Hospital Playlist (2020) The Epistemology of WinterGarden

I imagine that everyone who is reading this knows that for one reason or another I became some kind of online defender of the WinterGarden pairing. No one is more surprised about that than I am. It was never my intention to promote a fictional romance for its own sake and go to battle for it. It was ludicrous then as it is ludicrous now. Although I am thankful that people enjoyed what I had to say and I don't take that for granted, the reason why I jumped into the fray was because I believed at the time that the show was being misinterpreted and sending open-minded viewers into confusion, rage and angst. It's true that people are entitled to their opinions... I don't begrudge them that (it's a tv show after all) but they're not entitled to twist the facts to suit their own purposes. Or at the very least, they shouldn't get a free pass for doing so.

These days I've become very fond of the WG dynamic. I liked Gyeo-ul first and then I gradually became fond of Jeong-won. Even in Episode 3 I could see what the showrunners were doing but I didn't get onboard from the start because I don't watch medical dramas for romance. At around Episode 5 I became convinced that the show was serious about developing a connection between them so I climbed into the bandwagon prepared for the fact that this was going to be the stuff of slowburn. An aspirant to the priesthood being paired up with a shy unassuming 3rd year GS resident... it wasn't going to be love at first sight. (Love at first maggot maybe) But the show seemed to be tying their dynamic to the question of whether Jeong-won was staying or leaving. Time and time again, there were voices saying that it was a one-sided crush. This is how it went... Jeong-won is Mr Nice Guy and he's lovely to everyone. He's not romantically interested in Gyeo-ul blah blah blah. You know the drill. Of course I kept an open mind but over time, the charge that it was a one-sided crush became less and less convincing. Especially when the camera continued to firstly, focus on Jeong-won's reactions to Gyeo-ul's doings and then frames them together in shots as they interact in the ER, the PICU and of course the OR. Why do that... if she's just a "side" character with a cute "one-sided crush"? It made no sense to me unless I am supposed to conclude that Ahn Jeong-won notices or interacts Jang Gyeo-ul in a way that is outside the norm.

In Episode 4, when they're both waiting for the lift to arrive, why focus on a back shot of the two of them? Why is the Mr Nice Guy Ahn Jeong-won being awkward and doesn't initiate the hello? Why can't he have a normal conversation with her like he does with other women in the hospital if he's really as nice as we're told? Then during the OBGYN-Pediatrics conference, he glances at her devouring chocolate cakes. Later as he gets up in readiness to leave, he pushes two packets of her favourite cakes across the table to her. The point being that he only does it for her. Not for anyone else. If he is such a nice guy like everyone insists that he is, why doesn't he distribute the rest of the confectionery to everyone present the way she did at the start of the conference?

In another episode, Hui-su, a familiar presence in the ER tells Bae Jin-hui that Jeong-won agreeably goes out with women at work whenever asked so she's nothing special to him. This gives Gyeo-ul, who overhears this exchange, food for thought and she seeks him out. However, when Gyeo-ul puts the question of dinner to Jeong-won, he turns her down quickly citing a visit to mother on the weekend as his excuse. Why does the show do this? To tell us that Jang Gyeo-ul is nothing special to him? That he finds her abhorrent? So why lie about his weekend? If he apparently goes out with female staff routinely, why doesn't he do it in this instance? He's clearly breaking the pattern of the norm for some reason. This instantly made me suspicious. What's even more compelling is that the show goes to the trouble of setting up both scenes as obvious contrasts.

From Episodes 2 to 12, there are repeated instances where we are asked to look at Jeong-won's behaviour towards Gyeo-ul as a series of exceptions. In his mind, she is an exception and stands out among all the women. Even if a viewer doesn't particularly like Gyeo--ul or Jeong-won, it can't be denied that the show puts them together in such an obviously consistent way that no one can say that the resolution to their slow burn romance came as a surprise. And if anyone wasn't that convinced, the show brought in the scrub nurse and Rosa to tell us unequivocally that Gyeo-ul is special to Jeong-won and that he treats her differently.

These are the facts. The show gives us plenty of them. Sure, it's possible to say that the way the romance was constructed and developed was not to your liking. I can appreciate that opinion. People have unmet expectations of what a romance looks like. People don't all like the same things. But that doesn't change the facts that were put in place over time to highlight that these two people had a particular dynamic that was exclusive to them.

To deny that is to deny the story that the show is telling. That's the part I find baffling. In all my years of watching dramas I've never come across such a systematic reinterpretation of a drama that's not a fanfic or parody by disregarding facts or dismissing them because of egregious bias. I have my own criticisms of the show... particularly regarding what they did with Chi-hong towards the end but I'm not going to insist that despite all that's said and done, Song-hwa is secretly in love with him because she doesn't know her heart just because it's my preference. Song-hwa has spoken loudly and clearly. I take it at face value. Moreover it's consistent with the rest of her behaviour in the show even with Ik-jun. There is an objective reality that exists in the drama where the characters do and say things. If we can't trust any of that because it doesn't mesh with our prejudices then what can we trust? The quality of evidence for one's position has to be there.

It's obvious that our battle was in large part to do with deep prejudice against Gyeo-ul and possibly certain unmet expectations. Expectations that Song-hwa, the female lead has to be at the centre of a reverse harem or a love triangle. The men have to be fighting over Song-hwa... apparently... it's a given because we're drama watching bots and because Kdrama writers have no creativity. The irony of course is that Song-hwa by the end of the first season is happily single after not being all that happy to be confessed to, not once, not twice but at least four times. Moreover, why would a 40 year old woman be in a middle of a love tussle with men she's known for years? It doesn't make sense. Jeong-won least of all because he'd signed up for the idea of religious celibacy for years. As I've argued, the show is unerringly logical and the people behind it have a profound understanding of human behaviour. People don't change easily. When they do it's because of upheavals in their lives. So for Jeong-won to not go to the priesthood, it has to be something very very different. Exceptional even.

Gyeo-ul was the show's choice for Jeong-won for many good reasons. I've outlined many of those in my episode retrospectives. But most importantly she is meant to be a balance to his over empathetic nature. His calling was always medicine. He got it right the first time but the emotional baggage that came with the job eventually took a toll on him. We are told that pediatric surgeons are a scarce breed of doctors. Jeong-won works on his own. Gyeo-ul was the only GS resident. So it makes sense that he would eventually gravitate towards her because they would be thrown together daily in a professional capacity. The reason why the camera lingers on him while she's picking off maggots is because it is a record of a significant paradigm shift for him. Why do it otherwise? It was supposed to be her moment and yet it became his moment too because he was forced to change his mind... and think more favourably of her. Whatever his reasons for being there in the ER, his being there changed him, her and eventually them.

If for instance, Jeong-won is meant for someone else, why would the show go to all the trouble of setting up all these moments and confirmations? The question that I have for those who say that the Winter Garden is a mere flash in the pan is this: What is the evidence for that? Why are the facts that were given to us insufficient? Because the conclusion of the first season validates what most of us understood the show to be doing. That means that we followed the evidence accurately and came to the right conclusion ahead of time. This isn't just a mere matter of being happily delusional which is the delight of fanfiction writers everywhere. This is about claiming a kind of authority... about who has the right to speak and say what's what. If someone can look at the confession at Episode 12 and say that it's just somebody's dream, why can't I say that the whole show is somebody's dream? Why don't we take it to its logical conclusion? At what point is the show real and at what point is it a dream? Who gets to decide that?

There's an easy answer to that of course.

I'm fine with non-canonical pairings. I have been known to enjoy well-written fanfics of non-canonical pairings. But I hope I know the difference. In a way the battle wasn't about Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul but about who had the right to tell us how to think about the show.

To insist vociferously even now that Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul are not the endgame isn't just a preference issue. It's, I think, missing the point. There are reasons why Jeong-won didn't fall for Song-hwa, Bae Jin-hui and all the other women who have been a part of his life journey. All of that feed into who he is as a man and the overall messaging of the show. People make plans. Life is unpredictable. Unpredictable things happen. People change their minds. To me that's the big story of Hospital Playlist. Furthermore let's take a look at Gyeo-ul. She's not exactly strikingly beautiful or charismatic. Not your typical lead Kdrama lead female. I imagine that's the objection from some quarters. But that's exactly the reason why Jeong-won fell for her. It wasn't for her looks first and foremost because he was surrounded by beautiful women his entire life. He saw another side to Jang Gyeo-ul during the maggot scene. That beautiful, gracious act made her beautiful to him. There's a well-known verse from the Old Testament in the Bible that relates to this:

The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT)

As far as I'm concerned, everything in Hospital Playlist happens for a reason. It's a show that does things very deliberately. The moral universe is one that has a place for all kinds of people including Jang Gyeo-ul. Do we dare say only outwardly attractive people deserve to be loved? Don't we agree that this show pays Ahn Jeong-won the highest compliment... by insisting that he is a man of great substance because he can do better than judge a woman by her appearance?