While there are many great things about Healer, this episode reinforces how every character matters on this show and gets sufficiently developed for us to care for them.
Teacher may not have gotten much air-time, but his position within the web of relationships within the show is adequately well-established such that his death provides many moving moments and also moves forward the storylines significantly.
The impact on Jung Hoo is certainly the greatest and Ji Chang Wook really puts in a masterful performance once again, which reinforces how his acting talent was really under-utilised in The K2. At the morgue, he advances in blinding rage towards Teacher’s body, taking down innocent people who stand in his way. Once he sees the body, he holds himself back, fearful of what he will see. Upon unveiling the body, he is in denial and asks Teacher if he is playing a game with him, but the truth sinks in and all his energy drains away as he sits on the floor, broken and lost. He subsequently enters into “Healer” mode, driving towards revenge, painfully recalling incidents from the past, tears welling up in his eyes. When Moon Ho overtakes him and stops him, he flies into rage and punches Moon Ho a few times. The exchange between Moon Ho and Jung Hoo that follows is so heartbreaking as both characters, with tears welling up in their eyes, express their frustration, pain, anger at themselves for indirectly causing Teacher’s death and not being able to do anything. Moon Ho’s pain is even worse, because he has not been able to do anything for the past 20 years. Moon Ho lovingly tells Jung Hoo to cry and let out his emotions, but also pleads with Jung Hoo to let him handle this and take down those who have brought them pain. Moon Ho is intensely remorseful and desperate for redemption. Jung Hoo stops and asks Moon Ho what else he can do, besides stopping him; Moon Ho has no reply and just looks at Jung Hoo while Jung Hoo drives off.
It’s really a beautifully played out exchange between the two characters that also shows how their relationship has developed. The fact that Jung Hoo stops what he’s planning to do signals his trust in Moon Ho, even though he won’t admit it. Moon Ho, on the other hand, finally decides he needs to take action, after many years of snooping around doing background work, but not taking action. As much as he is resourceful and sharp, Moon Ho is, like Min-Jae says, very much a coward – he fights when he knows he won’t get hurt. However, Teacher’s death serves as the cataylst for him to take resolute action, as he sees again what his brother is capable of. His decision to send Young Shin to Myun-Hee is the first step towards taking his brother down. As always, Yong Ji Tae puts up a stellar performance, fully portraying the anger and pain that Moon Ho feels.
The scenes of Min-Ja mourning Teacher’s death are certainly well-played as well. The character of Min-Ja has been considerably well built up thus far, having had many touching scenes with Jung Hoo. However, the writer takes an extra step this episode to even give us some backstory scenes where we learn of her feelings of failure as a mum and her challenges in her job. It’s really a true testament to how much love Song Ji-Na has for all her characters. She does not just use them in service of her plot and main characters, but thoughtfully crafts their backstories to help viewers understand and care for them. All the memories provide Min-Ja with the motivation to be a “good mother” to Jung Hoo by retrieving Teacher’s last moments from the police records.
In his final moments, Teacher looks at the camera and tells Jung Hoo to give it all up and live with the woman he loves. However, Jung Hoo is too broken and lost to take that advice. He unplugs all the computers and curls up in his bed, deciding to give it all up and withdraw from the world.
Min Ja continues to be the caring mother-figure and finds Young Shin, giving her the directions to Jung Hoo’s lair. Young Shin then goes to seek him out and the scenes between them at the end are so touchingly played out. When Jung Hoo sees Young Shin, he’s totally a wreck, with his face so pale and his eyes so listless. Young Shin simply holds him in her arms and cuddles up with him to comfort him. In her role as a journalist, Young Shin resolutely pursues the truth. However, with Jung Hoo/Healer, the truth does not matter. She does not know why Jung Hoo/Bong So is so broken, yet all she cares about is his well-being and to provide him the comfort he needs.
When Jung Hoo wakes up, he starts asking Young Shin to leave,because she’s in grave danger by being so close to him. However, she stands up to him and refuses to go. Park Min-young’s performance is top notch here and she portrays the mix of emotions experienced by Young Shin so well. She is resolute not to go and displays both determination and a sense of longing. She does not want to go because she wants to nurse him back to health; but more importantly, it’s because she cannot bear to lose him again and not know when she will next see him. After losing him for so long, she’s unwilling to give it all up to uncertainty. In spite of Jung Hoo’s claims of wanting to protect her, she protests and tells him that he can never get her hurt. She asks him not to send her away twice – the first time with resolve in her eyes, but the second time with such tenderness as she moves in to him and hugs him, which causes him to break down again. Min-young plays that mix of vulnerability and strength so well, causing us to feel sad for her yet at the same time admire her.
Beyond the writer’s love for her characters, it is evident that the key actors and actresses really love the characters they play, fully embodying their motivations, their personalities and their emotions. There were many moments in this episode where key exchanges between characters did not have any background music at the start, and the emotional energy simply came from the interactions between the characters. I’ve often found many Korean dramas to over-rely on music as emotional cues – Descendants of the Sun really comes to mind here. However, Healer does not require that because the emotions are conveyed by the realistic, moving performances put up by the cast. It’s no wonder that Healer remains one of the most loved k-dramas to date, because the entire team putting it together display such evident love for it too.