This was an episode with less happening and more actual interaction between our characters. I appreciated that very much as we begin to observe more clearly the strengths and vulnerabilities of our protagonists.
Within the first few minutes of the episode, we see what happened three hours before Master Kim appears with the burnt victims. He’s been lurking in the casino, where he once again saves someone from a stroke and is called in by Chairman Sin to be his doctor. Just as they are talking, a fire breaks out in the kitchen and Master Kim goes to the rescue, trying to put out the flames and reduce the burns before sending the victims to the hospital. Back in the hospital, we see his decisiveness, efficiency and precision at work as he administers the necessary treatment, delegates follow-up action and monitors the situation. Han Seok-kyu imbues the role of Master Kim with a strong sense of humanity and compassion; when Master Kim helps his patients, it’s not out of duty or a distant sense of professionalism, but it’s because he’s genuinely concerned for them. That compassion is written in his eyes as he speaks to the Head Chef and as he watches the chopper take off. Unlike in the hospital where doctors celebrate with feasts after successful surgeries, Master Kim sits down, pensive and exhausted after the dust has settled, without a hint of pride or self-exaltation. While others may see his actions as heroic, Master Kim has no sense of bravado; he’s just doing what needs to be done as a human being to save a life.
This is in stark contrast to Dong Joo, whom Master Kim scolds for thinking of himself as a hero. When Master Kim scolds Dong Joo for being a coward and accuses him of being insincere, it offends Dong Joo so much because he knows deep down it’s true. Underlying Master Kim’s scathing words is a strong message to Dong Joo that he needs to man up and take full responsibility and ownership of the lives under his hands. He scolds Dong Joo for fighting so hard to be top student, yet not being able to let go of the name of Geodae Hospital. Geodae Hospital is a comfort zone for Dong Joo, because it’s where he built his reputation. It’s where he feels safe because of all the protocols established, the clear specialisation and hierarchy as well as the modern medical equipment. As much as Dong Joo blames the system for making him a coward, he relies on the system to validate his own competency as a doctor. His decision to resign reflects this exact cowardice as he tells the Director that he’s not the right person for the hospital, putting the blame on the hospital rather than on himself.
Just as he walks off, Mr Jang tries to ask him to stop but Seo-Jung delivers yet another blow to Dong Joo’s pride by questioning his motivations. Dong Joo is unashamed that he is motivated by promotion because he does not want to remain forever in a hospital like Doldam Hospital. She questions him on why he chooses not to focus on the right things (i.e. the patients) with all his competencies, instead of seeking the approval of higher ups and playing the victim card. Once again, all these words ring true because this was exactly what caused him to end up at Doldam Hospital when he was tricked by the “higher-ups” to take on the surgery of the VIP, rather than tend to the patient that he originally wanted to treat. In a subsequent conversation, Seo-Jung tells Dong Joo that success and career advancement is good, but never forget that:
We’re only doctors, but we’re still doctors. Don’t forget that. – Seo-Jung
Seo-Jung serves as a good contrast to Dong Joo. She’s humble and eager to learn and improve her craft. When Master Kim asks her for three reasons to stay, she repeats three times her desire to learn from him. She’s genuinely interested to improve and serve the needs of patients, which is nicely contrasted to Dong Joo’s three reasons, which are that he hates Master Kim, the hospital and he can’t see his future. There’s a real glimmer in Seo-Jung’s eyes and an energy in her entire being when she’s treating patients, even from the sidelines. However, Dong Joo treats his patience with such cold, stone-faced precision. He wants to be the best doctor, not just a good doctor, implying a sense of competitiveness.
When Master Kim comes in to see him later, Dong Joo asks the same question to him that Nurse Oh asks him, “Are you a good doctor or the best doctor?”. Master Kim responds that the patient does not need the best doctor, but an orthopaedic surgeon who can also treat fractures – which is why he is playing all his cards to be the right doctor for him. He then gives Dong Joo the most nurturing piece of advice thus far, which is to be a doctor who serves and “as long as [he] [doesn’t] change, nothing will change”. This is such a cliched line, but once again Han Seok-Kyu delivers it with such gravity and sincerity that it hits home hard. That also triggers Dong Joo’s memory of the childhood incident and he suddenly identifies that Master Kim is Boo Yong-Joo and their exchange ends with him Master Kim denying it, which opens up a whole realm of story-telling which certainly is fascinating.
This was certainly the best episode of the series for me, with many solid character moments, including hilarious interjections by Nurse Oh and Mr Jang. Jin Kyung certainly plays the role of Nurse Oh so well and it’s amazing how much she conveys with just her eyes, especially in the meeting with Dr Yeo where we mostly got scenes of her sipping tea. The show is shaping up better and I am looking forward to more solid, character-focused story-telling.