After a series of preemptions and movie length episodes, Hospital Playlist S2 is done. I managed to get to it yesterday my time and I’m still wondering how to put words into how I feel. It had all the elements of a heartfelt swansong and yet it leaves room for another season. A part of me is happy for the show to conclude on a high while another part of me thinks that another season might be needed because I can’t believe that Shin-Lee are quite done with the franchise.
I suppose I could start by ranting about all the things I had hoped to see in the finale and didn’t but I won’t. Instead I’d like to start off by saying how much I did like the final episode. No matter how annoyed I am prepared to be, I can never dislike Hospital Playlist because it always manages to put a smile on my face or melt my stoic heart. A second season was always going to be a mammoth undertaking considering the weight of expectations that had to be met. For the most part they’ve acquitted themselves nicely… even if I wasn’t always comfortable with the direction in which the storytelling was leading to.
Although I was desperately hoping wedding bells would ring for the WinterGarden pair at the 11th hour, the two intimate moments we got between them were really good. Plus I was able to buy into the assurance that things are stronger than ever between them while they interacted on the stairwell. For the first time I felt that they had reached a new high in their relationship — a newfound equal footing that wasn’t there before. I don’t know about anyone else but I needed it — to see Gyeo-ul act as a sounding board and emotional ballast for the more experienced and usually more confident Ahn Jeong-won. I’d almost forgotten how emotional and anxiety-prone Jeong-won used to be. What we saw in this instance was a glimpse of how much this relationship has brought equilibrium to his life. While he’s second-guessing himself, she’s there to affirm the choice that he has already made and hold his hand with armed with impeccable logic. In her conversation with the GS residents she demonstrates just how well she understands the procedure and Jeong-won’s dilemma. As she confidently prattles off his history with pediatric bowel transplantation, I am struck by how lively she appears to be and later on how in tune she is with his state of mind. When they’re having dinner together leaving the cares of work aside, we get another confession (backhanded though it was) and more hints of the prospects of matrimony in the offering.
On hindsight my impression is that Shin-Lee were in a hurry to wrap up all the love lines before the season’s end… arguably at some cost to other aspects of the storytelling. Perhaps they weren’t sure if a season three would see the light of day so in one final act of fan servicing, they wanted to make it all happen in season two. That said I’m not a person who prioritizes the romance over the patient stories. For me the patient stories have always come first but even I have to admit to the fact that the effort in trying to get the gom gom and Ik-Song show on the road before the final curtain call, meant that other aspects of the show had to take a backseat which undoubtedly includes other love lines. It’s not meant to be a competition I’m sure because it means everyone gets their happily-ever-after but it’s still inevitably a scramble for development time. There’s no denying that it’s a juggling act of monumental proportions… for good or for ill. Obviously the show cannot do romance the conventional way with the kind of depth we’ve all come to expect so it’s left to individual members of the audience to decide if this approach works for them and give their verdict. I daresay it is impossible for a drama that showcases the inner workings of the hospital care system in so much detail to completely satisfy the viewer’s itch for romance. And as a nod to critics, I’d agree that there was probably no urgent need for romance in the first place. Or the complexity of multiple romances for that matter. But that said, people do watch Korean dramas in large part for the romance and the showrunners have to factor it in to grab a bigger audience. The thinking might be that a little is better than none at all. At the very least it’s a hook. Since I’ve also made the observation myself on some occasions that romance is also a slice-of-life, I can’t be too critical with this approach. Nor would I want to be.
I’ve concluded now that I’ve seen everything the season has to offer that this is the transactional relationship that viewers inevitably have to have with the storytelling. The show can’t please everyone. Either I have to lower my expectations regarding how the romance plays out or I reject the premise of the show in its entirety. At this point I’m more inclined to say the former because I wouldn’t want the show to do away with the focus on the inner workings of the hospital as seen through the eyes of the Five. As a WinterGarden fan though, I can’t help that sneaky feeling that I’ve missed out what could have been if their romance had been given more primacy for instance.
The decision to expedite the bear coupling and Ik-Song no doubt played a part in why bidulgi went down the route it did and took a back seat for as long as it did. On the whole it’s not been a bad deal because I love the Jun-wan that I see in Episode 12. His development has been truly one of the highlights of the season. Because of the misery and heartache he went through, he came out the other end, a gentler and more compassionate physician. That’s certainly exemplified in the latest case with the boy with a complex heart condition. Jun-wan is so much better at communicating with his patients than when first we saw him. Moreover his relationship with offsider Jae-hak has only gone from strength to strength. It moves me just thinking about how much of a support he has been to Jae-hak throughout his wife’s pregnancy and cancer scare. In this journey Jun-wan has been with him every step of the way. The reprimanding, accusatory tone that marked their early dynamic is all but gone. Do I miss it? It made for great humour but I like the new Jun-wan far too much to lament the change. I’m reminded once again of how wonderful an actor Jang Kyung-ho is when I contrast his most recent visit to Ik-Sun’s base camp compared to when he first went. It is devoid of cockiness and there’s a palpable softening in his demeanour. He cracks a rare joke. Ik-sun loses it and the tears come streaming down. Then they embrace. It signals a new era. They’re both now a little older… and a little wiser.
This… ladies and gentleman (if there are any out there)… is why I watch Hospital Playlist. Warts and all. Because where others see pointless patient arcs or unwanted romance, I see inspiring stories of underdogs overcoming impossible odds and character triumphs.
More later… I have a queue of posts to complete and need for a rewatch.