When watching this episode, I was reminded of a simple phrase that regarding writing: “Sometimes, less is more.” What this means is that instead of trying to fill your essay with too many ideas, it is often better to focus on a few key ideas to create more impact. That would be my exact advice to the writer of this series too.
Let’s recap what’s happened to our main protagonists from the premiere till this point.
Dong-joo and Seo-jung first met in Episode 1, had several unpleasant encounters together but were eventually united when he stood by her to save a patient. They then share an intense kiss, which caused Seo-jung to turn down her boyfriend’s proposal. Just then, a large truck crashes into them, resulting in them both being rushed to hospital, where her boyfriend suddenly collapses and dies. Shaken by that incident, she decides to go on a hike where she falls down and injures her ankle.
When we next see our characters in Episode 2, five years have passed and we get very little hint of what exactly transpired into those five years. From being someone who was willing to break the rules to save lives, Dong-joo has become a slave to protocol and rules and decides he needs to prove himself by operating on a VIP, whom he later realises only has 5% chance of survival. The patient dies in his hands and he ends up being sent to Doldam hospital. He almost decides to resign, but is brought back after an incident with Master Kim at the casino. Once he decides to stay on, he realises Seo-jung has been there for five years. Seeing Dong-joo brings back traumatic memories for Seo-jung and her PTSD is triggered, causing her to slit herself.
In this episode, we begin with an intense surgery between Dong-joo and Master Kim, which is followed by a showdown between the two of them. While Master Kim disappears for most of the episode, our two protagonists are again flooded with a barrage of intense incidents.
Dong-joo is swamped by a multitude of medical emergencies, including a huge family that has been hit by food poisoning, two accident victims who keep fighting each other, a man who drinks pesticide and is brought in by his parents who are hard of hearing. In the meantime, he’s also faced a huge dilemma as Dr. Song, the chief surgeon at his previous hospital, has asked him to join in a specially arranged dinner with Dr. Do so that he can return to his previous hospital. He misses his dinner in an attempt to save the man who drinks pesticide, but ultimately he can’t save him and ends up having to shout the news to his parents. He eventually breaks down and cries to his mum. When it finally seems like we can get some breathing space, a set of burn victims get sent in and he needs to treat them, without having had any prior experience treating burns.
Seo-jung is similarly hit by a wave of big incidents. She is first sacked by Master Kim because a doctor who harms herself is unable to treat other patients, which is in itself already a huge blow. When she finally decides to beg for her position back, she enters the hospital and sees a mentally unsound woman walk up to a patient and strangle him. She manages to pull the woman off, and just when she thinks she can get some rest, the burn victims are sent in and she jumps into action to help Dong-joo.
When watching this show, it feels as if someone is constantly stepping on the plot-accelerator, and there’s no opportunity for the characters or for the viewers to process anything that’s happening before we move on to the next big event. All the events happening above are huge and we should be feeling more for our protagonists, but we can’t because we’re just barraged by the incidents one after the other. I, for one, would have liked to get more insight into what happened to both Dong-joo and Seo-jung in the five years that we missed out on. Towards the end of the episode, Dong-joo tells Seo-jung that he has always been a straightforward guy, playing by the rules but we know that isn’t true based on the premiere. So what happened? The rapid piling on of tragic incidents on our protagonists reflects a certain anxiety by the writer to quickly ensure viewers empathise or sympathise with them, which works only to a certain extent.
Also, there seems to be a deliberate “de-skilling” of Dong-joo in this episode in order to make him more tragic. In episode 1, Dong-joo exercised such precision with Seo-jung, providing her with the instruments she needed even without her asking for it. How is it that he was able to do that as an intern, yet after 5 years of experience, he seems even less competent? While it’s acceptable that he lost his values and moral compass along the way, how can it be that he also lost his skills? There seems to be a deliberate attempt in this episode to play up his failures, because we do eventually hear Nurse Oh attribute the success of the night to Dong-joo. However, we do not get to see any of it, because that would not contribute to the “downfall of Dong-joo” storyline.
All this plot acceleration would be more acceptable if we knew where exactly we are heading to, but it’s still rather hazy at this point what the writer wants to do. I’m guessing it has to do with Master Kim and how he eventually saves the two of them from all their tragic circumstances. Unlike Dong-joo and Seo-jung, the show is really taking its time to build up Master Kim’s story, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to know more about his backstory. It seems like we get more of it in episode 4, so I’m looking forward to that.
To close on a more positive note, I am really appreciating the cinematography of the show, especially the opening sequence with Seo-jung’s wrist surgery. While there has been no shortage of bloody, gory scenes in medical shows, I’ve rarely seen such a precise and visceral surgery scene, where we see each stitch being sewn and appreciate the deft, skilful hands of the surgeon. There’s such an artfulness to it that portrays surgery with a beauty that I haven’t seen before. I also love how the show continually plays with light, especially with natural light that almost floods all the day-time conversations between our protagonists.
On a final note, it’s unfortunate that all the medical terminology that’s being explained throughout the series is not subtitled, because I would be very keen to see what’s being said. There was even an explanatory note for “traffic accident”, which was surprising because I would never have seen it as a medical term. I also find the structuring of the show as chapters very intriguing, because it almost makes the show seem like a medical textbook or encyclopedia – or could it also be a biography? Amidst the very intense and tragic drama, there’s a playfulness in the way the series is structured, which makes you also wonder who this “book” is for. The chapter names are also rather fascinating, with this chapter named “Friday of Thirteen People”.
Three episodes in and the show still feels like it’s finding its ground. Let’s hope it finds it soon, because somewhere deep inside, it seems like there’s a good story to be discovered.