THE SHORT VERDICT:
Warm, wholesome goodness dressed in hospital garb, Hospital Playlist is the medical themed drama that even the medical drama-averse can easily love.
Hospital Playlist checks a lot of boxes, for me. The writing and directing is assured; the cast is outstanding individually and together; the overall feel is balanced, with enough attention given to the cases of the day without losing focus on our key characters; the music is heartfelt and breezy, made even more special when performed by the cast.
The slice-of-life approach might feel meandering and slow to some, but in exchange, you really feel like a fly on these characters’ walls, in their professional and personal capacities. The long episodes might feel intimidating at first, but once you grow to love the characters, the length of the episodes become more of a boon than a bane.
I legit didn’t want this one to end; highly recommend.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If you were thinking of giving this show a pass just because it’s a medical drama, I’d strongly suggest you consider thinking again; this drama has the distinction of being the first hospital drama that I love, unreservedly. If you know me and how I typically feel about medical dramas (typically pretty meh), you’d know that this is a Big Statement indeed.
I can safely say that I have never felt this way about a hospital drama before, ever. I mean, I did enjoy A Poem A Day, but that was not quite in-yo-face emergency calls and surgeries; that was physiotherapy, which has a different, more laidback vibe and rhythm. In Hospital Playlist, even though our characters are in the thick of the action, battling to save lives, Show manages to feel well-balanced, relatable and so very human; it’s quite remarkable indeed. Trust the Reply team to be able to pull that off.
Broadly, here are 3 key things that I feel Show did really well.
1. The set-up is quick and effective
Just one episode in, I already felt like I knew these characters, somewhat, and I already liked them. That’s an impressive achievement, considering this is an ensemble drama. I finished episode 1 feeling ready and eager to see more.
2. The overall balance is great
I love that even in the midst of a cycle which places our characters face to face with the survival and deaths of their patients, that our gang of doctors remains warm, compassionate and human, through it all.
Additionally, Show does this thing consistently, where it serves up a whole lotta heart and gets you all choked up, and then undercuts it with something funny. This show makes me want to laugh and cry, and in such a good way. And it’s so great that Show manages to keep this up, all the way through to the end.
3. The characters endear themselves to you
By the time I reached Show’s last couple of episodes, I felt distinctly wistful about saying goodbye to these characters. I felt glad and relieved that there’s going to be a Season 2, even though we have to wait for it, because I just like spending time with these characters.
In fact, I actually like the long episodes, because it feels like I’m doing life with these people, and in the course of watching them “do life” this past 12 episodes, I’ve grown really fond of all of them, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE:
Here’s the very enjoyable OST album, in case you’d like to listen to the songs again, while reading the review. I enjoyed the music in this show very well, and I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite, because the songs all feel well selected and well applied. I guess the tracks performed by our cast would count as my favorites, since I’m so fond of them all. ❤️
STUFF I LIKED
I realize that this show is really quite hard to break down into distinct sections, because everything is so intertwined and related. I also realize that I can’t possibly touch on all the characters, because there are so many of them. Here’s the spotlight on our main crew, with special shout-outs to a good handful of our supporting characters.
In terms of lovelines (both potential and actual ones), I’ve decided to park them under the section belonging to each of our key characters, to minimize spoilers. Also, I feel like the lovelines were never the main point of our story anyway. They’re there to add interest and dimension to our characters’ lives, but our characters are interesting and lead full and good lives, regardless of the presence or absence of a loveline in their lives.
From the moment I started this show, I felt thrilled with the cast. It’s such a treat, just to have Jung Kyung Ho, Yoo Yeon Seok and Jo Jung Suk sharing the screen, at the same time. And even better, that they’re friends. It makes me feel like I’m just watching them hang out and be friends, and that’s somehow enough to give me a sustained thrill.
Also, their individual characters immediately feel perfect for them. [MINOR SPOILERS] Jo Jung Suk made me laugh with his Darth Vader hat mishap-cum-surgery, which is just the kind of dorky thing I’d associate with him; Jung Kyung Ho is perfectly detailed in his competence, yet just slightly neurotic in his protests and complaints; Yoo Yeon Seok is all heart, giving up the chance to be Chairman of the hospital foundation so that he can be a doctor, and then giving his whole heart to his patients and sobbing when they don’t make it. [END SPOILERS]
This was my introduction to Jeon Mi Do, and I found myself liking her right away. Song Hwa’s coolly competent and always seems to stay on top of things while looking effortless about it, and yet, there’s real compassion and emotional engagement, when it comes to her patients.
I haven’t seen Kim Dae Myung since Misaeng, and he’s immediately quite amusing, as the dorky mama’s boy OB-GYN who doesn’t care about money and only wants to form a band with his friends.
In some ways, this show feels a bit like a fantasy, because how things must’ve lined up just so, in order for our five friends to have become friends and then stayed friends all the way through medical school and into their careers, and THEN, to all become professors, and then work together in the same hospital. Show makes it work in the context of our story, but it’s still a very rare situation that we’re unlikely to see in real life. But, that’s the appeal of the fantasy.
The Five are all kinds of endearing and adorable when they are together, and getting to see them together, was consistently a personal highlight of my watch. When I watch them, I soon find myself wanting to have four best friends all working in the same field, so that we can be colleagues too, and hang out together every day and live our best lives together, just like this adorkable gang. <3
E1. I love that flashback of how the five of them became friends at orientation because they all were looking for a place to hide, away from the embarrassing festivities.
E2. Ahh. I love it when The Five hang out together, and it feels so rad, actually, that this bunch of respected professors round one another up and go for supper together and bicker, just like a bunch of students might. They might have progressed in their careers, but their group dynamic is comfortable, loud and youthful, and I like it a lot.
E6. My favorite thing this episode, is seeing how much the boys care about Song Hwa. The way they get so worried about her, and fuss over her, is really heartwarming to see, and although Song Hwa is putting up a brave front, it’s clear that she appreciates the support. It says a lot that Ik Joon decides to go to Song Hwa and keep her company during her appointment, rather than keep the date that ex-girlfriend-with-a-strong-apparent-interest-to-rekindle-the-flame Go Ara initiated. And, it says a lot to me, about the level of ease of the relationship, that Ik Joon accompanies Song Hwa into the consultation room, rather than wait outside for her.
I appreciate the small touches that show us that Song Hwa is more nervous than she lets on. The way she’s super early for her appointment; the way she needs to take a moment in the car; the way she takes out a lipstick as if she’s going to put on armor, then puts it away without applying it; the way she clasps her hands together, presumably for a silent prayer, before she gathers herself together, to walk to the consultation room. And then, the way she’s bubbling over with cheer, as she cleans her desk at work, with the cloud of potential cancer cleared away. Song Hwa appears to be the “superhero” of the bunch, with her excellence in everything (except singing, supposedly) and her unflagging kindness to others, and I appreciate that Show takes the time to show us that Song Hwa is very much human and vulnerable, beneath her strength.
I love how each of the boys bursts into her office, to ask her for an update. Calls or texts won’t do; they need to see her in person and hear it from her in person, and it’s super cute to me, how each of them is so visibly relieved at her good news, and then gruffly go about their way. Joon Wan’s dramatic entrance with a wild-eyed, nervous flourish is my favorite, but they are all adorable, and it makes me want to be the lone girl in a gang of friends like Song Hwa is, with a bunch of boy pals to gruffly love and be loved by.
E6. I also love that Show makes our characters pop so much. To their residents, they’re quasi-scary highly competent professors who are worthy of a great deal of respect, but when they’re with each other, they’re noisy and childlike and behave just as if they’re in a time warp and never left school. I love the idea that they’ve stuck with each other through thick and thin for so long, that they know each other inside out. The way that Jeong Won is able to tell, just by hearing Song Hwa’s voice, that she’s bothered by something, and putting up a bright front, is quintessential of this group. I feel like any one of them, hearing any one of the other’s voices, would be able to tell the same, and would be there, for the other, and that’s what gets me right in the heart.
E7. Seok Hyung’s mom (Moon Hee Kyung) throwing dirty water over the mistress (Lee So Yoon), is quite epic, and the mistress’s horrified reaction is quite satisfying to watch, since she does come across as very entitled and annoying. But, I don’t think it’s healthy for Mom to withhold the divorce in order to punish Dad (Nam Myung Ryul). It’s better for her own well-being to move on, I think.
How heartening though, that the gang basically descends on a dispirited Seok Hyung, to cheer him up with their company, and some band jam time. They don’t even need to say anything; just their company, and their combined music, is enough, and I do love that.
E9. It’s so sweet of all the friends to take turns keeping Seok Hyung’s mom company while she’s warded in the hospital. They do it so matter-of-factly too, even though it means squeezing in time between their rounds, and in Ik Joon’s case, not having lunch. I love how it feels like they’re just one big family.
Jeon Mi Do as Song Hwa
Much as I love the boys too in our gang, Song Hwa is easily my favorite of them all. I just love her.
Usually, when dramas portray a female character who’s successful, she also tends to be jaded, prickly, lonely &/or bitter, but Song Hwa is successful, well-respected, well-liked, smiles with genuine warmth, sincerely cares for people, trains her residents with a gentle yet firm hand, is secure in her singlehood, even if it might be nice to have a boyfriend, and is all-around lovely and pleasant, whether she’s interacting with colleagues, patients or friends.
She works hard, but doesn’t complain about it. She pushes herself, but doesn’t come across as trying to prove a point, or trying to be holier-than-thou. She seems to just sincerely want to do well. I love her, so very much. I want her to have all the good and happy things, and in great abundance, thank you.
Jeon Mi Do comes across as understated and completely charming as Song Hwa, infusing her with a gentle earthiness that I found very appealing indeed.
E2. I love the way Song Hwa handles the entire situation where Seok Min (Moon Tae Yoo) is trying to persuade her to take over the surgery from Dr. Min (Seo Jin Won), who’s all smiles for the camera, but is far from competent, in the operating theater.
She demurs, understanding the delicacy of the situation, and refuses to behave improperly. When Seok Min persists, citing Dr. Min’s lack of experience and the danger to the patient, she says it’d be doable if the patient requests it – which is so true. If the patient asks for her, it would solve everything. But, the patient’s already bought into Dr. Min’s false assurance that it’s a simple procedure and refuses to request a different doctor. And so, before even disciplining Seok Min for the rude way he talks to the patient, she goes to Dr. Min and asks to assist him during his surgery.
Gah. She has to adopt such a posture of deference, when she’s stepping in to save the day, and yet, she does it without chafing, because it’s for the good of the patient. And then, she gently but firmly disciplines Seok Min by instructing him to apologize to the patient before the surgery. She saves the day, but doesn’t even pause to bask in the glory, not even privately. What a champ.
E3. Song Hwa is strict with her residents and keeps them on their toes, but also takes the time to care for them as individuals. I love the way she takes Chi Yong (Kim Joon Han) aside for coffee, to explain to him why she tests them all the time – so that they will learn to always stay on their toes and not get complacent, because of the nature of the work that they do. And her kindness and good intentions are evident; there’s no malice or joy in her “meanness;” in fact, you can’t even really call it meanness. She clearly does it all for the good of her residents, and they know it. And I do like that they know it.
E5. Nooo. I’m bummed that Song Hwa might be sick. I love Song Hwa, and I don’t want her to suffer. And that shot of her, all alone, waiting for her biopsy, is so poignant. She’s always the caregiver to others, and yet, here, in this moment, she’s all alone. She has no one accompanying her, no guardian; she’s facing it all by herself, dealing with any fear, by herself. I get that this might well be a statement about doctors in general, with Song Hwa representing the general doctor population, but.. Song Hwa deserves to have someone for moral support, is all I’m saying.
Song Hwa’s potential loveline
E10. First of all, I want to say that I freaking love that Song Hwa is portrayed as such a desirable partner, as a woman of 40. In most other dramas, a single woman at 40 is to be pitied, kinda like Jang Na Ra’s character in the beginning of Oh My Baby. Most female characters of 40 of thereabouts, who are single, are portrayed as either desperate to find a man, or scary boss-lady types who would eat a man alive, or scary boss-lady types who regret having chosen their career over a husband and family. And Song Hwa – against all stereotypes that we’re familiar with – is NONE of these.
She’s wonderful and sweet, while being fantastic at her job in technical skills, mentoring aptitude and bedside manner. She’s not sad about being single, and fills her available free time with things that she enjoys. She likes camping, and will go alone, purely for her own enjoyment. And, not one, but TWO mothers have expressed to their sons, that they’d like Song Hwa for a daughter-in-law.
That is mindblowing, in a Korean context, because every mother I can recall in a drama, is anxious for a daughter-in-law who would be able to produce grandchildren, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Song Hwa, at 40 years old, is not at the prime of her reproductive age. Despite that, she’s presented as a desirable daughter-in-law, and there are at least two men in our drama world, who like her and want to be with her. This is so awesome.
E10. Song Hwa’s surprised, unsettled reaction to Ik Joon’s implied love confession doesn’t necessarily mean that she doesn’t reciprocate, so I’m hoping that she does. But there’s also the thing where she’d said to Jeong Won, “Let’s get married,” which was unfortunately mistranslated as “Get married,” in the subs that I was using. At Jeong Won’s double-take, Song Hwa corrects herself and then tells him to find a nice lady and get married and have lovely kids. The fact that Song Hwa even said “Let’s get married,” suggests that she may have a soft spot for Jeong Won.
Ultimately, I want to know how Song Hwa feels. When the residents ask her to make a wish for herself, she can think of nothing else except favorable conditions for her camping. That tells me that she isn’t overtly looking for a relationship. But perhaps Ik Joon’s confession will get her to start doing some soul-searching? I love Song Hwa, and I love that she’s happy as she is (seriously, how cool is that?), but if having a soulmate will multiply her happiness, I want that for her too.
Jo Jung Suk as Ik Joon
I started my watch liking the boys pretty much equally, and I ended my watch with an unexpected but very distinct soft spot for Ik Joon. <3
Ik Joon is such an odd mix: he’s so smart that he barely needs to study; he’s empathetic and gentle with his patients; he’s a helpful and considerate colleague; he’s a loyal friend; he’s a doting dad who knows how to connect with his son; he’s a dork who whips out corny jokes at the drop of a hat; he’s full of ridiculous aegyo; he’s nosy and social to a fault; he’s even great at music.
With so many professional and personal strengths, it would’ve been easy for Ik Joon to have had some pride about him, but instead, he’s all easygoing goofball, and completely sweet and endearing. I couldn’t help but grow a gigantic soft spot for him.
Jo Jung Suk is fantastic as Ik Joon; it almost feels like this role is tailor-made for him, since it capitalizes on his multiple talents. Basically, when he brings the feels, he makes my heart squeeze, and when he sings and plays the guitar, he makes my heart squee. The fact that he’s so nonchalant about doing it all so effortlessly, makes him an amazing, glorious freak. <3
E3. Ik Joon’s going through a tough time personally, with his wife (Ki Eun Se) asking for a divorce, and him realizing that despite her claims otherwise, that there’s another man involved. Despite all this swirling in his head, he continues to show compassion to his patient and his patient’s family.
It’s because he took the time to get to know his patient, that he knew that there was a child that had expected to celebrated Children’s Day with his dad, and he bent over backwards and requested his colleagues to do the same, to allow the child not to have to mark Children’s Day every year, as the anniversary of his dad’s death. Just, how considerate and thoughtful is that? I choked up watching this. Despite his own life being in a mess and the fact that he’s still figuring things out, his heart is big enough to think of someone else, and find a way to demonstrate mercy and kindness, in a bad situation.
E3. I feel bad for Ik Joon, because he’s done nothing wrong, and yet, his wife is asking for a divorce. She’d wanted to work in Germany, and he’d volunteered to go with her, but she’d refused. And then, by following her wishes to stay in Korea with their son, he’s now being faced with the prospect of divorce. That’s a real bummer. Of course, that’s not to say that their marriage might not have run into problems if they’d lived together, but in this case, it really does feel like Ik Joon had no chance in a raw deal.
E4. That little scene of Ik Joon stepping in to help the patient who said he had a broken bed, is so typically heartwarming of him. He doesn’t need to be asked; he just knows that the nurses are overloaded and having a hard time, and he just steps in to do it, and then tells Head Nurse (Kim Soo Jin) to go have her dinner, and that he’ll mind the nurse’s station in the meantime. And he makes a big show of how comfortable it is to sit down at the nurse’s station too. Aw. I mean, how thoughtful is he?
E4. I freaking love Ik Joon’s scenes with his son Woo Joo (Kim Jun). They are adorable together, and Woo Joo is such a sweetheart, while being matter-of-fact and precocious. The way he states that he won’t miss Mom if Mom doesn’t miss him, and that Dad is all he needs, made me choke up. That’s just the thing to bolster Ik Joon’s spirits, and I can see why he loves his son to the moon and back.
E5. I love how clearly we see Ik Joon’s heart, all the time. When his father-daughter liver transplant patient pair start crying together, his eyes well up right away, too. Aw. And how silly – as is typical of Ik Joon – that he’d cover his eyes with his mask, ha.
E8. Ik Joon is so easygoing and empathetic, I can’t help growing very fond of him. The way he talks with the liver cancer patient and his family is so relaxed and kind, and when he sees how stressed they are, he’s so perfectly astute, in estimating that they would do much better in a six-bed ward, amid the camaraderie other other patients and their families. I also love how genuinely happy he is, to see them happy.
And then there’s how he talks with Gyeo Wool (Shin Hyun Bin), who’s supposed to be given a bit of a warning. Instead of scolding her, he comforts her and tries his best to help her feel better, which must be such a balm for sore ears.
As a side note, I laughed out loud at Ik Joon and his kermit fingers. That was unexpected and so hilarious. It just had to be Ik Joon, pfft. <3
E9. Ik Joon taking time to visit Ik Soon (Kwak Sun Young) at her military base, and bringing food, and giving her pocket money, and telling her he’s sorry for not looking out for her more, and asking her to call him for anything because he’s not busy at all, is just a really dorky big brother thing to do. No wonder she gets suspicious immediately and asks after everyone in the family, to make sure nobody’s sick. And no wonder she cries; the sudden big brother warmth must feel very assuring, especially in the light of her recent conversation with Joon Wan, which must’ve stirred up some of those old relationship hurts.
E10. Ik Joon really stands out this episode. He’s lauded as the best surgeon there is, when it comes to liver transplants, and he’s consistently so interested in and connected with the people he meets, whether they’re patients, colleagues or friends. He works really hard, and doesn’t complain. He doesn’t back away from a high profile surgery just because it’s a risky one and the hospital’s reputation is at stake; he just matter-of-factly looks at his schedule and starts to plan for it. There’s something really cool about that. And he’s a sweet dad to Woo Joo. And he’s off-the-wall and hilarious, like when he imitates the train announcement to Seok Hyung. I luff him. <3
Ik Joon’s potential loveline
E6. What a reveal this episode, that Ik Joon not only knew that Seok Hyung (Kim Dae Myung) had had a crush on Song Hwa and had confessed his feelings, but had then put aside his own feelings and his own plan to pursue Song Hwa. It’s a tough position to be in; you like a girl, but your friend beats you to making a confession and is crushed. How do you respond? Ik Joon chose to protect the friendship by not pursuing Song Hwa, and that says a lot about what’s important to him. To Ik Joon, friendship and loyalty are more important than romance, and he still feels that way, judging from the way he chooses to be with Song Hwa at her consultation for her biopsy results, rather than take up Go Ara on her coffee date invitation.
What makes the reveal all the more poignant, are the signs that Song Hwa had liked Ik Joon too, back in the day. What might have happened, if Seok Hyung hadn’t beaten Ik Joon to that birthday confession? It’s one of those things in life where you just have to wonder at the what-might’ve-beens. And, it’s also quite poignant and true-to-life, how these people have rolled with the punches, and found a way to continue their friendship and connection, despite the bumps along the way.
E9. Ik Joon and Song Hwa seem to have a rhythm that’s for just the two of them. When it’s raining, it seems to be a signal for them to eat together, and they both look equally pleased at the opportunity. When Song Hwa has to rush back to the hospital for an emergency, Ik Joon hangs around the hospital to wait for her, because she didn’t drive that day, and therefore it’d be hard for her to get home in the rain. He does it so naturally too, like it’s the most expected thing in the world. They almost feel like a completely in sync married couple, like this.
E10. Chi Hong is very sweet, and I did want him to have his chance to win Song Hwa’s heart, but this episode, I have to say that I’m really swaying in Ik Joon’s favor. I’ve noticed in earlier episodes, that Ik Joon and Song Hwa have an unspoken closeness and rhythm, like when he accompanied her to get her biopsy results, and also, with their Thing, of eating together whenever it rains. This episode, seeing Ik Joon reach out to her when Woo Joo was sick, and then seeing them be so in sync with each other in a domestic sort of setting, really made me feel like they would make a lovely couple.
The fact that Song Hwa even asks Ik Joon what he does for himself, to make himself happy, tells me that she’s looking out for him, that she notices him and how much he pours himself out for others. And the way he pauses just for a moment, before telling her thoughtfully and matter-of-factly, as if he’s just working it out in his head right at that moment, that the thing that he treats himself to, is time with her; a meal with her; coffee with her, is so calmly, nonchalantly honest and straightforward. I love that even when Song Hwa does a double-take, he doesn’t back down from or change his statement. Ahhh. What an understated yet perfect confession.
Jung Kyung Ho as Joon Wan
Among our Five, Joon Wan is the one who’s the sternest and gruffest on the surface, and perhaps because of that, every time we get a glimpse his softer inner core, it always got me right in the heart. Somehow, that never got old for me.
It was really gratifying to see Joon Wan’s resident Jae Hak (Jung Moon Sung) go from fearing Joon Wan and being endlessly nervous around him, to appreciating him, respecting him, and feeling much more comfortable around him. That was one of my favorite arcs around Joon Wan.
Jung Kyung Ho is absolutely perfect as Joon Wan, with his slightly impatient, slightly neurotic sort of vibe, hiding lots of loyalty, care and empathy beneath the surface. He’s literally all bark with no bite; a soft teddybear with a marshmallow heart, who just happens to be a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon.
E3. There’s so much humanity that shines through the necessarily businesslike surface, this episode. Joon Wan is shown to be very strict about not giving patients false hope, and he’s all business when asked if the surgery is going to definitely be a success, but he also demonstrates how much heart he really has, in donning a (terribly ill-fitting, ugly silver) suit borrowed from Jae Hak (Jung Moon Sung), and attending the wedding of his patient’s daughter, that his patient is unable to attend.
E3. And when Joon Wan sees the young mother of his infant patient breaking down in tears after putting up a tough front for so long, his compassion is expressed in a restrained but still palpable fashion. The way that he assures her that he will do his best; the way he pats her on the shoulder; the way that he purposefully sidesteps the grandmothers after the surgery and addresses the young parents directly; it shows empathy and respect and understanding, in much greater measure than one might first imagine, upon seeing his businesslike demeanor.
E3. Also, it’s just like Joon Wan to make up a mundane story about why he chose cardiothoracic surgery, and hide the true, moving moment when he made that decision – but pull the same moment on the medical students. And, it’s also just like him to then undercut that moving moment, by telling his resident to get the students’ decision in writing, so that they can’t back out. Ha.
E8. Perhaps it’s because Joon Wan is the one who’s usually unapologetically strict and disinterested in his residents’ personal matters, it really moved me that he’d take on the Chief position – which he’d unequivocally and emphatically turned down previously – just so that he’d have the power to turn down the request to cut Jae Hak’s pay for three months. That’s love in action. He’s going to have a heavier workload because of this, which is why he’d refused the position before, but in order to save Jae Hak from further blows in his already challenged situation, he opted to take it up. Oof. That hit me right the heart, and I’m not at all surprised that Jae Hak’s literally choking on his own tears, from being so moved.
E8. It also says so much about Joon Wan’s heart, when Jae Hak calls him out of bed (with Ik Soon, no less), in a panic about the patient’s condition. I really appreciate that even though Joon Wan isn’t even on-call, he doesn’t use a harsh tone with Jae Hak, and instead, is completely calm and assuring, as he gets ready to leave for the hospital to check on the baby.
E8. When Jae Hak remarks to the other residents that Joon Wan is going to ask a cruel question of the baby’s grieving parents, what we see instead, is Joon Wan being respectful, empathetic and compassionate, as he acknowledges the parents’ pain, and asks them to consider his request, so that he can study their baby’s heart, and therefore have the chance to save any other baby that might suffer from the same condition. It’s a tough request to make, and Joon Wan makes it in the most humane, sensitive manner possible, and I respect him for it.
I also appreciate how he makes it a point to attend the baby’s funeral, and takes Jae Hak with him, and silently comforts the baby’s grieving mother, who cries as she leans on him. Again, so much compassion and humanity, expressed without words.
Joon Wan’s loveline
E5. HAHA. Ik Soon kicking off Joon Wan’s glasses in reflexive self-defense is really quite funny, and his response is a mixture of awe, fear and shock. It’s cute. I do rather like that this doesn’t stop Joon Wan from asking Ik Soon to date him, the very next morning.
E6. I must say, Joon Wan’s grumpiness while waiting for Ik Soon to reply to his confession is quite amusing, but it’s his I-can’t-contain-it glee, as he dances around the hallway, practically jumping out of his skin with happiness, that is uber cute. How can such a gruff doctor have such an adorable side? I do believe Joon Wan is serious about his feelings for Ik Soon, but a part of me feels rather uneasy; Ik Soon is Ik Joon’s sister, after all, so if things don’t work out well between Joon Wan and Ik Soon, things might get weird with Ik Joon, right?
E7. Joon Wan is proving to be super cute when he’s smitten. The way he smiles goofy smiles at his phone, while texting Ik Soon, is very endearing. And the simple noodle date that they go on, is so charming and amusing, with him gallantly mixing the noodles for Ik Soon, and Ik Soon getting all blushy-touched by it. They’re like a young campus couple, and it’s quite delightful.
E9. Ik Soon wanting to apply to study her doctorate abroad is going to impact her relationship with Joon Wan for sure. The way he unequivocally supports her desire to go is really sweet, and it’s also poignant because right after that, he asks if they’re going to break up, if she goes. That’s such a conundrum. They’ve only been dating for a while, so doing long distance for years without a strong relationship foundation, or even a common goal – she doesn’t have interest in getting married, but it seems Joon Wan does – doesn’t make sense.
E9. We finally find out what happened in Ik Soon’s previous relationship that’s scarred her and made her so resolute in not wanting to get married. It’s not the worst thing ever, but for someone who didn’t want to get married, who then changed her mind because she liked her boyfriend enough, and who then realized that her boyfriend had lied to her about his mom objecting, because he’d changed his mind about wanting to marry her, that can be a huge blow.
E10. It’s clear that Joon Wan’s rather troubled by the thought of Ik Soon leaving for her studies for 3 years. I appreciate that he makes an attempt to talk to Ik Joon; quite clearly, he feels that it’s time to tell Ik Joon about the relationship. I’m curious to see how Joon Wan and Ik Soon choose to handle the relationship, with her going away.
Yoo Yeon Suk as Jeong Won
I didn’t realize this until after my watch, but I think Jeong Won’s character is a little one note, compared to the rest of The Five. Make no mistake; Yoo Yeon Suk is completely likable and endearing as Jeong Won. I just feel like when stacked up against his friends, Jeong Won isn’t given quite as many facets.
[MINOR SPOILERS] Jeong Won is a passionate doctor whose personal moods are directly tied to how his patients are doing. Aside from his patients, Jeong Won’s only other interest seems to be in becoming a priest. [END MINOR SPOILER]
Show doesn’t give us much more, in terms of showing us more aspects to Jeong Won’s personality, which I think is a pity.
E4. It says a lot about Jeong Won’s heart, that he doesn’t even keep much of his salary for himself, and just keeps giving it away, to anonymously help needy patients. And it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to “earn God’s approval” either; he’s genuinely concerned for his patients, as we’ve seen from how his moods are so closely linked to how his patients are doing. He’s a sweet guy.
E10. Jeong Won clearly loves his patients, and that scene of him picking up the little girl who’d gotten her drip changed, and just cradling her and bouncing her gently, while praising her for being such a brave girl and doing such a good job, is just precious.
I’ve only seen Jeong Won as a doctor, so I know he’s an amazing pediatrician, and his departure would be a huge loss to the hospital, and to the patients. But I’ve not seen the part of Jeong Won that truly wants to be a priest. As in, I’ve seen him beg his mom for it, but.. I realize that I’ve not seen him in a church context, nor seen him do anything similar to what a priest would do, so I feel unconvinced that being a priest is best for him. Also, we’ve not heard him talk about how being a priest is his calling, I don’t think. Why does he think that that’s his life’s path? So far, we’re only told that he’s wanted to be a priest since he was young. So, it’s possible that this is a reflex preference, ie, I’ve always wanted it, so of course I still want it?
Jeong Won’s loveline
E5. Gyeo Wool kicking off her sandals and racing after the runaway abusive dad was Quite Something. She really threw herself into that task, and it was decidedly odd that Jeong Won isn’t shown doing or saying anything to acknowledge her efforts. Immediately afterwards, he simply reminds her to get the operating room ready. I’d thought that we’d see some kind of acknowledgement from Jeong Won later in the episode, but.. nothing. So far, anyway.
E7. Jeong Won not readily agreeing to buy Gyeo Wool a meal when she asks, when he’s well-known for buying a meal for anyone who asks, is something to note. He’s hedging, and that indicates that there’s something more there, than average.
For the record, on hindsight (ie, after watching the finale), I think I understand why Show would keep Jeong Won’s feelings so opaque, almost all the way through. Show was saving up all these snippets of information, to reveal at the end, as part of its “punchline,” in a manner of speaking.
On the one hand, that punchline gave the show as much of a surprise factor as the writers probably intended, because the sealing of Jeong Won reciprocating Gyeo Wool’s feelings is nothing less than swift and speedy, once Show set its mind to it. On the other hand, I honestly feel rather too removed from Jeong Won’s feelings all this time. The tradeoff, of feeling kind of alienated from Jeong Won’s inner workings, for the surprise of the punchline, wasn’t quite worth it for me personally.
Kim Dae Myung as Seok Hyung
Most probably because Seok Hyung comes across as a big nerdy teddybear, I found it most surprising, when Show would unveil Seok Hyung’s layers. Those layers sometimes felt quite unexpected indeed, and I really enjoyed getting to know Seok Hyung, bit by bit.
[SPOILERS RELATED TO SEOK HYUNG’S LAYERS]
I honestly would’ve never guessed that Seok Hyung comes from a well-to-do background, because everything about him – from the unassuming way that he dresses, to his reserved, bashful sort of demeanor, to his geeky obsession with gag shows – would indicate that he’s just a regular Joe.
Beyond that, I found it heartbreaking to realize that he’s dealt with a lot of personal pain, in his own divorce, and in terms of his parents’ separation. And yet, he’s such a consummate professional, when it comes to dealing with patients and helping them.
I found Seok Hyung interesting, and Kim Dae Myung does a fantastic job inhabiting every facet of Seok Hyung’s character. I found myself growing more and more fond of Seok Hyung, over the course of my watch.
E4. The backstory of Seok Hyung and how he became a mama’s boy, is so sad. The fact that he effectively lost his sister and his dad in one fell swoop, is bad enough, but for his mom to then have a stroke, too, must have been really hard on him. And that scene, where he sees Mom bawling her heart out in the rain, is just heartbreaking. It’s no wonder that he became so protective of her, and spends so much time talking with her. He knows that he’s all she has left, and he wants to make her as happy as possible. Aw.
E4. The arc this episode showing us how thoughtful and empathetic Seok Hyung is, as a doctor, is very poignant as well. At first glance, it looks like he’s being cruel to the baby that’s being born without a brain, but on deeper inspection, we see that he’s doing everything he can to ensure the mental and emotional well-being of the mother, who’s traumatized enough, from going through with the pregnancy and delivery. He looks very unassuming, but he’s definitely more thorough and thoughtful than most would expect.
E5. Seok Hyung and his family get more of the spotlight this episode, as he grapples with all the emotions of being his parents’ son, when news breaks of his dad’s involvement in a donor swap scam, and later, Dad’s mistress seeks him out to inform him that she’s pregnant, and he should talk to his mom about granting the divorce. His internal turmoil becomes more apparent in small degrees. At first, he just looks rather frustrated and downcast, but by the time he’s faced with the mistress’s news that she’s pregnant, he looks so lost and pained, that my heart just goes out to him. He’s trying so hard to be everything to his mom, and make her life happier, but it looks like he’s getting stuck and feeling helpless. Poor guy. He tries so hard, too.
Because of this, it’s a welcome relief, that Mom ends up having a good time with Jeong Won’s mom and gang. The antics are loud, ridiculous and childish, but Mom tells Seok Hyung that she hasn’t laughed so much or felt so happy in a long time, and would like to hang out with the gang again the following week. Aw. The ridiculous gang is good for more than some comic relief, and that’s really nice.
E8. Seok Hyung sees how much Min Ha is exhausted and stressed out, and anonymously sends little kindnesses her way, to cheer her up. Aw. He’s a sweet man. It was hard to see Min Ha getting so frustrated, and getting played by “the fox” Eun Won (Kim Hye In), but it was cathartic and heartwarming to witness her conversation with Seok Hyung, as they laid everything on the table and each apologized to the other. He, for not doing a better job of looking out for her, and she, for cursing him out, heh. It feels honest and healthy, and I’m glad to hear Seok Hyung compliment Min Ha for being responsible, and encourage her that she will absolutely become a good doctor.
Seok Hyung’s potential loveline
E10. Seok Hyung does look cooler and cooler to my eyes, in doctor mode. He’s calming, patient, and gentle, and also, extremely competent – and he’s nonchalant about it, like it’s just his job and it’s no big deal. I can see why Min Ha has fallen for him. This episode, there was a shot of him just looking down at something – papers or something – and I suddenly thought he looked cool, heh.
I kind of love Min Ha’s confession to Seok Hyung, in that she gathers her courage and just tells him, in an honest, straightforward sort of fashion. And she shows that she understands him too, because she asks him specifically not to pretend like it never happened. I love that she tells him that he doesn’t need to give her an answer; that she just wanted him to know how she feels. She’s being vulnerable, and she’s being matter-of-fact about it. That’s a very charming combination, somehow.
Seok Hyung looks rather blindsided, so it doesn’t seem like he currently has any special feelings for Min Ha, but I’d like him to start thinking about how he feels. His startled blinks, after Min Ha said goodbye, are so cute.
I’d heard that the band was awesome, but now that I’ve seen it for myself, I can’t help but add my voice to the chorus: the band is freaking awesome. <3
It gives me such a thrill, to know that the cast members are all singing and playing those instruments for real, and Yoo Yeon Seok looks especially happy on the drums. I am duly impressed that they all practiced learning their respective instruments since summer 2019. Very cool.
Guh. I just loved seeing The Five play together as a band. Every time we got a scene of them jamming and singing together, it turned out to be such heartwarming goodness. I love it so much. <3 Whoever decided that this should be A Thing in this show, deserves a medal.
E4. That scene of them first coming together and trying out stuff, then morphing into a shot of them playing a rocked-up version of Canon, with skill and wild abandon, is just gold.
E5. The band sounds especially fantastic in this episode’s clip, and Jo Jung Suk’s voice gets to really shine. I was rather disappointed that they didn’t get to finish the song, but it was rather funny that even as Seok Hyung and Ik Joon run off back to the hospital in response to emergency calls, the other three just keep on playing and singing, in plaintive protest, “Don’t leave me behind.” Haha. Nice one, Show.
E9. This episode, Jo Jung Suk really shines with his singing and his effortless handling of the electric guitar. Not only that, the song is a tricky one, with a number of switch-ups in groove, riffs and accents, and everyone handles it like a seasoned pro. It gives me such a thrill, to see our actors actually play their instruments for real, and sing for real. The dedication, and the talent! I love it.
E10. Huge shout-out to Yoo Yeon Suk, for singing while playing the drums! I mean, playing the drums is already a serious challenge, since all your limbs multitask doing different things. But to actually sing, on top of that? And with such feel? I swoon. That was truly lovely, and I can only imagine Yoo Yeon Suk practiced a great deal, to be able to deliver that, and have it look and sound so effortless. <3
Jung Moon Sung as Jae Hak
I found Jae Hak dorky from the moment we meet him, when he acknowledges that he did make a mistake, and fully deserved the scolding that Joon Wan gave him. He’s got quite a bit of self-awareness, I must say.
As Jae Hak continues to strive to do better at being a doctor, I found his earnestness quite appealing, even as I felt quite amused by his regular emotional outbursts. And as Jae Hak makes small steps in the right direction towards professional growth, I couldn’t help but feel gratified to witness it.
[SPOILER] E10. I’m happy for Jae Hak this episode, that his efforts to persuade the patient to do the enema, paid off, and he was acknowledged with gratitude. He’s struggled to do well as a doctor, and often feels out of his depth, so this must mean so much to him. When he breaks down in grateful, cathartic tears, I really wanted to reach into my screen and pat him on the shoulder, and tell him that he’s done well. [END SPOILER]
Kim Joon Han as Chi Hong
I found Chi Yong likable right away, which was a pleasant surprise, in that I’d found Kim Joon Han.. a lot less likable, in One Spring Night. I liked Chi Yong’s good nature, earnest desire to do well, and his (mostly) sweet, patient and unassuming affection for Song Hwa.
[SPOILER] In episode 9, I find the way he leaves an umbrella for Song Hwa on her office door, because it’s raining, so thoughtful. And this, when she’s already kind of told him not to like her. In this moment, I can’t help wanting him to succeed at winning her heart, because he seems like such a good, decent, nice person, who seems to sincerely care for and admire Song Hwa. Of course, my opinion on this kind of evolves, but I’ll talk more about that later in the review. [END SPOILER]
Ahn Eun Jin as Min Ha
I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much Min Ha grew on me, as a character. At first, she struck me as vain, opinionated and quite brusque, but eventually, I grew to enjoy her forthright personality, her principled work ethic, and her sincerity in her crush on Seok Hyung.
[SPOILER] E8. This episode, Min Ha gains invaluable experience and maturity, in exchange for hanging in there and not giving up, even when she thought was about to go crazy with her workload. This.. feels like a life lesson of sorts, that we might well be stronger and more capable of handling situations than we think, like Min Ha in that operating theater, left with no choice but to lead the start of the surgery, even though she’s but a second year resident. I love that with encouragement (and a pep talk), she rose above her fear and did what was needed, without making a mistake. [END SPOILER]
Shin Hyun Bin as Gyeo Wool
To be honest, I was quite startled to realize that the deadpan Gyeo Wool is played by Shin Hyun Bin, not because she’s not doing a good job, because Shin Hyun Bin is absolutely making her as deadpan as needed. It’s just, Shin Hyun Bin was so terrible as the very wooden female lead in Warrior Baek Dong Soo, and here, she’s actually quite solid and effective.
Gyeo Wool is a character that leans on the stiffer, more wooden end of the scale, but Shin Hyun Bin’s delivery in itself, is not wooden. She manages to convey Gyeo Wool’s emotions in a way that feels befitting of Gyeo Wool’s awkwardness, while still maintaining the organic feel of the emotions themselves. I feel like she’s improved vastly since I saw her in Warrior Baek Dong Soo. Yay for growth and progress!
[SPOILER] Gyeo Wool’s crush on Jeong Won is one of the key threads in our story, but I appreciate that on top of that, Show takes the time to tease out her growth as a doctor as well. We see Gyeo Wool stumble several times, in her efforts to do a good job, and we also see that with effort and a sense of purpose, Gyeo Wool overcomes her weaknesses, and comes out stronger and more competent than before. [END SPOILER]
Yay for growth and progress, both real and reel!
Kwak Sun Young as Ik Soon
I found it quite startling – but also, refreshing – to see Kwak Sun Young as cheerful tough military woman Ik Soon, since I last saw her as a nervous gentle mom and career woman in VIP. I must say, I found myself enjoying this version of her quite nicely; she feels refreshingly frank and strong. And kudos to Kwak Sun Young, for filling out Ik Soon’s military role so well, even though she looks so slight and delicate.
Rosa and Jong Soo
I found myself growing very fond of the friendship between Jeong Won’s mom Rosa and President of the foundation Jong Soo (Kim Hae Sook and Kim Gab Soo), during my watch.
I find it super cute that these two are very respected in society, and yet, when they hang out together, they leave all the societal trappings behind, and just bicker like children, when they are together. The way they behave around each other, is so carefree and comfortable and childlike. It’s like they never grew more mature than when they first met as children, when they are together. The way they bicker and tease and laugh, is so childlike. I love it.
[SPOILER] E6. The way Jong Soo insists on taking Rosa home, and then the way Rosa just squats down right there in the carpark and can’t stop laughing, when she realizes that she didn’t even drive to the hospital, so there’s no car to find, is so endearing. [END SPOILER]
I love that Rosa laughs so easily, and I love even more, that much of the time, she’s laughing at herself. She’s so good-natured. I don’t care what Show does with this pair – whether they stay as friends or whether they develop romantic feelings for each other – I just want them to be together and keep on laughing together, always.
The medical students
I found Yun Bok and Hong Do (Cho Yi Hyun and Bae Hyun Sung), our medical students, consistently cute and endearing, in their wide-eyed wonder and their sincere earnestness in wanting to do well.
Additionally, I think Show is smart to put them in this drama world, because when things are explained to them, it’s a great way to inform the audience too, while keeping it fairly organic.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
I can’t say that I outright disliked anything in this show, so this section is as far as it gets, in terms of things that I felt Show could’ve done better. For the record, as the title of this section suggests, I didn’t dislike these items; I thought they were just ok.
Show’s management of information – sometimes
Show does this thing, where certain bits of information are kept from us as an audience, only to be revealed later, as part of Show’s “punchline,” so to speak. Mostly, this takes the form of portions of scenes that aren’t shown, when the rest of the scene is first introduced.
To be honest, I don’t particularly care for this style of storytelling. This isn’t being clever; this is being manipulative and withholding.
This isn’t so obvious in the earlier episodes, but in Show’s later stretch, it becomes more and more obvious, when Show does a wave of reveals in service of its story. I think I wouldn’t have minded it so much, if Show had used this technique sparingly. As it stands, by the end of my watch, I kind of feel like this technique is quite a big crutch to our narrative.
Show also does this thing where our characters experience pretty big life events, and these often get glossed over in our story.
On the one hand, I kinda like that we don’t spend a lot of time in angst, and our characters appear kinda cool, for being able to roll with the punches and just keep going. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that this is quite unrealistic, and rather cruel to our characters, in a way.
As an example, I’m actually very surprised at how Ik Joon’s divorce is handled in episode 4. Except for the time that his wife asks for the divorce, and we see him discover that she has another man, via that phone call to the restaurant, there seems to be no fuss about his transition to becoming a single father. That’s.. kind of weird, to be honest.
Even though he and his wife have been living separately for a long time, there should be a measure of hurt and betrayal that Ik Joon has to work through, but it seems that he’s just carrying on with living his life, being a good dad, a good doctor, a good colleague, and a good friend. I’d wondered if the hurt and angst might show up later, but it doesn’t. Is this going to show up in Season 2, or are we to believe that he has no angst about this? Honestly, after so many episodes, it doesn’t seem likely that Show will pick this up again in Season 2, but for him to have no lingering angst about this seems quite unbelievable, honestly.
Some of the running gags
Show has a couple of running gags, and I liked some better than others. For the record, I did feel like this show has less of a corny sense of humor overall, compared to other dramas from the same team, and I think this tone worked really well, for this story.
The one I didn’t care for too much
There’s a running gag of Jeong Won’s elder siblings all being either priests or nuns.
In episode 1, the way it’s introduced is so silly, especially with the incongruity of having Sung Dong Il playing one of Kim Hae Sook’s sons. I laughed at the silliness in episode 1, but when Show kept bringing back Sung Dong Il and playing with the idea that he’s kind of greedy and frivolous as a priest, I found that I didn’t find it so funny anymore.
The one I found quite amusing
The running gag about Dr. Bong (Choi Young Joon) giving residents the inside scoop on The Five because he’s known then since their school days is mildly amusing. It gives us a good sweeping look at each of our main characters, while acknowledging why each of our residents has such a strong interest in a particular professor.
This popped up every episode or so with regularity, and I found it inoffensive and effective as a plot device.
THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]
Show has a habit of weaving a particular theme into each episode, with said theme permeating many of the various narrative threads. Here are just 3 which stood out extra, to me.
There’s a theme of communication this episode. Like with Ba Ram’s case, where she’d thought that 1, the grannies in her ward were staring at her because they were curious about her for having had one breast removed, and 2, her husband didn’t care about her, being so far away in Indonesia. And she’s proved wrong on both counts. 1, the grannies were curious to look at her not because she’d had surgery, but because she was youthful and beautiful in their eyes, and they longed for their own lost youth, and 2, her husband (a wonderful, perfect cameo by the very expressive Kim Dae Gon) does care, and a lot; his choked out tears say everything.
And then of course there’s how Song Hwa handled the situation with Dr. Min, versus how Seok Min handled the situation with the patient.
And finally, there’s also how Joon Wan doesn’t tell Song Hwa that he’d seen her ex cheating on her, and gets taken to task for it, when in reality, he’d been the one to force the cheating ex’s hand, to come clean. There’s this mismatch between what’s said and what’s unsaid, and I’m intrigued to see what else Show has to say about this.
We finally get to know why Chi Hong left the military, and the way it was revealed, was especially poignant. He’d been hedging on telling his colleagues, even though everyone was curious, but he chose to tell his story, in order to encourage the despondent patient who was going through awake brain surgery. I felt that was very selfless and empathetic of him, and the patient’s gratitude and appreciation is clear.
Afterwards, I also love that Song Hwa shows empathy to Chi Hong too, in the way that she talks to him about his condition. She doesn’t make him feel bad about it, and even lets on that she’d found out about it, after he’d under-performed during his first lead surgery. I love the way Song Hwa tells Chi Hong so matter-of-factly, that she had faith in him, and knew his work ethic, and so, when he didn’t do as well as expected, she’d figured that there must’ve been a reason why. That’s so understanding and humane of her, especially in a high-pressure situation like brain surgery. I also appreciate the way Song Hwa gently ribs Chi Hong, asking if she needs to tell him her medical conditions too, to make him feel better. It’s jokingly done, but her message is clear; he’s human, just as she’s human, and nobody’s perfect.
The other key empathetic moment that stands out to me, is when Ik Joon talks with his depressed transplant patient, who’s determined not to live with the liver that her cheating husband had donated to her. He chooses to open up about his own experience with divorce, and how he’d felt as he’d struggled to deal with it, and how he’d experienced his own breakthrough, when he’d realized that he was wasting time and doing a disservice to himself, by dwelling on what his ex-wife had done to him. The gentle and matter-of-fact manner in which he shares his own painful experience is so full of compassion, and it’s heartwarming and beautiful to see that the result of Ik Joon sharing his own pain, is someone else finally feeling able to forge past her own pain, and take hold of life again.
The kindness of the couple in the next bed (cameos by Kim Sun Young and Choi Moo Sung, in a super cute reprisal of their coupledom in Answer Me 1988) is also very heartwarming. I love how, as they realize the situation from overhearing Ik Joon’s sharing, they gently respond to the transplant patient’s request for water, and later offer her some of the mangoes they cut up, along with encouraging, wordless gazes. So much is communicated – be strong, fighting, you got this – without them even having to say a word, or either side needing to acknowledge that anything was ever overheard to begin with. There’s something so respectful about that; they’re gently finding ways to offer help and support, without the need for the patient to put down her dignity.
E8 & 9. Everyone is human
E8. This episode, we see again, how our professors are more attentive and caring than they might first appear.
Although we’ve seen this dynamic before, each reveal still gets me, as we see misunderstanding and upset feelings melt away, and give way to tearful gratitude. I love seeing how compassionate our professors are, beyond their medical mastery.
E9. This episode, the focus is on how our doctors are just human, after all.
They make mistakes, like how Ik Joon arrives at the wrong conclusion about the liver transplant patient’s father, who proves Ik Joon wrong by not only coming back, but comes back having gone on a serious weight loss kick in order to make him a better donor. I like how Ik Joon takes time to reflect on his inaccurate conclusion and what he’s learning from it; that’s such a growth mindset thing.
And then there’s the intern who mistakenly shaves the patient’s head, when he should’ve shaved the patient’s groin area, ha. I like how Song Hwa takes full responsibility in apologizing for the error, even though she wasn’t the one who briefed the intern. More than that, I like how gracious the patient and his family are, in accepting the apology; they’re right, there are more important things to focus on than petty things like hair.
Then there’s the little almost throwaway moment when the nurses mistakenly address Seok Hyung as “ahjusshi” because they didn’t recognize him fast enough, out of his scrubs and in his hoodie. In his scrubs, they’d been in awe of his calm saving of a hemorrhaging patient, but out of his scrubs, he’s just another ahjusshi; human and unassuming.
Gyeo Wool makes the mistake of using too much medical jargon while explaining things to a parent, but she takes her cue from Jeong Won, and simplifies the next time she gets a chance to explain. That looks like a small thing, but it’s a big deal for the person trying to listen and understand, so I appreciate that Gyeo Wool learned this without having to be told. She just observed how Jeong Won did it, and learned to do the same.
Nobody is immune; the inexperienced young doctors and nurses make mistakes, but so do the experienced doctors and nurses. Everyone is human. Even President of the foundation Jong Soo has his weaknesses, as he struggles with loneliness and symptoms of depression.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
I’m not used to watching a kdrama that’s actually got a second season in the bag, and is written to reflect that; this doesn’t feel like the kind of penultimate episode I’m used to, where things are moved into place to prepare the way for the finale.
This episode, it does feel like things are shifting, but it also doesn’t feel like we are moving towards a conclusion, which is usually what the finale holds. It feels like we’re moving towards a cliffhanger, and a bunch of unknowns, and, well, it kind of hurts a little bit, right now.
The thing that I love most about this show, is seeing our Five together, hanging out, being one another’s pillars of support and sources of encouragement, while bickering, teasing and all-around goofing around. To my eyes, this feels like the perfect recipe for being happy at work and in life, for these five. I love the idea of being able to go to work, and have passion for what you do, while getting to hang out with your best friends, who love the same work you do, and actually understand your challenges, and fully empathize with them.
I get that the perfect alignment of circumstances often are only for a season, and that change is often inevitable, but it still makes my heart pinch to think about the five losing even one of their own, let alone maybe two.
We’re closing in on the end of Season 1, and Jeong Won is still set on becoming a priest, and Mom’s last hope is Gyeo Wool. I suspect that Mom is right, that Jeong Won does have affection for her. But, I also suspect that it might not be enough to change his mind. If the hospital needing him, and his patients needing him, isn’t enough to sway him, I kind of doubt that Jeong Won will allow Gyeo Wool to change his mind.
I do appreciate, though, that Gyeo Wool does well in her first surgery this episode, and gets to bask in her success a little bit, with affirmation and praise from Jeong Won. Her happy expression, as she scurries past Mom and Jong Soo, is so refreshing to see.
Besides Jeong Won’s probable departure, we suddenly have Song Hwa announcing that she’s asked to work in Sokcho for a year. Ack. I love Song Hwa – as do all the boys – and it just feels like things won’t be the same without her. She’s an emotional rock to the group, and the boys often turn to her individually, for a sense of emotional stability.
Song Hwa says that it’s to give her neck time to heal, and to give her time to study, but I can’t help wondering if the advances made by Chi Hong and Ik Joon are contributing factors. Both of them made their feelings clear this episode, and Song Hwa looked uncomfortable and awkward with each expression of affection.
In principle, I like Chi Hong, but this episode, I found his actions quite inappropriate. I guess this is what you get when attraction mixes with desperation and you do stupid things that you’ll probably regret. Chi Hong’s picked up on Ik Joon’s attraction to Song Hwa, and in what looks like a mix of jealousy and territorial behavior, he, 1, persists in cornering Ik Joon into admitting his feelings for Song Hwa, and 2, mimics Ik Joon’s chummy actions with Song Hwa, complete with not one, but several pats on her shoulder. Given that she is his professor, and he’s already promised Song Hwa that he will not make things awkward between them, this felt like a definite overstepping of boundaries. She agreed to his birthday request, that he could speak banmal with her, just once, and instead of stopping there, he touches her shoulder, several times, when they do not have that kind of chummy relationship. That’s an invasion of personal space, and it’s not ok, because it clearly makes Song Hwa uncomfortable.
In terms of Ik Joon, I find myself feeling more kindly towards his actions, in the sense that he’s always been chummy with Song Hwa, and she’s clearly comfortable with him. When the residents ask him whether he’s ever liked Song Hwa, he first chooses to forfeit the question and down the drink as penalty. So he does make an effort to keep things private. By the time Chi Hong forces the issue with Ik Joon, Ik Joon’s really quite drunk, and so I’m guessing that his decision-making is hampered, and that’s why he chooses to answer the question. It’s unfortunate that Song Hwa is put on the spot because of all of this – which is really more Chi Hong’s fault than Ik Joon’s, I tend to think – but the way Ik Joon answers is simple and matter-of-fact. To my eyes, he’s not rising to Chi Hong’s challenge; he’s just answering the question, honestly and without beating about the bush. Later, the song that Ik Joon sings at the noraebang, “I knew I’d love you,” feels tailor-made for expressing his feelings to Song Hwa.
There’s something that I find quite charming about how matter-of-fact Ik Joon has been, when it’s come to admitting his feelings for Song Hwa. However, it does feel like Song Hwa’s feeling quite burdened by all of this, and I suspect that this is contributing more significantly to her decision to leave for Sokcho than she’d like to admit.
As for Joon Wan and Ik Soon, everything looks sweet and cordial on the surface, but it is admittedly not a good sign, that Ik Soon references a future break-up more than once, and more as a probability than a faint possibility. Joon Wan is suitably troubled, but it doesn’t really hit me, until we see him slumped in the noraebang, tired out and tipsy, fingering the couple rings that he’d bought, but hadn’t had the courage to give to Ik Soon, because she’s so adamant that she doesn’t want a ring. Aw. Poor Joon Wan. He wants to make a commitment, but it feels like Ik Soon is slowly slipping away from him.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Not gonna lie; I dragged my feet going into this finale. I didn’t want to start on it, because I didn’t want it to finish, because that meant that I’d have to say goodbye to these characters – at least until Season 2 comes out. I’m sincerely glad there’s going to be a Season 2. Sniffle.
Like others before me have noted, this finale episode doesn’t really feel like a finale at all. I think this is mostly because writer-nim doesn’t write for a cliffhanger end of Season 1, for which I am grateful. We get several plot milestones under our belts, but that’s about it. There are certain hanging threads that I’m curious to see teased out, but none of them would be considered cliffhangers, I’d say.
Typically, a drama with an overarching story and episodic cases tends to push aside the episodic cases in favor of focusing on the overarching story in its final episode(s). Hospital Playlist doesn’t quite do that. Yes, we get more time with our key characters and their narrative arcs, but not at a cost to the episodic cases. Show just extended its final episode by a sizable chunk, so that we’d be able to have both.
Personally, I didn’t mind the longer running time, though on paper it sounds crazy. Almost 2 full hours! But while watching this finale, I didn’t feel any sense of drag, personally. I just grew more wistful, as I got closer to the end.
This episode, the theme seems to revolve around the idea of loss, as we see Seok Hyung’s patient lose her baby, and Joon Wan’s patient linger at death’s door, while his parents grapple with the heartache and fear of ostensibly losing their child. The pathos is palpable, particularly when Seok Hyung’s patient wails with shock and sorrow at the news. All the other patients waiting outside, overhearing her cries, stop all their grumbling, and hold onto their own babies in the womb, in a mix of quiet sympathy and gratitude; sympathy because they can imagine what she’s going through, and gratitude, that they still have their own babies to hold dear.
Perhaps the theme of loss is fitting this episode, since we are also grappling with some concept of potential loss, when it comes to our Favorite Five.
In the interest of trying to keep this section concise, I’m going to just zoom in on each of our Five.
Seok Hyung receives all of his late father’s assets, and is faced with the option of giving up his career as a doctor, to run his dad’s company. As I expected of him, he chooses to hire a management specialist to do the job, and opts to continue practicing medicine, saying that his time is too precious to do otherwise.
Min Ha continues to pursue Seok Hyung in small but persistent ways, and Ik Joon notices, and tries to talk Seok Hyung into giving Min Ha a chance. However, Seok Hyung’s concluded that he doesn’t want to risk Min Ha getting hurt because of him, and that she would be better off meeting someone better than him. Aw. I understand Seok Hyung’s point, that he’s happy as he is, but Ik Joon has a point too, when he asserts that it would be good for Seok Hyung to have someone besides his friends, to be with in life.
Just before we end the episode, we see that Seok Hyung’s ex-wife is calling him on the phone. Ooh. I wonder what this is about. Might it have something to do with his inheritance?
To Joon Wan’s credit, he tries again, to talk to Ik Joon, to tell him about his relationship with Ik Soon, but is foiled again, this time, by an emergency surgery where he almost loses the patient. It’s heartbreaking to see the patient’s parents deal with the prospect of losing their son, and it’s Jae Hak who saves the day, with a new and different approach to the surgery – yay Jae Hak!
In a moment of vulnerability and openness, Jae Hak shares his uncertainty around decision-making with Joon Wan, explaining how the consequences of his decisions as a doctor weigh heavily on him, often paralyzing him. Joon Wan invites Jae Hak to ask him for advice when he needs it, then in turn asks Jae Hak for relationship advice, hee.
Joon Wan takes Jae Hak’s advice and talks to Ik Soon about the rings that he bought, and they agree that he’ll send hers over. But by the end of the episode, we see the package returned, with no reason stated. Joon Wan looks quite affected, but at this point, I’m leaning towards this being a genuine mix-up. Ik Soon had agreed to accept the ring, which is why he’d sent it in the first place, so it wouldn’t make sense for her to change her mind so suddenly, and with no apparent reason.
Jeong Won saves a little girl with a lot of internal bleeding, with Gyeo Wool’s assistance, and receives a great deal of gratitude and appreciation from the patient’s family, and later on, from the girl herself as well.
As he eats a late dinner, we see Jeong Won hesitating over whether to talk with Song Hwa about something, and before he can say it, she tells him that she agrees with what he’s considering.
..Which turns out to be the decision to give up priesthood, in order to keep practicing medicine. I kind of expected this, because, well, it would hard to continue this story if writer-nim had really plucked Jeong Won out of the hospital and put him in a seminary.
(For the record, Song Hwa seems fully aware that Jeong Won has feelings for Gyeo Wool, since when Jeong Won asks her not to say anything to the others because there’s someone else he wants to tell first, Song Hwa demurs and smiles, “Winter is here; the winter we’ve been waiting for.” Phonetically, this sounds very similar to “Gyeo Wool is here; Gyeo Wool that we’ve been waiting for.” Just thought I’d mention it.)
What I did find surprising, is how Jeong Won’s loveline goes from sub-zero to about a hundred, in something like 5 seconds flat. 😛 Gyeo Wool plucks up her courage, and awkwardly and tearfully confesses that she likes him, and asks him if he can’t give up priesthood to stay at the hospital beside her – and he leans in towards her, takes her face in his hands, and kisses her.
This definitely feels.. kinda fast, to my eyes, since Jeong Won’s been consistently gruff and distant with Gyeo Wool all this time. But Show reveals some hidden footage of Jeong Won being concerned for Gyeo Wool the time that she’d passed out from an allergic reaction to medication, to help smoothen the ride, and I rationalize that it’s quite common for people to allow their actions to speak for them, heh.
Ik Joon performs a last-minute liver transplant on his patient, whose wife had hesitated to be tested as a living donor. We now learn that their son is hearing impaired, and is the reason that the wife had hesitated. Ik Joon demonstrates his awesome bedside manners to a new level, this time, using sign language to communicate with the boy. He’s such an awesome doc.
I love Ik Joon’s scene with Woo Joo, as they say goodbye before Ik Joon flies off for his seminar. Woo Joo really is the cutest. <3
Ik Joon goes to visit Song Hwa in Sokcho as she’s settling into her new place, and quietly, indirectly-but-clearly tells her that he likes her. Augh. I do like how matter-of-fact Ik Joon is about his feelings for Song Hwa.
The news about Song Hwa’s move to Sokcho spreads like wildfire, and Chi Hong expresses that he’ll transfer to Sokcho as well, since that’s where Song Hwa will be. Song Hwa tells him not to do it, because it’ll do nothing for his career, but Chi Hong seems resolute. However, Song Hwa’s gift of “Chief” slippers, along with the heartfelt gratitude of a patient who says that Chi Hong saved his life, makes Chi Hong think twice.
Song Hwa talks with Chi Hong and Yun Bok about the first patient that she’d lost, and Yun Bok, finally realizing that Song Hwa was the resident who’d inspired her all those years ago, bursts into tears. She manages to mumble to Song Hwa, “It was you,” before she dissolves into more tears, because she misses her mom so much. Poor girl. Song Hwa hugs her and comforts her that her mom would be so proud of her now. Aw. Sweet Song Hwa.
We don’t see how Song Hwa responds to Ik Joon’s confession, and the best that I can tell, it seems to be shelved temporarily, because we see that later, the band gets together for Chinese takeout on the eve of Christmas Eve, and a heartfelt performance of “You to Me, Me to You.”
In particular, I love the chorus, where all of the Five sing together:
Like a sunset
I want to be a beautiful memory to you
I hope you can always remember
Our radiant days
Like a beautiful painting
Without any regrets
What a pitch perfect note on which to end Season 1, truly.
Spending Season 1 with these characters has felt like a heartfelt journey of sharing their lives and partaking in their memories, and I will definitely look back on this season with fondness, while I look forward to seeing our Five share the screen – and the camaraderie, love and laughs – all over again, when Season 2 rolls around. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Warm, slice-of-life goodness. Down-to-earth and yet aspirational, at the same time.
FINAL GRADE: A-
I didn’t know about this till just, but the band did a live virtual concert, and it’s all I could have asked for. We get to see our favorite five just hanging out and chilling, and jamming together, and teasing one another, and just generally being awesome. Remember to stick around to the very end, for their encore number! ❤️