In the course of my interactions with our readers here, I have started to think a lot more about why the Shin-Lee took the approach that they did regarding the WinterGarden and Bidulgi dynamics. Although there are distinct differences between the two sets of relationships, there are overlapping concerns that are unfolding because they serve an underlying message. I am not Korean but I’ve been watching K dramas for about a decade now and it struck me even very early on that the Korean preoccupation with suffering is embedded deeply in their culture. To the extent that no one can do anything that’s of any worth or lasting value unless they’ve been tested in the fires of suffering and come out the other side renewed. Whether or not the suffering comes from external/unpredictable forces or personal choices almost doesn’t matter. What does matter is that suffering is inevitable and if it doesn’t kill you or send you completely insane, it can strengthen you and reorient your perspective on life. Yes, the individual matters but individuals are also members of communities. The impact of the individual on the community has to be a consideration. It’s an ongoing conversation with plenty of tension but it’s one that informs many dramas.
My position now is this: I don’t really think Shin-Lee are in the business of building romances for their own sake (said this many times before) or just in the business of character development (not said this before). Hospital Playlist has things it wants to say about life within its own moral universe. While it cares about the characters that inhabit that universe, the characters are also messengers of wider concerns presented by the storytelling.
Why did Ik-sun break up with Jun-wan even though she was still very much in love with him? It made no sense to be working against her own interest in this dramatic fashion. Why tell such a terrible lie? Certainly it was to ensure the break would be fully and utterly complete. Her logic was that if she had to suffer, the burden was hers to bear alone. For an independent career military officer it made sense to take responsibility for her own problems and as she vehemently reminds Ik-jun, “I look after myself better than you do.” Living with a long-term illness is hard and even painful. Nobody wishes it on anyone even their worst enemy much less on the people they love. But come it does.
The decision to end things with Jun-wan was to protect him from the ramifications of her health issues. However, by trying to shield Jun-wan from suffering along with her, she inadvertently set him on a different path of suffering. Instead of suffering together, they suffered separately in loneliness pining for each other. Knowing Jun-wan, I am sure he would rather have been with her the whole time worrying about her illness. True he would be nagging her about her medications (instead of Ik-jun or as well as) but bildugi would have been much happier than what they’ve been the past year and more.
It suggests to me that what the show is saying here is that suffering is a fact of life. We can’t avoid it for ourselves or others. What we can do is mitigate its effects by being with the people we love. We desperately need the people who love us around during such times to help us through. Moreover, if they really care about you, they would want to be useful to you as well.
Personally I think it’s useless to accord blame to anyone at this point. We’ve done all our ranting and raving… it’s time to move on and as one might say in the vernacular… “to get with the program”.
Furthermore it seems to me that the show is also saying that this period of separation has not only made Jun-wan a more empathetic doctor again but it has helped Ik-sun realise that this was the real deal all along. She wasn’t thinking about what she’d lost by coming home earlier than expected but what she’d lost by not having Jun-wan around. Losing Jun-wan (as I always thought would be the case) was much harder to move on from than losing her dream scholarship. The picture on her phone tells me that. She was always very uncertain about her own level commitment to their relationship but now she’s not. That’s a revelation not just for her but for Jun-wan too. He needs to know that she’s missed him too… and maybe the year of suffering was not entirely without a silver lining.
On hindsight the period of separation was important for another reason too. There’s no doubt that they got together very quickly and it wasn’t too long before they were already sleeping together. That was the common complaint around the fandom that they moved a little too fast and there wasn’t much of a build-up. Apparently the showrunners agreed and they had a plan. A time of separation was in the works and the two of them had to go through the wilderness to get to the promised land.
As far as moving ahead as a clinician is concerned, Gyeo-ul’s arc has been amazing this season. Her scene with Kim Geon was a delight not just because it’s fantastic that she has admirers (he must be aroused by the way she does her hair) but because it shows how much of a fixture she’s become in Yulje. She knows her stuff and she knows Ik-jun well enough to be able to help Kim Geon prep beforehand. (I note the contrast with the resident in pediatrics) Jang Gyeo-ul is becoming something wonderful.
Sadly things can’t go her way 100% of the time. Not that it ever has from childhood apparently. She is going through her cauldron of suffering. With so much to contend with at the hospital, she also has to care for her incapacitated mother on her own. As Min-ha has observed, things have to be pretty bad that she has to cook for her mum. It’s not entirely surprising that she’s finding it hard to confide the two people closest to her at the hospital. But as someone who has been on her own at the hospital until recently, the independent side of her must think that this is her burden to bear because her brother’s now married with other concerns and she just doesn’t think that this is anybody else’s responsibility. It’s a family affair. To be fair I don’t think she realises the impact this is having on her relationship with Jeong-won because her head is full. She’s barely sustaining on survival mode. So it’s now really a matter of who will reach breaking point first.
However one thinks this should play out, it’s clear that this is an obstacle that the WinterGarden couple has to overcome before they can arrive at the place where Jeong-won can reach into his jacket pocket and go on bended knee. Now that bidulgi have found their way back to each other thanks to the efforts of Mr Cupid Lee, it’s almost time for the WinterGarden to get their house in order before they can play house properly and permanently.