Itaewon Class: Episode 5
Forced into a hiatus, Danbam uses the time to work on their brand and quality. Our hero and Danbam owner, Sae-ro-yi, is confronted with an offer to improve the establishment, and he goes with his gut, taking a chance on people who are taking a risk on him. As the Danbam team grows, Sae-ro-yi builds his bench of his people, who he trusts and protects with his all. Slowly but surely, in classic Sae-ro-yi style, he teaches his people to trust and protect each other as well.
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Yi-seo announces to Sae-ro-yi that she wants to work at Danbam, but he rejects her offer because he already hired someone else. Geun-soo walks out of the bar, and Sae-ro-yi introduces her to his new hire. Geun-soo greets Yi-seo with a smile, and she looks perplexed by this situation.
Geun-soo thinks back to 11 years ago, when his older brother, Geun-won, came home from school with a busted-up face (courtesy of Sae-ro-yi). Geun-won released his anger on Geun-soo, who suffered the unfair beating. Geun-soo explains, “I am an illegitimate child.”
President Jang noticed Geun-soo’s injured face and learned that it was Geun-won’s doing, but he went on with his business and showed no affection toward the child. “I was born by mistake,” he continues. Geun-soo’s mother ran out of the house and noticed her son’s injured face, but she quickly brushed it off to head out for her shopping spree. “I was never loved by anyone.”
17-year-old Geun-soo asked his father to allow him to attend high school in Seoul on his own. President Jang finishes painting the four-character phrase “survival of the fittest” in hanja, and he says that it’s his favorite idiom. Geun-soo comments that it’s fitting. When asked why he wants to leave Jang Ga, Geun-soo responds that nobody needs him here and that he also doesn’t need anyone.
President Jang reminds Geun-soo that he’s an illegitimate child, also incompetent and young. He asserts that the weak can only survive by submitting to the strong, and Geun-soo responds that his father should have raised a dog instead. Oh, bold. President Jang gives up and lets Geun-soo have his way.
As we see Geun-soo moving out and making his own living, he narrates, “If you have no expectations, there is no disappointment. As long as I wasn’t in this house, I could find freedom anywhere. I’m living well on my own, without anyone’s help.” Then, Geun-soo recalls Sae-ro-yi accepting the consequences on his behalf and realizes that this is the first real adult he’s met.
Geun-soo only experienced this moment once, but that was enough for him. He asked Sae-ro-yi for a part-time job, and Sae-royi asked why he wants to work there. Geun-soo responds that he wants to make some pocket money, but he shares his real reason with us: “He’s someone I want to rely on. I didn’t want to do nothing after causing trouble.” Sae-ro-yi cleanly accepts Geun-soo as a new worker, and Geun-soo looks a bit surprised by the quick deal.
Back to the present, Seung-kwon and Hyun-yi return from their errands and meet the two delinquents in front of the bar. Seung-kwon immediately flares up in anger by their nerve, but Sae-ro-yi introduces Geun-soo as their new employee. Hyun-yi teases Seung-kwon that a good-looking worker will liven up their bar, and Yi-seo agrees. She then offers to be the manager, and Seung-kwon erupts in anger once more.
Inside, Yi-seo makes the case for her as Danbam’s manager. She asks Seung-kwon to serve their basic appetizer, and he reluctantly does so, per Sae-ro-yi’s orders. When he brings the soup dish, Yi-seo stops him and asks what the problem is here. Sae-ro-yi timidly guesses if it’s Seung-kwon’s face, and Hyun-yi cracks up. She points out how he holds the bowl from the edge with a finger on the inside instead of holding the bowl from the outside.
Then, Yi-seo flips through the menu and asks what their signature dish is. Sae-ro-yi says that all their dishes are well-made, but they don’t have one signature dish. She calls the menu disorganized and says that she doesn’t know what she should order.
Next, Yi-seo takes out her phone and pans around with the selfie camera. She says that their lack of concept is a secondary concern to the brightness inside and criticizes their fluorescent lighting. To further her point, she asks for one of the bestselling dishes, which Hyun-yi cooks up. Yi-seo takes a photo and shows them how unappealing the lighting makes the food look. Then, she takes a bite and says that the taste makes her want to gargle with soju. Yikesss.
When Yi-seo makes the staff move the tables around, they struggle to move the clunky and heavy tables. She shakes her head that they should account for parties joining tables and decides to stop there, since she’s made her case.
She tells Sae-ro-yi, “I’m Zhuge Liang, Merlin, and Rayleigh. I’m someone you absolutely need on your path, and I came here voluntarily.” She says that she’ll deny her services to someone foolish enough to believe that he’s doing fine on his own and refuses her advice because she’s just 20 years old. Geun-soo looks impressed by her confidence.
Sae-ro-yi acknowledges that her advice is helpful, but they can’t accommodate an extra staff member with the current size of their bar. Yi-seo argues that she’s more valuable that some of his current staff, but Sae-ro-yi refuses to cut his current staff to hire Yi-seo. He asks why she wants to work here, and she has a feeling that he’s worth betting her life on.
Sae-royi scratches in head in bewilderment but cracks a smile. He finds her response interesting and announces to the team that Jo Yi-seo is Danbam’s new manager. Hyun-yi and Geun-soo welcome her with an applause, but Seung-kwon refuses to join.
At Jang Ga Corp, Secretary Kim updates President Jang on Min-jung’s increase in company shares. President Jang asks what her total percentage would be with her team, and Secretary Kim reveals that it would be over 25%, which is awfully close to President Jang’s 30% share holdings. President Jang remembers his conversation with Min-jung about gambling her shares through a fund manager and questioning whether she has other intentions behind growing her shares.
At Danbam, Seung-kwon knocks down a wall to reveal unused space, proving Yi-seo’s point that they can expand with more tables. Then, Yi-seo looks through the freezer and instructs Hyun-yi to reduce their menu size. She asks Hyun-yi where they learned to cook, and Hyun-yi admits that they never had formal training. Yi-seo bluntly comments that her food tasted that way and assigns her the task of deciding their signature dish.
As the lights and decorations get their final touches, Yi-seo looks around for Sae-ro-yi. Geun-soo says that Sae-ro-yi was working on the light fixtures all night but still came in the morning to work on the rooftop. Yi-seo joins Sae-ro-yi on the rooftop and asks if he slept at all. She worries that he’ll collapse from overworking again.
He shares that he couldn’t sleep, and Yi-seo remembers his drunk confession that he can’t sleep most nights because he’s yearning, lonely, and angry. Yi-seo helps Sae-ro-yi hang the decorative plants and says that she hopes that he’ll be able to sleep better. Sae-ro-yi looks confused by her concern.
The night before Danbam’s re-opening, Sae-ro-yi pours a glass of soju for himself and for his father. On his phone, he monitors the Jang Ga stocks and looks at his watch. Huh, curious.
At Jang Ga the next day, President Jang summons Geun-won to order him on a blind date with the daughter of another large food corporation owner. Geun-won says that he wants a love marriage rather than an arranged marriage, but President Jang doesn’t give him a choice. He reminds Geun-won of his incompetence and that he will need the powerful in-laws to be a qualified heir to the Jang Ga throne.
Geun-won doesn’t protest further, and once he leaves, Secretary Kim tells President Jang that Geun-won likes Soo-ah. This is news to President Jang, who never had the same proximity to Geun-won as Secretary Kim.
Geun-soo catches Yi-seo on their way to Danbam, and he asks Yi-seo if her mother approves of her skipping college to work. He notes that she makes enough money through her blogs and wonders why she wants to work instead of going to school.
Instead of responding, Yi-seo asks Geun-soo the same question, and he says that he felt like he owed Sae-ro-yi for the trouble they caused him. Yi-seo remembers Geun-won at the police station hinting at his involvement in the death of Sae-ro-yi’s father, and she asks if Geun-soo knows anything about his brother and Sae-ro-yi’s relationship. Geun-soo has no idea, and Yi-seo decides not to meddle in another family’s business.
Geun-soo then wonders why Sae-ro-yi hired Yi-seo, and the Danbam team also wonder this. Sae-ro-yi tells Hyun-yi and Seung-kwon that he had a hunch, specifically an investment hunch. He says that he sensed a confidence with her, and they agree that she’s good at her job.
Hyun-yi notes that Yi-seo doesn’t seem to like them, and Seung-kwon says that the disgust is probably due to Hyun-yi’s bad personality. As revenge, Hyun-yi decides to make Seung-kwon’s least favorite dish for dinner, and Seung-kwon wonders if he should just punch Hyun-yi and go to jail. Ha!
Yi-seo and Geun-soo arrive, and Sae-ro-yi decides that they can open now that their full team is here. Yi-seo stops him and asks that they all put their hands in the group huddle. Everyone joins, and Yi-seo thanks the team for trusting and following her lead, especially as a young 20-year-old manager. She pledges that they’ll take over Itaewon and they cheer for their first day. Hwaiting!
Danbam’s first opening night is a huge success, largely thanks to Yi-seo’s social media and blog postings. The line is out the door, and the bar comes alive with customers. From outside, Soo-ah observes the unexpectedly popular opening night. Inside, Yi-seo catches Sae-ro-yi’s eye, and they smile at each other in midst of the rush.
At the end of the night, Sae-ro-yi reports that they reached their peak profit today, and Seung-kwon seems alarmed that they reached their peak on a weeknight. Yi-seo notes that the popularity is only temporary with their current marketing tactics, and they need to find a way to retain their current customer base. Sae-ro-yi asks who they do that, and Yi-seo wonders the same thing but looks straight at Hyun-yi, implying the answer.
President Jang pays an unannounced visit to the Itaeown Jang Ga bar and taste tests the food. He compliments the chef on the food and acknowledges Soo-ah’s contribution to raising the bar’s profits. Apart from the taste test, he’s there to talk to Soo-ah about Geun-won. He shares that Geun-won is going on a blind date, and he gauges from her response that his son has a one-sided crush on Soo-ah.
Soo-ah seems flustered by President Jang’s observation, and he surprisingly shares that he wouldn’t have rejected the pairing. He dismisses himself from further discussion on their relationship and says that he merely wanted to express how much he values Soo-ah. President Jang comments on Soo-ah’s split loyalty between Min-jung and himself, and he explicitly asks her to be on his side.
She assures him of her loyalty, and President Jang notes that Soo-ah always says the right things. He challenges her to show her loyalty through actions, not mere words, and brings her to Danbam. Soo-ah says that Danbam’s popularity will be short-lived and won’t be worth their time, but President Jang wonders if she truly believes those words or if she’s being protective of her friend.
Yi-seo walks through Itaewon with Sae-ro-yi after closing time for most shops and suggests that they extend their hours past the last train departure. She notes that there are still people roaming the streets at those hours, and they could also catch the workers from the closed shops.
They run into Soo-ah as they walk, and she tries to ignore them. Sae-ro-yi stops her and asks why she hasn’t responded to his messages, and she says that she ignored them on purpose. She tells him not to contact her and walks off.
Sae-ro-yi runs the kitchen on Hyun-yi’s day off, and he seems at ease with the load of orders and special requests. At the end of the night, Geun-soo expresses his awe of Sae-ro-yi in the kitchen, and Seung-kwon confirms that Sae-ro-yi’s a great cook. Seung-kwon reports a slight dip in their profits, but it’s still a success for a weeknight.
They wrap up the night with dinner made by Sae-ro-yi, and Geun-soo compliments the soup as the best he’s ever tasted. Yi-seo seems to agree and asks how Sae-ro-yi picked the kitchen oppa (Hyun-yi). He responds that they while working at a construction site and says that Hyun-yi made him a delicious meal once.
Sae-ro-yi offers to wrap up the shop on his own, so the three workers wait at the bus stop. The bus nowhere in sight, Geun-soo suggests to Yi-seo that they go to the club, and Seung-kwon slides closer to them in interest. He asks the youth if the club is fun and admits that he’s never been. He says he can’t dance, and Yi-seo says that he doesn’t need to dance well in a crowd of people.
Yi-seo stands up to show him how to move to a rhythm, and Seung-kwon tries to imitate the movements with limited success, making Geun-soo giggle. Seung-kwon then asks if people grind and meet lovers at the club, and Geun-soo laughs. Seung-kwon asks if that makes him a pervert, but Yi-seo assures him that it’s normal for people go to the club to listen to music, dance, and meet people. Seung-kwon admits that he wants to do the grinding, and Yi-seo says under her breath, “Pervert.”
Yi-seo grabs Geun-soo for her demonstration and starts with the basics. She instructs Seung-kwon to dance behind the person and raise his arms so that they’re visible to the person he’s courting. Seung-kwon asks what happens if the person doesn’t like him, but Yi-seo says that most people will experience a confidence boost regardless, unless the courter is very ugly. Yi-seo assures him that he’s passable, but Geun-soo’s response makes it obvious that she’s giving Seung-kwon too much credit.
Grabbing Geun-soo again for the next step, Yi-seo dances again and demonstrates that they’ll make slight physical contact while dancing and never explicitly. Geun-soo looks quite uncomfortable being the subject of this demonstration. Then, Yi-seo teaches him the next sign of courtship: If the person looks back and smiles, it’s a go; if the person looks back with disgust, you’re done. If it’s a go, then Yi-seo says that he can make more physical contact, and she demonstrates on Geun-soo, who jumps in alarm.
As a final step, Yi-seo instructs Seung-kwon to invite the person to a table for drinks, and she says that it’s a guaranteed success. Seung-kwon looks convinced and paces in excitement. Geun-soo expresses concern with paying for a table, but Yi-seo assures him that Seung-kwon will pay. Seung-kwon can’t wait and grabs the two of them to go to the club.
At the club, Seung-kwon notices the steep prices for drinks, and Yi-seo says that the prices are cheap compared to the weekend. Geun-soo feels bad that Yi-seo is duping him and offers to pay a portion of the bill, but Seung-kwon insists that he’ll cover the bill. They raise their glasses to Seung-kwon’s first club experience, and he stands up with a determined look, which cracks up with Geun-soo and Yi-seo.
Seung-kwon heads to the dance floor and thinks about Yi-seo’s advice about his first advance being the most important. He scans the dance floor and decides on his first target. He approaches the woman from behind and robotically dances with his arms outstretched, per Yi-seo’s instructions. Geun-soo and Yi-seo watch from above and worry that aimed too high. The woman turns around, and Seung-kwon smiles. It’s Hyun-yi!
Hyun-yi smile falls in recognition, but Seung-kwon continues to dance and smile while throwing her some finger hearts. She calls Seung-kwon by his name to ask what he’s doing. He doesn’t recognize her and says that he wants to know her better. She approaches him and gets up in his face while Geun-soo and Yi-seo also watch from above, and Seung-kwon finally realizes that it’s Hyun-yi.
Hyun-yi shares that she’s a transgender woman, and Yi-seo asks if Sae-ro-yi knows. Hyun-yi confirms that he knows, and she’s saving up for surgery. Yi-seo interrogates why she’s at this club instead of a trans club. Hyun-yi notes Yi-seo’s unexpectedly conventional perspective and responds that she can go to whatever club she wants.
She asks if they’re celebrating, seeing that they got a table, and none of them respond. Noticing the discomfort, Hyun-yi leaves and tells them to have fun. Geun-soo tries to stop her, but isn’t sure what to call her — hyung or noona.
At a café, a group of young women find Yi-seo’s social media and notice that she’s working at Danbam. They wonder why she’s working when she could make money off of her blogs, and one girl (the high school bully) curses Yi-seo for going on with life after ruining hers.
At Danbam, a customer complains about hair in their food, and another group asks for salt for the unseasoned soup. Yi-seo storms into the kitchen and relays the complaints. Yi-seo harshly asks why Hyun-yi works as a cook without any skills and suggests that she quit. Sae-ro-yi enters the kitchen to find out what’s going on, and Yi-seo storms out in frustration while Hyun-yi remains silent.
After hours, Hyun-yi washes dishes and looks dejected by the interaction. Yi-seo confronts Sae-ro-yi about Hyun-yi being trans, and he acknowledges that he knew since their construction site days. Yi-seo asks why he hired her as a chef and points out the food as their greatest weakness right now. She says that Hyun-yi needs to be fired, and we see Hyun-yi listening from around the corner.
Yi-seo acknowledges Sae-ro-yi’s kindness, but she can’t accept a chef that is less skilled than the owner. She adds that Hyun-yi being trans could also hurt their business, since this truth could be met with intolerance. Yi-seo argues that this decision would be for the best. Sae-ro-yi solemnly orders Geun-soo to bring Hyun-yi.
With Hyun-yi at the table, Sae-ro-yi asks how she likes working at Danbam, and Hyun-yi confirms that she likes it. He says that the one of the biggest problems currently is Hyun-yi’s mediocre cooking, and Hyun-yi nervously looks down. Sae-ro-yi says that Hyun-yi must also know that they can’t continue like this, and Hyun-yi understands this.
Sae-ro-yi hands Hyun-yi an envelope of money, and Seung-kwon expresses disapproval. The envelope has Hyun-yi’s salary for the month, and Hyun-yi accepts it as if it’s her last. But then, Sae-ro-yi clarifies that he just gave Hyun-yi twice the amount because they need twice the effort and value from her. He asks if she can do it, and Hyun-yi nods.
Yi-seo starts to protest, but Sae-ro-yi looks to all of them to make something clear. He says, “I’m an ex-convict that the world avoids.” He points out that Yi-seo, Geun-soo, and Seung-kwon recently caused Danbam to shut down while Hyun-yi diligently did her job without causing harm to any of them.
He asserts, “Just like you all, Hyun-yi is one of my people. To me, that’s important. You may find Hyun-yi uncomfortable, and though it would be great for you to understand, I won’t force it. If Hyun-yi being transgender will disrupt your work, speak now. Whoever it is, I’ll make a decision.”
Sae-ro-yi looks at each of his people and finally looks to Yi-seo for her response. She surrenders to Sae-ro-yi’s decision, and Hyun-yi promises to work hard. Yi-seo leaves to check on the order list, and the Danbam team resumes closing up shop.
The next day, Yi-seo walks to work and comments on how eventful Danbam life is. She’s stopped by a trio of girls, lead by the high school bully. The ringleader tries to provoke Yi-seo, and Geun-soo steps in to stop them. They warn him to stay on their good side, but he doesn’t see any benefits to that.
Bully Bok-hee grabs Yi-seo and seethes that she suffered a harsher punishment because she’s a politician’s daughter while Yi-seo barely got a slap on her wrist for underage drinking. To get revenge, Bok-hee claims that she reported them to the police for underage drinking. Geun-soo gets angry for the harm caused to Danbam by reporting them, and that fact triggers Yi-seo, who asks if Bok-hee was really the culprit.
Bok-hee insults the owner of Danbam for being a pushover, and Yi-seo finally gives them the fight they’ve goaded for. Yi-seo approaches Bok-hee and pokes her, inciting a fight. When Bok-hee pushes back, Geun-soo grabs her, and Yi-seo slaps Bok-hee. Yi-seo notes the similarity to the slap she delivered to Bok-hee’s mom, and the friend pounces. Without a blink, Yi-seo slaps her to the ground.
The last friend standing backpedals in fear, and Yi-seo pities Bok-hee for thinking that she could win this fight. She grabs Bok-hee’s hair and slaps her repeatedly for the harm she caused to Danbam. Geun-soo holds her back, and she recalls when Soo-ah admitted that she reported Danbam to the police, which was a lie. She shakes off Geun-soo with an insult and walks away.
On the patio of the Jang Ga bar, Soo-ah sees a police car, which reminds her of the night that she almost reported Danbam. She called the police but decided not to report the underage drinking, but as soon as she hung up, two girls recognized Yi-seo inside the bar. It was Bok-hee and her friend, and they reported the underage drinking to the police.
Yi-seo broods on the rooftop of Danbam and curses Soo-ah for her lie. Sae-ro-yi finds her on the rooftop and asks if she looks serious because of Hyun-yi. Yi-seo responds that someone who accepts losses because of attachment is called a pushover. She says that she’ll honor his decision, but she won’t change her opinion about the losses.
Sae-ro-yi says that it’s a good thing that Yi-seo isn’t a pushover and tells her to stay firm in her opinion. He asks that she push and lead Hyun-yi with honest feedback. He’s hopeful that with rounds of feedback, the food will get there.
Following Sae-ro-yi’s orders, Yi-seo gives her honest opinions on the food — incohesive, bad aftertaste — and Hyun-yi responds with adjustments. Geun-soo and Seung-kwon observe the latest taste test nervously, but Geun-soo isn’t too optimistic because Yi-seo is so picky.
After tasting the soup, Yi-seo shares that she didn’t understand why Sae-ro-yi wouldn’t just fire Hyun-yi and just followed his orders about giving feedback. Interpreting that as disapproval, Hyun-yi promises to try harder, but Yi-seo says that the food is delicious.
Hyun-yi looks shocked and finally lets out a smile, and the nervous observers celebrate the achievement. Before Yi-seo leaves the kitchen, she notes that Hyun-yi’s hair looks damaged from the coloring. She adds, “Your natural hair is prettier, unni.” Hyun-yi looks touched and smiles at her breakthrough. Her avid fans, Seung-kwon and Geun-soo, give her a thumbs up.
Yi-seo finds Sae-ro-yi outside the kitchen, and he acknowledges their achievement. She seems defeated that Sae-ro-yi knew that this would happen, even with the risk of losing the money to no improvement. Sae-ro-yi says that he trusted them, Hyun-yi and Yi-seo both. He pats her head to recognize her hard work, and she looks satisfied.
Soo-ah drinks alone at a bar and thinks about President Jang’s challenge to showcase her loyalty through her actions against Sae-ro-yi. She laughs like a mad person in the bar, and she drunkenly walks through the streets, thinking about Sae-ro-yi’s acceptance of her decision to take Jang Ga’s scholarship. She’s irritated by the straddling of loyalty and screams in the street.
Sae-ro-yi grabs her and asks who’s causing her annoyance. The rest of the Danbam staff watch as Soo-ah responds that it’s Sae-ro-yi who’s annoying her. He sweetly asks what’s going on, and she asks for his honest thoughts, assuming that he finds her repulsive. Sae-ro-yi turns to his staff and tell them to go ahead without him, but Yi-seo stays behind.
Yi-seo blatantly watches as Soo-ah continues her drunken conversation. She asks Sae-ro-yi to share how his business is doing so well, and he looks to Yi-seo as he responds that he hired a talented manager. Soo-ah turns to Yi-seo, who smiles in acknowledgement.
Sae-ro-yi tries to escort her home, but Soo-ah isn’t done. She admits, “I’m not apologetic to you at all because I most value myself and am the fondest of myself. Is there something wrong with that?” Sae-ro-yi says that it’s only natural, but Soo-ah calls bullshit. She feels insulted that Sae-ro-yi, an ex-convict who only graduated middle school, acts like he knows everything.
Reading through her hurtful words, Sae-ro-yi asks why she’s having a difficult time. He tells her to stop because no matter what she says, he won’t be affected. He assures her, “You’ve done your best with your life, and you haven’t done anything wrong.” Soo-ah looks affected by his kindness and begs him not to say things like this.
Sae-ro-yi tries to steer her home once again, but she stops him. She starts to admit the truth and approaches him. “To me, you’re always…” She doesn’t finish her sentence as she goes in for the kiss, but she tells us, “… shining too much.” Sae-ro-yi closes his eyes as Soo-ah closes in on him, but someone interferes.
Yi-seo clasps Soo-ah’s face and pushes it away – “Defense,” she calls it. She quotes criminal law on a kiss without consent being categorized as assault, and Sae-ro-yi looks mortified. Yi-seo looks at Soo-ah with a hard look, determined to keep her strong defense.
This show keeps getting better by the episode! I love how this show is unapologetically bold with the characters and their messages. Every character is so full of rich background and history, and they’re all brimming with potential for their own spin-off show. Though the set-up and backstory for our hero is the foundation of this show, Sae-ro-yi’s mission doesn’t overshadow anyone else’s story. In a meta way, Sae-ro-yi’s own story seems to reflect the kind and forgiving nature of Sae-ro-yi himself. His story feels incredibly humble and accepting of the others’ stories as they’re weaved into his own.
Yi-seo was definitely a highlight of this episode, with her spunk and confidence in full throttle. In both her lecture on ‘Grinding 101’ and her marketing pitch to Sae-ro-yi, she handled herself with confidence, candor, and charm. I was definitely Geun-soo in that marketing pitch scene, gaping at Yi-seo’s persuasion. Like damn, Yi-seo… I kind of want to be you. Kim Da-mi is really nailing this character, and I applaud her for making this often malicious character likable. You can see her range of expressions in the way her eyes soften at Sae-ro-yi’s protectiveness with his people and how her look hardens when she deals with her enemies. I think the portrayal of Yi-seo as a sympathetic and flawed heroine with a growing crush is an interesting juxtaposition to the sociopath tendencies that make her a fundamentally unapproachable character.
Learning that Hyun-yi is transgender was a big moment, and this clarified so much about the gender confusion in previous episodes. I’m unfamiliar with the original webtoon and didn’t do enough research on the characters, so I was face-palming at my ignorance about the character. I had been using the gender pronouns of the actress, Lee Joo-young, without investigating further. I think honoring the character’s gender pronouns (she/her/hers) is important, and I think it’s also important to respect the storytelling process and timeline. It’s a delicate balance that I wish I had been privy to before so that I could honor both the character and the story.
I did not expect a mainstream Korean drama to introduce us to a trans character so openly and without any reservations, but I’m glad we’re at this point. Lee Joo-young has played LGBTQ+ characters in the past, and I would consider her a trailblazer in representing these characters on screen. It seems fitting that she’s taking on this character on a more mainstream (albeit cable) platform. My heart broke when I saw how Hyun-yi accepted rejection and how she nervously eavesdropped on the conversation disputing her identity. The scene prompted points of conversation (on trans representation and visibility, the general public reception of trans folks), and I’m interested to see how viewers, both the Korean audience and international audience, will respond to these prompts.
The tension between Yi-seo and Hyun-yi was an unexpected point of drama, and I got emotional about their resolution. Did anyone else tear up when Yi-seo called Hyun-yi unni?? I think Yi-seo’s one track mind for success, though admirable and a necessary contrast to Sae-ro-yi’s forgiving nature, showed its ugly side in dealing with Hyun-yi’s incompetence as a chef. The harsh reaction to Hyun-yi’s mistakes from Yi-seo was ill-timed, right after she found out that Hyun-yi is trans, and it almost seemed like she was reacting from a place of prejudice and hate. Digging deeper into the character, I was convinced that Yi-seo’s reaction came from a place that was well-intentioned in Danbam’s success. She just didn’t consider that success meant something different to Sae-ro-yi, who trusts his people more than they trust themselves.
I love this contrast between Sae-ro-yi and Yi-seo, and I think they make a compatible pair as business partners for now. Sae-ro-yi is steering the ship on the business front and carries many more years of valuable experience that make him a strong leader of Danbam, but he needs Yi-seo. She’s sharp and unforgiving when it comes to achieving success, and she understands the value of hard work and talent. On the personal relationship front, I think Yi-seo may have taken the reins with her bold interference. I loved that record-scratch moment, complete with Sae-ro-yi’s mortification and Yi-seo’s merciless gaze. I need more of this Yi-seo — more of her clumsy and reckless defense and, hopefully one day, her offense.