sae-ro-yi explains that they both prioritize their jobs, adding, “And once my business goes well, you’ll end up losing your job.” He breezily continues to say something about asking her out but trails off at Soo-ah’s expression. Sae-ro-yi laughs that he was joking, but Soo-ah knows he never says something he doesn’t mean. She shrugs it off, however, promising to still cheer for him.
As Yi-seo steps outside, the guy that had approached the women chases after her. He asks what she’ll do since the buses aren’t running and Yi-seo coolly replies she’ll get a taxi. The guy argues you can’t get a cab in Itaewon, offering to keep her company until the buses resume, but she’s adamant that she can get a ride on the next street. The guy is persistent, however, and asks if she doesn’t like him. Yi-seo turns back and confirms that she doesn’t.
Stunned, the guy asks what she doesn’t like. Yi-seo easily lists off every trait she can think of and again excuses herself. Somehow still in disbelief, the guy grabs her arm, asking why she drank with them. At the mention of money, Yi-seo agrees he must feel wronged, having spent so much trying to score. She pulls cash out of her wallet and tosses it at him, turning once more to go. This time the guy yanks her back and slaps her hard across the face.
His smile gone, he sneers, “Who do you think is going to help you now?” Stepping up to him, Yi-seo declares, “Myself.” He scoffs and grabs her collar, pulling back to deliver another blow… except Yi-seo grabs him first and throws him over her shoulder. While he’s down, she gives him a smart kick in the guy and then runs off. The women’s bathroom is closed, so she’s forced to duck into the men’s and her face lights up to see Sae-ro-yi inside.
The guy rushes in and Sae-ro-yi goes to wash his hands but keeps eye-contact with Yi-seo in the mirror. Turning to leave, Sae-ro-yi stops when Yi-seo calls out to him. The guy tries to lie that they’re having a lovers’ quarrel, but Sae-ro-yi walks over to Yi-seo. He admits that he’d love to leave, but he feels bothered by Yi-seo’s swollen cheek and the way she’s looking at him. The guy snaps at Sae-ro-yi not to be nosy, but his eyes never leave Yi-seo’s face as he asks, “If I meddle here, does that mean I’m nosy?”
He’s referring to their first meeting when Yi-seo had accused him of being nosy. “I can’t do anything,” Sae-ro-yi presses, “if you stay quiet.” Smiling, Yi-seo asks him to help her. Sae-ro-yi takes her arm and starts to lead her out, slamming the jerk against a wall when he tries to stop them. The guy lunges again and Sae-ro-yi punches him. Soo-ah has been waiting for Sae-ro-yi to return and is startled when he and Yi-seo run up, yelling for her to run too.
The trio race through Itaewon, angry shouts behind them. Finally, confident they’ve lost him, the group stops to catch their breath. Soo-ah demands an explanation and Yi-seo beams that Sae-ro-yi saved her. Soo-ah chides him for helping her and her inflection is not lost on Sae-ro-yi, who asks if the women know each other. Realizing her mistake, Soo-ah quickly pouts that she’s just upset Sae-ro-yi is so concerned for others.
Soo-ah tries to lead him away, but Sae-ro-yi is still worried about Yi-seo. She denies calling the cops but plays up her injury. While Soo-ah recognizes Yi-seo’s ploy, Sae-ro-yi is oblivious and innocently suggests she see a doctor. Instead, she offers to buy him coffee as repayment and when she promises to give him advice for promoting Danbam, Sae-ro-yi can’t refuse.
At a nearby café, you could cut the tension with a knife. Attempting to diffuse it, Sae-ro-yi asks Yi-seo whether she has an interest in marketing. She confirms she does, saying that she gets her pocket money from social promotion before asking what his relationship is with Soo-ah. Sae-ro-yi is taken aback, but Soo-ah quips that they’re friends, adding pointedly that he’s liked her for 10 years. Sae-ro-yi shyly agrees before jumping on the opportunity to leave to fetch their coffee.
Left alone, Soo-ah snidely replies she saw Yi-seo’s profile among the candidates for Jang Ga’s social media models. Ignoring Yi-seo’s flippant inquiry as to why she wasn’t picked, Soo-ah wonders if Yi-seo likes Sae-ro-yi. Yi-seo admits that she’s interested but is unsure whether she likes him. Soo-ah concedes he’s attractive but warns that he’s not someone Yi-seo can deal with. To Soo-ah’s surprise, Yi-seo is aware of Sae-ro-yi’s criminal record and actually says it makes him more attractive.
Soo-ah chides Yi-seo’s lack of shame, reminding her that Sae-ro-yi’s bar is closed thanks to Yi-seo. This piques Yi-seo’s attention and she wonders how Soo-ah knows it’s her fault. Soo-ah falters and Yi-seo guesses that she’s the one who called the cops on the bar. Yi-seo takes Soo-ah’s inability to answer as confirmation and asks why. “Because his pub is across from yours?” Yi-seo proposes, “Is that why you stabbed your friend who’s liked you for 10 years in the back?”
Soo-ah remains silent so Yi-seo continues, assuming Soo-ah wants to create a barrier around Sae-ro-yi so no one else can have him. Soo-ah snaps that Yi-seo can’t have him, because Sae-ro-yi will never change. Yi-seo wonders if that will remain so after he finds out what Soo-ah did. Sae-ro-yi returns from the world’s longest coffee run to find the mood strained. He questions it, but Yi-soo denies any tension, instead expressing her awe of Soo-ah.
Recognizing the thinly veiled compliment as a jab, Soo-ah responds by coolly admitting she’s the one who reported Sae-ro-yi’s pub to the police. Her point is proven when Sae-ro-yi confirms he still likes her, but her face falls when he adds that he’s disappointed. Shaken, Soo-ah excuses herself and Sae-ro-yi asks Yi-seo if they should leave as well. Yi-seo reminds him she offered to help promote the bar, and suggests they get a drink (since she’s legal now). Meanwhile, Soo-ah walks home. Remembering how Sae-ro-yi had sworn he could never resent her; her legs give out and she mutters annoyance.
Having relocated to a bar, Sae-ro-yi asks again if Yi-seo would rather go home but she’s curious why he isn’t upset by Soo-ah’s betrayal. Sae-ro-yi doesn’t consider it betrayal, though, saying that Soo-ah is just committed to her job and her life. Yi-seo doesn’t follow and Sae-ro-yi explains that feelings aren’t measured by give-and-take. Yi-seo groans that she doesn’t want to talk about Soo-ah anymore.
Seung-kwon is taking advantage of the empty kitchen to work out when Hyun-yi arrives to organize ingredients. He explains that he had come in to clean and is glad Hyun-yi showed up because he wants to go to the sauna. He offers to pay if she’ll scrub his back and she balks at the suggestion, but he argues he’d scrub hers too. Omo, this dope really thinks she’s a man?! Hyun-yi tries to storm out but Seung-kwon blocks her path, carefully eyeing her body before tutting that she must not have confidence. He cockily assures her size isn’t all that counts, and she throws a dirty rag in his face on her way out. Ha!
Yi-seo asks how Sae-ro-yi started Danbam, guessing he’s never worked in a pub before. Sae-ro-yi is shocked, but Yi-seo explains that he lacks basics, echoing President Jang’s autobiography. Through her social media promotions, Yi-seo explains she’s noticed successful trends and is embarrassed when Sae-ro-yi praises her. He comments that she’s a good drinker and she grins that today it tastes sweet. Recalling Dad’s drinking lessons, Sae-ro-yi says that means she’s had an impressive day.
Yi-seo says the bar’s name doesn’t suit Itaewon, wondering why Sae-ro-yi chose “Danbam.” He explains that his life is bitter. So bitter that he can’t sleep, he feels nostalgic, lonely, and upset. “There’s no other reason.” Sae-ro-yi says wistfully, “It’s just…I want my bitter night and my life to be sweet.” As Yi-seo stares at him, she thinks that her heart feels strange. Sae-ro-yi laughs that he must be drunk to talk so much… and promptly passes out.
Yi-seo:“Now, I’m not drunk at all. This guy with a buzz cut just sprawled out drunk. But he looks cute. This is awkward. He says his night is bitter, but I want it to be sweet. I want to make his life sweet. The feeling I have now is the most foolish thing a human can do. And I can’t hold on to this impulse.”
Yi-seo cradles Sae-ro-yi’s head and recalls Soo-ah’s question as to whether she likes him. With a sigh, she realizes she does. Yi-seo leans in for a kiss… and Sae-ro-yi wakes up in a hospital bed with a start. Touching his lips, he declares that was a dangerous dream. Meanwhile, Yi-seo drinks hangover soup at home and Mom nags that she’s partying too much. Yi-seo retorts that her studies won’t nab her a good boyfriend.
Mom asks if she’s dating and before Yi-seo can answer, Mom orders her not to. Yi-seo asks why Mom married her dad and Mom says that she loved him. Surprised, Yi-seo asks why they got divorced and Mom sighs that feelings can be shallow. After giving birth, her body aged, lamenting that she’d always wanted to be loved as a woman, not a mother of a child.
Yi-seo guesses Mom regretted meeting her dad, but Mom says that while their relationship was less than 10 years, they’d loved each other. Mom sighs that memories are all she has left of her life as a woman. Yi-seo starts to ask about if she were to fall in love with a mediocre man… but Mom shuts her down, declaring she’s too good to ruin her life for love. “My sweet daughter,” Mom implores, “You won’t make me sad, will you?” Yi-seo tsks that she’s selfish.
Walking out on the bridge, Yi-seo narrates, “Life is a series of choices.” She says people call producing results to match your values a good choice or a correct answer. Yi-seo admits she’s still confused about the values of life. Pulling out a coin, she declares that if it comes up heads, she’ll do as Mom wants, but if it’s tails, Mom will probably cry. Flipping it in the air, Yi-seo misses catching it and it plummets into the river below.
Yi-seo’s narration continues, “Did the coin come up head or tails? Flipping the coin, which one did I wish for? I decided to call it tails.” She races to Danbam, catching her breath just as Sae-ro-yi steps outside. She smiles as her voiceover says she knew as soon as she saw him, there was no reason to hesitate. Sae-ro-yi asks if she made it home last night and wonders why she’s here. Yi-seo says she did and then blurts, “I want to be with you.” Her voiceover says her Mom is right and love and success are within her reach.
Aloud, Yi-seo says, “I mean… I want to work here. I will help you achieve your dream, Boss.” She thinks that Mom will just have to be sad for a little while but vows that she will turn Sae-ro-yi into someone amazing.
Squee!!! Now that’s my kind of episode! It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed this show from the start (because I certainly have) but I think anyone would agree that in order to set up the trajectory for the story, a dense – and gut-wrenching – intro was necessary. I’ve felt engaged in the story and characters from the get-go, but this is the first episode where I felt thoroughly excited – not just anxious – for what’s next.
I want to applaud the writers for such well-written characters. Now that we have completed introducing the ensemble, I can confidently say I’m thrilled. Yi-seo intrigued me from our brief glimpse at the opening of the show, but now she has firmly claimed her seat as my favorite character. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and while I agree she’s off-kilter, I think her personality is a result of her experiences and the way her mother fed into that. She’s not heartless, just jaded, and clashing with her polar opposite in Sae-ro-yi seems to be kindling a fire she didn’t know she had. It’s refreshing how quickly she developed a crush, and admitted it (at least to herself). I’m not sure how the relationships will shake out, but my heat breaks a little for resident puppy, Geun-soo.
That’s something else I really want to highlight here – the side-characters are fantastic. Bad side-characters can break even the best of dramas, souring everything that’s done well. On the other hand, great side-characters elevate a show to new heights. I might argue that President Jang is a pretty cliché villain, but the rest of the cast is complex and feel lived in? It was so great seeing snippets of Geun-soo’s life and getting backstory on Seung-kwon. I really hope we get more on Hyun-yi. (Is it bad how hard I’m already digging her relationship with Seung-kwon?) Geun-won has managed to find a way to justify his part in Dad’s death, but despite his jeering, to me, I still see a scared kid trying to get his father’s approval. It in no way absolves him of guilt, and I’d be lying if a part of me didn’t want Sae-ro-yi’s fists to teach him another lesson… but it makes his character interesting. @dramallama made a great point that the show has painted an interesting spectrum of good and evil with Sae-ro-yi and President Jang firmly at opposing ends in their philosophies and everyone else falling somewhere in between.
It was clear Soo-ah was going to be put in a situation where once again she’d have to choose between Sae-ro-yi and President Jang – this plotline isn’t exactly new – and yet, I still found myself surprised by the chain of events. I hadn’t anticipated how easily Soo-ah could act against Sae-ro-yi, seemingly without any prodding to do so. The way she watched the police arrive while coolly smoking a cigarette, I was taken aback by her complete lack of remorse. But then her argument with Yi-seo in the coffee shop made it clear. To Soo-ah, her relationship with Sae-ro-yi and her job at Jang Ga are completely separate of each other. Because Sae-ro-yi has given his blessing with her actions in the past (accepting a scholarship and then a job from Jang Ga), she is confident that his feelings are unwavering and takes it for granted that no matter what she does, he’ll love her.
So when it comes to weighing harming Sae-ro-yi’s business and her job/relationship with Jang Ga, the choice is easy. Soo-ah thoroughly believes that she can have her cake and eat it too. That’s why she confidently confessed to turning Sae-ro-yi’s bar over to the police. She’s justified her actions and so when Sae-ro-yi admitted that he felt disappointed, I think she was shocked to find she actually felt ashamed. I wonder how Soo-ah would act if she actually thought her actions would impact her relationship with Sae-ro-yi. She’s never had to compete for his affections before, basking comfortably in his feelings while revealing none of her own. With Yi-seo entering the picture, that’s likely to change. Not to mention, while Sae-ro-yi can accept her following the law, I doubt he can excuse actions directly against him or his bar. He cares for his staff, and that shows in how much they respect him, so, just as we saw in this episode, I doubt he’ll be able to turn the other cheek when they’re getting hurt… even if that pits him against his first love.