Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 11
This post contains spoilers for the episode under discussion and others.
There's something that Rosa says here that reminds us that there's a familiar moral universe here in operation. There's such a thing as right and wrong. It's one in which the reaping and sowing principle is well and truly alive. When she says someone like Chairman Yang suddenly drops dead because he is being punished he is immediately framed as an example of a life badly lived. He had within his grasp the best life had to offer and yet he misused what gifts were given to him and pursued that which was evil and left a trail of destruction in its wake. This is a moral universe where spousal infidelity is condemned, where personal choice needs to go hand-in-hand with personal responsibility, where devotion to family and friends is celebrated.
I'm sure it's obvious that I have never been someone that needed any convincing that Jeong-won wasn't ever a suitable candidate for the priesthood but on the off chance that there were people who believed that he should just "follow his dream", the show itself makes the case for him remaining on at least 2 fronts. It's not just the audience but Jeong-won himself that needs to have his eye on the bigger picture. The drama itself is quick to insist that this isn't about God vs Gyeo-ul. There are also other things at play that need to be considered.
When Jeong-won informs Director Ju of his impending departure, the latter reminds him that pediatric surgeons are a rare breed in South Korea. There are only 48 in the entire country. Yulje Medical Centre is the only major hospital with 2 pediatric surgeons. 1 pediatric surgeon is the equivalent of an entire staff so once Jeong-won leaves, pediatric surgery as a viable department of Yulje will be no more. With all of that in mind Director Ju urges Jeong-won to seriously reconsider his decision to leave. Jeong-won's departure will not only be a blow to Yulje but will have an impact on the country's health care system. A man in the director's position has to see the bigger picture. This isn't necessarily personal for him. It isn't about the fact that he will lose a valued physician but that the hospital and the country will lose a clinician with a very rare set of skills.
It's clear all throughout the drama up to this point that Jeong-won has always a great fit for medicine and pediatrics more specifically. Everyone knows it. Jong-su and Rosa acknowledge it. His friends affirm this when they see his love for the children. Nobody believes he should leave the profession and I don't even think Jeong-won himself is entirely convinced he should because he seems to have dragged his feet on the matter. It seems to have taken him a longer time than expected to approach the director about leaving and when asked, he doesn't seem to have offered any reason for it. Clearly Jeong-won is wrestling with serious doubts about leaving. The pressure is on and not all of it deliberate or planned.
The Gyeo-ul factor obviously can't be dismissed at all. It must diminish any sense of certainty he has regarding a future as a religious celibate. If he ever believed it was something that he could put to one side and forge ahead, he was in all likelihood deluding himself. Rosa attests to the fact that his liking of Gyeo-ul is very great. As his mother (an expert witness) her testimony has weight. She becomes so convinced that Gyeo-ul is an important variable in this issue that she approaches a relative stranger, in sheer desperation, to make her plea. She had already sensed that there was another interest in the mix when he said to her "It's not Song-hwa" previously. She was certainly right on the money then. It wasn't Song-hwa but there was another interest despite all his protestations to the contrary. The pressure is now on Gyeo-ul who was led to believe that the good professor on his side was acting purely as her mentor. Now to be told that it wasn't a one-sided infatuation must be a shock to the system. What also stood out to me this time round which I hadn't considered before is that Rosa seems to believe that Jeong-won's feelings are reciprocated. When Gyeo-ul runs pass her, and Rosa takes a good look at her smiling face, Rosa is trying to make certain that this young woman has feelings for her son. What she sees gives her sufficient reason to follow through with the idea already forming in her mind. As far as Kdramas go this step of having Rosa approach a potential love interest is something of a decisive shift and an overturning of a well-worn trope. In standard melodramatic fare, it is the norm for wealthy mothers to disapprove of their sons' involvement with ordinary-looking women who come from ordinary backgrounds. Here, however, Mum is truly ahead of the game and gives her unconditional blessing even before the couple has acknowledged their feelings for one another.
It isn't just Rosa of course that sees that Gyeo-ul is special to Jeong-won, a scrub nurse participating in her first surgery as lead specifically highlights the fact that Jeong-won doesn't allow just anyone to do this. Aside from what feelings he may have for her, we are meant to believe that he does think highly of her skills as surgeon as well. On this occasion she justifies his assessment of her when she aces the surgery.
The WinterGarden dynamic is ultimately a work-based vehicle for change in two people. To put it crudely, it is an office romance between two people who fall in love with each other and affect each other as they work together. It is an affirmation of the transformative quality of love within the context of the workplace. Even though she is completely unaware that he's in love with her but the fact that she's in love with him motivates her to spend as much time with him as possible. We saw that when she broke the bouquet prank by choosing Jeong-won's surgical procedure over Ik-jun's. Even if all she can do is assist him in surgeries or as the case was here, performing her first lead surgery under his supervision, it's better than not being by his side at all. Jeong-won on the other hand, wants to make happy memories with her before he leaves so he does whatever he can for her, giving her opportunities that she might not have otherwise. He can't be the overt lover to her so he romances her via proxy, through their collaboration via work roles. It is their safe place to conduct their romance without either having to confess and deal with the fallout. A fascinating case of hiding in plain sight. The romantic overtones in her first surgery as lead surgeon are palpable as they go back and forth like a couple in a verbal rumba.
This, it seems to me, foreshadows what will presumably come later when they become a fully-fledged working couple. Because he trains her himself, she will become his right-hand and complement him perfectly. He won't have to do his surgeries solo any longer because he will have her both as his life partner and working partner. This is a thesis that I've considered in a bit more detail in Canon in D.
In contrast is Chi-hong's dynamic with Song-hwa which may end up going nowhere for the former. In terms of mentor-mentee romances this one may be doomed to remain one-sided. I think he senses it as well that things are unlikely to end up his way despite his best efforts. Still, while the man might be out of the military, one can't entirely take the military out of the man. At the back of his mind he may still believe that all's fair in love and war. That's perhaps why he's pushing his boundaries with Song-hwa as much as he can. Like Gyeo-ul though, he has blossomed from being under the supervision of a good mentor but unlike Gyeo-ul, the prospect of that transforming into a romantic relationship is minimal, not necessarily just because of Ik-jun's persistent presence.
From Ik-jun's perspective, as a member of this "triangle", it's been evident from early on why he has many regrets and so much to fear because the possibility that he has missed the boat with Song-hwa again is quite high. Or at the every least he's aware that he's up against determined competition.
Song-hwa's discomfiture at being caught between the two men is palpable. At this juncture she's not especially prepared to change her respective dynamic with either and deal with the consequences of doing so. My impression too is that she's comfortable as the Sage and Mother figure that any kind of movement from it isn't going to come easily. Perhaps this is why she decides to take some time off from the hustle and bustle Yulje and move to Sokcho for a year as some kind of sabbatical. It isn't just persistent suitors that are causing her to rethink her trajectory but a persistent herniated disc condition. An issue that was telegraphed very early on in the drama. She has been throwing herself into her role as the diligent "Ghost" of Yulje and something eventually had to give. No one can maintain that kind of juggling act as she has without paying the price for it.
In this especially romance heavy episode the karaoke sequence is instructive. Only Song-hwa is sober. All the men are quite drunk and at least 3 of them are wrestling with women issues: Jeong-won, Jun-wan and Ik-jun (who staggers in already drunk after the NS get-together). On another level it functions as a direct and intentional contrast to the karaoke flashback in Episode 3. 20 years later, 4 of the men are drowning their sorrows in alcohol and song. Each person is taking up a different part of the room. By the time Ik-jun bursts into the room, Jeong-won is already very much under the influence singing a song from Reply 1994.
If we are to believe that the song is a reflection of the mood he is in, I'd say that at the forefront of his mind he is commiserating over what he can't have with Gyeo-ul and his unwillingness to let go. Before he can sing his next choice "Goodbye Now", Song-hwa grabs the controller from him signalling that perhaps that his anguish over what might never be is somewhat premature. Like a repeat of history before anyone else can make their song choice, Ik-jun starts the karaoke with "I Knew I Love" angsting over his regrets regarding Song-hwa 20 years earlier confirmed by a flashback of him buying a ring for her. Jeong-won despite being inebriated, catches on that something's afoot in Ik-jun's headspace.
At the back corner of the room is Jun-wan pensively thinking about Ik-sun. This is supported by a flashback of a conversation between them of past romances. In it Ik-sun tells him that she was able to move on from her ex because of him. She's well-aware that the good times don't always last but she wants them to make happy memories together during the good times. Then the camera cuts back to the karaoke lounge and sees him reach into his jacket pocket and pull out a ring that he had prepared to give to her earlier but held back because she insisted that she doesn't want any kind of jewellery from him.
After this the show cuts to the band practice of them singing "I Knew I Love". Ik-jun is on lead vocals again then in looks at Song-hwa in meaningful fashion but again she looks uncomfortable at first. When the song ends, it cuts to Chi-hong reminiscing about the first day he met Song-hwa 3 years earlier mistaking her for an intern.
For me it became increasingly obvious that the romance although isn't the main thing is still important as to what it tells us about these people outside of their professional personas. It isn't just some appendage to the storyline as some might believe. The writer has done it in such a way that the love threads are woven through the character development as much as the friendships do.
In Seok-hyeong's case where romance doesn't dominate his individual trajectory it is still being developed in the fringes with Min-ha. I don't have much doubt that he likes her from looking at their interactions but the family baggage is intrusive. I am surprised though that there aren't more people who pair him off with Song-hwa because it certainly makes far more sense than pairing her with Jeong-won. Seok-hyeong often has scenes with her with just the two of them. She's a great confidant and comfort to him. His mother really likes her and often tries to set them up. On top of that he had a crush on her while they were undergraduates. It does beg the question of whether if it's because he isn't classically good-looking that he's not even considered a contender.
While the biggest angst for all of the other men are women, for Seok-hyeong it's clearly the haunting presence of his father that looms large. Despite his absence from Seok-hyeong's life, he continues to be a feature of it. Clearly family dysfunction and its repercussions are long-ranging. Not only is he caught in a cold war between his parents, Seok-hyeong is left to pick up the pieces when his father passes away. Not only does he have to organize the funeral and be a part of it, he also has to deal with his father's mistress and the fallout that comes from that. There's definitely a morality tale in that. It's no accident of course when Ik-jun says of Seok-hyeong "the real Buddha is here". Despite what life and Bad Dad has thrown his way, Seok-hyeong demonstrates the ability to transcend all his father's sins and be dispassionate about the mistress and her unborn child.
Of course not all professor-resident relationships have romantic overtones. By this time, the dynamic between Jun-wan and Jae-hak have come such a long way. As we see in the story of bubby Chae-young who is waiting for a heart donor, these two men are working more in tandem as they understand each other better. As Jun-wan undergoes his incremental changes he is becoming more sensitive in the way he communicates to patients, ably supported by Jae-hak. Jae-hak, on the other hand, is becoming more committed to his role as a physician and gaining more confidence. What I especially enjoy about this relationship (aside from the banter and ensuing hilarity) is this reminder that learning is not a one-way street. It's a case that teachers learn from their students as much as their students learn from them. There are echoes of that all throughout the drama. However it's a fact of life that bears repeating.
It's also a fact of life that the most important people in the workplace aren't necessarily just the ones at the top of the food chain, so to speak. There are people downstairs like Su-bin who are the cogs in the engine of the hospital making sure that everything runs accordingly. In an unpredictable environment such a hospital, the logistics of running the hospital is a veritable constant juggling act dealing with needs and demands. Privacy issues aside, that's what So-mi's tribute video of her mother is largely about. It's a celebration of those who are at the coalface dealing with client service so that the rest (upstairs) can do their jobs well.
It is also true that not all patients are appreciative of what their doctors do for them. Someone like Im Jang-hun, a glass half-empty type of person can't see what's been gained and instead focus on what's lost. It's a normal reaction to the unpredictability of life and what that dishes out. The pain of loss is so great that the one who suffers forget about those who are around them who suffer with them. There are those patients who do understand though that their families need to be supported as much as they do as we see in the case of this episode's cirrhosis patient. His family puts pressure on his wife to donate her liver even while she's reluctant but the husband knows that their profoundly hearing-impaired son needs his mother in good health as well. Donating organs does have inherent risks that shouldn't be diminished.
I always appreciate that even with all the romances that are at play, this show continues to celebrate the friendships, whether it's of the Five or Jong-su and Rosa etc. It's always a great testimony to the fact that even when the unpredictability of life gets to you, when you don't know how to think or feel, there are people that you can count on to support you through the storms. With that in mind, I think that's why Song-hwa is loath to change her dynamics with any of the men. In part, it will be a delve into the unknown... what if doesn't work out? What will it do to the friendship? What if they take sides? In part, she knows what a precious thing she has... something that has survived and surpassed all the failed relationships of the past. It's clear she has valid reasons for wanting to maintain the status quo.