Welcome To The Jungle
If you’re in the mood for a melodramatic, over-the-top, satirical play on class and sex, The Penthouse may just scratch that itch. At the same time, it’s also a show that feels like it could outstay its welcome if it doesn’t tone down its melodrama little, with a relentless pace right from the off and lots of bubbling tensions and drama to dissect. Let’s begin!
Episode 1 of The Penthouse begins with fireworks filling the sky with dazzling colours and loud bangs. Backdropped against these celebrations, our story takes place inside the luxurious 100-floor apartment suite known as Hera Palace.
Taking the elevator down is Su-Ryeon who watches in shock as a young girl suddenly topples down all the way to her doom. Crashing through the glass below, blood spatters across the fountain of an angel as she lies motionless.
We then skip back 2 months prior where Yoon-Hee gets dressed up while listening to classical music. A man named Sang-Heon is there to buy out a property and questions why she’s wearing a scarf round her neck. As we soon see, she’s hiding a scar and pulls away from his advances.
Sang-Heon is not happy though and scoffs at the idea of her brokerage fee, warning that he could destroy her career with a single phone call. Despite doing all this hard work of finding him a new property, he dismissively throws a couple ofnotes at her and tells the girl to leave.
Meanwhile, talented schoolgirl Jenny starts practicing her operatic singing but her teacher berates her for going to karaoke the previous night. Fellow student Ro-Na is also there and clearly there’s no love lost between the two. Jenny pokes fun at Ro-Na’s financial situation but the girl more than holds her own.
Jenny leaves while whining, speaking to her Mother about all this. As we soon find out, Ro-Na is actually the daughter of Yoon-Hee who’s none too happy with her daughter’s aspirations of being a singer. She wants her to get her head down and work on her grades. Proving her Mother wrong, Ro-Na recites her operatic singing perfectly but it brings back painful memories of the past for Yoon-Hee.
As tensions simmer – even this early in the game – Hera Palace starts to come into focus as the key area we’ll be honing in on here. Seo-Jin shows up to teach singing lessons but her student Min-Hyuk’s voice breaks and it causes her to snap.
She confronts him and questions just whether he’s really a singer or not. Ruthlessly, she decides to cut him loose from her program. With an opening position on the table, Jenny’s Mother Ma-Ri shows up and sweet-talks her way into getting her daughter a call regarding lessons.
Bidding Seo-Jin goodbye, she heads down to the lower levels while Seo-Jin heads up. There, she gets dressed up in a dazzling outfit but her husband Yoon-Cheol is not impressed. He scoffs at her choice of clothing and tells her she’s practically bathing in perfume.
Sang-A heads home and finds her husband and Mother-in-law there too. She grins and tries to make the best of things but immediately receives a barrage of abuse.
That evening our various different couples join together to eat. Seo-Jin and Yoon-Cheol together take their place while Ma-Ri joins Sang-A and Kyu-Jin at the table. There’s a lot of unspoken issues here, namely between Kyu-Jin and Yoon-Cheol.
They’re all interrupted though by Su-Ryeon and her husband Joo Dan-Tae who show too. Together, they all discuss their children and their dreams.
This attention soon turns to dessert, where tensions continue to rise between Seo-Jin and Yoon-Cheol. He humiliates and belittles his wife, causing Seo-Jin to stew. So much so, she smashes a bottle on the floor.
As everyone starts getting drunk, Seo-Jin turns her attention to Chairman Joo instead, unbuttoning her top and trying to seduce him. It seems to work though, and he heads in to “help her” in the bedroom. As they look set to kiss, Su-Ryeon goes searching for him, forcing him to hide.
The next day, Ro-Na and Jenny continue their rivalry surrounding the practice room. Jenny feigns having her drink spiked and covers her mouth with a mask. Ro-Na is beside herself with anger, blaming Jenny and saying she did it to herself. This inevitably brings the adults into the mix, as Ma-Ri slaps Yoon-Hee across the face and threatens her and Ro-Na.
As we cut back and see, the scar across her neck happens to be the final straw as it cost her a career in music. She lunged herself at a fellow student but as she’s grappled to the ground, blood began sputtering out from the cut.
It’s enough of a wake-up call for Yoon-Hee to drop to her knees and apologize on behalf of Ro-Na. She promises to scold her daughter but Ro-Na walks out, just as Ma-Ri vows to make sure Ro-Na never sings again. On the back of this, Ma-Ri speaks to her daughter sternly and implores her to get friendly with Seok-Hoon.
Back at Hera Palace, a candidate for the upcoming Math tutor job shows up for her interview. Anna Lee has pretty good credentials and manages to hold her own against Seo-Jin’s challenging questions. She’s then taken up to share her curriculum with the bratty kids, who all try to undermine her authority. Anna Lee is having none of it though but it’s no good, two of the most influential end up leaving.
That evening, all the men have their own plans for business expansions, discussing construction plans together. While they do, the girls gather and toast to drinking together in Hera Palace. It’s clear though that tensions between Seo-Jin and Dan-Tae are still high over the previous night.
Eventually Dan-Tae succumbs to his desires and starts kissing her upstairs. It’s touch and go though as they’re very nearly spotted by Yoon-Cheol.
The next day, Ro-Na heads in to see Seo-Jin who rejects letting her in, too distracted by a message from Dan-Tae (presumably, it was written in hangul) telling her to visit Shine Hotel at 6pm. Just before she leaves, Ro-Na recites her operatic singing as a way of changing her mind. Yoon-Hee shows up and there’s obviously bad blood between the pair.
As we cut back and see, Seo-Jin and Yoon-Hee both competed for a vocal prize but the former won, much to Yoon-Hee’s annoyance. As the two foughtn over the trophy, it leads to Yoon-Hee telling Seo-Jin she pities her, presumably using her Father to fabricate the results in he favour. She’s the one who slashed Yoon-Hee’s throat with the trophy.
In the present again, Yoon-Hee and Ro-Na head to the school violence committee where they’re forced to listen to Ma-Ri’s constant belittling. This tension spills over to the rest of the committee too, who all call for Ro-Na to be kicked out and expelled. Yoon-Hee has enough and immediately charges across the tables, kicking one of the men in the face.
Sticking up for her daughter, she berates the others and promises to help her daughter graduate. As Yoon-Hee walks out with her daughter, they head straight back to Seo-Jin’s apartment and, in front of Seo-Jin, tells Ro-Na that she’s going to Cheong Arts School.
With the trophy up to Seo-Jin’s throat, Yoon-Hee promises that this isn’t the end of their conflict.
The Episode Review
Channeling those Sky Castle vibes, Penthouse feels like a caricature of that very same Korean drama. A lot of the stars here really lean into those vibes too, with over-the-top shouting and layers of melodrama rising up already.
We’ve got a potential scandalous affair, issues between school kids, bullying, class issues and sexism all playing out against this backdrop of the Penthouse itself. That’s to say nothing of the murder mystery element that I’d imagine will consume the second half of this 20 episode drama.
There’s an awful lot of characters in this one too and with the promise of 3 seasons to come (a massive rarity in K-drama world!) this soapy drama gets off to an okay start so far. Whether this one can grow and evolve from here however, remains to be seen.