Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 3
This post contains spoilers for the episode under discussion and for future developments in the drama. It assumes prior knowledge of the entire drama. Read at your own risk.
The life of a hospital doctor is certainly not an easy one. The hours are long and the needs of patients are never ending. Even while the good doctors make weekend plans to take time out of the frenzy of work life, these plans can easily be foiled by the urgent call of patients. Hence it becomes apparent that medicine is as much a vocation or a calling as it is a profession. The extra hours and extra effort that's put in by clinicians has no price tag. As the montage of weekend disruptions show, the notion of leisure time for dedicated doctors is all but a pipedream.
In this episode Ik-jun and Jun-wan discover that Jeong-won has applied to join the priesthood when they stumble on a recommendation letter on his computer. While they make no attempt to dissuade him, it is not a development they are especially supportive of. It's evidently something that's come up more than once before. Both commiserate for his mother immediately. However, what's really revealing here is that Jeong-won who had made plans to run in a half-marathon is seen running in the opposite direction from the pack in response to a call from the hospital. This strongly hints that even though he has made a decisive move towards the priesthood, the call of medicine (quite literally) overshadows everything else. Even in these early days, the show declares that Ahn Jeong-won is a doctor in his bones (no pun intended). While he may genuinely believe that he needs a change of scenery for a myriad of reasons, his passion for medicine is unmistakable.
Right about this time, we discover that Dr Jang Gyeo-ul is romantically interested in a man. At first we are led to believe by surreptitious conversations and baffling acts of favouritism that Lee Ik-jun could be that man, which is highly questionable considering that he is spoken for. But as the layers of this onion are peeled away, it humorously turns out that in fact she is infatuated with the man who wants to be priest. What's also funny is that she doesn't seem the least bit deterred by that. "He only wants to be a priest. He is not one yet so I have a chance." This perhaps speaks to the mettle of the woman in question which is perhaps sorely needed considering what is at stake.
On hindsight that observation made in the early days is remarkably perceptive from a woman who has only known him for a short time. In fact her understanding of him seems uncanny. When Ik-jun tries to dispel the myth behind the man, she pushes back with the following rejoinders:
"He is a humanitarian"
"He is a man of principles"
"Isn't that noblesse oblige?"
This is somewhat startling especially because of what happened in the previous episode when he took her aside to lecture her on a more thoughtful way to communicate with patients. Rather than being resentful for being told off, her admiration for the man remains steadfast. Jang Gyeo-ul is made of sterner stuff and shows herself capable of being objective in the face of criticism. Unlike Lizzy Bennet whose pride was wounded by Mr Darcy which caused her to become prejudiced against him, Gyeo-ul was evidently undeterred by his rebuke. It is surprising that she used the expression noblesse oblige in reference to Jeong-won. In all likelihood she had no knowledge of the Daddy-Long-Legs programme but then not even his friends did. Yet in her work interactions with him she was already able to identify many of his strengths. It wasn't a case of a starry-eyed subordinate crushing on her supervisor because of his charm or good looks. There was something of substance at work here. This was also the point in the story where I started to speculate that the writer was putting out a romance thread between these two. Jang Gyeo-ul gets Ahn Jeong-won. In ways even his closest friends don't. She, as I've come to believe, is his other half. A Yin to his Yang.
Ik-jun challenges her to come clean with the object of her desire but she claims to be shy about making the first move. Then he says with no lack of irony that he will ask the question on her behalf because he has so much regard for her courage. Her courage to face him head on which was in question on this occasion blossoms and comes into play later on when she initiates two confessions.
At first it does appear that it may be one-sided except for indications that it might not be the case. The man himself makes an appearance when he interrupts their conversation pretending to be asking Ik-jun for cigarettes. (This parallels a later conversation when Ik-jun asks him for cigarettes as a misdirect to test Jeong-won's interest in Gyeo-ul in Episode 9) Jang Gyeo-ul recognizes his voice, gets up and leaves. Jeong-won comes storming in after Jun-wan raises the possibility with him that Ik-jun might be having an affair with her.
"Not with Jang Gyeo-ul of all people" Or "Don't mess with Jang Gyeo-ul"
"You scumbag, you'd better come to your senses before I beat you up. What are you thinking? You're married."
In many ways I find this is an odd opening for a confrontation. If you're not sure that your friend is having affair, you'd be asking, "Is there something going on between you and X?" or "Are you having an affair?" One would presumably be seeking clarification before jumping to any conclusions. Perhaps he was watching them from afar and was affected by their closeness.
Here Jeong-won names the woman before he names the sin. If you're a conservative Catholic, adultery is a sin no matter the woman. But Jeong-won seems to showing partiality for the woman and a fierce protectiveness towards her. It comes across to me that the affair is of less importance than the woman who is presumably being taken advantage of. To prove the point, he picks up a piece of yukjeon and shoves into his mouth in protest. Perhaps it is the case that the maggot scene from Episode 2 has caused him to see her as an innocent with no ill-intentions. Whatever the case may be, Ahn Jeong-won is clearly not neutral about Jang Gyeo-ul.
Indeed the show isn't entirely romance. Although Ik-jun and Gyeo-ul are not meant to be a romantic thread, their dynamic is intertwined with the Winter Garden thread. Aside from taking the role of confidant, Ik-jun begins his other role as mouthpiece for it. "So what do you think of Jang Gyeo-ul?"
Ik-jun receives a call from his wife who has been working overseas but is returning to the country to see their son U-ju for Children's Day. Both his Jun-wan and Jeong-wom who are present when he takes the call have scarcely anything nice to say about the wife. They offer backhanded criticisms of her long-term absence and ambition. In response, Ik-jun tells them to back off, show her respect and then says, "The bachelor and the virgin should shut up." It is a reproof rich in meaning with long-term ramifications. From that statement, the audience is invited once again to compare and contrast Jun-wan and Jeong-won's individual love lines in particular. The monikers are meant to lead us to think about their relative experiences with women and how that plays out in the drama from here on. The emphasis might be on their single status at the time of speaking but it also portends welcomed and unwelcomed disruptions on that front.
As it turns out the bachelor and virgin are not wrong about the ambitious Ms Yuk, wife of Ik-jun and mother of U-ju. She returns home to inform her husband that she wants a divorce because the status quo is in her words, "meaningless". What she doesn't tell him and blatantly lies about is that there is a another party involved. No doubt long distance relationships are difficult at best to navigate and those on the outer can sometimes grasp that better than the people who are in a situation how a scenario is fraught with problems. There is something inherently unnatural about spouses and young families living far apart which in many cases lead to infidelity. I wonder too if the drama isn't saying on some level that it can be tragic when people work so much harder at keeping their jobs than they do at maintaining their relationships. This occurrence must hold some meaning for Jun-wan later when he has to come to grips with his own long-distance romance and managing it.
Ik-jun's easygoing exterior conceals a troubled mind. Even as he's dealing with the prospect of divorce from his wife, a former patient of his has met with an accident and has now returned to the hospital as an organ donor. One of the most challenging aspects of his job is having to deal with the issue of the intricacies of transplantation such as in this case, grieving families. It is tragic for the wife and son who left the hospital a day earlier with their dad and husband (Yuk Hui-gwan) and now he's lying on an operating table waiting for the surgeons to harvest his organs. It is good news for those on the waiting list but for his family this will be the day they lost a loved one. As the "Lonely Nights" track plays in the background the song is re-contextualized with added poignancy.
Organ transplantation is an ongoing preoccupation of the drama. For the most part it is a lifesaving development in medicine for the needy but the show insists that we spare a thought for those who have lost someone precious. And to thank them for extending another life.
From this event it could be too that the show wants to say that Ik-jun was a more considerate surgeon because he was going through his own baggage with his wife. Sure he was dealt an unexpected blow but in comparison the Yuk family had lost a beloved husband and father so suddenly and they would never see him again.
The case of baby Chan-yeong, a delayed stent closure, is a lovely one of the PD playing with viewer expectations. Not only are Chan-yeong's parents younger than expected, their apparent composed indifference is a facade to prove to the world (their parents mostly) that they are mature enough to handle this crisis. Jun-wan despite his cranky exterior is wise enough and sensitive enough to show consideration to the young mother who is in actual fact quite distraught. It seems unfair that she has so much to prove at this time in her life but it does go with the territory of being a parent at 20.
Jun-wan's endocarditis patient also helps us penetrate the surface of the grumpy professor to the caring doctor. Jun-wan comes across as being abrupt with his patients but in actual fact he is far more considerate than he looks. The patient's daughter finds his bedside manner much to be desired but the rest of the family are surprised that he takes the time to attend her wedding after her father's surgery. It's a contrast to Professor Min from the previous episode who puts on a caring facade while the cameras are rolling but turns into a hard task master to his subordinates when he doesn't have to keep up the act.
What was highlighted with regards to Jun-wan and his dynamic with Chan-yeong's mother is the fact that he broke one of his cardinal rules of talking to patients about surgical outcomes. Even the doctor that doesn't seem to suffer fools gladly admits indirectly that when dealing with people, there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Pachelbel's Canon makes an early appearance here when we're transported to a flashback of when Jun-wan makes his decision to pursue cardiothoracic surgery. He was talking then to the present director of Yulje. This is juxtaposed by the two medical students who after touching his little beating heart, and witnessing the miraculous nature of Chan-yeong's surgery is moved to commit themselves to the specialization of cardiothoracic medicine.
The introduction of Ahn Chi-hong in the previous episode and the further exploration of his dynamic with Song-hwa is one of multiple love threads in this drama. It was one that I was personally excited about in terms of power dynamics and how that would play out in and out of the workplace. But now looking ahead, it feels like his role in the romance stakes is one more of a catalyst rather than an endgame. More than all of that, however, I like the idea of a mature-aged student who has had to reinvent himself. To start afresh abruptly and yet resolutely. What caused a driven military man like Ahn Chi-hong to change careers midway through his life? The answers do come but later and after much speculation from his colleagues.
Perhaps too the show wants to say that not all potential romances end happily for all concerned even with the best of intentions. There are always unexpected developments that get in the way. People have feelings all the time that aren't reciprocated because human beings aren't automatons. It's of course not hard to see why Chi-hong is drawn to Song-hwa in an environment where he's working largely with people younger than himself. For him to meet a woman closer to his age with understanding of how the world works and maturity must be rare given his circumstances. It's also a testament to his confidence of his own masculinity that he can look to her as his instructor ("Trust me and follow my lead") and also develop feelings for her.
Another romance thread that appears to be brewing comes from the OBGYN department. Yang Seok-hyeong is a natural loner but a resident (or two) may have set their sights on him. Her nickname for him is instructive: "the sloth" and seeing him lying in Song-hwa's office trying to nap while the others are busy doing things around him does give weight to the designation. He is certainly someone not looking for a relationship at this point. But as this drama keeps telling us: Romance comes to those who least expect it or want it.
All of these events... medical and personal... highlight an important truth consistently throughout the drama. Life is unpredictable. Just when you think you have things worked out like a well-oiled engine, something throws a spanner in the works.
Even in the side-splitting karaoke flashback, we see that overarching principle at work. The Five start off squabbling about who should be next in line to choose the song. The one who seemingly wins is Ik-jun whose song "Aloha" starts playing and he begins singing. However at first opportunity, Song-hwa jumps in with her tone deaf singing. During the chorus everyone jumps in noisily and takes over. Also unexpected is Seok-hyeong taking a turn.
Unpredictability can be both beautiful and frustrating. But if you're like Ik-jun here and embrace that bit of chaos, it doesn't have to be a negative. It can become a wonderful moment and memory.