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‘Start-Up’ Episode 5: What’s real and what’s fake?

How many of you are experiencing Second Lead Syndrome? Because that will determine how you will feel about "Start-Up" Episode 5. Image credit: tvN
Image credit: tvN

How many of you are experiencing Second Lead Syndrome? Because that will determine how you will feel about “Start-Up” Episode 5.

Of course, a lot of other things happened in “Start-Up” Episode 5. Not least of all estranged sisters Seo Dal Mi (Bae Suzy) and Won In Jae (Kang Han Na) going on stage to make their three-minute pitches for their respective startups. But for many viewers, the most significant development will be the love triangle of Dal Mi, Nam Do San (Nam Joo Hyuk), and Han Jip Yeong (Kim Seon Ho) heating up. This tvN drama streaming on Netflix is really making us ask ourselves: What’s real and what’s fake? Who’s real and who’s fake? Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the episode.

‘He learns how to win Jane’s heart’

“Start-Up” of course is a drama and not a documentary about startups, so we shouldn’t expect it to give a 100-percent accurate portrayal of this fascinating world. Still, it does a reasonably good job of introducing viewers to the staples of the tech startup ecosystem, including hackathons and three-minute pitches.

Sand Box, the fictional startup accelerator where our four main characters have ended up, mainly exists as a venue for Dal Mi and In Jae to compete against each other, and for Do San and Jip Yeong to compete for Dal Mi’s love.

To be honest, “Start-Up” Episode 5 is a bit of a letdown after the excellent first four episodes. It somewhat feels as if the show wants to accelerate — pun intended — the competition between the two “Nam Do Sans”. The one who is really named Nam Do San, but is not the person who wrote those letters to Dal Mi. And the one who is not really named Nam Do San, but who actually wrote those letters.

Which begs the question: who is the real one that Dal Mi loves?

I’m sure that “Start-Up” focuses a lot on AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning not just because they are among the hottest trends in the startup industry, but also because the relationship between Dal Mi and Do San is similar to machine learning. The show makes it explicit with Do San’s “romantic” explanation of what machine learning is. He is Tarzan trying to learn by trial and error how to win Jane’s heart.

From the original robotic Do San, each episode shows us how he is becoming more human because he has fallen in love with Dal Mi. And because he wants to become the person that she thinks he already is.

‘I always wished I had met you sooner’

Where does this leave Jip Yeong, then? In a way, it’s unfair how Do San is reaping the benefits, so to speak, of the things Jip Yeong did, with the help of Dal Mi’s grandmother, Ms. Choi.

Sure, it was Jip Yeong who had begged Do San to act the part, and Do San himself hadn’t set out to deceive anyone. It was only supposed to be just one day, right? Just one day. That’s all Dal Mi had been wishing for.

Do San falling for Dal Mi wasn’t part of the plan. And all the more Jip Yeong had no plan to fall for Dal Mi. But that’s the thing about humans. We’re more unpredictable than AI and machines. Yes, even more unpredictable than Yeong Sil, the AI speaker of Jip Yeong that is his company’s version of Alexa.

At this point in the show, I can’t tell yet if Dal Mi really likes Do San for who he is, or if her reaction to everything he says and does is colored by her thinking she’s the boy who was her first love.

Also, while it seems clear that Do San has really fallen for her — in a way he has never experienced before — I’m not certain if what Jip Yeong feels for her is romantic love. We know that he is very fond of Ms. Choi and that he feels he owes her a great debt. And it is this heartwarming relationship with Dal Mi’s grandmother that is transforming him as a person, and making him see that he can relate to Dal Mi.

In fact, “Start-Up” Episode 5 will again make you cry because of the exchange between Ms. Choi and her Good Boy.

‘Will it say it was forged?’

And while we know Jip Yeong is brutally frank as a rule, are his vicious comments to Do San also colored by jealousy and resentment? Resentment, because he is the one who actually wrote those letters and made Dal Mi happy. And jealousy, because now he is falling for Dal Mi, but it’s Do San whom she loves — or thinks she loves.

Is Jip Yeong’s love for Dal Mi real? Is Dal Mi’s love for Do San real?

The question of what is real and what is fake also plays a crucial role in the hackathon. Dal Mi’s team decides to work on the handwriting dataset provided by Sand Box. And after learning this, In Jae decides to come up with a product that would also be based on the same dataset, to one-up her sister.

With Dal Mi’s startup coming with an AI solution that detects forgery, while In Jae’s team developing an AI that can create entirely new fonts, the show is already telegraphing how technology might come into play in proving who actually wrote those letters to Dal Mi.

It can hardly be coincidence, right?

To be honest, I don’t know who “deserves” Dal Mi more, or if either Do San or Jip Yeong really deserve her. Maybe that’s the point, though since this is a K-drama it would really be surprising if the first male lead and first female lead don’t end up with each other.

We’ll see how it goes. Until then, keep watching “Start-Up”, and experiencing Second Lead Syndrome.

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