Hospital Playlist Retrospective Season 1 Episode 12: The Kitchen Sink

A gentle reminder that this post will contain many spoilers for the entire drama not just for the episode under discussion.

Continuing on the characterization of Song-hwa as the archetypal Sage, it is clear that this is the part that she relishes. And it is the persona she defaults to at every opportunity. Repeatedly she eschews all attempts to be an object of romantic fantasy or attainment. When Chi-hong tells her that he will follow her to Sokcho, she shuts that idea down faster than he can gather his thoughts together, telling him that this will be detrimental to his career. As far she's concerned, she's his professor first and foremost. The lines remain intact between them. When Ik-jun tries to take her out for a meal, she rejects that in favour of playing the in-house counsellor to other members of staff. Do Jae-hak pushes him aside unceremoniously. As Seok-min says, she's better than a professional. Hence the queue outside her office ready to receive pearls of wisdom from her lips as she dispenses advice about everything under the sun.

Even though Ik-jun offers a second confession, it's unclear where she stands with regards to him. While she celebrates other pairings and become privy to them, she doesn't seem especially interested in being paired off herself with any of those already within her circle of influence. At this point, she is most comfortable as teacher, counsellor, advisor, sage and confidante. According to Jeong-won she's a mind reader because she was able to pinpoint his decision to stay. "Psychic" was the word that she used to describe herself, an idea that fits perfectly with her Sage persona. As his confidant, she is able deduce the identity of the mysterious special interest that is foremost in his mind.

It isn't surprising of course that the Sage of Yulje has observations of human beings couched within the metaphor of food consumption, when one considers her propensity for gluttony. (The running gag excuse of having 3 older brothers to contend with.) According to her as she waxes philosophical, there are 3 kinds of people in the world:

  1. Those that are happiest when they are eating something.

  2. Those who are happiest when they are eating alone.

  3. Those for whom watching others enjoying good food makes them happier than when they themselves are eating

To illustrate the first two points, the show cuts to her friends. Jeong-won, on the other hand, epitomizes the third. Which is an astute observation of him. Even though he complains when he doesn't get to the food quickly enough because of Song-hwa and Jun-wan, he gets a big kick out of seeing other people happy. Personally I think this is part of his leadership skill set and his philanthropic bent. And it is why in spite of what he put Gyeo-ul through, I forgive him his sins because I am sure it caused him no end of heartache to know that he caused her so much grief.

For me the only real twist (if it can be considered one) in the finale is Song-hwa's relocation to Sokcho. At the start of the drama she was the only who was already working in Yulje but at the end she's the only one not working at the main hospital. The others were recruited by Jeong-won in a bid to take control of the VIP wards to fund the Daddy-Long-Legs scheme. Song-hwa has also now been given charge of the scheme and vehemently insists on holding on to it.

Ik-jun's role as Trickster spills over into his adorable and delightful relationship with his son U-ju. Their dynamic is one that always has me alternating between smiling like an idiot and oohing and aahing. While I don't think U-ju is quite ready for Mensa just yet, he does demonstrate a social precocity in his interactions with Dad. Plus he has all the making of a trickster himself. A little chip of the old block. It's obvious that U-ju is the joy of Ik-jun's life. He relishes every moment he has with the little fellow.

Speaking of parenting, one of the best moments in the drama to my mind was the accumulated sequence of events outside the OBGYN waiting area. There was something both humorously familiar and poignant about it for someone who has been there. Not only did it effectively highlight Seok-hyeong's understandable popularity among the expectant ladies but it was such a powerful example of showing over telling. It was, in short, a great television moment. My obstetrician once said to me that delivering babies is not an exact science and that's certainly showcased here. All these expectant mothers impatiently waiting for their turn, complaining about how slow the queue is moving. They all want a piece of Seok-hyeong and that's the price they have to pay. So there's a bit of whining. Until an expectant mother in her final trimester discovers that she's miscarried and bursts into heart-rending sobs which is reverberated up and down the waiting room. Immediately, the complaining stops, everyone is quiet. Nothing needs to be said. They all have an inkling as to what's happened. Some of the mums-to-be caress their bumps in silent gratitude that they still have their babies. Their perspective completely shifts from feeling sorry for themselves to feeling sorry for the poor woman who has lost her baby. No comments are needed. No editorializing required. It's a fantastic storytelling moment.

This is one of the things I love about the show by the way, this deep respect for the audience to be in step with what's going on without having to be spoon-fed.

On this occasion we see Seok-hyeong as the archetypal Caregiver. He is attentive to his patients' needs, he is thorough, he is kind and he is patient. He tells the poor woman who has miscarried to take her time and have a good cry. This is in large part what the episode is about. The Five as Caregivers. Despite their contrasting personalities, the one thing they have in common is their passion as clinicians. They are great doctors not because they are perfect human beings but because they care about their patients and give it their all. They go above and beyond. They bend over backwards to ensure that every avenue has been explored. This is why we have scenes of Jun-wan sleeping in his office. Or of Jun-wan missing the chance to farewell Ik-sun because he puts his focus on his dying patient and the grieving parents. Ik-jun learns sign language so that he can communicate with his transplant patient's deaf son. This is what "calling" or "vocation" is about.

Chi-hong too has his moment where he understands the ramifications of the vocational side of his job. Temperamentally, he is a good fit for medicine because he's kind and good with people. He is, as Song-hwa notes, thoughtful and conscientious. The brain tumour patient from episodes ago, Kim Hyeon-su returns to thank him and gift him with a pen. He tells Chi-hong that he's returning to work at the police initially as a desk jockey. What Chi-hong did for him by giving him hope seemed to surpass the importance of the actual surgery itself. It speaks volumes about the impact of the psychological aspects of the healing process.

One has a feeling that he will be a good chief resident of NS. He will put his best foot forward but despite the desires of his heart, I don't see him being successful with Song-hwa. Her note to him comes purely from the perspective of the Wise Mentor.

In the course of this episode Jeong-won eventually comes to the realisation that medicine was always his true calling. What Ji-yeong's family does here is remind him why he became a doctor in the first place. They provide him with the final piece of the puzzle. When they tell him that he's a great doctor and thank him repeatedly, he is led to realise that he was able to do something that not too many people in the country can do. All the goodwill in the world wouldn't be enough to save the little girl. Aside from concern and passion, what is also needed is skill. The truth of the matter is that he will never be happy doing anything else. Saving lives and then being the bearer of good news is what drives him to do good, better and his very best. For him to finally realise what the rest of us have known since the beginning is freedom. This truth has set him free.

Because he is now free he can stop obsessing about the priesthood. He has taken stock of his life and he now knows what his path should be. Now that the priesthood question is out of the equation he can stop worrying about his feelings for Gyeo-ul and move on with her. Looking at this scene in the PICU, she has become his comfort zone. He has unconsciously positioned himself very close to her for someone who is supposed to be heading for the priesthood. The longing has always been there. His heart has been steering towards her. He is literally drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Work affords him these opportunities to be close to her even if he can't/won't verbally tell her how he feels.

The way they're framed in this scene shows that words are really unnecessary between them because of their time spent working together which has finally brought them to this place of sympatico. One gets the feeling looking at this that he's within millimeters of holding her hand. Although by this point she's been told that he has feelings for her, she hasn't acted on that piece of information. She is reluctant to plead with him to stay but she's also unconsciously eager to be up close and personal so there's no discomfiture on her part.

While she has been given ammunition by Rosa, Gyeo-ul buries that insight. In hindsight it was probably for the best because it can't be said then that Jeong-won gave up his dream to be a priest solely because of her. She waited until she realised what would be lost to pediatric medicine if he left. There's no doubting that she was a factor but as it is with life, it's never just the one thing. Furthermore, it shows how considerate she is of Jeong-won's feelings that she sat on this information and told no one about it, including her long-time confidant, Ik-jun. I've always believed her to be a remarkable person underneath that frumpy, stoic exterior. Jeong-won saw that in the maggot scene which is for me these days when it all began for him.

I have always loved Ik-jun and Gyeo-ul's platonic mentoring-confidant relationship. For a busybody, Ik-jun is very discrete. I've always loved how she sees him as her big brother and that comfortable aegyo side comes through during their interactions. And of course I love how he approves of her for Jeong-won and says so loudly and clearly. He has tried hard to be her fairy godfather. So it is fitting that he is the one who asks the question that leads to the flashback of the first day Gyeo-ul met Jeong-won and inadvertently fell for him. It's such an adorable moment and it makes me think so much better of her because it means that she never took offence at the way he pulled her aside and chided her for not communicating better with the guardian. She took that in her stride and continued liking him in spite of it. Or maybe even because of it. Because as she told Ik-jun all that time ago, that Jeong-won is a man of principle.

While the first day flashback was hers, the ER flashback was Jeong-won's. It was a crucial piece of evidence for the audience. When he finally kissed her, all the longing that was there in that flashback came to the fore. All the hesitation was no more.

Of course it was more than that. It showed how much he wrestled with his feelings for her. That's also proof that when he lied to her in Episode 8, it wasn't because he didn't like her. It's also proof to me personally that when he watched her being driven off in the black SUV that he was full of longing and regret. He didn't just have feelings for her, he was in love with her to the point that he was seriously questioning his trajectory towards the priesthood.

The song that was playing as he dawdled outside the ER was Jeong Mi Do singing "I Knew I'd Love You" introduced initially by Ik-jun as his drunk de facto confession to Song-hwa at the karaoke. These lines are particularly suggestive:

Again today I'm calling you like a habit
You answered so warmly
You made me the happiest person in the world
I love you so much

In my opinion it speaks to when Jeong-won calls Gyeo-ul at the start of the episode while she's about to have her ramyeon. It did look like he become accustomed to calling her to organize and to assist his surgery.

And in relation to these lines cause me to wonder who is the first person here being referred to here? We know she fell for him at first sight. But the song plays while he's standing outside the ER so it does beg the question. I'm not bothered by the ambiguity.

I knew I'd fall in love with you
The day we first met
Even if you start to shake
From our love fading over time
Then I'll hold on to you just like you did for me

The day we first met
Even if you start to shake
From our love fading over time
Then I'll hold on to you
Don't worry hold my hand
Just like that first day

The main thing is that Jeong-won realises that he'd kept her waiting long enough. Just like what Seok-hyeong said at the Christmas Eve gathering at his place. "I don't want to waste time. My time is too precious for that. I want to live doing the things I like and the things that I want to do now."

While everyone is looking at Seok-hyeong as he talks about his decision not to run his late father's company, Jeong-won is the only who looks down presumably because what Seok-hyeong says hits too close for comfort. It seems to parallel the cafeteria scene and ER flashback after he hears about Gyeo-ul's anaphylactic episode. Everyone else is looking up and elsewhere but he is looking down troubled and preoccupied. It seems to be a precursor to some major decision regarding Gyeo-ul. But on Christmas Day, he finally makes up his mind to cross the line to be with her, subsuming the professional into the personal or vice versa. He in everyday wear, she in work clothes.
(When I thought I had said everything I could say about the Winter Garden couple, I prove myself wrong yet again.)

It's a pity though that Seok-hyeong doesn't take his own advice with regards to Min-ha who texts an invitation to dinner but while his tumultuous relationship with his father is over by the end of the episode, the show reminds us that there's still that other piece of baggage that he's lugging around. He gets a call from his ex-wife as he's leaving work on Christmas Day.

As his personal arc in this season has largely revolved around his dysfunctional family dynamics, it was always clear that his love line with Min-ha did not have that same degree of urgency as the Winter Garden one. I have very little doubt that Seok-hyeong is romantically interested in Min-ha despite all his protestations. Ik-jun seems to be of this view as well. It's commendable that he wants to protect Min-ha from all the anguish of the past but it's not entirely he's choice to make. Besides she's good for him. While she may seem to be intrusive at times, she brightens him up. He's so much more comfortable with her now than he used to be. They too have come a very long way since she called him a "sloth" or a "slug".

For Jun-wan he receives a return package on Christmas Day. It's the parcel that he sent weeks earlier to Ik-sun containing the ring that he has wanted her to have for some time. It's a quandary that he resolved by asking Jae-hak for his advice. These days, I really adore their dynamic. They've become quite a team and their banter never gets old. I enjoy seeing them working out of the differences and then becoming confidants. Each of them bring something to the relationship: Jun-wan is the more experienced clinician and Jae-hak has his experience of 10 years of a stable marriage. Neither man is too proud to ask the other for help when they need it. It's a sweetly humorous moment too when Jae-hak channels the grumpy side of Jun-wan.

One of the unpredictable things of life is that people change their minds because people change. It's almost an iron-clad rule of life. Ik-sun who didn't want jewellery or rings just a couple of month ago is now amenable to the idea. I wonder too now if she's become amenable to the idea of marriage because of the return package. Her change of heart and possible return might also have been foreshadowed by her unexpected visit to the hospital at 2am some weeks earlier. (The date I'm thinking of is 1 December 2019.)

The presence of the medical students remind me one last time as the season wraps up that the hospital is still a place of learning. As Hong-do roams around the hospital with Ik-jun, he learns not just from observations but when he is quizzed on medical facts. Ik-jun counsels him that it isn't enough that he has good interactions with patients, he needs to know facts as well. Belying his trickster facade, Ik-jun is a serious doctor and mentor.

Christmas Day is a day designated by the show for the celebration of miracles... the miracle of modern medicine in particular. As the doctors do their rounds, patients are discharged and given good news. Ik-jun sends his grateful liver transplant patient home, Jun-wan farewells his hemothorax patient in his usual business-like fashion and the family celebrates over home-cooked kimchi jigae. Seok-hyeong finally has good new for the miscarriage prone expectant mother. She's arrived at the safe place where she need not have to fear a premature birth. Seeing both her and her husband weeping tears of relief and joy had me on the verge of tears myself. They'd made it through one hurdle after another. It was like watching Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life... a perennial Christmas favourite done in Hospital Playlist style. There are echoes of the 1946 film in the resolution of Jeong-won's arc. A discontented man who wished he was someone else and somewhere else finally realises that he was always in the right place at the right time. Without him the likes of Ji-yeong and a roll call of other lives he had touch would be a completely different story. His journey to rediscover himself is done.

At the end of the season it seems to me that The Virgin (Jeong-won) and The Bachelor (Jun-wan) are both now in serious relationships with their significant others. Jun-wan was always ahead of the game because he didn't have any of the misgivings that Jeong-won did in jumping into a dating relationship. While I wouldn't say that Jeong-won has caught up ;), their respective arcs this season are the most complete in terms of where their goals were at the start. While Jun-wan was able to keep the identity of his significant other a secret all this time because she's not a colleague, I don't think that's going to be possible for Jeong-won while all eyes are already on them to one degree or another. It always amused me that Jun-wan was eager for Ik-jun to know that he was dating his sister while the latter kept fobbing him off with excuses. The common denominator in their individual tracks was as simple and as cheesy as the power of love. Falling in love for the both of them and their significant others was transformative. It changed Jun-wan into a more outwardly compassionate doctor. He learned to be more comfortable about showing his feelings. It reshaped Jeong-won's view of himself as a religious celibate in the making. It healed Ik-sun from the hurts of a past relationship. And it caused Gyeo-ul to become a better clinician. These romances were a means to an end bringing these individuals to a place where they needed to be in service of the medical side of things.

The outcomes I don't think were really ever in doubt. I never found the show particularly difficult to follow or read. The cues and patterns were always there. I have read criticisms of the writer's and PD's style to game the audience but I never found it to be the case. For humour perhaps (like Prison Playbook) but as far as the character arcs were concerned, it was always fairly clear where things were headed.

The first season was a blast. It seems that the more I watch this show, the more I see. This speaks to its quality. While this might be a burden that they will now have to bear, I'm expecting much of the same for the second season.