Hospital Playlist Season 2 (2021) Episode 5: Fight or Flight

When the body undergoes intense stress due to some perceived external threat, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is triggered by an abrupt release of hormones. This is a mechanism designed to prioritize survival and to put everything else that’s not necessary immediately is put on hold. Most know this as the fight or flight response.

One of my readers mentioned avoidance as an overarching theme but during my rewatch of Episode 5, the common thread that connected all the dots for me was fight and flight writ large. In the face of adversity, one may respond in two ways — to stay and fight or to flee the situation — depending on one’s assessment of the risks.

One good example of this is demonstrated by Seok-hyeong’s failed marriage. The tumult and ultimately collapse in his marriage fundamentally resulted from his mother’s obsessively combative attitude towards Sin-hye and her family. The state of her in-laws’ finances was seen by her to be an alarm bell which led her to harass her daughter-in-law persistently. Seok-hyeong’s mother saw the situation entirely from the point of view that she had been deceived and that despite not in short supply of money she was fixated by the fact that the in-laws had so very little to spare. In fact they were in debt. Because she belongs to a wealthy set that comes packaged with a particular way of thinking that gives no ground, no matter the circumstances. Both Seok-hyeong and Sin-hye were ill-prepared in temperament or as products of certain cultural mores to deal with this relentless assault on their marital life — or what little of it they were able to call their own. Instead of standing their ground and pushing back, they retreated and Seok-hyeong tries to send Sin-hye overseas to further her education but that doesn’t go anywhere because his mother harasses her family. Towards the end of their life together, Sin-hye makes one last defiant gesture. She steals back a diamond ring from her soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law. Sin-hye bears with it, her resentment boils over and the result is a petty theft. Although a two carat diamond can’t exactly be considered petty.

The other example of course can be seen in the ever expanding bildugi web which now involves Ik-jun. Episode 5 opens with the focus on Ik-jun mulling over his sister’s confessions that she’d been in a relationship with Jun-wan and that she didn’t want him to know that she had taken ill. Ik-jun chooses not so much avoidance but he prioritizes the fight for his sister’s mental and physical health. He doesn’t appear resentful with either for not telling him about their relationship but because on some level all the drama between them has been rendered irrelevant as Ik-sun has other more pressing problems to contend with. Ik-sun continues to choose flight and what I harshly call “self-inflicted" misery. There’s no nice way of putting it. In my view she is making things much harder on herself (and Ik-jun for that matter) than if she had been more forthcoming with Jun-wan. Also, what is she saying about Jun-wan? To me she’s created a situation where Ik-jun has now become complicit in her deception. I don’t know if Ik-jun believes his sister’s story entirely but he’s not going to make reference to it presumably because he’d already inadvertently put his foot in his mouth once.

I know I’m treading on dangerous territory when I say this but I will say this anyway. It is a little surprising that a career military officer would back down and give up this easily especially someone who has achieved as much as she has through what I imagine to be sheer hard work. But it seems that the resilience she has cultivated as a major in the army doesn’t translate into other aspects of her life. Or maybe she thinks she’s strong enough to handle a split with Jun-wan because she carries the misguided belief that she’s holding him back. Still I don’t deny that individuals often do have contradictory impulses due to differences in life experience. It could be too that she really is much more scarred by her previous break-up than she let on.

I have a feeling that Jun-wan doesn’t entirely believe Ik-jun’s story because during band practice he’s still wearing the ring. I’m not sure if still the case one year after. I don’t think he’s given up yet but I imagine she’s still not picking up.

Song-hwa’s counselling session with Seok-hyeong about the breakdown in his marriage seems applicable to bildugi as well. This is why I feel frustrated because Ik-sun seemed to have given up without putting up much of a fight over an issue that could easily be rectified. I wish she could hear Song-hwa’s admonishment and Seok-hyeong’s self-analysis: “I think of running away the moment I am faced with hardship.”

Gyeo-ul’s protective instincts come to the fore when she hears about the physically abused liver patient. Her immediate impulse is to fight back and most of us are putting two and two together from a phone call she received from her mother at 4 am out of the blue. Concerned and mystified, the first thing she goes to is whether her parents have been fighting. Which suggests that it’s much more habitual than is healthy. Her first words to Jeong-won after he draws the curtains are telling, “I can’t promise you I won’t do this again.” It seems a little defiant despite being ticked off by Gwang-hyeon, and sensing the silent chiding from Jeong-won. But is also tells us that Gyeo-ul is a fighter — that her Christmas Day confession is no fluke. She is made of much sterner stuff than appearances might lead observers to believe.

I don’t delude myself that Gyeo-ul or WinterGarden have it all together. But they seem to be on the right track. They didn’t try to skirt the issue of Gyeo-ul’s involvement with the domestic violence case in GS but Jeong-won talked through his concerns with an “open door” policy. Gyeo-ul shouldn’t ever feel the need to put the entire burden of the solution on herself. (Hear that Ik-sun!) The problem was never hers alone to solve in the first place. But perhaps, as Jeong-won shrewdly discerns that she’s used to dealing with risky events like this on her own because she’s not accustomed to asking for help (or getting it) in such situations for one reason or another. What he’s saying in effect is that if there’s fight to be had, they should do it together.

It’s endearing to be a party to the WinterGarden courtship. I can see why Jeong-won fell hard for Gyeo-ul because she can be so adorable. I’ve seen Shin Hyun-bin in interviews and it’s fair to say that she’s nothing like Jang Gyeo-ul. But it’s great to see Gyeo-ul looking so awkwardly needy and muttering requests for more overt expressions of affection. This is one girl who isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants eschewing the old stereotype.

Also hilarious is Gyeo-ul’s interactions with the ambulance driver in one of her procurement runs. She’s been tasked to keep him awake and she certainly goes to the nth degree to do so plying him with dried squid, gum and coffee at any sign of sleepiness. Once Dr Winter has her mind set on something, she definitely goes for it.

The snow crab party which turns into a conference about whether Song-hwa should be allowed to be lead vocals is a hoot. I love the exact moment when she raises the issue and the guys reflexively makes a toast as a strategy of “flight” from having to deal with the issue. But of course Song-hwa won’t take “no” for an answer and pulls every trick she can to get them to compromise. After a bit haggling, they end up somewhat drunk in the karaoke bar where Seok-hyeong does a great impersonation of Barry Gibb… deliberate or otherwise.

This tipsy karaoke moment reminds of the other one in S1 when all the guys were drunk and Song-hwa the only sober one came to pick them up. All four of them had women issues one way or another and were in some kind of mourning. Jeong-won at that time was in flight mode then trying to make sense of his own feelings for Gyeo-ul and his desire to leave pediatrics for the priesthood.

As I’ve said in our most recent podcast that pushy is what’s needed for the Yang household and Min-ha who has admirably paid off her student loan is a viable contender. She’s a fighter and she hasn’t given up on Seok-hyeong. These days she’s more or less got a foot in the door. If she can get a “yes” on the fifth occasion, it will only be the beginning of the uphill battle considering what a tough nut Seok-hyeong’s mother will be to crack. Is the stuffed piggy a sign of good things ahead for her? One can only hope. But it can’t all be on Min-ha either. Seok-hyeong needs to stand up to his mother at some point because he doesn’t need to live the reclusive life. I am glad that his patient’s husband was something of an inspiration and showed him that marriage doesn’t have to end in tragedy. This husband showed that he prioritized his wife and showed appreciation for her role in their marriage. The little things really do matter.

There are times when flight is exactly what the doctor ordered. Song-hwa who must be one of the busiest people in Yulje finally takes a big long break to get some real R and R in Sokcho. One of the most important lessons in life is to listen to your body because honestly when the machinery is not in good working order, you’re no good to anyone least of all yourself.

The liver patient living with domestic abuse is another instance where flight might be a life-saving outcome. As is often the case she is afraid of rocking the boat and has little confidence that a change for the better is possible. At the end of that arc, she thanks the doctors and the nurses for their care and support — for instilling in her the courage to make some tough decision to leave.

Also grateful is Eun-ji’s mother who is the bearer of gifts to the nurses and to the family of the child whose heart it was that Eun-ji received. As I’ve said before, this woman has been in the biggest fight of a life. For the longest time she soldiered on and after being dealt a serious disappointment, harboured thoughts of giving up. But the people around her encouraged her to fight on. Then the good news. She says herself that she could only hang on as long as she did because the staff did their jobs so well.

It’s a densely packed episode with so much in it. The more I watch, the more I dig, the more I see connections everywhere.