Hospital Playlist Season 2 (2021) Playing Cupid

It’s no big secret that I’m someone who thinks the Hospital Playlist is as good as ever and in essence, nothing’s really changed and as far as I’m concerned it is still a wonderful work of art that is a fascinating exercise in minimalist storytelling. The first season laid down the foundations — the terms and conditions for watching the drama — and the second season seems to be building upon it to great effect. It is my view that season 1 provided the blueprint, as it were, for how we should read the drama as a whole and currently how to make sense of this new season.

It is always a surprise to me that there’s so much angst about the romances in this show as if it is the most important aspect of the drama. Yes I root for most of the main pairings as I’m asked to by the insertion of specific scenes but they aren’t supposed to be the lens through which the entire drama should be viewed. It’s always been the case that the WinterGarden development was fed to us through fairly innocuous snapshots of them sharing the stage in a medical situation or other people talking to and about them. For some reason many of us managed to subsist on it. In season two I can’t help feeling in every episode so far that we’ve never had it so good. I take the opposite view to some disappointed WinterGarden fans because I think the showrunners are being ridiculously generous with what they’ve been dishing out compared to the meagre morsels of the first season. It has to be acknowledge that the show hasn’t so far given any post-Christmas kiss conversation but leapt into a passionate kissing scene in Episode 3. However it should also be said that the show has never given us any clear indication of when Jeong-won fell for Gyeo-ul either. There’s good reason to believe that the maggot scene was the first step for him on that particular trajectory to where he’s at now. A good informed guess, however, is all we have. There’s no reason to believe the show will ever give away all of these details because this show has its primary focus elsewhere. In fact I would go further and say that it’s why we see significant arcs given to the likes of two heart transplant mums who aren’t even in the main cast. It should be reiterated as much as possible that Hospital Playlist isn’t a romance drama (seems like an obvious thing to say) with all the usual tropes at play but a medical drama that acknowledges that romance is just one of the many aspects to life. Doing this certainly helps me to come to terms with the show’s idiosyncrasies. It won’t tell us what Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul said to each other after the confession because it would rather focus on Yeon-u’s mother and then highlight a dinner date in which Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul talk about something related to the hospital and professional conduct. We are given the kissing scene near her place only because it contains a flashback to how bad Jeong-won is about keeping his feelings to himself at the hospital.

I don’t know about anyone else but it seems to me that our focus should be first about what it is that we’re actually being shown and why we’re shown those particular moments rather than angsting what we’re not getting. This is the template already established from the previous season. While the show has romance elements, it’s not a romance drama in the usual sense. It will never follow the usual trajectory that we’ve come to expect from a romance-oriented show. It can’t. That’s why guest roles can have more depth in a single episode than regulars and recurring characters.

This leads me to the other point I want to make in this post which is the role that Ik-jun plays in all the lovelines. There’s no doubting that he is the acknowledged and self-professed Cupid of the drama. During the tteokbokki club meeting it’s so obviously clear what one of his role in the show is. Apart from being the purveyor of bad dad jokes, he facilitates romances for his besties and takes great pleasure doing so. The tteokbokki club that he help found now includes both Jeong-won and Seok-hyeong. Ik-jun is ecstatic when he says “Gyeo-ul beats God” as if he was the one who achieved the victory single-handedly. I don’t doubt he believes he had a part to play in the coupling which is quite possibly why he always sounds like a proud brother or parent. Observing Seok-hyeong and Min-ha together in this context, gives him lots of food for thought. Pun intended. That’s why even when his portions at this table are incrementally diminished, he lets it go. He pretends to sulk, throws in a bit of theatre and then happily takes off knowing that his real work is done. Besides, he has bigger fish to fry than tteokbokki ie. Song-hwa. Playing matchmaker is what gives an extrovert like him a great deal of pleasure. (There’s no doubting that Jo Jung-seok is a great comedic actor. His timing, his delivery and facial expressions are always on the money.)

I am now wondering if he will do the same for Ik-sun and Jun-wan. If we operate under the assumption that he only just found out about his sister and Jun-wan, perhaps the timing is right to help them patch things up. If… it’s a big “if”… he generally likes the idea. Everything regarding “bildugi” seems calculated to bring Ik-sun home prematurely and it’s convenient for her that big brother is a liver specialist. Ik-jun is quick on the uptake to conclude that there’s something going on between the two of them.

The reason why I started thinking along those lines is because Ik-jun was the one who apparently unknowingly let slip that Jun-wan was stressed about his girlfriend and was walking on eggshells around her. Rather than seeing this entire incident from her accident to the noble idiot break-up as a negative event, I am now wondering if I should be viewing it as the silver lining of a dark cloud. It might be time that all this secrecy came to light. While it’s been entertaining fodder for humour at Jun-wan’s expense, let’s face it, it’s not the best foundation for a relationship. It’s time for honesty from both sides about the lack of deep and meaningful communication. We should also acknowledge that Jun-wan’s fear of losing Ik-sun if he put too much pressure on her is one of the reasons why they haven’t been communicating authentically. Commitment is more than not cheating or two-timing. That’s just the barest of essentials. Prioritizing your long-term relationship means going deep and sharing the good times and the bad. It’s a fact too that Jun-wan was trying to cocoon the relationship to the point where he was not being true to himself.

I’ve also come round to the idea that we are meant to see bildugi from Ik-jun’s perspective as seen in these shots. He is our window to that deteriorating dynamic that’s been lingering too much in a kind of noble idiocy style deception. I’ve also been thinking that not only has Ik-sun been playing the noble idiot but Jun-wan as well.

Despite all the drama, I still don’t think the answer is breaking up. Otherwise none of us will ever enjoy long-term partnerships and divorce should be much higher than what it is. Just think about the traditional marriage vows that’s come out of western Christianity for starters. “… for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part” There’s an implicit acknowledgment that things will get rough but that’s no reason to bail at the first sign of trouble. Unless we’re talking here about abuse and violence.

If Ik-jun is meant to be Mr Cupid for Yulje, his friends and his surrogate sisters then it’s possible that he play a reconciliatory role for his own sister Ik-sun and longtime bestie Jun-wan.

Of course I’m wondering out loud and it could be wishful thinking on my part but I hope that Ik-jun can do his magic and achieve something for those two as he reaches into his own experiences of the breakdown of his own marriage and regrets he may have had about Song-hwa. Maybe I’m a closet optimist because it feels to me that there’s enough in this relationship that’s worth saving.