So after three back to back episodes of flashbacks focusing on our three main characters, Taesu, Useok, and Hyerin, we finally get into the actual story, which primarily seems to revolve around two things: Taesu's gang matters and the love triangle developing between our three leads. The result is a bit more setup than anything else, but both Taesu and Useok get some character moments to keep the episode afloat.
Taesu's story is in the forefront as one of his lieutenants manipulates him and the rest of his gang into assaulting a casino that's connected with a major Seoul gangland player. Meanwhile, Useok deals with the corruption of the criminal justice system as he deals with the corrupt police, which shakes him and then later ends up having to make a choice between protecting Taesu and completing his major law exam. In all this, Taesu starts hanging out with Useok and Hyerin and develops an interest in Hyerin, with whom he spends a little time.
The story is mostly concerned with setting up future conflicts, so there's no a lot of meaty conflict going on, but we do get a moment with Taesu as he recognizes that he's being manipulated but opts not to throw his lieutenant under the bus or punish him and just rolls along. I think this speaks to his approach to his fate, previously having resigned to join the gang in the first place. Similarly, we get to see a little of the problems of Korean society under dictatorship (problem that remain even since) in the corruption of the police force, a corruption that even he benefits from as a law student. This clearly staggers his faith in changing the system.
I think the one thing that truly bothered me about this episode and I hope it's something that's unique to this episode is the director/producer's decision to include a series of scenes devoid of sync sound with the somewhat cheesy instrumental soundtrack pumped high. These segments are also filled with a touch of overacting, especially the first scene with Taesu chasing around a surly Useok, due to the near miming that Choe Minsu and Bak Sangwan participate in. It's not really clear why they opted to cut sync sounds altogether, but I found it distracting and it's not used consistently in the episode, occasionally cutting in some sync sound and while initially doing this for the friendly scenes, they also do it inconsistently in a gang scene too, leaving me wondering what they director or producer was thinking.
I know that every episode can't give equal attention to all three leads, but I kind of wished that Hyerin played a bigger role in this episode--especially since we got a full episode dedicated to her the episode before. In particular, I'd like to understand what's going on in her mind regarding Useok, because if we never go deeper into her own psychology, then her dedicated flashback episode gets wasted as she becomes an enigma for Useok and Taesu. At this point, the series is still early, so I'll let it slide with the hope that they get into it later.
However, I ultimately felt like this episode was lacking just a little as it doesn't really deliver that much story. I did appreciate that the episode opened up with a view of the pro-democracy protests again helping us sink into the period setting, although thematically, the impact of the setting appears to be mostly limited to Useok's story.
So while the episode is a bit slow and sometimes heavy-handed in its direction, I think it's got enough going on with it that I'm looking forward to what the series will make of its setup. 6/10