One of the criticisms that’s been levelled at Hospital Playlist is the slice-of-life platform from which it stages its storytelling. I’ve heard it said that there is no plot to it and it’s just a series of snapshots or disconnected events strung together. I beg to differ… of course. While the drama might not seem to have an overarching plot what it does have are multiple plots unfolding in these apparently unrelated even random personal stories. I want to elaborate on this in reference to this scene:
I’ve made reference to it before in other posts but I also have something to say about it not just in terms of the WinterGarden dynamic but in relation to what the writer does with the plotting of specific story threads.
All throughout the franchise starting from the earliest days, we’ve been privy to the inside workings of the General Surgery staff room. It has been the setting for the development not only of the WinterGarden romance but also a point of contact where the trajectory of Jang Gyeo-ul plays out. Over and over again we are reminded that she is the only GS resident and quite possibly the only female in the department. As far as I know. (Although I have a feeling that might be a female pediatric surgeon somewhere in the ether but don’t quote me) At the end of the first season we are given a glimpse of how Gyeo-ul and Jeong-won first met. No doubt everyone has watched this scene multiple times and know it well.
Long before Jeong-won was ever a part of the scenery in Yulje, Gyeo-ul was already a part of the furniture. Being the only GS resident, she was beloved by all the other surgeons who had to bribe or cajole her to work with them. Enter the new professor of pediatric surgery and a new dynamic is born. The seeds of infatuation and romance find fertile ground and begins to sprout. She tells the hospital’s busybody, Lee Ik-jun a relatively recent figure in GS that it all began the moment she first laid eyes on Ahn Jeong-won. Their story starts at the GS staff room not at a cafe or a park or at someone’s house. It’s a workplace romance and the more recent staff room scene reinforces that.
Ik-jun even with his own agenda of keeping Gyeo-ul happy, tries on a separate occasion (Episode 10 of Season 1) to stir the seemingly recalcitrant Ahn Jeong-won into revealing himself. Ik-jun the wandering trickster plays a prank announcing to the entire GS staff room that Gyeo-ul has a boyfriend complete with a bouquet as a prop. Hilariously, he does a hard sell to the young intern that even GS surgeons can have a life outside of work using Gyeo-ul as an exemplar. It’s a highly theatrical and farcical moment.
One of the senior surgeons tells her to persist with this "relationship”. His exact words are “Don’t give up. The future of GS depends on you.” On hindsight it’s a statement tinged of irony. Of course the dear man is thinking about Gyeo-ul being a beacon of hope after Ik-jun’s pontification but the writer in an act of nudge, nudge, wink, wink is prefiguring something else. The GS surgeons wants her to pick their surgery, Ik-jun included and he’s set it up so that Gyeo-ul will favour him like he has in the past because he’s playing matchmaker for her benefit.
The reality too is that the future of GS with regards to pediatric surgery does on hindsight depend on Gyeo-ul. The most important reason why Jeong-won remains at Yulje has to do with her. He tells Jun-wan as much in the previous episode. But I’m also someone who believes that this could be a reference to wedding bells ringing in the distance and Jeong-won taking leadership of the hospital if and when Jong-su retires. It’s a pet theory I have. Keeping Jeong-won in the hospital is the goal because this is a show called… Hospital Playlist.
Why am I going on and on about this? Because I’m convinced that there’s plenty of continuity in the drama. Long before we see these two hugging and kissing in some secluded park, there’s already a plan in place to protect the GS department. The hugging and the kissing is the cherry on top but to keep these two people in GS for the long haul is really the prime objective. The world needs good medical care… always… and hospitals are only as good as the men and women who populate it. If the men and women in it aren’t happy where they are, they will go somewhere else. Or God forbid, even leave the profession.
It then follows… logically… that Ahn Jeong-won should have a tough time keeping his feelings under the lid. It’s not just because of the kind of man he is but because they fell in love at work as represented by the GS staff room. He is happy at work because he is happy in his private life. His cup overflows at work and so it should. Here too Ik-jun essentially lets the cat out of the bag under the pretence of a joke. The trickster in him can’t resist. But this an echo of the last season where he lied bombastically about Gyeo-ul being attached. This time he speaks the truth in the guise of a joke and everyone follows along with the joke line. It’s the happy result he was seeking previously. I wouldn’t be surprised too if this was a bit of payback on the part of Ik-jun for Gyeo-ul’s refusal to play along with his game. Like Puck from Midsummer Night’s Dream, he plays matchmaker with minor success and yet his role is also that of a herald. What was a farce in the last season is now a pleasant reality. Note too the positioning of Jeong-won in both scenarios. In the first he’s the latecomer and in the second he is as well. But in the earlier incident he is the fringes, on the outer but the entire farce is constructed for his benefit. In the second incident, he too is the last to arrive on the scene. On this occasion however, he becomes the centre and subject of conversation because of what he does and also because of what Ik-jun says to bring unwanted attention to the couple. The GS team look on in disbelief and to make sense of Jeong-won’s very particular attention to Gyeo-ul, they chalk it up to his kind nature.
I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating: The central character of the show is essentially the hospital not the five friends. It can be said therefore that the five friends and supporting characters are the windows/lenses into which we catch glimpses into everything that goes on the world related to the hospital. Even the WG couple’s most intimate scenes are tied in some fashion to work. The flashback in question is the prelude to all the acts of intimacy which follow. By the nature of how they were set up it’s near impossible for those two not to mix business with pleasure. This is why we only ever see his mother Rosa and by extension Seok-hyeong’s mother because they are linked in some way to the hospital.
All of that is to say that Hospital Playlist has its own sense of continuity. I believe it does have one continuous arc that feeds into all the others. It’s about maintaining the quality of medical care at Yulje and what it takes for that to happen. I was just thinking about the brief appearance of Prof Cheon. Yes, he’s the poster boy of terrible clinical practice but you know, compared to last season, he isn’t as bad. He has made incremental improvement. I guess it’s what we might call baby steps.