I decided to watch the 2nd episode, since the first episode hadn’t introduced our main character, Doctor Kim. And I must say, I’m intrigued as the main premise of the show gets fleshed out.
For one thing, it looks like this show is going to move away from the typical big hospital setting to focus on a rural hospital, interestingly named “Doldam Hospital” in Jung Sun (doldam meaning ‘stone wall’ in Korean), where the focus is really on saving lives without the complications of power struggles, protocols and politicking. The artifice of Geosan University Hospital is emphasised through all the amplified surgical lights and the setting up of the operating room like a theatre, with a viewing gallery above. In contrast, Doldam Hospital is humble and all the scenes there are lit in natural lighting.
The contrast between the two hospitals is also established through the first case we witness at the hospital where the patient comes literally crashing in on his own, and not via an ambulance. Doon Joo keeps insisting on following safety protocols and codes of conduct, requesting to send the patient to a bigger hospital. He’s gradually surprised at the sufficiency of this small hospital. The staff at Doldam may not work in sterile, clean settings with the latest medical technologies, but they have everything essential and are quick to respond to patient’s needs. As opposed to the surgery scenes in Geosan University Hospital which focus on the machines and tools used, the surgery scene in Doldam Hospital focuses on Dr Kim’s hands and his precise cuttings and deft stitching.
Later on, we get a scene in Dr Kim’s office where he asks Doon Joo how many patients have died under his knife since his specialisation. Doon Joo confidently declares that only one patient has died, thinking that the small number is proof of his expertise. However, Dr Kim’s dismisses him, telling him to add ten to that and kill more people before coming to talk to him. Han Suk-Kyu plays Teacher Kim with such charisma and relaxed confidence. He’s a back-to-basics man, who listens to Madonna on a cassette tape. He’s certainly a refreshing character and I look forward to understanding him further.
While the medical drama aspects of this series are looking more hopeful, the romance aspects still feel quite forced. It’s a little too convenient how both of them ended up at Doldam Hospital at the same time and I do wish the writer had spent some effort setting up that premise more convincingly. However, I did like the exchange between Seo-Jung and Dong Joo, where she tells it like it is and calls Dong Joo out for being a coward, full of excuses. Seo-Jung does get some good moments in this episode, where we realise what happened in the first episode has been tormenting her over the past five years. Seo Hyun-Jin portrayed Seo-Jung’s tormented and frenzied state very convincingly and while I found the incidents in Episode 1 very ridiculous, I am keen to see how the show explores the ramifications of it on her psyche. In terms of structuring, I did wonder if it’d be better for the incidents in Episode 1 to be shown as backstory instead and for the series to have start instead from this week’s episode. At least, there would have been an element of intrigue about what exactly happened five years ago to lead to the current state of affairs. Keeping viewers on the edge is always a better thing than making everything obvious.
As for Doon Joo, I still do not find him a compelling character and his character’s trajectory, as of now, is still relatively straightforward and predictable. I do wish the series had played up more greatly the tension and dilemmas faced by Doon Joo, rather than simply giving in to the exact power structures that caused his father’s death. Nonetheless, Doctor Kim remains sufficient reason for me to stay around for a bit longer to see how this series unfolds and explores the heart of medicine and saving lives.
I read that the actors put in great effort to prepare for their roles by visiting hospitals, watching videos and consulting specialists to give convincing surgical performances. I do hope they also spoke to doctors and specialists about the more ‘human’ aspects of their jobs, i.e. the emotions they feel, the ethical conflicts they faced and the lives they encounter, because these human stories are indeed the key ingredients for a quality drama.