A few days ago this video popped up in my recommended feed…
And I was reminded of what it is that draws me to Hospital Playlist and why it is that the slice-of-life genre has so much appeal with international audiences. The genre with its snapshot approach is well-suited to the health care context here in order to achieve a high level of realism. It also acts as a contrast to the makjang — soap opera on steroids — which is often a single trope-infested narrative made up of a series of highly dramatic contrivances calculated to be emotionally charged and leave the audience coming back for more. A slice-of-life assumes there is drama to be found in everyday events and interactions. Drama is about perspective and interpretation. An event is imbued with importance by the people who witness it and a narrative is created to make sense of the event. Take for instance, Yeon-u’s mother from the previous episode. To a nurse she may be a potential lawsuit, to another she might be a bit of a handful. They each have their own interpretation of what she represents to them and the hospital. But to Gyeo-ul she is a woman who has something to say. In this situation it is up to Ahn Jeong-won to set the story straight with an interpretation that fits all the facts.
For someone who has never watched an episode of Hospital Playlist, the above clip would still have some kind of meaning. It’s a lovely moment where a friend announces to his best mates that he is now dating. Their supportive and humorous responses might elicit a smile or a laugh because it plays out beautifully. On the surface there’s nothing particularly dramatic or striking about it. But for those of us who have been following the show since Episode 1 of Season 1, this is a glorious moment. We position ourselves in the place of Ik-jun who has known the entire story since the beginning. He speaks for us (those of us who have supported Gyeo-ul) when he says “no one is happier than I am” because he knows exactly as we have what these two have gone through to come to this point in their relationship. We have been privy as he has to the ups and downs of the WinterGarden dynamic. It’s a hard won victory. He has been cheerleading for them as many of us have to arrive at this place where he can tell people he’s dating. He was there when he took secret pictures of Jeong-won and when Gyeo-ul confided in him about why she liked Ahn Jeong-won. He was there when he heard Jeong-won say “she’s not my cup of tea”. He was barracking for her when Jeong-won was struggling over whether to stay or leave. He was there for Jeong-won when he told him to follow his heart. He was the listening ear when she told him that it was love at first sight for her. He was also there when he challenged her about the mysterious guy that drops her off at the hospital. He plotted and schemed on her behalf. He knows that when Jeong-won opens his mouth and says “I’m dating Dr Jang Gyeo-ul” exactly what that means for Jeong-won and for Gyeo-ul. And how earth-shattering that pieces of news is.
And this scene tells us how much Ik-jun cares about Gyeo-ul. He’s an inveterate busybody and yet he will keep mum because he is concerned about what the office gossip will do to her.
This post isn’t about the WinterGarden romance per se but about how Hospital Playlist achieves dramatic moments without being overly dramatic. It doesn’t have to because it respects the audience enough to put all the pieces together by inserting them into the narrative via characters. It’s like a little club where the members nod at all the references and giggle at the in-jokes because we’ve been at all the key moments along the journey.
This is why Jun-wan is the only one who asks the crucial question. The only one that matters. He’s been too busy hiding his own romance to have noticed that his house and office mate was wrestling with woman issues amidst his bid for the priesthood. Song-hwa knows that Jeong-won has been angsting over this that’s why all she says is “I’ve always thought you two will make a good couple. I’m happy for you both.” The language is interesting assuming the subbers got it right. Song-hwa, the one that everybody goes to for relationship advice, approves wholeheartedly. She is not just being supportive of a friend but is speaking to the question of compatibility as well. She’s quite precise in what she’s saying. She’s seen them together and the combination works.
Seok-hyeong puts his hand up like a good little schoolboy and declares that he’s known about a girlfriend (although not her identity) because his mother must have heard it from Rosa. Perhaps Mother has been trying to nudge him in the same direction to get him to think those kinds of thoughts as she attempted to set him up with Song-hwa at various times in Season 1. If the guy-who-wanted-to-be-priest can change his mind, why not the one who currently lives like a hermit?
I can’t say I’m too sorry about Seok-hyeong rebuffing his ex. It seemed like that door was closed a long time ago. He does seem awkward around her even if they were married once. There’s too much baggage and guilt for him to overcome and he probably doesn’t want to revisit all of that. Besides I’m rooting for Min-ha to be the next Mrs Yang. It seems to me that he interacts with her very differently to how he interacts even with his friends.
Speaking of Ik-jun, the man who never gets angry, got angry in Episode 2. With a patient to boot. We’ve seen him interact with patients in all kinds of situations previously but he’s never lost his cool. But with this post-op liver transplant patient, he really let him have it. Why? Because in other situations, the patients had a good reasons to be difficult. He was able to empathize and find a way to speak to their concerns. But on this occasion, the patient was flagrantly taking advantage of the good-will of others and was disregarding all advice for self-care. He was also taking advantage of the system meant to save lives. he can’t be party to self-destructive behaviour. There are ethical ramifications that he can’t be seen to tacitly approve of. The guy is slowly poisoning himself and wasting everybody’s time.
Ik-jun getting angry is not just another side to him. It shows that despite his jester persona and braggadocio he is a physician that takes his job seriously.