Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 9
This post contains spoilers for the episode under discussion and subsequent episodes.
The other half said something helpful the other day (yes, that can happen) while he was watching the episode for the first time. When I mentioned that this episode confused me during the original run, he made a comment that this episode seemed to be predominantly about Ik-jun. The reason for my confusion was because during its original run, it appeared to me as if Jeong-won had left behind the priesthood issue and his entire attitude towards Gyeo-ul had shifted from Episode 8. But then for some reason in Episode 10, the priesthood issue was back on the agenda with a vengeance and it seemed that we'd gone backwards. The other half quickly noted that Jeong-won wasn't in this episode a great deal and so that's become my operating principle in terms of where I should locate this episode in the overall scheme of the drama.
Even before he brags to his friends about the fact that he gets around all the hospital's departments and is liked by everyone, it is clear even in earlier episodes that Ik-jun is the lovable busybody that manages to get people to open up to him. The man has a charm that disarms and the truth is, he is genuinely interested in people. It is in his nature... as he said to Song-hwa in an earlier episode, "to fix" things. There is no problem too small for his attention or too big that he can't overcome. Until there is.
The hospital is Ik-jun's oyster. He has fingers in all kinds of pies. One minute he's dealing with his own liver transplant patient, the next minute he's talking to the ER nurse, Hui-su about sister-in-law issues. He has time to chit chat with Su-bin about her daughter, visit Seok-hyeong's mother, call up Song-hwa on a rainy night to have sujebi, sit around and speculate with Bong Gwang-hyeong regarding the identity of Gyeo-ul's mysterious so-called boyfriend-chauffeur, test Jeong-won's reaction to hearing Gyeo-ul being referred to, sit around and gossip with his four friends as well as get details about Ik-sun last failed relationship. He even manages to be present when the NS underlings cause a bit of a commotion in the ER.
It's almost exhausting keeping track of everything he does. The man has boundless energy. He is the quintessential extrovert in that he gets all his energy from being with people. But almost as important is his need to know. His insatiable curiosity to know everything about everyone. I don't think he gets some kind of perverse pleasure out of it... just so he can for instance, blow his trumpet about being the first to know or so he has the goods to maliciously spread gossip and rumours. In fact, for a man who knows a lot and digs around, he is quite discrete.
Although he knows about Gyeo-ul's continued infatuation with Jeong-won and justifiably suspects that Jeong-won might have more than a passing interest in Gyeo-ul, he never reveals what he suspects or knows to the one or the other. What we see more of increasingly is his "meddling". So for Ik-jun his need to know is tethered to his need to "fix" or at the very least "nudge" things along. Lee Ik-jun is a man with boundless energy. He is a man on a mission "to fix".
So it isn't, I don't think, an accident that this is the first episode where we sense the first rumblings of the Song-hwa, Chi-hong, Ik-jun triangle. Prior to this, there have have been hints of it. It is telling that when Chi-hong asks Bong Gwang-hyeong about Song-hwa's campus romance, he assumed that Ik-jun was the other party. It is a shame to me that the show goes down this route as it is the only thing about the show that doesn't sit well with me because of what it does to Chi-hong and what it might potentially mean for the Chi-hong and Ik-jun dynamic which until now has been both amusing and delightful.
The liver transplant story of the week has significant reverberations for Ik-jun, the "fix-it" man. When the donor goes AWOL he acknowledges from experience that this is one problem he can't fix. But then the donor returns unexpectedly... a new man ready to give his daughter a piece of himself. The man's return with renewed determination challenges Ik-jun to rethink his own perception of people.
This causes Ik-jun to rethink his own sense of certainty about the world as he knows it... to question his own assumptions about people and situations. Consequently he brings in Chi-hong to get the details on what happened to his sister, Ik-sun in her previous relationship which he was entirely unaware of. He'd been trying to "fix" Chi-hong and Ik-sun up for some time. After their little chat, Chi-hong is quick to reassure Ik-jun again that he and Ik-sun are just friends. Afterwards when Chi-hong asks for permission to visit the band, he also senses that Chi-hong has genuine feelings for Song-hwa and might pose a serious threat to his own position. The song he sings for band practice seems to be a cry from the heart.
As a result of his time with Chi-hong, Ik-jun goes to visit Ik-sun at her base to "fix things" with her. It wasn't as if things were bad between them but they had drifted apart to the point that he didn't know that his own sister suffered a serious relationship heartbreak. His visit accompanied by generous amounts of food and money surprises her to the point that she's almost in tears.
The liver transplant donor is also sober reminder of how the prospect of impending death or loss reshapes our sense of who we are and re-orders our priorities. The father who desperately wants to be his daughter's donor was a busy businessman who now wants to be the father her daughter needs for the moment. He regrets the neglect but now his priority is his daughter's survival. This is not a problem that money can solve.
This re-ordering of priorities is also featured in the humorous but somewhat understandable NS mistake. A young patient with an aneurysm needs to undergo a coil embolism but the intern mistakenly shaves his head for lack of instructions. Everyone's appropriately embarrassed and to mitigate matters, Song-hwa apologizes to the patient and his guardians. The father's words are very helpful here: "He could lose his life. What's the loss of his hair. Don't worry about it." The understanding father demonstrates his priorities in this matter. The mistake is trivial compared to the life and death situation that await his son. It's similar with the son who says, "Doctor, the surgery won't hurt, right? As long as it doesn't hurt too much. Don't be too hard on the intern."
Compare this with patients and guardians from the previous episode. Jae-hak got a hammering from the patient over the phone and Gyeo-ul was taken to task because a patient had complained about her attitude towards him. Neither were entirely in the wrong but both matters were settled by the hospital's administration and their respective supervisors but they were potentially public relations nightmares for the hospital.
The lesson for all is that a little respect on both sides would go a long way. Some things would easily be resolved or not blown out of proportion if people just showed a bit of respect for the other side. But even that kind of common sense is becoming a rare commodity in an age of entitlement and victimology.
One of the highlights of the episode for me was to see Gyeo-ul make strides in terms of communicating with patients, one of her more obvious deficiencies as a clinician starting from the early days. Again we saw her give textbook answers to begin with which went right over the head of the guardian. But later she not only took on board what Jeong-won was modelling with the patient but did one better, by simplifying things even further by providing a visual explanation. What Gyeo-ul needed was someone who cared enough to show her a better way because she was always open to being instructed. Of course with Jeong-won, being in love with him means her motivation levels are probably at an all time high.
As for Jeong-won, it's hard to say where he's at this point even now. I was in all honesty confused by the push and pull. One moment I had some degree of certainty then but I didn't. My best guess is that he's decided that all he can be to Gyeo-ul at this point in time is to be her mentor for as long as he's around. The reality however is that he can't conceal his feelings for her entirely. Neither can she for that matter. While they've both decided to maintain the status quo, his feelings in particular can't help but show themselves. Even when he still has the priesthood firmly within his line of sight, he can't prevent what he's feeling. Or maybe... he doesn't want to. As the following scenes show even if thinks that she's survived his rejection, he's still secretly pleased to know on some level that there's no other man that's replaced him.
Undoubtedly both Ik-jun and Song-hwa aren't blind to the fact that their manchild friend has a particular reason for singling out Jang Gyeo-ul for mention. Jeong-won can't help himself. He is genuinely in love with her and so all his protectiveness just leaks out of him like water flushing through a hole-riddled bucket.
I have made peace with the fact too that Gyeo-ul's arc is tied up with his. It's the nature of the beast where there's a cast of thousands. There's no getting away from it no matter how much we want her to be seen as her own woman. But it doesn't make her less of a woman or of a human being in this drama. (Unless we choose to see it that way) She is on a growth trajectory and Jeong-won is a crucial part of it. Because they secretly love each other they can't help but bring out the best in one another. Frankly I can't see that there's anything particularly bad about that. Especially when seeing her happy makes him ridiculously happy.
With Jun-wan and Ik-sun, while they enjoy honesty and intimacy, there's a cloud looming in the horizon. Jun-wan is supportive of her career but there's the prospect she might be headed overseas for a 3-year stint. It's a great and rare opportunity. But in his heart of hearts, Jun-wan's goal is marriage with her and a long distance relationship isn't exactly what he had in mind. Whatever words one has to describe the situation, it is a spanner in the works. The course of true love never did run smooth.
In sharp contrast to med student Yun-bok and her boyfriend who are both at a different stage in their lives and with no real sense of what's really at stake for a long-term committed relationship. It all begins with the littlest things. Taking care of those means that the bigger issues like trust becomes more accessible. Without trust there can be no intimacy, just petty quarreling.
Will these relationships enjoy longevity? I suppose at the end of the day it depends on the people in the relationship. How much do they want it? How committed are they to it? What would they do to make it work?