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Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 4
This retrospective is written from the point of view of someone who has seen the entire drama and references future developments. It contains spoilers for the episode under discussion and beyond.
This is one of my favourite episodes from the entire drama as it contains a delightful balance of the good, the nasty and the humorous. It's one of those instances where the juggling act seems especially seamless.
As an aside, an acquaintance from South Korea informed me just the other day that his country now has the lowest birth rate in the world, overtaking even Japan. Like everything with long-ranging social ramifications, I'm sure that the issue is a complex one but watching the first few minutes of the drama when Ik-sun, Ik-jun's younger sister, natters about Jun-wan as being an old man who isn't married, I was reminded of my conversation. I started to wonder whether single 40something-year-olds with no children are becoming a common phenomenon and if so, has that had some impact on the birth rate as well? My acquaintance who himself has 4 children mentioned that raising children is now perceived in Korean society to be a huge financial burden by most couples with a thought to the cut-throat competition for university places.
Speaking of parenting, this particular episode could easily be titled "Bad Fathers". Woven all throughout there are several examples of bad fathering although one could say that Ik-jun, the single working dad might be the exception. His scenes with U-ju are oozing with mutual affection and warmth.
In this rather memorable introduction to Ik-sun, the word "bachelor", in relation to Jun-wan reappears. Moreover, it is also mentioned in relation to his marital status and hers. Her brother seems eager for her to enter the marriage stakes. All this chatter aren't just non-sequiturs because at the end of the episode we find out that Jun-wan might possibly have romantic designs on her. Even in her hospital room, he shows a spark of interest and is none-too-pleased when Ik-jun is eager for her to tie the knot with Ahn Chi-hong, an old army buddy of hers. Someone she designates as her best friend. She protests when Ik-jun offers his approval and she tells him, "We're just best friends like you and Song-hwa." A statement as we'll come to see is brimming with all kinds of irony.
We discovered at the end of the previous episode that Ik-sun is a career military officer, a major in the army and she has a wacky sense of humour not unlike her brother. She was referred to earlier in Episode 3 as well in relation to a family dog. The siblings hilariously turn their argument about how busy they are into a rap battle. Her occupation and quirky personality is of importance because of my thesis that Jun-wan and Jeong-won both have a particular interest in women who don't fit the norm. Loose cannons and wildcards.
Ik-jun continues his role here as cheerleader for the Winter (Gyeo-ul) Garden (Jeong-won) dynamic. As he and Gyeo-ul are waiting for the lift (elevator) to arrive, he takes a quick gander behind and then preventing her from going in, tells her to wait for the next one. She is perplexed as he strides into the lift. As the doors close in front of him, he breathes out onto the glass and makes a heart shape. None too impressed, she reaches for the button. Who but the object of her infatuation appears and presses the button in her stead. Jeong-won is suspiciously awkward as he takes his place next to her. It is she who initiates the "hello" and he responds diffidently, unlike his usual affable self. There is something about her that undoubtedly unsettles him and turns him into an awkward teenage boy.
For me the key to understanding their dynamic is really what the camera does with him when they're together. These are busy doctors in a busy workplace lurching from task to task. Why would the PD be "wasting" time framing a back shot of the two of them at the lift unless to say "Watch this space for more of these two people." while signalling its importance with the introduction of "Confession is not flashy", a musical track that will be sung in part by Jeong-won during a future band practice.
The next time we see them together in this episode is when they are both involved in a OBGYN-Pediatrics conference. Jeong-won and Seok-hyeong are in discussion about a pregnant woman who is expecting a gastroschisis baby ie. an infant with no abdominal wall and so the intestines (and other organs) are found outside the body. At the start of the meeting, Jeong-won turns full blown manchild on Seok-hyeong insisting that Seok-hyeong should just perform a C-section in light of his busy surgical schedule. However, the mother wants a vaginal delivery and Seok-hyeong is in general agreement. It's quite a funny moment watching the pediatric surgeon throw a small tantrum with the medical students looking on in complete astonishment. On his left is the unflappable Dr Winter devouring a sweet snack while listening. As the discussion progresses, Dr Winter aka Gyeo-ul distributes snacks around the table. During the rest of the meeting, Jeong-won side glances her three times showing a keen interest in her doings. At the end of the meeting he gets up, slides two packets of what seems to be Lotte Monchers in her direction. The intro to "Confession is flashy" comes on again and Gyeo-ul gulps down the piece of confectionery stunned that Professor Ahn had taken notice of her preference for that brand of confectionery. She almost chokes and he, distracted by her, inadvertently lets slip that Congressman Shim and his son are occupying the VIP wards for a liver transplant. Information that he had promised Jun-wan he would keep mum about.
Incidents in the ER sees them being framed together while working side by side. Their work interactions are part and parcel of their blossoming romance. On one of these occasions, Gyeo-ul in shyness prods Jeong-won's when she gets a call from the OR saying that they are ready for him. Looking forward, this also signals the humble beginnings of their future collaboration and mentoring relationship as he slowly becomes more reliant on her to coordinate and assist in his surgeries as time goes on. There's not much fanfare in this dynamic. Progress is made gradually and steadily in the workplace context. This is certainly not a romance that Jeong-won is looking for. Unlike Jun-wan who has always been actively looking for his life partner (judging from his dating patterns), Jeong-won is seeking at this point to be a religious celibate in the manner of his older siblings. However, no one he's close to approves of his aspiration. Not his oldest brother, a priest who advices him to find a nice girl to date. Certainly not his mother, who throws him out of the house when he gives her the news of his application to the priesthood.
I have little doubt from the previous episode and this, that Jeong-won at this point already has feelings for Gyeo-ul and is keeping it under wraps because of the priesthood question. For him that becomes the biggest obstacle to pursuing a romantic relationship with her. But because they work together routinely there is no avoiding contact with her altogether. Even if she's not a factor, I wonder too if he can confidently leave everything behind including his inclination for philanthropy. There are so many factors at play here that can potentially be barriers to his transitioning into the priesthood. When I see how he is willing to sacrifice so much of his paycheck for the Daddy-Long-Legs scheme and the good he's done there in preceding years, it does beg the question of what his true calling is. He's already doing so much good but for some reason he's not seeing it.
Twin brothers are brought in on separate occasions by a father claiming that they've been in accidents. When the second son is brought in with chest pains, Jeong-won immediately becomes suspicious and he soon comes to the conclusion that the two boys are victims of domestic violence in all likelihood perpetrated by their father.
The Daddy-Long-Legs scheme is referenced in line with Chi-hong's Indonesian patient. The illegal worker refuses treatment after being diagnosed with an intracerebral hemorrhage. He goes to Song-hwa for advice and she ends up organizing everything from payment to the surgery on his behalf. In an unobtrusive and unlaboured fashion the show not only spotlights the reality of illegal workers in the country but also the exorbitant medical costs for procedures that not everyone is in a position to defray.
By now Dr Bong's gossip salon is a regular feature. Bong Kwan Hyeong has known the Flawed Five for a long time and is willing to pass on tit bits about them in exchange for a nice cup of coffee. The residents gather together and ply him with questions about their favourite professor. What's important is not only that we're given insight into the headspace of the Five but the interests of the residents emphasize their particular romance thread with one of the Five.
Much of what transpires in this episode intersects with Seok-hyeong's trajectory and his backstory. It is a tale of woe that would slot comfortably with any K melodrama. A poor little rich boy whose life has been torn apart by family dysfunction. The time he discovered his father's infidelity corresponded roughly with the time he was given news of his sister's death. It was one thing after another of this kind and that apparently led to his divorce. During of the drama his relationship with his CEO father is virtually non-existent. He doesn't acknowledge the relationship referring to the elder Yang as Chairman Yang in conversation with others. So yes, Yang Seok-hyeong "the sloth" carries around a lot of baggage that impacts his ability to have healthy relationships with women. He overcompensates for the lack of a husband by throwing his entire energy on caring for his mother. She understands that to some degree which is why she's always trying to set him up with Song-hwa but she hasn't come to grips with the fact that her refusal to end it with the husband is compounding his sloth-like tendencies. Because she can't move on, he can't move on. Of course he is an adult and responsible for his own life but it comes increasingly clear that he is emotionally crippled to the point where he is reluctant to interact outside of his comfort zone.
Perhaps it is because of his battle scars that Seok-hyeong is the surprisingly effective OBGYN clinician. His attentiveness to his mother spills over into his consideration for expectant mothers with difficult or abnormal births. This surprises his colleagues in the department particularly in the case of the anencephaly baby when Pachelbel's Canon is played loudly in the background to drown out any cries of bub to minimize distress to the mother.
The repeated use of Pachelbel's Canon in this episode reveals the showrunners approach to the storytelling of this drama. Canon is a kind of musical texture that comprises of multiple simultaneous lines of individual melodies entering in sequence. As I once said on another forum that canon is a good way of understanding what the show does with the Flawed Five all throughout the drama. Each person's trajectory represents an individual melody line which overlaps with another. In the first episode the show kicked start the "canon" with Jeong-won's personal trajectory, and then Song-hwa's, then Jun-wan's, Ik-jun's and now Seok-hyeong's.
The Flawed Five's early connection with Pachelbel's Canon is seen in a flashback to the band's fledgling beginnings with Seok-hyeong as the common denominator. He is auditioning for Ik-jun on keyboards and while he is skilled, he can't complete any piece from memory except Pachelbel's Canon after George Winston's popular version. So this inauspicious start leads to the formation of the band and then we are brought forward to the present day to a polished rock version of Canon in D composed by Johannes Pachelbel.
I also believe (as I always have) that Song-hwa had a crush on Ik-jun in their student days and the band audition is proof positive of it. It's undoubtedly why she lied about her vocal ability and because he liked her then too, he took her word for it without putting her through the rigorous "testing" that he put Seok-hyeong through.
Meals are always an important part of a K drama but for busy nurses attending to a full but understaffed ward, it's a luxury to be able to sit down to even a bento box. This kind of detail to attention suggests that the hospital can't take for granted the dedication of all its staff. Like a machine with many moving parts to it, every cog, nut and bolt are important. Even the intern who delivers the meals. This is reinforced in the GS gathering of which Ik-jun is a part. Here Ik-jun uses his wits to defuse a potentially unpleasant situation with charm and humour. One of the older professors who feels insulted by the paucity of the boxed meals complains thoughtlessly. Ik-jun poses a humorous challenge to the professor and manages to silence him on the subject altogether.
We are not privy to the aftermath of Ik-jun's marital issues except for the oblique comment he makes to Nurse Su-bin that he is now really a single dad on paper and that U-ju makes up for everything that has happened. Presumably some time between the previous episode and this one, a permanent and legal separation has taken place. From this we see that someone like Ik-jun has a tendency to keep his problems to himself while maintaining a positive attitude.
Transplant story of the week sees Congressman Sim Yeong-su checking into Yulje with his son, Sim Yeong-ho purportedly as donor. Rumours flying around say that the son is reluctantly acquiescing for publicity reasons. Ik-jun who knows Sim Yeong-ho personally becomes suspicious when the mother shows very little concern for the donor's welfare. I say purportedly because as it turns out, there's an attempt to game the system by the family when they bring in a substitute donor. It's a morality tale of wealthy and powerful people who abuse the system to their own advantage. Through their connivances they take something that is meant for good (a procedure that save lives) and turn it into something morally dubious with their wealth. It is a parable of corruption.
The instances of bad fathering shown in this episode includes not only Congressman Sim, but also Seok-hyeong's father (Chairman Yang) as well as the domestic violence dad with twin boys. All are negative role models whether they cause physical harm and/or long-term emotional damage. The show doesn't dwell on any particular story but features them as part of the harsh realities of life that medicos have to navigate in the course of doing their jobs.
In all honesty the Winter Garden as well as the Jun-wan romance threads are the only ones that really matter in this particular season because they have a direct bearing in how their respective arcs play out. As I've said on numerous occasions, in this show it isn't a case of romance for romance sake. Romance may not be the main thing but it is an integral part of how these men and women develop in the drama. Love matters because people fall in love... and people change when they fall in love.
This is not to denigrate the deep platonic friendships by any means. Not at all. Everything has its place in the drama. It's a constant juggling act for the showrunners to get the balance right. Aside from band practice I always enjoy the moments when the friends eke out time for each other even if it's just a quick meal together in between hospital duties. Even when the chatter seems desultory, it still feels like we learn something more about these characters and their relationships.
Edited on 16/06/2020 after being informed that what Gyeo-ul ate at the OBGYN-Ped conference were Lotte Monchers not Chocopies.