Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers… Read at your own risk.
The gang from Yulje Medical Centre are back. Well, most of them as far as I can tell. The show is back with a vengeance and demonstrates unequivocally why it is one of the best television franchises coming out of South Korea. 90 minutes flew by. The writing is as strong as ever and the direction every bit as sure-footed as it was in the first season. In short, I am relieved. Those who have been listening to my conversation with AbsoluteM, will know that I’ve been keeping my expectations low because sequels and second seasons seldom live up to the expectations (over-inflated or otherwise). I kept myself away from the pre-airing publicity as much as I could to tamper my enthusiasm. (Although I watched the teasers which told me absolutely nothing about what was going to happen) The first season was a roaring success by any metric and the bar was set high so while anticipation was high, the hype possibly ridiculous, the first episode gives fans plenty of reasons to hope that the quality holds forth in the next four months.
Hospital Playlist is one of the best exemplars of how both breadth and depth can be achieved in a television show. PD Shin Won-ho demonstrates how it is possible to throw everything including the kitchen sink into the storytelling and still have meaningful things to say about life, death, love and everything that constitutes the universe we live in. It will be a tough act to follow indeed. The show is deeply philosophical and thoughtful without compromising audience engagement and consistently stellar production values. In the short space of 90 minutes, the show ran through the entire gamut of key themes with warmth, humour and compassion. The dialogue and scenarios ring true. The people feel like people that we know and meet everyday. They carry the same hopes and fears as the rest of us mere mortals. PD Shin makes it look easy but those of us seasoned drama watchers can attest, not everyone pulls it off despite the best of intentions.
The highlight of the first episode was Dr Jang Gyeo-ul’s (Dr Long Winter) interactions with Yeon-u’s mother, an affable outwardly cheerful woman still grieving for her baby. Unwilling to let go, the lady returns to the hospital from time to time to visit the staff there plying them with gifts. Gyeo-ul suspects the persistent visitor is trying to tell her something and consults her newly acquired boyfriend, Professor Ahn Jeong-won the show’s resident expert in such matters. Apparently the mother is loathe to let go even if the child came and left after a short time
The delightful moments that we were privy to between Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul (my stated wish came true) reinforced my belief that for all of the first season, Jeong-won was on a quest to find a reason to stay. It’s clear that Gyeol-ul was and is a big part of that. The boyish glee with which he meets her at the end of a long hard day after work, was the picture that contained a thousand words. Yoo Yeong-seok is just downright adorable. His cup overflows and more importantly, he is in every way the attentive, considerate boyfriend I expected him to be. I’m glad that he gave his mother the good news almost immediately and put her in a good frame of mind for the festivities. This is one mother who knows her son so well. And I loved how when Seok-hyeong’s mother asked about the “girlfriend’s” background, Rosa waved it off with a “who cares”. Yup, this is one mother who knows what’s really important in the scheme of things.
Speaking of Jeong-won, I appreciated that very subtle and deliberate moment there with the Emergency Fellow who showed an interest the moment she clapped eyes on him. She wasn’t backwards in coming forward. It’s certainly a lovely paradigm shift for Jeong-won, the pediatric surgeon who was popular with the ladies to determine his boundaries with care. This is the sort of device that makes Hospital Playlist the cleverly, carefully written show that it is. The contrasts that Jeong-won demonstrates in this episode compared to the last is telling of what was missing in his life.
If there are still those who believe that he should have gone over to the priesthood, I imagine the happenings of this episode should really put an end to that once and for all. As we saw in their conversation, he was much more interested in Gyeo-ul’s doings than he let on. The priesthood was always an exit plan and his true calling was clearly pediatric surgery. The hospital director’s eager response to the possibility of Jeong-won remaining that he would free up 10 hours for the latter elicited a laugh out of me.
As I said in the podcast, I am enthralled with this new dynamic that I see at play in many dramas of late what I call a romance between collaborators. It’s certainly the case for the Wintergarden pair that work and play are intertwined as denoted by Gyeo-ul’s two questions to Jeong-won — the personal and the professional. But I’ve said it all before and I should stop before I sound like a broken record. :D
Apparently Ik-jun has been friendzoned which is fair enough. The other half told me the other day after completing his rewatch of the first season that he didn’t think two perfect people with opposite personalities should end up together. (The way Ik-jun ripped the plastic off the dashboard of the new car made me laugh. I’m like Song-hwa in that regard) That was his logic in why Ik-jun and Song-hwa as a couple doesn’t work for him. For me I always sensed that Song-hwa would be very reluctant to be involved with any of her male besties and in this episode she said as much I think. It confirmed what I’d thought. She’s content with the status quo. And why not? Life’s good and she has a core group of friends to hang out with in and out of the hospital. That said, there’s another season in the pipeline and it’s a lady’s prerogative to change her mind later if she feels so inclined.
For some reason I just love Min-ah’s response to Seok-hyeong’s rejection of her — making the best of an unfortunate quandary. Her creativity and good naturedness was laudable. It was an endearing and consistent reflection of her personality since the first season. Whatever faults she has, she is wonderfully resilient. But apparently she hasn’t given up. I really like their mentor-apprentice relationship and I have no issues if they take that further because it seems to me that Min-ah brings out another side to Seok-hyeong which even his friends don’t.
And our flawed five… it’s a joy to see them back in full bickering mode. What a joy it is that one has friends to fight with like cats and dogs and complain about endlessly. It’s a glorious glorious privilege which should never be taken for granted. Life’s too short not to have friends like that. Where you can be yourself — the best and the worst — and know that they will never hold that against you. For more than 5 minutes.