Itaewon Class returns this week for another solid episode, one that tackles the subject of transgender but also does so with enough class and grace to make it one of the better moments in the entire episode. Seeing DanBam’s transformation over the hour is a great touch too while witnessing the Chairman begin to exhibit a few concerned glances its way is testament to the work the team has put into turning this business around from the brink of extinction.
Episode 5 begins Drama Fever with Yi-Seo shocked to learn Geun-Soo is working at Sae-Ro-Yi’s restaurant, and as we skip back 11 years we see him pushed around by his brother Geun-Won. Even worse, his mother wanted nothing to do with him. After a flash to this time, we cut back to the present where the current workers take offense to Yi-Seo’s proposition of becoming their manager. Intrigued, Sae-Ro-Yi decides to take her up on the offer.
As she exhibits her expertise, in particular around social media, she goes on to make some serious changes to DanBam, including updating the decor and modernizing the food, completely changing the feel of the establishment. Sae-Ro-Yi lets her sign on officially as a manager while the workers begrudgingly applaud.
Eventually, they come around to the idea though, as she convinces them to sledgehammer in a wall to make more space and spruce up the decor. It looks gorgeous too and Geun-Won takes the opportunity to lavish praise on her for the great work she’s done in getting the bar ready.
By contrast, Geun-Won begins to show frustrations at his situation, as the DramaFever Chairman berates him and reminds his son that his position at the company is precarious, especially given all he does is cause trouble.
While Soo-A watches on enviously outside, the guys have a very successful day which spurs Yi-Seo on to tell them they need to be proactive and try to establish a more long-term approach to customer retention. This collaborative effort is a big difference compared to the tyrannical livelihood of Jangga Pub, which relies solely on the Chairman and his interests.
Stepping outside, he speaks to Soo-A and tells her not to be so naive in thinking DanBam can be ignored, and as she walks up the street she bumps into Sae-Ro-Yi and gives him the cold shoulder. That evening the workers discuss Sae-Ro-Yi’s hidden talents as a chef after he steps up and cooks on behalf of Hyun-Yi who has a day off.
That evening, Seung-Kwon and Geun-Soo head to the nightclub with Yi-Seo where the former dramacool decides to start dancing with a girl who takes his fancy. Only, when she spins around it turns out it’s actually Hyun-Yi! He’s actually a transgender and it catches him completely off guard. Unfortunately, things don’t go well, and this is made worse by the following evening Hyun-Yi struggling to cook inspiring food.
In private, Yi-Seo suggests firing Hyun-Yi after his food mishap. Instead, Sae-Ro-Yi tells him to work twice as hard and puts his faith in his friend, calling him one of “his people” and calling out any potential prejudiced ideas that may be in the air after Hyun-Yi’s big reveal. It’s a moment that’s met with silence and one that ultimately sees the tight-knit group grow closer than before.
As we soon see, it wasn’t actually Soo-A who called the police that day, it was Bok-Hui who did so after passing by and seeing Yi-Seo drinking. Before we see how this plays out, Yi-Seo teaches Hyun-Yi how to cook, with brutally honest feedback. Eventually, they hit a breakthrough and she tells him his food tastes really good, which shows that Sae-Ro-Yi’s faith is well-placed.
Later that evening, the group runs into a drunk Soo-A who asks outright why his business is doing so well. She tries flirting with Sae-Ro-Yi, knowing that Yi-Seo is watching on, and openly admits to being selfish and only caring about herself. As she leans forward to try and kiss Sae-Ro-Yi, Yi-Seo steps up and grabs her mouth, calling it a criminal offense and stopping her in her tracks where the episode ends.
The big talking point in this episode, along with Itaewon’s honest depiction of this multicultural area, of course, is going to be Hyun-Yi. Seeing this show tackle LGBT issues, especially on the back of Apple TV+’s documentary on the topic released earlier today, is another sign that this progressive movement is spilling over into every part of the small screen – which is great to see.
The way Itaewon Class handled this with care and respect is typified by the underlying themes surrounding inclusiveness, teamwork and working hard. Given how important food is to the 4 “P” rule for any restaurant (place, promotion, product, price), Itaewon Class does a great job elevating Yi-Seo to Gordon Ramsay levels of empowerment, helping to transform the entire pub into something far more robust and noteworthy than before.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions here, especially coming off the back of that ending, but there’s enough to make the prospect of tomorrow’s episode a very exciting one indeed and elevates this episode into something wholly special and unique.