Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Prequel: Appendix – The Beginning of Everything

This episode is quite oddly placed as a prequel because in some ways, it could also serve as a finale as it ties up some loose ends that the previous episode didn’t cover, like Dr. Nam’s litigation and In Beom’s growth in Doldam – which wasn’t really given proper closure in yesterday’s episode. Nonetheless, in spite of its odd positioning within the series, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the episode, even more so than yesterday’s episode.

I enjoyed it because we went back to the show’s earlier format where it used its patient’s cases to explore very relevant and controversial medical and ethical issues. Master Kim’s first love, Lee Yeong Joo played by Kim Hye Soo, returns to Doldam, not to rekindle her relationship with Master Kim, but to seek his help to operate on a woman who is HIV positive who has pheochromocytoma, thus requiring a laparoscopy. This raises issues about the stigma against HIV positive people and also highlights the medical procedures necessary when a HIV positive person is operated on. Master Kim offers the option to both Dong Joo and In Beom to help. In Beom initially rejects, but steps up to assist when Dong Joo is called away to operate on a patient who is suffering from gunshot wounds. Yeong Joo assists Dong Joo in his surgery and she shares her experiences working with “Doctors Without Borders” (an international humanitarian medical organisation), where sometimes metal detectors, instead of advanced medical equipment, is used to locate bullet fragments. We haven’t had such exploration since the show moved into Chairman Shin’s surgery, so this was certainly welcome.

Separately, we do get lots of interesting backstory, hence I can see why this episode is a prequel. Nonetheless, I do wonder why the show didn’t give us more backstory focusing just on Master Kim, since he is after all the main character and the ending of the previous episode did mention we would find out more about his first love. Actually, I was expecting the entire episode to just focus on Master Kim’s early days as a doctor and his relationship with Yeong Joo. There were many portions I hoped were shown to us, rather than just told to us, like how Master Kim used to hate to go to cafes or restaurants, or even what Dr. Song mentions about how both of them used to quarrel so much.

Kim Hye Soo does a very good job though and she imbues her character of Yeong Joo with the right amount of sentimentality and familiarity with Master Kim. The close relationship they used to share is so tangibly felt and the connection is so real as they talk about previous times, without any sense of resentment but all in good humour and acceptance of what happened.

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My favourite moment of connection between them was when Master Kim asked her, “Do you need it?” and she responds, “Can I borrow it”, and he subsequently sits next to her for her to rest her head on his shoulders. It was such a moment of intimacy and understanding, yet played so appropriately as a moment shared between two close friends, not two lovers.

The prequel also provided us with more light-hearted moments of fun between Dong Joo and Seo Jung as they go around Doldam taking selfies, which I felt was a good way of weaving product placement with creating memorable stills like these:

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I’ve seen quite a few calls for a second season of RDTK and indeed, for most good shows, there will invariably be such demands. However, given the format of RDTK, I’m quite convinced that it can run for at least one more season and still remain strong because of its case-of-the-week format and also because of all the backstories that haven’t been told. In fact, some of the stories we saw, like Dr Nam’s litigation case, or even the brief but very cute first encounter between Nurse Oh and Master Kim, could have been extended into entire episodes on their own. Yeon Hwa and Nurse Park’s storyline also hasn’t been touched on much and given the format of the show, I’m pretty sure they could add one or two doctors to the mix to make things more exciting in the second season.

In closing, I did want to add on to what I previously said about the show’s strengths. Besides its many strengths as a drama series, I was also drawn to this show because I related to it on a very personal level. Master Kim’s idealistic focus on individuals and on saving lives, as opposed to career progression or changing the world, was a good reminder to me too as an educator. In many ways, education resembles medicine in that we diagnose what people need and help them to get better. There can come a time where one becomes too focused on being the “best” teacher, but lose track of just the simplicity of helping each and every student, in any way that you can. For this, I’m thankful to the show for bringing me back to the core of my business, and for creating an inspiring figure in Master Kim to carry that message so convincingly through his life and actions!

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Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Episode 20: The Law of Conservation of Romance

The finale of this show centres around a fist fight between Master Kim and President Do, which leads to important moments for all our protagonists. There are plenty of feel-good, happy moments to go around, some of which I felt could have gone deeper.

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The character whom I feel displays the most growth in this episode is In Beom. His dad tells him to return to Geodae Hospital and also apply all that he has learnt in Doldam. In Beom turns down his dad’s offer, which comes to a surprise to his dad given In Beom’s repeated requests earlier to return. In Beom shares that in Geodae, he had lived under his dad’s shadow as his dad’s name held power. However, going to Doldam, he realised that his dad’s name no longer wielded the same power and he had to learn to rely on his own abilities. He thus decides to stay on in Doldam, so that he can allow his true self to emerge. I was truly proud of In Beom for taking that painful, bold step to walk out of his father’s shadows. It’s yet another blow to President Do, who had earlier already lost Seo Jung and now his son to Master Kim. It did make me wish that the show had more consistently humanised President Do throughout by exploring his motivations, his struggles and even highlighting positive moments – which his relationship with Seo Jung had potential to do – nonetheless, he was largely painted as a villain whose spent almost all his time scheming against Master Kim without a very convincing agenda or trajectory of his own.

Master Kim incurs a wrist injury when a ice sculpture falls on his wrist during the fight. Though we never get to really know how serious his wrist injury is, his wrist injury provides a moment of connection between him and Seo Jung and we finally get to find out what happened when Seo Jung first arrives at Doldam. It’s very overdue, given that I’d be keen to know this ever since episode 3 of the show; nonetheless, it’s a neat way of bringing things full circle and we see so much similarities between her first days at Doldam and Hyun Joo’s bubbly enthusiasm. There isn’t anything significantly new that we learn about Seo Jung, but it’s an affirmation of the growth we’ve seen and Master Kim’s nurturing support throughout.

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The return to Geodae also leads to Seo Jung meeting the nurse whom her finance/ex-boyfriend slept with and we learn that she’s now taking care of a 5 year old son. I sense that the scene was supposed to provide closure to that chapter of her life, but since she does not know that her ex-boyfriend had the affair, it doesn’t quite fulfill its purpose. It might also have tied in more nicely if the show had explored more consistently Seo Jung’s efforts to come to terms with her guilt arising from the accident, but it has largely been dropped for more feel-good moments between her and Master Kim.

Master Kim’s injury also leads to a key moment for Dong Joo as he decides to let Dong Joo handle a whipple procedure to treat a patient who is suffering from pancreatic cancer. This is known to be a complex procedure, requiring great surgical skills as the area around the pancreas is tricky to navigate and surgeons often encounter patients with varying arrangement of ducts and arteries around the pancreas. A brief Google search reveals that Steve Job went through this surgery. While he is recognised as being someone two years junior when in Geodae, back in Doldam, he’s entrusted with surgeries of such complexity, after proving himself repeatedly. Master Kim even promises to be there to guide him along. Doldam is indeed the place where he belongs and while he initially hated being there, it’s undeniable that his growth as a doctor has been exponential because of his time there.

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I was genuinely hoping though for more sweet moments between Dong Joo and Seo Jung, even a meet up between the two of them and his mum. However, it was cute and funny to see them respond to both In Beom and  Yeon Hwa’s confessions and ultimately realising that it didn’t change anything between them.

Finally, of course, we have Master Kim, who as always, takes down President Do with such class and style. His appearance at the press conference completely agitates him and he completely steals the limelight. He brings to light the documents he received from Reporter Oh, regarding the ghost surgery, which unhinges President Do further. Following the scuffle, he even comes to Doldam to kneel and apologise to Chairman Shin, who initially knows nothing, but becomes curious.

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This leads to a final conversation between President Do and Master Kim, where Master Kim gets to share with President Do his romantic, idealistic worldview where his aim is not to change the world or to earn money, but just to save lives. He believes that many young doctors are willing to do so, and deals yet another blow to President Do by saying that In Beom is one of them.

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As the episode comes to a close, we also learn through comic format, which is a brilliant idea, about Chairman Shin’s first encounter with Master Kim, which also helps us realise why he was so bent on getting Master Kim to operate on him. While Master Kim’s surgical skills are top notch, it is his desperation to fight for his patients’ lives that draws patients to him and makes him truly legendary.

This brings to close one of the most enjoyable medical dramas I’ve watched. I still feel that the show could have afforded to be more focused in its focus on medical cases to allow its characters to shine more, and also to develop Master Kim’s character more fully, especially in terms of his backstory. Nonetheless, the series was often thought-provoking, bringing to light interesting medical and ethical issues, while also making surgery such an alluring and engaging process.

The cast was consistently good, especially Han Suk Kyu and Seo Hyun Jin, and the characters were all well-written, with very realistic journeys of growth where they encountered numerous failures and their successes were not over-played. It was also great to see the dynamics at Doldam gradually evolve to become the dream team as each character experienced their own individual journey of growth. While most shows have a falling in love story and OTP as its main drawing factor, I appreciated that this show was different. While I enjoyed the romance between Dong Joo and Seo Jung, it was really the mentoring relationship between Master Kim and all the other characters that first drew me to the show and continued to be the show’s strong suit.

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The show certainly knows how to treat its fans well with a prequel episode today that guarantees to tell us about Master Kim’s first love, rather than just another ‘special episode’ which is essentially a cobbling together of previous clips. This seems to be somewhat in service of fans who I had read were earlier disappointed that ‘romantic’ in the title referred to his idealism, rather than romantic love. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to it because I’ve always been interested to know more about Master Kim’s backstory.

RDTK Episode 19: Doctors and Righteous People – Seo Jung & Nurse Oh

Last night’s episode was just so good that I have so much to say about it, hence I decided to do a second post on it, this time focusing on Seo Jung and Nurse Oh. Even though they weren’t the focus of episode 19, they nonetheless had very good moments!

Regarding Seo Jung, one of my complaints with the show is that it hasn’t adequately dealt with her PTSD and coping with it. This was even after she had mentioned to Dong Joo that she fears getting together with him because it brings back memories of the accident. Nonetheless, there were good moments in episode 19 for her. The first moment was when she got to work together with Master Kim again on a surgery and this time, Master Kim even finished his surgery fast enough so that he could allow her to complete the proximal suturing (hope I got the medical terminology right).

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It was heartwarming to see her take lead, while Master Kim supported her in cutting. She has certainly earned the respect of Master Kim and she has come such a long way from the first few episodes where Master Kim made her an orderly and stopped her from doing any surgeries. You could really see the trust and pride in Master Kim’s eyes when she completed the procedure. It’s great to see Master Kim smile more and become more encouraging as the series progresses – it’s a sign of his growth too that he’s decided to open himself up to those under his charge, and care for them and encourage them.

The next memorable moment was definitely Seo Jung’s conversation with Dong Joo’s mum. Seo Hyun Jin really has such a sweet, radiant smile and her joy and delight is so overflowing when she talks to Dong Joo’s mum on the phone about side dishes and corn.

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Loved it when she got so awkward and fumbled over how to call his mum – whether to call her omoni or Dong Joo’s omoni, and then later got so excited as she listed all her favourite dishes to his mum. I’m looking forward to Dong Joo and her meeting his mum in the final episode and them having a meal together.

It was great to see her supporting Dong Joo through his emotional roller coaster in this episode and she knows when she needs to step back, or when to step in. In front of patients, she never steps in and allows Dong Joo to take control, even if she has a differing view of what needs to be done, because she respects him. We get many shots in the episode of her looking on Dong Joo, and her concern for him is so evident as she looks on him so gently and lovingly. Yet she also knows that for Dong Joo, he needs to process things by himself and come to his own realisations, and giving him too much advice may be harmful instead.

Close to the end of the episode, when Dong Joo tells the guardian that the doctors at Doldam are the most sincere he’s ever met, he looks at Seo-jung and looks at him with a smile. She doesn’t need to say anything, because her facial expression conveys the respect and pride she feels for Dong Joo and his growth. I’m looking forward to more fun scenes between the two of them in the finale!

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Another character I felt also had good moments in episode 19 was Nurse Oh. There’s a nice dynamic between her and Master Kim, where she’s always there to support him, but also unafraid to speak up against him. Master Kim asks her to join Dong Joo in the surgery after Dong Joo’s emotional meltdown about his dad and Nurse Kim willingly takes on the task. In fact, it almost seemed like she was going to volunteer for it even without Master Kim asking.

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Later on, when the news of President Do taking credit for the surgery comes to light, Nurse Oh confronts Master Kim about it. Master Kim does not want to fight President Do, saying that he likes that he can now pursue his romantic ideals and not have to think about success after he changed his name. However, for Nurse Oh, the issue is not about being focused on success and not on patients, it’s about giving credit where credit is due. She’s speaking up not just on behalf of herself, but on behalf of the whole team at Doldam, which looks to Master Kim for leadership. She’s shown herself to be wise in  handling the dynamics at Doldam – in front of others, she stands behind Master Kim and supports him; however, in private, she serves as his ‘devil’s advocate’, questioning him off and even telling him off directly and forcefully when she feels he isn’t making a right decision.

One of the great things about RDTK is how it has a great ensemble of engaging and well-developed characters and I truly believe that is one of the key reasons for its success. I will certainly miss all these characters when the show ends!

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Episode 19: Doctors and Righteous people 

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After yesterday’s lacklustre episode, the show turns in an excellent episode that keeps the politics on the sidelines and gives us very meaty, meaningful revelations about Master Kim’s past. Although it does seem like we’ve been waiting forever for some of the revelations to come to light, late is better than never and the show does a great job of tying together both Dong Joo and Master Kim’s growth into a cohesive and moving episode.

I’ve never been particularly impressed by Yoo Yeon Seok’s performance in this series – not that there’s anything wrong with his acting, it just hasn’t been fantastic. However, this episode was truly his show and he brings so much heart and soul into his performance. There’s a real depth to the character work done for Dong Joo in this episode as we really get to the core of his journey as a doctor. We’ve seen him excel in the art of surgery and he has certainly grown in putting lives ahead of promotion. However, the real challenge comes when the personal and professional intersect and he is forced to confront that when President Do reveals that Master Kim was the doctor who made the choice not to operate on his dad first.

While we were led to believe last week it was due to the other patients’ VIP status, Master Kim explains that his decision had nothing to do with status; it was based on his medical assessment of who was at higher risk of death. We learn later that this is not true, but what Master Kim shares pushes Dong Joo to really confront his beliefs as a doctor. As a doctor, he knows what Master Kim did was right – yet as a son, knowing Master Kim made that decision to neglect his dad causes him much pain, anguish and hurt. It’s this emotional turmoil that Yoo Yeon Seok manages to capture so well, as he gradually processes it step by step.

His first step forward is to tell Master Kim immediately after he learns the truth to go handle the patient with the aortic dissection, while he handles the one with a glass shard in his stomach. Dong Joo manages to put aside his feelings and emotions to focus on the operation, recovering well even after rupturing an artery. However, after the surgeries are completed, his pain is still unresolved and he talks to Master Kim to get some answers. The tone he adopts is not confrontational, but instead of one who needs assurance. He wants Master Kim to tell him it was the right decision, even though it feels awful to know that the right decision meant his dad’s death.

Master Kim tells him that he needs to find the answer within himself and realise he is no longer the helpless boy who’s dad died, but is now a doctor. It’s such a simple, yet powerful line. Dong Joo needs to stop seeing his dad’s death from the perspective of a son, because that would cause him to be upset. Instead, he should see it from a medical perspective that it was ultimately about a doctor doing his best to save lives, regardless of the outcome. Later on, Master Kim tells Dong Joo that the most common lines heard by surgeons are about how the patients were better before the surgery. He tells Dong Joo that doctors hold a heavy responsibility because they handle knives and operate on human lives. The most challenging thing for Dong Joo would be therefore to start seeing his dad’s death from the perspective of a doctor, rather than a son.

His encounters with the two patients help him make that shift as well, as he sees two guardians – one refusing to acknowledge that her husband’s drinking habit caused his death and blaming Dong Joo for her husband’s death and the other insisting that her husband be moved to ICU, not knowing the implications of her insistence. Regardless of how hard Dong Joo has worked to ensure both patients are well-handled, it’s always not enough for the patient’s guardians because they only see things from their perspective. Having experienced this as a surgeon, he understands Master Kim’s predicament and starts to feel less anger towards him. What completes the reconciliation process is that Master Kim stepped in to prevent a lawsuit against Dong Joo’s mum when he attacked the hospital staff. Dong Joo realises that while Master Kim may have made the decision that caused his dad’s death, he did all he could to make up for it. It’s a tightly constructed emotional journey for Dong Joo in this episode that ultimately ends on a satisfactory and meaningful note.

Master Kim also gets much-needed in this episode as we learn that his decision to change his name and leave was ultimately to protect those involved in the surgery. While it was noble and sacrificial, Master Kim also realises that it was a cowardly move because he chose not to take on President Do even though he knew the truth. While his initial response to President Do taking credit for the surgery is just to let it go, he decides he can no longer stay silent while President Do takes all the credit and hides the truth. He finally decides to come out of hiding, because he really has no reason to hide at all. That scene of him walking into Geodae Hospital with his Doldam team by his flanks had such a victorious, glorious feel to it. I loved it! The episode ends with Dr Boo Yong Joo out in the open, in front of fellow doctors at Geodae and the media, confronting President Do.

As much as he’s a teacher to those in Doldam, his team at Doldam has also helped him in his emergence from the shadows. Although we can foresee President Do’s downfall in the finale, it will still be an extremely satisfactory moment because really, the battle was never between President Do and Master Kim, but between Master Kim and himself. Master Kim always had the upper hand over President Do, but the question was whether he had the courage to exercise it in the public realm. The information provided from the Reporter is just additional ammunition to help him on the pathway to victory. We’re definitely in for a great finale next week!

Romantic Teacher Doctor Kim Episode 18 – Whether You Want It or Not 

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This final stretch of episodes thus far have been doing a decent job of moving the plot forward while also building our characters and their relationships. However, I felt that the show faltered in this episode as nothing much really happens and frankly, what we learn about Master Kim and Jang Hyun Joo did not go deep enough.

The main thing that happened in this episode was Chairman Shin waking up, which was expected anyway given how the odds kept getting stacked against Doldam Hospital. I personally found the shutting down of Doldam Hospital storyline a rather pointless narrative detour. I couldn’t understand why Chairman Shin’s daughter kept being persuaded by President Do’s fear-mongering when Master Kim had more than proven himself in the past and also completed a very complicated surgery on her dad, which nobody thought could be done. Furthermore, it also didn’t make sense for President Do to insist on transporting Chairman Shin to Geodae Hospital, where he would arguably be under greater media scrutiny, and transporting him over a long distance posed such great risks. Also, the whole notion of shutting down a hospital within one day doesn’t even seem possible – what would happen to all the patients? Wouldn’t there need to be an extended period to at least ensure proper care is provided? At this point, the show just seems to be making President Do take increasingly evil actions to take down Master Kim without really thinking through whether these really make sense.

I also found the characters’ reactions to the news of Doldam shutting down rather strange too. We’ve seen how the team at Doldam can rally together during tough times and how they are generally a steel-willed bunch. Why wasn’t there any resistance against this decision to shut down the hospital, given that it came so suddenly – and especially after they had completed such a difficult surgery? Why did the whole team all of a sudden become so deflated?

The whole decision to shut down the hospital becomes moot, of course, after Chairman Shin wakes up. His daughter claims the decision will be put on hold while Chairman Shin is at the hospital, but of course we know that Doldam will never be shut down. President Do’s next move then is to sow doubt in Dong Joo by pointing him to the fact that Master Kim was the one who indirectly caused his dad’s death. While I can see how that would affect Dong Joo personally, I fail to see how this would have any significant impact in the big scheme of things. What’s the worst that can emerge out of this? Dong Joo hates Master Kim and leaves Doldam? Even if he does so, it is unlikely that he will return to Geodae, especially after witnessing all of President Do’s evil actions. This was yet another strange turn of events.

On the Master Kim front, I was hoping the show would pick up immediately upon the ending of last week and start revealing the truth that Reporter Oh is so willing to tell. However, that whole issue gets sidetracked and only returned to at the end when Reporter Oh finds Dong Joo’s mum. We get more insight into what happened between Master Kim and Jang Hyun Joo, but honestly, I couldn’t really see what was so unique and special about their relationship, besides her being inquisitive. Given Doctor Boo Yong Joo’s status back then, I’m pretty sure there would be many medical students or even doctors idolising him. I was hoping we’d see more conversations between him and Hyun Joo and clearer explanations about why he became so emotionally attached to her. Also, it would have been good if we got to see his personality when he was at Geodae, to see how all that had happened there affected him. What we got of Master Kim’s backstory was emotionally poignant, and I did find her note and cassette tape to him touching, but it just didn’t go deep enough to really help us understand Master Kim or rather, Boo Yong Joo better.

The only bright spot in this episode for me was the growing friendship between In-Beom and Dong Joo and Dong Joo telling In-Beom that while they can’t stand President Do, they certainly do not hate In-Beom. I’ve commented previously about how In-Beom seems to be outside of the core family at Doldam and perhaps that’s an intentional decision on his part, given how he knows everyone hates his dad.

Perhaps this relatively disappointing episode was to ensure all the meaty stuff is kept for the last two episodes. It looks like Master Kim is planning to go on the offensive and take down President Do in the final two episodes. The outcome of the whole confrontation is unfortunately predictable because Master Kim has thus far been completely undefeated by any of President Do’s plans; in fact, President Do’s plans have barely even ruffled Master Kim’s feathers. Nonetheless, even if the outcome is already a foregone conclusion, my hope is that this confrontation will be used as a vehicle for all our characters to display the growth and bond that they’ve developed. It would also be great if we had one or two more medical cases, because I really enjoyed how the show explored complex medical, ethical and legal issues in its earlier episodes before Chairman Shin’s operation took over the narrative. The show has had a good run so far – rooting for the show to really end with a bang!

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Episode 17: Moment of Truth

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Mysteries continue to abound in Episode 17 of RDTK, mostly surrounding Master Kim/ Boo Yong Joo and it’s about time because I’ve been wondering why the show has taken so long to reveal his backstory to us.

The successful completion of the surgery was never really in doubt, given how the odds seemed to be piling against Team Doldam so as to prepare the way for a great victory for them. In spite of the initial delay, the surgery is still completed within 6 hours and 2 minutes, largely due to Master Kim’s deft hands and clear mind as well as Dong Joo and In Beom’s team-work. While the success was never in doubt, I enjoyed the precise and detailed capturing of the entire process of replacing the artificial heart, especially all the shots of the swift and intricate stitching being done. While I have no knowledge of the process at all, I could tell that the entire team behind the show – writer, producer, director and actors – had to familiarise themselves thoroughly with the process to ensure it was portrayed in both a convincing and thrilling manner that was still relatively easy to follow.

Before going on to the mysteries introduced, I wanted to add a comment on In-Beom. While the writing of most of the key characters generally well done, In-Beom’s characterisation is less satisfactory because his character seems to encounter shifts behaviour and motivations, without showing exactly how he arrives at those changes. His treatment of Yeon Hwa, previously explained by his anger at her for allowing Dong Joo to take her place, persists in this episode without clear motivations except to foreground her humility and willingness to learn and Nurse Park’s sense of righteousness. In-Beom has also been largely disconnected from the main Doldam family, perhaps to emphasise how he’s still thinking of returning to Geodae, but I’m hoping we see more genuine interaction between him and the main characters, other than just during surgeries. He seems to largely be a closed book to us, also because he doesn’t have any other characters to talk to in Doldam. The budding friendship between him and Dong Joo should therefore be a step towards us gaining more understanding of In-Beom.

Back to Master Kim, who certainly was the focus of this episode – we are introduced to even more questions regarding his backstory. First of all, in his conversation with Reporter Oh, Master Kim asks the reporter if he has courage to tell the truth. Beyond the details of the ‘truth’, this also opens up the question of why Master Kim has delayed telling the truth for so long, especially back then when his reputation and license as a doctor was at stake.

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Secondly, we learn from Dr. Nam knows what happened with Jang Hyun-Joo (Master Kim’s student who died), and has sworn not to bring this secret with him to his death. He tells Nurse Oh that Master Kim had made the inevitable choice to save a child’s life. Too many questions here – Who was this child? Why did he put that child over his favourite student, Hyun-Joo? Why was she his favourite student – what made her so special? Also, regarding Dr. Nam, we still have no information about the medical litigation investigation that he’s undergoing. It would also be nice for the show to give us some backstory between the close friendship shared between Dr. Nam and Dr. Kim.

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Finally, and to me most interestingly of all, President Cho decides to go to Sokcho, in the middle of a conversation between him, Nurse Oh and Manager Jang about Master Kim. Nurse Oh has a knowing look, suggesting that she knows why he’s going there. We are then subsequently shown a scene of him in the restaurant, ordering udon, with the elderly waitress looking extremely uncomfortable at his presence. Would she happen to be one of the nurses involved in the surgery of Hyun-Joo? Does she have the key to the truth and become a key witness subsequently to tell the story to Reporter Oh? I’m more keen to find out story of how President Cho came to know of Master Kim and recruited him into the hospital under a fake identity, which got hidden for so long. Given that Geodae is the parent hospital of Doldam, how is it that it took so long for President Do or anyone to discover Master Kim’s re-emergence? I’ve always felt that President Cho deserves more attention in the show, hence this new development is fascinating to me.

In the midst of all the mystery and suspense, what I’m enjoying too is the show’s exploration of truth – so relevant in what we now call our “post-truth” world. The voice-overs towards the end speak of how those in power insist their opinions are the facts of the world – “the truth is based on facts, but not all the facts are always right”. While this is certainly related to what happened between Master Kim and Geodae hospital, it also applies to the surgery of Chairman Shin as well.

With Chairman Shin remaining unconscious, President Do tries to cast doubt on Master Kim’s surgery and provoke anxiety in his daughter by suggesting that there may be a problem in his brain and asks for a CT scan. Even with something as scientific as medicine, there are always differing interpretations of the “truth” and President Do presents his opinions as a truth, to provoke fear and anxiety. Master Kim, on the other hand, knows what he’s doing and holds firm to his belief that monitoring is best for the patient now, because of all the tubes connected to him. Thankfully Chairman Shin has written a letter prior to the surgery to give full authority to Master Kim, thus ensuring President Do cannot do anything further. It’s a nice touch to see that the whole surgery doesn’t end with the success of it, because it’s ultimately about the post-recovery process.

With so much to unfold and three episodes left, the show is certainly in for an intense and exciting end!

Some miscellaneous comments:

  • The scene between President Do, Dr Song and Seo Jung was rather weird and out of place. What was even stranger was Dr Song’s attempt to “match-make” Seo Jung. Was that his attempt to get into President Do’s good books? While the scene was weird, it did allow us to see Dong Joo get all defensive and jealous – which was fun.
  • I admired Nurse Oh’s professionalism in breaking up the almost-fight between Nurse Park and In-Beom. She tells Nurse Park off for not handling the situation correctly, even though she also does not agree with In-Beom’s treatment of Yeon Hwa. She also manages to stop In-Beom from over-reacting by telling him there are patients around. Nurse Park also comes off well in this episode as we learn that him standing up to In-Beom was not because he likes Yeon Hwa and not specifically for her, but because of his personal belief that nobody should be treated without respect.
  • I’m keen to find out more about why Master Kim wants to set up a trauma centre at Doldam Hospital. If that means we’ll get a final look at Seo-jung’s handling of PTSD, then I’m keen to see how this storyline progresses.

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Episode 16: Burden of Risk

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Before starting on the review, I’d like to congratulate RDTK for the slew of awards it received at the SBS Drama Awards! Han Suk Kyu is certainly very deserving of the Daesang – he was the reason why I started watching this show even when I had doubts about its melodramatic nature, and he continues to shine as the harsh yet enigmatic mentor figure.

As the show reaches its final stretch, the focus shifts from individual characters and their growth to the partnerships and teams within Doldam and how they grow together. While it’s not the first time we’ve seen the team working together, Chairman Shin’s operation is the first time that all the key characters are working together, with In Beom finally being brought into the mix by Dong Joo. The message being emphasised is that while professional and experience is important, team dynamics are ultimately what matter and even a legendary, triple-board certified surgeon like Master Kim requires people whom he trusts and is familiar with in the operating room in order to execute the surgery well.

Once Chairman Shin indicated his decision to proceed, there was no doubt that Master Kim would go through with it and I enjoyed that we got insight into the entire process of planning and preparing for the surgery, where the timing gradually got cut down closer to the required 6 hours. While Master Kim required his team members on board, he does not impose it on them and instead asks them if they are on board. This is in keeping with the style that we’ve seen, where he prefers those under him to make their own choices, rather than telling them what to do. President Do’s options to him were certainly tempting, offering him the best people in all areas. However, as he’s told Dong Joo from the start, the “best doctors” are not as valuable as “good doctors”, who have a genuine heart for saving lives.

Master Kim’s relationship with Dong Joo has progressed significantly and there’s a mutual respect between them, most evident when he did not say anything when Dong Joo took the initiative to bring In Beom into the surgery. I like that Dong Joo has earned the respect of Master Kim without losing that essence of who he is, still with that headstrong element in him and courage to question and doubt. However, Dong Joo is now willing to cast his doubts aside and challenge his own beliefs for the greater good of the patients’ lives and Doldam hospital. Dong Joo has matured a lot, growing not just in his competency as a doctor, but to someone who focuses not just on his own performance and reputation, but on saving patients’ lives. His decision to pull In Beom in showed his humility in realising that he can do a better job with someone else helping him.

As for Seo-jung, she’s always respected Master Kim and we’ve seen her journey from being meek and submissive to him, to being willing to stand up to him for her decisions when the need arises. I could relate to Seo-jung’s desire to work with someone she respects, regardless of the success rate. The results do not matter to her, because simply the experience of working with Master Kim is a privilege in itself. My experience of good bosses/mentor figures certainly proves this to be true, as it’s not about whether they can bring the team to success, but how the experience working together itself is a joy and growing experience.

I have to give props to Seo Hyun Jin for conveying her admiration of Master Kim so convincing, with child-like joy and genuine sparkle in her eyes as she explains to Dong Joo why she’s going to participate in the surgery, regardless of the odds. Master Kim’s gentle assurance of her when she makes a mistake during the surgery affirms this decision. Han Suk Kyu conveys so much with his eyes and there’s just such serenity and trust as he looks at her after she cuts the artery and tells her they have enough time. We know he doesn’t believe it’s true because he has earlier claimed that they have no chance for mistakes, but he just conveys that assurance so lovingly and in such an encouraging manner that we as viewers also believe in him.

I loved that scene where Master Kim announced all the members of his team, one by one, before starting the surgery. While it could be a formal protocol as part of the live recording, it was a significant moment of affirmation for the staff of Doldam in front of the Geodae team. It was Master Kim declaring to President Do that this team at Doldam that he has raised is the only one capable enough to carry out one of the most complex surgeries ever.

On the Geodae side of things, Hyun-jung, Chairman Shin’s daughter, provided a meaningful counterbalance to President Do’s power-driven plans. While I found her to be rather underutilised in the previous episode, her presence provided more a more convincing basis for the two choices presented by President Do. The episode revealed her anxieties and worries for her dad, which is completely understandable, and as a result of this, she simply wants the assurance that her dad is in the best hands possible either through being directly involved in the surgery or watching what’s going on. Of course, both of these options play well to President Do’s hands because he’s able to use them to his advantage. I’m wondering though who’s the random stranger who appeared midway through the surgery and how he will influence the dyanmics. Also, why there aren’t there tighter security measures in Doldam, especially after all the slate of intruders into the hospital so far?

With all the intense stuff going on about Chairman Shin’s surgery, it’s great that the show finds time for the characters (and us) to have some fun together. I’m really enjoying how the show seems to be lightening up towards the end, largely because Dong Joo and Seo-jung are such a hoot now that they have started dating. I’m finding Yeo Yoon Seok to be more fascinating and interesting now that he’s lightened up and that scene at Dr Nam’s restaurant where he said “I love you” to Seo-jung first and then to everyone else was just so cheeky and charming. Nurse Oh was also great, especially when she displayed her irritation at how President Do referred to her. I’ve always felt that the show squeezes too much medical cases into one episode without giving the characters time to “breathe” and in the final episodes, I wouldn’t mind if we really had more such scenes of the characters simply chilling out and spending time together.

In many ways, the success of RDTK has been unanticipated and many might not have expected it to become a ratings monster. While that can be attributed to several other factors (e.g. lack of competition), I have to say one of its key strengths is the ensemble of engaging and charming characters. Even the smaller characters are able to bring a smile to my face, like at the end when In-soo proudly claimed he had the ER under control, to which Nurse Eom smiles disbelievingly. While Chairman Shin’s surgery is the main storyline, I’m also keen to see Yeon Hwa’s journey of growth and budding romance with Nurse Park, after seeing her being so beaten down by In-Beom in this episode.

With only four episodes left to go, there’s still lots to look forward to and I will certainly miss my two hours in the world Doldam Hospital each week when the show is over.

Romantic Teacher Doctor Kim Episode 15: The Cornered Stone Syndrome

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What a surprisingly fun episode this was! Unlike most episodes of RDTK where there’s always a barrage of cases to handle, this episode had only one case other than Chairman Shin’s case. The result of that was that we got treated to a lot of fun bickering between Dong Joo and Seo Jung and Yeo Yeon Seok shows himself to be a rather decent comic actor as well. It’s a pity he didn’t get to show this side earlier in this series, because I always felt Dong Joo was such a serious character with no lighter side to him.

The fun begins right from the start of the episode as the both of them enter Doldam in such a chirpy mood while remembering their intense kiss. Manager Jang watches on in bemusement as their acting as if there’s nothing between them is completely and hilariously unconvincing. The next scene that really made me laugh was Dong Joo calling himself “Poker Face Kang” – it’s so funny because I could really imagine people calling him that! He subsequently teases Seo Jung by saying “I love you” in so many languages while she tries to shut him up. You can tell Seo Hyun-Jin and Yeo Yeon Seok really had fun filming those sequences. They later tease each other about not having much friends while Dong Joo tries to get some sympathy from her after fighting with Im Bum. When they realise they might be too obvious, they stage a fight right in the Emergency Room and it’s Manager Jang and Dr. Nam who provide the laughs here as they make bets over whether they are a couple. Seo Jung and Dong Joo do deserve to have some fun and smiles as they have really been through a rather rough time for most of the series. Nonetheless, I do hope that what Seo Jung mentioned about the accident coming to mind whenever she thinks of Dong Joo gets addressed at a later stage.

The focus of this week’s character development is In Beom as he fakes it once again in the operating room by pretending that he has done a distal pancreatectomy before. While he gets rescued in the operating room by Dong Joo, he subsequently responds by getting into a fist fight with Dong Joo. When Master Kim calls him into the room, Master Kim tells him he prefers a cornered stone, as opposed to a round one, because a round stone is “lukewarm” and rubs the corners off him. At least a cornered stone has his own style and thoughts. Master Kim reminds In Beom of how he stepped up when both him and Dong Joo were not around in order to save a patient. Even though his dad was angry at that act, it was that act that made Master Kim believe that In Beom could be nurtured. In Beom is almost in tears after Master Kim speaks to him, and subsequently asks his dad when he can go back to Geodae.

Unlike Dr Song or President Do who do not have their priorities right, In Beom does genuinely want to be a better doctor and works hard at it; however, like Dong Joo earlier, he’s too keen to prove himself as the best doctor and puts his own performance ahead of the needs of the patients. He still hasn’t learnt his lesson from Master Kim’s previous scolding and hopefully this time, he will change. Although Seo Jung jokes about how In Beom and Dong Joo should be good friends since they are the same age, there is much truth in what she says because they can certainly relate as they are facing the same struggles. Dong Joo has much to share with In Beom to help him to grow, if only In Beom can have the humility to learn from him.

The other big development in this episode is the revelation we get into what happened to Master Kim and we learn that President Do was actually using Master Kim’s name to attract more clients and subsequently getting other surgeons to operate on them while pretending it was Master Kim who operated on them. Now, this seems so unrealistic to me on so many levels and I can’t believe a hospital doesn’t have its own system of checks and balances. I did wish that we could see more of President Do’s motivations and some of the pressures he was facing that led him to do that. Nonetheless, if there’s one thing I have to say, his character has been written as consistently evil and corrupt, so I’ll let this go.

As for Chairman Shin’s surgery, there wasn’t really any doubt from the start that he’ll decide to go ahead with it, not just because the show requires it, but because he’s already stated in the previous episode that he’s a fighter and will fight for his life against all odds. It did take some tension out of the storyline and made it less engaging. I did not feel that the presence of Chairman Shin’s daughter added much to already existing tension between Geodae and Master Kim, except that we know she had a critical role to play in his removal.

This episode was indeed a good breather from all the intensity so far and I believe things will start to ramp up big time next week as Doldam prepares for Chairman Shin’s surgery.

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim Episode 14: Paragonimiasis Effect

Wow – Christmas comes early this year as RDTK gives us its best episode ever. It’s such a beautifully crafted episode which is not only chock-full of fascinating medical details, but also many wonderful character moments which I’ve been yearning for from this show for the longest time and this episode delivered all that and more. Warning – very long post ahead!

As we’ve come to expect, Doldam Hospital is swamped with medical cases again. The good news is the MERS case turns out to be a false alarm and merely paragonimiasis caused by unfermented crabs. Once that case is closed, our doctors barely get a few minutes of respite before they have to tend to three patients coming in due to a traffic accident and the comic book artist returns and turns out to have respiratory acidosis, thus requiring an ECMO (Extracorporal Membrane Oxygenation) operation, which Master Kim gets In Beom to do and he fails badly at. We also find out more about Chairman Shin’s operation – firstly that he’s hiding something that has happened 20 years ago, but secondly that he will not just need to change the batteries, but replace the artificial heart altogether. I’m really wondering how doctors/surgeons will feel watching this show – this seems like the perfect show for them to geek out over and I really appreciate the show putting in that much effort to paint the medical scenarios accurately and not just milk them for emotional impact.

That being said, what I really loved about this episode was that every character had significant moments and I can only do this justice by going through our main characters one by one.

Master Kim – It’s been a while since we’ve seen him harshly scold someone, since Dong Joo has now come into his good books. In Beom gets it this time, and as always, Master Kim proves himself to be sharp in observing someone who just memorises facts and theories compared to someone who has done it before. He tells In Beom that his hands reveal everything and then tells him, “Don’t degrade yourself by acting as if you are expendable”. Master Kim made similar comments to Dong Joo previously about him degrading himself or feeling so low about himself and that’s his own style of “teaching”. A more nurturing teacher might have told In Beom that he was valuable in this hospital and should not just think of fulfilling his father’s purpose and then leaving. However, Master Kim likes to deliver comments that hit people hard, which ironically also affirm them at the same time. I’ve come to miss that spark in him and it’s great to see it coming back.

What we see also in this episode is what the surgery of Chairman Shin means to him. Initially it seemed like it was just a move to spite President Do and to prove that a hospital like Doldam could do a surgery as well as Geodae. However, from this episode’s exchanges, it goes deeper than that – especially when Chairman Shin tells him that both of them are similar because they are both men of great tenacity – he is a man who struggles to save lives, and Master Kim is a doctor who tries to save a person’s life. This brings us all the way back to the video he observed of Master Kim saving the chef’s men in the kitchen. Chairman Shin saw that Master Kim is not a doctor who merely administers a treatment, but really goes all out to save that person’s life. Master Kim, who is usually very assured and arrogant, seems intimidated by this operation and even asks Chairman Shin why he has so much confidence in him. At the end of the conversation, we see that what’s at stake here for Master Kim is his own personal beliefs in saving lives and how far he will go for that. It’s his whole status and conviction as a doctor that’s at stake, and the best part is he’s pulling a team along on that journey to discover what it truly means to save lives.

Dong Joo – As a character, Dong Joo is certainly softening up in recent episodes and we’ve even started to see him smile more and have awkward, bumbling moments. I really enjoyed his cute moments with Manager Kang choosing a Christmas present for Seo Jung and his reaction when Manager Kang brought it into the room.

One thing that’s good about Dong Joo is that he knows what he wants and does not back down easily, even after being repeatedly rejected or hurt. In his scenes with Seo Jung, we always see her turning away repeatedly, only to have him hold her again. I was never convinced by their first kiss in the premiere and did not find it meaningful at all; however, the kiss in this episode was really touching for me because both him and Seo Jung have grown so much through their time in Doldam. It was sweet to hear him tell Seo Jung that all he wanted to hear from her was that she likes him, and all other things can be worked out along the way. On a broader note, I once again appreciate how the show is not allowing the romance to sideline the main focus on medical storylines. Dong Joo and Seo Jung’s relationship has been well-developed in recent episodes and it’s certainly cute that everyone in the hospital is rooting for them. How funny was the scene between Master Kim and Nurse Oh when he winked at her and said there was no way he could have stopped Seo Jung from treating Dong Joo!

Separately, Dong Joo’s overworking and giving his all for his patients, sacrificing sleep and his own health is also a sign that he’s learning to do all he can for his patients, rather than focusing on becoming the best doctor. During the whole MERS situation, it was clear that what drove him on was not promotion, or recognition, but merely doing the best for his patients.

Seo Jung – Seo Jung has always been the focus of the previous episodes and once again she shines in  this episode. I thought what Master Kim said about him not being able to stop her showed how she had grown from the meek, timid person who was so subservient to Master Kim’s wishes to the confident person now who’s willing to stand up to him. However, what was more meaningful for me was how the accident with her ex-boyfriend was not swept under the carpet and we are actually going to see the show tackle it. I’ve been rather disappointed with how her PTSD just conveniently disappeared, but deep down, I also saw Seo Jung’s repeated rejections of Dong Joo as being because of that accident or fear that it

might trigger the PTSD. I thought the scene of her dolling herself up in the mirror, putting on make-up then removing it all was a very meaningful one, because it shows how the accident has affected her sense of herself too. She’s afraid that moving on to love someone else would mean that she’s forgotten about the accident, which she still feels guilty about. Let’s hope this is explored further.

In Beom – He’s been sidelined for a while, but comes into focus again in this episode, especially after getting a scolding from Master Kim. He asks his dad in this episode how long he has to stay in Doldam, which is a sign too that he thinks of his time in Doldam as temporary and can’t wait to go back to Geodae. It has not hit him that he is not just a valuable member of the Doldam family, but that there’s so much potential for him to grow and so much to learn here. I sense that there’ll be a journey of greater realisation for him. Master Kim’s decision to still involve him in Chairman Shin’s operation as the assistant to Seo Jung is a sign that he does see potential in In Beom and wants to nurture him. Let’s hope he grows in the upcoming episodes beyond just being someone used by his dad, to someone with a stronger sense of will-power. I do miss seeing him interact with Dong Joo and Seo Jung, so let’s have more of that too!

Manager Jang and Nurse Oh – Are we going to have a romance storyline between the two of them? If so, I say that’s going to be great and so much fun. Manager Jang has mainly been used for comedic effect so far, so it’d be good to give him something more substantial to work with. Nonetheless, he’s been a great character that adds a lot of fun to the show. Really loved how he hinted at Dong Joo to get something for Seo Jung as a Christmas present. And how great was that epilogue! It just made an excellent episode even greater because both of them were so funny together.

Yoon Hwa – Yoon Hwa finally returns in this episode and decides to come back as a resident. We learn that she used to be a resident at Gangwon Hospital who fled because she felt that being a doctor was too exhausting. However, her time at Doldam has inspired her again and she now wants to become a “real doctor”. Her entry as an intern gives a good energy to our team, especially as we see the other doctors so keen to give her advice, especially Seo Jung who’s extremely excited. I foresee some fun moments ahead as we now see Seo Jung playing on a mentoring role and inspiring others too.

Wow, this entry was longer than expected, only because this episode was really solid and everything I had been looking for in the show. We’re certainly in for a great time as the show moves towards its final stretch!

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim Episode 13: The Art of Turmoil

We start moving into the key event that’s driving the entire series, the heart surgery of CEO Shin, and if that’s not enough to keep our characters occupied, we have potential MERS patients which causes the whole ER to be quarantined, a child with lacerations and a patient with appendicitis – all stuck within the quarantined emergency room.

If there’s one thing this show is fond of, it’s with the piling on of intense and challenging medical situations. I’ve always felt that the series would be better if there was more room for the characters to breathe and process what has happened, rather than rushing on immediately to the next set of cases. To the credit of the show, it has created a world with many lovable, fascinating characters, all of whom have potentially interesting back stories. I’d be keen to see them interact more and get to know each other better, rather than simply focusing on cases each week. Nonetheless, I’ve come to appreciate too that what distinguishes this show is its powerful use of medical situations to explore ethical and emotional issues, hence something has to give.

I do admire how the show is unafraid to go into the details of its medical procedures and treats the whole craft of medicine with such affection. Our doctors and surgeons go into lengthy explanations with medical jargon and terminology, yet none of it is boring and they speak of it with such passion and familiarity. The medical jargon being used never sounds forced or fake, and they deliver it so naturally as if it’s part of their everyday language.

This week, we go into the intricate details of the processes involved in artificial heart transplant and surgery with a very beautiful scene between Seo-Jung and Dong Joo. I appreciated all the precise shots that captured the intricate purse string suture process and the focus on both Dong Joo’s and Seo-jung’s hands as they engaged in the practice surgery. It’s so apt that it’s their passion and dedication to medicine that draws them closer together and kudos to the series for not allowing the romance to detract from its medical focus.

What I love about the show is how it also exalts the medical profession and the important work they do. Seo Jung once again shines as she stands firm against the intimidation of Chairman Shin who is adamant about not having a female doctor and insists on seeing Master Kim. She stands up to him not just because of her spunky, courageous nature, but also because of the pride she has in her role as a doctor and her dedication to doing the best for her patients. She knows what she has to do and will give her patients what they need, instead of what they want – regardless of who they are. She’s unafraid to turn off the TV when CEO Shin chooses to ignore her and tells him straight-up that he may have pneumonia.

If that’s not amazing enough, she even stands up to Master Kim at the end of the episode and tells him that she should be the one in the ER treating Dong Joo and not him, because he is a surgeon with a triple board and should be focusing on Chairman Shin’s case. She takes things into her own hands and even does a handover to In Bum, without seeking Master Kim’s prior approval. What’s great about this decision of hers is that it’s not just because she cares Dong Joo, but it’s because she’s thinking about what’s best for hospital overall as Director Yeo also mentions that Master Kim is critical to Doldam’s operations. She makes that decision knowing that it will mean she will give up the chance to operate on Chairman Shin – something she has been preparing for for ages. Seo Jung truly represents someone who’s not focused on being the best doctor who gets all the best patients, but just wants to be a good doctor to meet the needs of her patients.

The other characters unfortunately don’t get as much attention in this episode and I would have liked to see more of their emotional journey. We’ve lost focus a little on In Bum and he’s been rather undeveloped as a character lately. I would have liked to see what was going through his mind when he was not selected by Master Kim, or when he was brought in to see Chairman Shin by Dr. Song, or when Seo Jung handed over the position of first assistant to him. Even Dong Joo gets little attention this week, development-wise, though we do see his tireless dedication and devotion to ensuring everything goes smoothly, to the detriment of his own health. Nurse Oh does get a touching moment with Master Kim as we see her fearless exterior breaking down when she talks to Master Kim on the phone.

There’s so much depth of emotion that this show can explore and delve into, especially for its key characters, and it’s such a waste that it’s not doing so. Nonetheless, what it offers is an episode with lots to keep us engaged and several good character moments here and there.