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.
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:
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!