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Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 12: The Winter Garden Confession
A naggy reminder that this post contains plenty of spoilery content. I certainly have no wish for your enjoyment of the drama to be diminished by stumbling into a nest of spoilers.
While writing this post, it occurred to me that I would have to split the Episode 12 retrospective. Not only was it a monster of an episode but rather predictably I ended up having so much to say about the Winter Garden dynamic and it took on a life of its own.
The Winter Garden confession sequence has become a firm favourite. It is really one of the most wonderful confessions I've had the pleasure of watching unfold. Right from when Gyeo-ul stands in front of Jeong-won and stammers apologetically to the moment he collapses into her arms in a medium shot, it's absolutely pitch-perfect.
This confession has resonances of romantic confession from all my favourite adaptations of 19th century British novels. North and South, Wives and Daughters, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility etc etc. To make that leap isn't as incredible as one might think because central to those dramas are individuals who fall in love and are compelled by circumstances to hide their feelings for each other before the big resolution.
In hindsight, Confession Day had to be on Christmas Day. For the devoutly Catholic Ahn Jeong-won it was the final seal that he was on the "right path". Of course 25 December isn't the actual day Jesus Christ was born but it is the day widely celebrated by Christians to commemorate the birth of the Son of God who became a man. So too, Ahn Jeong-won who was on the trajectory to becoming a priest signalled the end to his angst over becoming "a son of God" to remain an ordinary man who loves on Christmas Day. So the solution to the vexing problem that is Ahn Jeong-won is firstly, he falls in love unexpectedly and in so doing caused the priesthood issue to become problematic. The certainty that he felt over it was seriously called into question. Because the woman at the heart of things is a colleague and a student, it was always going to be near-impossible to dodge the outcome. He was necessarily confronted with it regularly: The rare female in the GS department and someone who came to his notice very early on. More than that, however, because she is a colleague... a fellow surgeon... it provides a different set of possibilities... ones he perhaps he had not hitherto considered. If pediatrics has become too lonely or too painful then perhaps the solution is not to "run away from it" but to have someone by his side to share the burden of this "lonely" field of medicine. The writer, it seems to me, has given this a great deal of thought because his love interest is someone still honing her skills and is potentially someone who is amenable to his influence. Moreover, she's not an established clinician in a different field in his age bracket. For me all of this makes perfect, logical sense. To use a Biblical example, it seems to me that Adam has found his Eve. Or more accurately... Adam has been providentially led to his Eve.
What is more obvious during the rewatch is the fact that he sat on his final decision to stay for at least 3 weeks before she out of sheer desperation initiated the confession. That's a fair bit of time. It does beg the question as to why he didn't make his move. Fear, it seems to me was a factor. He simply had no idea how to approach her after being accustomed to maintaining their working relationship for so long. He must have thought long and hard in his spare moments about whether or not he was prepared to change the dynamic between them so radically. Perhaps she'd moved on from him. Did he really want to turn a collegial relationship awkward? He was enjoying having her around judging by the anaesthetist's comments. Did he want to lose that kind of access? All those kinds of things must have gone through his headspace at some point. Furthermore, there was the lying and pretending to account for. Even while Gyeo-ul is highly resilient emotionally, she would have been hurt by the deception. That's why the skinship and the liplocking that came afterwards felt like the logical resolution to the push and pull.
I can't for the life of me imagine what else he could have done. I've thought about it a lot in light of comments that it was "too sudden" or "abrupt". But the fact is anything he says in response to her confession would be an anti-climax. Gyeo-ul in her verbal confession did something Jeong-won couldn't do. She challenged the status quo. It took guts to do what she did especially when we know how reluctant she was to touch the subject. Like it took her guts to ask him to have dinner with her at the end of Episode 7. But this was different because she came right out and said "I like you" with no certainty of how he was going to react. She put her pride on the line and apologized repeatedly for imposing herself by making her requests. She had no idea where she stood with him except that Rosa assured her that she was somebody to him. She stripped herself bare and made herself completely vulnerable in this situation. Moreover, she approached him in abject humility and with grave apprehension. The line "It's not my place to say this" must have been a stab to his heart because in reality she was enormously important to him. Important enough to run all the way from the cafeteria to the ER when he heard about the anaphylaxis event. Important enough to cause him to have doubts about the priesthood. Important enough that he would let her into his surgical space with increasing regularity. Important enough that people around them could tell she was special to him. But she had no idea because he did everything for her under the auspices of work. It was such an effective cover for him. So effective that the woman at the centre of it didn't even know that she was the conscious object of his affections.
In light of everything, the lip-locking was really the only response to not only her question but her grand gesture. She stood in front of him with fear, trembling and in tears... how could he surpass it except to show her in an equally declarative fashion how she had become his significant other. The build-up was crucial. He went for her hair as if to say that he loved everything about her. Her simplicity, innocence and audacity. It also harkens back to the time when her hair was dishevelled after giving chase to the DV perpetrator. Then his hands slid down the side of her face to her neck show his deep longing. All the times he'd wanted to touch her and held back. This is deeply symbolic of all the times that he could only view her from the side... with the facade of a dispassionate onlooker. When she looks up in surprise at this display of intimacy, the tears welling up in his eyes is his apology to her for all the deception, the hesitation and the waiting. His indecision and fear had forced her into the reluctant position of having to take matters into her own hands. From his perspective it was he who imposed on her and yet here she was apologizing profusely for being so forward. Surely it has to be more than a little bit embarrassing for a man to have to watch the woman he loves do so courageously what he was avoiding for so long.
The kiss is partly his penance for what he put her through. ;) But it doubles as as his unspoken confession. All the things he ever wanted to say to her from the anaphylaxis episode onwards but couldn't was enacted in the progression from skinship to lip-locking.
Much more than a confession this is the moment he completely obliterates the line between them. It's a transformational moment. He doesn't just cross the line, he erases it unequivocally. At that point he morphs from being The Professor to The Lover. There's no more hiding behind formalities and there's no more need to hold back those inconvenient feelings. The man behind the professor who wrestled with his desires for months has emerged from his cocoon. A metamorphosis, if you like. I have to give Yoo Yeon Seok his due here. This show has probably the best acting I've ever seen from him and in this drama his likeability factor hit stratospheric regions for me.
While she's confessing it probably strikes him that he has been rather insular in the way he dealt with this dilemma. It probably never really sunk in for him until her confession how much she had to deal with the entire time they had feelings for each other. I don't think he gave much thought to the fact that she might be wondering the whole time if he was coming or going while he was hesitating over giving her the good news. When he tells Song-hwa that there's someone he wants to tell first before telling the others, it throws up several questions. Presumably he was going to tell Gyeo-ul everything which is why he made such a big deal of not saying anything to the others first, proving again that she had become more than just a variable in his calculations. From the way he's prioritizing her, it wouldn't surprise me if they end up marrying sooner rather than later.
Judging from the ER flashback it would appear that he was in love with her for at least 6 months. Probably even longer if we take into account his antics at the OBGYN-Ped conference in Episode 4. So the charge that the kiss came from nowhere is meaningless especially when compared to usual Kdrama fare.
Additionally all that skinship at the end, as I've said elsewhere, is the final in the nail in the coffin that this man should ever be a priest. All those repressed emotions just came gushing out like water from a dam whose floodgates have been opened. I have to wonder how much he's thought about her all this time. The struggle to keep it all under wraps must have been mammoth. He may have made the trip to Italy but I doubt he would have stuck at it for long with all these feelings taking over.
Just as she made herself vulnerable in initiating the confession, he finally exposed himself to her. It isn't just a case of declaring that he's in love with her but also of how much. So he goes in for a second round of lip-locking just so she is in no doubt that this is the real deal.
When he finally wraps himself around her in an embrace, it heralds a man who has finally ended an extended almighty battle with himself, completely giving himself over to the woman in front of him with no reservations, no sign of turning back. He is utterly and completely hers. This signifies his total surrender.
Among many things, the missing ER flashbacks confirms what Gyeo-ul and many of us suspected at the time, that Jeong-won had feelings for her. What was less clear then was the depth of his feelings. The panic running said it all it seems to me. The knowledge that her life was in jeopardy brought all the repressed emotions to the surface. For a brief moment he lost control, wasted no time and did what he wanted. I was also surprised at how aware he was of the consequences of going inside, of what he was implying if he stepped past those glass doors.
My contention is that the primary purpose of this scene is to give us permission to look at all their scenes together retrospectively and put a different spin on each one. This is how pivotal it is. I wished for many more flashbacks from his perspective and still do. But since I've been deprived of what might have been, I'm glad to have this one as a reference point.
Much credit should also be given to Shin Hyun Bin, who also gave an amazing performance during the confession. All the things she did for art made her one of the standouts for me in this drama full of stellar performances. I just love what she brought to the table as Jang Gyeo-ul in all her manifestations. It made me root for her from start to finish. Jang Gyeo-ul finally gets the man of her dreams... the one she fell in love with at first sight.
As I've said elsewhere, not a lot about the season finale came to me as any great surprise. Most of what took place was foreshadowed or telegraphed early on. There was never going to be any bait and switch despite noises from certain quarters. I don't have any simplistic answers about his final decision to stay in Yulje. The way I see it, it's a combination of factors that led him finally to believe that it all made sense to remain where he is. It certainly doesn't go against a Christian understanding of "calling" or vocation to serve others as a physician. Marriage and sex are God's ideas. Continuing as a doctor is not evidence of lesser devotion to God. As Song-hwa says, he could do so much good staying in pediatrics and the great thing for him is, he now has someone to help him shoulder the baggage that comes along with it.
This is clear from the flashback where the other surgeons/professors from GS are nattering to Gyeo-ul about the new pediatric surgeon that's joining the department. They highlight the fact that pediatric surgeons are a rarity and note that this new guy does everything on his own so Gyeo-ul's services aren't needed. However in this episode, it's clear that Jeong-won is becoming increasingly reliant on Gyeo-ul to the point that he defaults to calling her as soon as an emergency crops up. It's a very suggestive development that confirms that she is now his de facto right hand.
Even the anaesthetist notices that Jeong-won's been "overusing" Gyeo-ul lately to the point where she's not keeping up with her meals and slyly eggs him on to take better care of her. No doubt the anaesthetist is on some level attempting to set them up and the reality is that Jeong-won isn't as adept at hiding his intentions to the experienced eye. At this stage I'm not sure if he's definitely decided to stay but judging from heavy duty religious paraphernalia in his second drawer when Ik-jun sneaks around his office, I'd say 'no'. So it's probably him doing a sleight of hand trying to spend as much time with Gyeo-ul as he can before D-day.
With all these sorts of voices accompanying the Winter Garden dynamic it is so clear that everything they do together has romantic overtones. There's no getting away from that. Especially when we now have the ER flashback as our compass. It's in effect a cunning way to incorporate romance into what is essentially a medical drama.
For me the Winter Garden pairing was really the most important romance thread of this season. It was the only one that really mattered storywise because it had direct bearing on Jeong-won's dilemma. So it was no real surprise that it finally found its resolution at the 11th hour.