Itaewon Class: Episode 16 (Final)
Diving into our finale, President Jang gloats as our hero finally bends to his will, seemingly crowning Jang the victor in their 15-year power struggle. With his loved ones on the line, Sae-ro-yi risks it all in one last fight against his old foe and hopefully will find the happiness he’s sought for so long.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Thinking only of Yi-seo, Sae-ro-yi kneels for President Jang who cackles with glee. Jang tuts he must abandon his son again because Sae-ro-yi is so pathetic and wonders how it feels. Sae-ro-yi agrees he feels pathetic and then turns the question on Jang. He asks if it’s gratifying and admits that while Jang made his life hell, he inspired Sae-ro-yi to keep going. Thinking it a worthy fight, Sae-ro-yi devoted his whole life to following in Jang’s footsteps only to have Jang threaten him to kneel by holding his loved ones hostage.
“I spent over a decade of my life following in the footsteps of such a disgusting old grouch?” Sae-ro-yi spits, “I deeply regret wasting my life.” Jang argues he got what he wanted in the end – Sae-ro-yi on his knees – but Sae-ro-yi just snatches the address of Geun-won’s hideout from him. “After over a decade, I got to know you,” Sae-ro-yi sighs and leaves with Seung-kwon.
Meanwhile, Geun-won and Hee-hoon surround Yi-seo and Geun-soo. As Geun-won advances, Yi-seo grabs a shovel and kicks a pipe to Geun-soo. Geun-won and Hee-hoon laugh and Yi-seo orders Geun-soo to attack on three. She counts and on three bolts, yelling for Geun-soo to hold them off. Hee. The men advance and Geun-soo swings, saying Yi-seo told him to hold out.
Sae-ro-yi warns Seung-kwon it’ll be dangerous and says his priority is to save Yi-seo no matter what. He doesn’t expect Seung-kwon to do the same and Seung-kwon groans, saying Yi-seo may be a brat but she’s family. He grins that having the same goal makes for better teamwork and Sae-ro-yi smiles back as they speed off towards Geun-won, who watches as Hee-hoon kicks the crap out of Geun-soo. Hee-hoon moves to deliver a final blow but Geun-won stops him, pointing out they’ll lose Yi-seo.
Geun-won spits Geun-soo got everything he wanted, so he should butt out. Geun-soo says he’s never once gotten anything he wanted, but they must really be brothers because they always use the wrong methods. Yi-seo runs but the men follow in a car. She jumps off the road just in time to avoid getting run over and Hee-hoon sends his grunts racing after her while they drive ahead. Yi-seo makes it to the next road just as the car turns onto it.
She turns to see another car coming from the opposite direction and as soon as Sae-ro-yi recognizes her and sees the other car, he tells Seung-kwon to gun it. Without hesitation, Seung-kwon presses the gas to the floor, speeding past Yi-seo towards Hee-hoon and Geun-won. Hee-hoon swerves at the last instant, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. Seung-kwon marvels at their airbags as he and Sae-ro-yi step out unscathed.
Locking eyes with Yi-seo, Sae-ro-yi calls her and she runs into his arms. He checks her for injuries, and she sobs that he’s crazy. Geun-won laughs that they saved him time finding them but Sae-ro-yi ignores him, instead informing Hee-hoon they called the cops so he should go now. Seung-kwon tells Yi-seo and Sae-ro-yi he’s got this so they should run ahead.
Geun-won drives after them while Seung-kwon makes quick work of Hee-hoon’s goons. Hee-hoon chuckles that Seung-kwon used to be one of them but Seung-kwon says he’s more suited towards serving tables and the men rush each other. Sae-ro-yi struggles to run with his likely concussion and Yi-seo supports him, wondering why he came in his condition. It reminds Sae-ro-yi of the time they ran through Itaewon and Yi-seo is confused why he’s bringing that up now.
Sae-ro-yi cradles her face and says she’s always worked hard for him and gotten hurt and Yi-seo questions if he’s feeling alright. Rubbing his head, Sae-ro-yi confesses that she’s overtaken his heart and mind, wondering if this is how she’s felt all these years. “I love you,” Sae-ro-yi blurts, “I love you, Yi-seo. I love you so much.” He embraces her and they hold each other until Geun-won catches up. As the car careens towards them, Sae-ro-yi launches a rock which shatters the windshield.
Geun-won screeches to a halt and Sae-ro-yi hands Yi-seo his phone, telling her the cops are coming and she should run ahead. She warns him that if he dies, she’ll die too and takes off as Sae-ro-yi faces Geun-won, who takes a swing. Seung-kwon holds his own against Hee-hoon and his goons, pulling off some rad moves in the process. Thinking today is the day this ends, Sae-ro-yi rams Geun-won into the car, punching him repeatedly before Geun-won regains the upper hand. He whales on Sae-ro-yi, screaming at him to die like Dad.
They break apart and Sae-ro-yi askes if Geun-won feels remorse at all for the people he’s hurt. “Do you feel guilty when you eat livestock?” Geun-won retorts, “Because of you livestock, I lost everything.” Enraged, Sae-ro-yi charges, but Geun-won throws him down, screaming at him to die. Hee-hoon has been equally pummeled and tells Seung-kwon he’d like to use the out Sae-ro-yi offered now. Seung-kwon asks about his men and Hee-hoon shrugs he’ll be lucky to drag himself away. Angry, Seung-kwon says he regrets working for him – a real boss takes responsibility.
Yi-seo’s legs finally give out but she’s quickly found by Detective Oh and the police. Geun-won rolls his eyes when Sae-ro-yi stands up again. Replaying Yi-seo’s words that she’ll die if he does, Sae-ro-yi swears that he’ll be happy. Geun-won charges but Sae-ro-yi throws dirt in his eyes and delivers a swift uppercut that knocks Geun-won on his back. Catching his breath, Sae-ro-yi flashes back to Yi-seo lamenting she didn’t see much point in living, thinking it a chore to work hard only to die before reaching 100.
“If it feels that much like a chore,” Sae-ro-yi replied, “just die.” He said that despite a repetitive routine, you never know what tomorrow brings. Seung-kwon tried to fight him, and now he’s a waiter, Yi-seo got the pub suspended only to become its manager. He’d said some days were tough or sad, but fun days sprinkled in. He admitted every day was exciting with Yi-seo and she smiled as she agreed that when she’s with Sae-ro-yi her heart beats and it’s fun. The cops arrive and Yi-seo cradles Sae-ro-yi as he thinks, “Let’s be happy.”
Soo-ah arrives at the prosecutor’s office with an envelope and soon after a team arrives to clear out Jang Ga. Soo-ah hands over her evidence of all of President Jang’s misdeeds and the news reports that he’ll be questioned. Waking up in the hospital, Sae-ro-yi immediately pulls Yi-seo into a hug.
Jang’s assistant reports Soo-ah was the whistle-blower and the pub owners want compensation. Geun-soo adds they’re on the brink of bankruptcy and the board wants to sell. Jang balks that selling now would be a loss and Geun-soo says one firm offered a reasonable price. When Ho-jin visits him in prison, Geun-won only finds him vaguely familiar. Ho-jin introduces himself as financial manager for IC, before which he was financial manager for Min-jung, and before that… he was Geun-won’s punching bag.
“The whole thing between Sae-ro-yi and you started with me,” Ho-jin says, “And I get to wrap things up too.” With a takeover bid out for Jang Ga, Ho-jin wanted to see Geun-won without his background. Geun-won trembles with rage hearing that Jang will also be arrested for corruption. “Stop whining. It’s done,” Ho-jin says coolly, “I forgive you.” He sweeps out of there with a smile while Geun-won is dragged away by guards, screaming.
Min-jung is returning to Seoul and Detective Oh sighs that he won’t see her much anymore. She says he’s welcome to visit anytime he visits Seoul, but Detective Oh says he can’t to Hye-won’s annoyance. Just as she’s about to leave, Detective Oh calls out to her, asking if he could give her a ride to Seoul and Min-jung smiles that she can squeeze in with him and Hye-won, sending her own car ahead.
Leaving Jang Ga for the last time, Soo-ah is stopped by Jang’s assistant. He tells her no one will hire a whistleblower and she asks why he works so hard for President Jang. “I’m a salaryman,” is his only answer and Soo-ah politely takes her leave. Upstairs, Jang tries to schmooze his way out of the takeover. Geun-soo says it’s like Jang’s saying, “The strong prey on the weak” – Jang Ga became weak, so people are preying. Jang kicks Geun-soo out, grumbling to himself he’s Jang Dae-hee.
Kneeling on his hospital bed, Sae-ro-yi gets an earful from Yi-seo’s mom about the kidnapping. Mom demands how she can entrust Yi-seo to him and Sae-ro-yi apologizes, agreeing to take responsibility before realizing what he’d said. Tickled pink, Yi-seo ushers Mom out. He bids her farewell and Mom is pleased to be addressed as ‘Mother.’ While Sae-ro-yi tries to regain feeling in his legs, Yi-seo chirps he promised to take care of her. She asks if he likes her and he replies, “No, I love you.” Yi-seo asks him to repeat it and Sae-ro-yi mumbles it again and runs out with Yi-seo cheerily reciprocating as she follows.
Loan Shark/Mogul Granny gets a call from President Jang, swearing to do as she’d asked and not mess with Sae-ro-yi anymore. Granny corrects that he can’t mess with Sae-ro-yi now, demanding what he wants. Jang begs Granny to help him, using their 40-year relationship and his failing health as leverage. Recalling he’d started his business to feed his family, Granny asks why he’s running it now. Rather than answer, Jang says he’s never made her suffer a loss. Granny sighs that they’re no longer mutually beneficial and there’s someone else he should be appealing to.
President Jang meets Sae-ro-yi outside Danbam and Sae-ro-yi welcomes him, just like the first time. Sae-ro-yi cooks himself and Jang eats heartily until Sae-ro-yi announces he’s pursuing the takeover. He adds he’ll put Min-jung in charge and plans to change the company name. Jang asks who taught him to make the stew and Sae-ro-yi says Dad. Jang admits he doesn’t have money and offers to pay another way, getting up and kneeling. Unmoved, Sae-ro-yi asks what he’s doing.
Tears rolling down his face, Jang says Jang Ga is collapsing and wouldn’t benefit Sae-ro-yi. “This isn’t just resentment,” Sae-ro-yi points out, “Jang Ga is a good company.” Jang tries playing his health card and apologizes profusely for what happened to Dad and Sae-ro-yi, bending into a formal bow. Sae-ro-yi admits he’d always wanted to hear that, but it doesn’t feel great. He pities Geun-soo and tells Jang to get up. Rubbing his head, Sae-ro-yi asks if Jang considers him a pushover. “I’m a businessman,” Sae-ro-yi says. He points out this is a business takeover and Jang’s apology means nothing so they should do business. He and Yi-seo leave Jang to sob on the floor.
IC’s bid is approved and Sae-ro-yi takes the podium. Checking Dad’s watch, Sae-ro-yi tells the board members that Jang Ga represents Korea and the food represents Jang Ga. During crises, people found comfort in the delicious and affordable dish and even though their image has been tarnished, it was the fault of an individual, not the restaurant. He vows to focus on people and trust over money and gain and prosper together.
Afterwards, Sae-ro-yi flags down Geun-soo, having heard he resigned but still voted for Sae-ro-yi. Geun-soo says he wanted to see him achieve his goal and then admits he was the one who outed Hyun-yi and approached Seung-kwon in order to spy on IC. Geun-soo laments that he did everything to win despite knowing that he couldn’t have Yi-seo even if he succeeded. Sae-ro-yi cuts off his apologies with a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay,” Sae-ro-yi smiles gently, “Because you’re just a kiddo.”
Sae-ro-yi answers a call from Soo-ah and she says she didn’t blow the whistle for him. She explains when Dad lent her money for college, she’d promised to pay him back three-fold. She asks if this is enough and Sae-ro-yi thanks her. Soo-ah says she’s free now and asks if he’ll cheer for her as a friend. Sae-ro-yi says he’ll always cheer for her and Soo-ah asks him a favor: “Live happily.” They hang up and she turns back to Dad’s grave and smiles.
At Danbam that evening, Tony pouts while fumbling with tickets and Hyun-yi offers to go with him. Seung-kwon arrives and says Geun-soo called him, wondering what’s up with Tony. Hyun-yi explains he got dumped and Seung-kwon tsks that it’s not a big deal. They point out Seung-kwon is single, and Tony says Seung-kwon can keep the tickets. They’re interrupted by a foreign couple, but Tony gets up and breezily greets them in perfect English, guiding them to a table. Seung-kwon is stunned and Hyun-yi reminds him learning English was the mission Sae-ro-yi gave Tony.
Geun-soo arrives and confesses his guilt to Seung-kwon and Hyun-yi who both hit him as punishment. Hyun-yi asks why Geun-soo did something knowing he’d regret it and he apologizes to her. She tells him to stick around and see Yi-seo, but Geun-soo says he’ll see her later because he’s still a kiddo. He runs into Yi-seo anyway, and he explains he wanted to apologize to Hyun-yi and Seung-kwon before heading to the States. Yi-seo points out an apology won’t cut it and walks off, but Geun-soo calls her back to ask for a handshake.
Yi-seo asks if that’s the end of his crush and Geun-soo starts to agree he doesn’t deserve it, but Yi-seo pulls him in for a hug. “Of course, you do,” Yi-seo says and tears prick Geun-soo’s eyes, “You didn’t even care about right and wrong. You were just faithful to me.” Despite not being able to accept, Yi-seo says she felt it and apologizes for taking advantage of his feelings. She thanks him and tells him to take care.
Dragging Hyun-yi along on a mission to spy on a popular restaurant, the women are surprised to find it belongs to Soo-ah (thanks to an investment from Hong Seok-cheon) and she offers to buy them tea and tell them whatever they like. Yi-seo snottily declares she and Sae-ro-yi are dating but her cheeky smile falls when Soo-ah genuinely says she’s glad that it’s Yi-seo. Embarrassed, Yi-seo stalks off and Hyun-yi races after her as Soo-ah goes in to find a young man (cameo by Park Bo-gum!!!) interviewing for the chef position. He stands and she’s taken aback by his resemblance to Sae-ro-yi. She tries to play it cool but hires him immediately upon tasting his food to Seok-cheon’s glee. Hee.
Hyun-yi meets Seung-kwon at the theater and he says he got free tickets bud doesn’t want to watch the movie alone. Hyun-yi isn’t fooled but plays along and they skip into the movies together. Meanwhile, Yi-seo and Sae-ro-yi go on a date in Itaewon and after a playful photoshoot, she pouts that he said he loved her but wouldn’t hold her hand. Sae-ro-yi admits it’s awkward and taking his hands, Yi-seo laughs that for all their differences, neither knows the warmth of people.
She says that when he’d told her his story, she’d wanted to embrace his past and keep him from suffering or being lonely. Yi-seo wanted to make his bitter nights sweet and says thinking of him, her empty life fills up. “Thank you. I love you. I want to make you happy,” Yi-seo says and plants a quick kiss on his lips. Sae-ro-yi thinks that he’d wanted to be happy, to achieve everything he wanted without losing himself. Despite the hardships, he’d managed because of his loved ones.
Pulling Yi-seo in for a real kiss, Sae-ro-yi holds her close and thinks that he’s already happier than he ever imagined he could be. Later, the Danbam crew sits on the rooftop drinking and celebrating while Tony plays guitar. After a shot, Sae-ro-yi looks thoughtfully at his glass and then Yi-seo, taking her hand in his. Dad’s words echo: “How does it taste?” and Sae-ro-yi just smiles.
Sae-ro-yi’s voiceover says that he works as usual and dates as usual. He and Yi-seo sit together watching the sunset and he pecks her on the cheek. Yi-seo asks what for and Sae-ro-yi smiles that he just likes her. Yi-seo pouts that he only likes her a little and Sae-ro-yi plants a real kiss on her, saying that’s not true. Grinning, she snuggles closer.
Well y’all, we have reached the end of the line and I hate to say that I’m disappointed this wasn’t a more satisfying finale. The ending was serviceable, all our loose ends were either tied in a neat bow or hinted at a promising future… but it felt lacking. The extra half hour also made the episode drag for me. I feel everything set out could’ve been accomplished within our regular time with tighter editing. For a show that had such a strong start to a great underdog plot, it never really utilized that. Sae-ro-yi had plenty of struggles, but I never felt anxious for Danbam because everything seemed to get resolved so easily. Yi-seo dropped into their laps as a genius marketer/manager, Hyun-yi went from cooking poorly to winning all 3 rounds of The Best Pub against professional chefs, and when Jang’s investment scheme nearly bankrupt them… Loan Shark Granny was revealed as a wealthy business mogul to save the day. All the hard work was done in offscreen time lapses and while the soundtrack was definitely inspiring, I just wanted more.
Itaewon Class lost its magic the last few weeks – particularly after that 4-year time skip – but the final plot arc was what made me throw my hands in the air in defeat. Geun-won deciding to kidnap Yi-seo and murder Sae-ro-yi was straight up bonkers, and while Jang’s reaction wasn’t exactly out of character, I found it so incredibly frustrating. He’s always been a shrewd businessman but while he was more than willing to use unscrupulous methods to protect Jang Ga, I don’t understand how he could justify standing by while the monster he created wreaked havoc. He’s never been a loving father but ignoring Geun-won’s final plea to stop him… was heartbreaking. Geun-won has no excuses, he’s a pathetic weasel, but it’s hard not to feel sad knowing how he became that way. Jang is so cruel, and I wish we’d explored
what happened to that boy we saw in the flashback, who gleefully promised his sister he’d build a skyscraper.
Honestly, the character that shined for me at the end was not Sae-ro-yi or even anyone in the core Danbam crew, but Ho-jin. I’ve had a special fondness for his character from the start and it was so satisfying to see him face Geun-won and finally be in a place where he can forgive his tormenter. I think it’s a shame Ho-jin was delegated to such a tertiary character because he’s the one who really carried the message through and as he told Geun-won, their story both started and ended with him. It’s strange how everyone else’s ending was more satisfactory than our core leads’. Seung-kwon realized how far he’s come and had a cute not-a-date with Hyun-yi, Min-jung is now running Jang Ga and probably gonna start dating Detective Oh, even Geun-soo realized his errors and apologized sincerely. His final moment with Yi-seo was cathartic and I did like that she admitted her fault in his trajectory and thanked him for caring for her. It was good to see our puppy return to himself and I hope he has a bright future ahead of him.
Soo-ah finally escaped from Jang and it was great to see that she had indeed been keeping tabs on Jang’s wrongdoing. She finally made good on her promise to Dad and earned her freedom (and cutie Park Bo-gum!). I wish she and Yi-seo had parted on more amicable terms, but I guess Yi-seo still has growing up to do. I never got invested in the love lines in this show and the execution of Sae-ro-yi and Yi-seo as a couple was poorly done. As cute as it was to see Sae-ro-yi fumble in front of Mom and awkwardly express his affection for Yi-seo, it was tainted by my lack of emotional attachment to the couple. Sae-ro-yi finally got Jang on his knees and took control of Jang Ga, but it took 15 years to realize that Jang was just a pathetic old man who was never worth the time he wasted. Still, Sae-ro-yi got his happy ending and for all its faults, Itaewon Class had a lot of fun moments that made for an enjoyable ride for most of its run. I maintain that what stood out the most was always the characters and I’m excited to see what the cast has in store next.