Please bear with me as I spill 12-weeks’ worth of piled-up feels and love for this series!
Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms
I wanted to start my series review by saying HOSPITAL PLAYLIST IS THE BEST K-DRAMA THIS YEAR!!!
Now that’s out of the way, I could peacefully proceed on why I’m obsessively in love with this another Lee Woo-jung and Shin Won-ho project.
The character introduction for the Mido and Falasol squad instantly hooked me as an audience. The main five characters’ first appearances onscreen definitely set the tone for each of their character arcs. The premiere episode has also effectively laid down the foundation of its main story arc: the new chapter in the life of long-term friends.
The distinction between each member of the Yulje squad was clear from the start. It’s up to the viewers to pick their bias and which character they like the most. But definitely, you’d love them as a whole.
Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do) was the mother hen of the group. This Neurosurgeon knew how to read her friends’ minds. She’s discerning without being too critical. She’s smart and generous in sharing her knowledge and wise words. Her four male best friends all depended on her and in return, they’re protective of her like an older/younger brothers. All of these character traits were carefully portrayed by Jeon Mi-do. I only encountered her in Mother but I couldn’t quite remember her role there. Here in Hospital Playlist, she was given a much better platform to showcase her theatre experience in this new medium. And yass to actress in their 30s getting lead roles like this!
Mr. Always Grumpy of the squad, Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho) could be intimidating to a stranger especially during his scenes in earlier episodes. He has this tough shell that couldn’t be penetrated. But as the story went on, we watched him be child-like to his friends and be sensitive as a boyfriend (**insert Ik-jun’s troll face**).
Out of all the members of the Mido and Falasol, Yang Seok-hyeong’s (Kim Dae-myung) character was the most mysterious for me. Seok-hyeong seemed to be aloof at first but he was definitely an open book to his friends. That erased my impression that he was a loner. He just didn’t need new friends or new people in his life. He was already satisfied with his mother and his squad.
Next: Ahn Jeong-won, the Gardener. A very caring and warm-hearted person especially towards his patients. He’s also sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. And that’s the reason why he’s keen with details in everything that he does. It might seem that his personality was the most consistent among his friends but Ik-jun pointed out at some point that he has traits he only shows to his family and close friends. And that he might seem like a perfect caring Buddha to other people but he’s an overemotional hardworking (but still a scrooge) person for his friends.
Where should I start with Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk), the Weirdest among the Weirdos? That Darth Vader scene really set up the tone for Ik-jun’s character. He’s the most laidback among them. He could befriend anyone in Yulje Hospital in no time. He has this ability to make anyone comfortable around him. This was also what makes him a good doctor. Anyone could study and be the best surgeon in town but not anyone can make a patient at ease even on the verge of death. His character has this charm to people that I couldn’t quite express in words but Jo Jung-suk perfectly portrayed on screen.
The character intros were all told from the perspective of an outsider. Then they followed that up with sequences with their families and the squad. Their interactions were all different. We’ve seen the contrast between their image as a doctor and their personality for people close to them. Those differences intrigued me and reel me into each of the main characters’ individual storylines.
As the series finished laying down its set-up, the character arcs for each member of our favorite squad became clearer. They’re in their 40s with solid life plans and stable careers. One might ask (probably younger people like me) what could go wrong with that, right? We all aim to have such stability once we reached our 40s but Hospital Playlist showed plot twists chose no age.
Song-hwa was too busy with her life that she sometimes forgets to take care of her self. Her cancer scare was her biggest plot twist this season. It made her realize it’s time for her to slow down and as she pointed out to Ik-jun: treat herself to things she enjoyed. And she totally liked her chosen solitude. Then came Ahn Chi-hong’s (Kim Joon-han) advances and Ik-jun’s not-so-subtle hints that he’d soon be making his move. It rattled her because she was so used to be with herself. Her dilemma was whether she should share her space with someone when she clearly didn’t need anyone at all.
Jun-wan was so frank and so true to himself that sometimes it could be too strong for other people to handle. He realized that when he met Lee Ik-sun (Kwak Sun-young). I thought their main conflict would be him dating his best friend’s sister but it was a non-issue (And yes, Ik-jun totally knew their dating! He’s like the Gossip Girl of Yulje. He knew about everything and everyone). Jun-wan and Ik-sun’s conflict turned out to be their different stances on relationship and marriage. And that’s important for someone like Jun-wan who sticks to what he believes in. Remember she broke up with his girlfriend at the start of the series because he couldn’t take her drinking habits. He’s not the kind of person to compromise. But for Ik-sun, he definitely would. Jun-wan tried his best to compromise but his inner desire to settle down was always there. Ik-sun, who’s also as observant as her brother, knew her boyfriend’s needs. That difference made their ship turned into tough waters.
My quiet precious bear Seokhyeong experienced a lot of things this season. He was in the middle of dealing with her parents’ problems when the news of his unexpected baby brother came. As if it wasn’t enough, his father suddenly died and left the company at his helm. His problems keep on piling up that I wanted to jump inside the drama and just hug him. Good thing, there was one bright (bright as a metallic green eye shadow) thing that happened to him this season: his reliable resident Chu Min-ha (Ahn Eun-jin).
Jeong-won, on the other hand, was too emotional and optimistic for his own good. Sometimes he has to learn that a garden wouldn’t always be in full spring and that winter wasn’t as cold as it may seem. In his character introduction, they showed how he already meticulously planned their squad’s transfer to Yulje Medical Center. He’s that kind of person who always plans things ahead and was always in control. So when life dropped some plot twist along his way, he always ended up a crying mess and wished to run away. He also thought that he knew himself so well but obviously, he didn’t. He didn’t even know that he was transparent and could easily be read. He had to realize that he needed to re-examine himself from time to time. He was probably praying for things that he wanted but what he definitely needed to pray for was the courage to accept that He has a different path for him. Another trait he didn’t know about himself: he’s a Denial King.
Unlike Jeong-won, I’ve never seen Ik-jun rattled by life’s plot twists that came his way. When his wife asked for a divorce, he quickly bounced back. It was the best decision for U-ju and for himself. Speaking of doing oneself a favor, I sometimes felt Ik-jun was so busy arranging (you could also call it snooping on) everyone else’s lives that I’m worried he would forget to settle things in his life as well. Lee Woo-jung taught me that timing was so important that once you miss it, you’d never have the chance to get it back. With the revelation of his past with Song-hwa, this felt like Jung-hwan all over again. Ik-jun was talkative but he missed his own chance to say what he should have said a long time ago.
Time and Fallen Leaves
One thing I like about a series with ensemble stories was that we would meet a lot of interesting side characters; characters that also affected directly/indirectly the lives of the main squad. They were created to learn more about the main characters and their dynamic with other people. At times, they were there to stir-up things and put pressure on our leads so that they would take action. I usually call them plot devices but Hospital Playlist’s characters were so precious they didn’t deserve that label.
Since they were all in their 40s, they have gathered a lot of experience and were now sharing their wisdom with the younger generation in Yulje. As we’ve seen throughout the series, Song-hwa was the kind of mentor who knew how to give the right amount of care to residents of Nuerosurgeon Department. She could be strict but she knew how to critic them without being too condemning. I just honestly love how Song-hwa could balance everything in her life. While tending to her own needs, she still has time to listen to residents’ woes and well, be a matchmaker like Ik-jun to his outgoing Chief Resident Yoon Seok-min (Moon Tae-yoo) and Heo Sun-bin (Ha Yoon-kyung).
I couldn’t blame Do Jae-hak (Jung Moon-sung) for becoming Song-hwa’s number one stan. Also, Song-hwa was the total opposite of Jae-hak’s mentor, Jun-wan. I sometimes felt bad for him every time Jun-wan berated him. But it was Jun-wan’s way of teaching. After all, CS Department was not for the faint-hearted. He needed to toughen up and be decisive in everything that he does. Their conversation in episode 12 was one touching moment for me as it showed Jun-wan’s full support to his loyal resident. He’s really the epitome of tough love.
Unlike his friends who were hands-on professors, Seok-hyeong lets his people do their work in their own way. He has his eyes on them and he’s just one call away if they needed him. He’s also good at boosting one’s confidence. That episode when he guided Chu Min-ha through a difficult delivery was one of my favorite episodes in this series. Their conversation after the operation was the first time he shared his inner thoughts to someone outside his squad. During that conversation, he said he likes responsible people and clearly that’s because he grew up with an irresponsible father. I also love his devotion to her mother Jo Young-hye (Moon Hee-kyung). He admittedly said in episode 2 that he wasn’t a good son before but he took the responsibility of taking care of his mother after his father run away. I just wish though that he would also be responsible for his happiness.
There wasn’t one particular resident with Jeong-won in this season but as a doctor, he was very much attached to his patients. He really meant well for all of them but that meant he’s sacrificing himself too much. He wouldn’t sleep at all when monitoring a patient. His friends had to remind him from time to time to take a break or slow down a little bit. The series also showed how he was as a son. I believed Jeong-won got his stubbornness from his mother, Jeong Rosa (Kim Hae-sook). Rosa-eomonim was vehemently against Jeong-won’s wish of becoming a priest. She wouldn’t even give him a chance to explain himself. Instead of being ‘that’ annoying mom, I understood where her character was coming from. She has this fear of being left alone. Even though she has a solid pal in the form of Chairman Ju Jong-su (Kim Kap-soo), she still wanted her son to stay by her side. Good thing, she fought Jeong-won’s stubbornness head on because clearly in Jeong-won’s case, a mother knows best.
Ik-jun as a mentor could be compared to that cool and funny uncle you’d always look forward to meet during reunions. He treated his resident and interns like a friend but protected them like a father. Well, I guess that’s because he’s like that as a father to cutiepie Lee U-ju (Kim Jun). He totally deserves his title as U-ju’s favorite person in the universe.
Can I also mention how Lee-writernim used twin interns Jang Hong-do (Bae Hyun-sung) and Jang Yoon-bok (Cho Yi-hyun) to put a spotlight on characters they’re currently with? I cried buckets when Yoon-bok finally realized Song-hwa was that resident who took care of their mother in her deathbed and inspired them to become a doctor. Yoon-bok’s break down and her grateful cries to Song-hwa send me to Tears Town. It was one of the best scenes in the finale.
Then came winter. A season that could be interpreted into two meanings; a magical time because of its beautiful white snow or a depressing time because of its harsh cold wind. It was the perfect background to show conclusions for everyone’s story arcs for its first season.
Song-hwa chose to live in Sokcho. And no, she wasn’t running away from Chi-hong. It was her way of slowing down and treat herself better. I support that decision very much but hopefully, she’d allow Ik-jun to visit her from time-to-time (haha). I was on the ‘no-lovers-between-the-Mido-and-Falasol’ side from the start but Ik-jun could be an exception to that rule.
Ik-jun was a solidly crafted character. No inconsistency detected. So despite my earlier stance, I couldn’t help but support his confession to Song-hwa. They’ve been through their own ‘harsh winters’ and it’s time for them for another chance at spring. Ik-jun did his part and confessed what he felt about Song-hwa (so smoothly if I may add). My biggest fear though for this OTP was the reality that Song-hwa could be totally over her feelings with Ik-jun. But I also believe that Ik-jun’s timing hasn’t passed yet. As trite as this may sound but people who meant to be together would end up being together no matter what.
While we’re still waiting for IkSong to happen, Jun-wan and Ik-sun’s love story, on the other hand, happened so fast like a summer fling. Thanks to Jun-wan’s frankness, he easily confessed his feelings for Ik-sun. This couple turned ordinary moments to swoon-worthy K-drama scenes. Who would have thought mixing your partner’s jajangmyeon could be that romantic?
But just like a summer fling, our well-loved Bidulgi couple had to decide on whether to continue their relationship into a fully committed one. It would be a hard decision to make despite their love for each other. Jun-wan made his move but we got an open-ended conclusion for him. Did Ik-sun turn him down by returning the ring or it was just a misunderstanding? I’m earnestly wishing to dramagenies to give Ik-sun the courage to compromise some of her beliefs on marriage so that she could continue her relationship with our precious grumpy man, Jun-wan.
I couldn’t blame Seok-hyeong if he feels like he’s already in the autumn days of his life. He went through a lot. It would be hard for him to feel a love like spring or be enthusiastic like the summer sun. He watched people around him suffer and despite all his efforts, he felt like he could have done better. And then came Chu Min-ha. The OB&G resident who could rival Jun-wan’s candor. A total opposite of introvert Seok-hyeong who only opens up with his chosen people. I was so relieved (although it was sad) when his family troubles came to an end. I thought he wouldn’t be like Jeong-won but I guess they’re friends because they’re similar. But unlike the motesolo surgeon, Seok-hyeong’s reason for turning down Min-ha wasn’t because he’s not aware of his feelings for her. It’s because he wasn’t ready for it yet. I adore Min-ha so dearly but I think she hasn’t entered Seok-hyeong’s heart yet. It wasn’t her fault. As that ending scene showed, Seok-hyeong probably has some unresolved issues with his ex-wife. Min-ha deserved someone who could give his whole heart to her – it didn’t matter if it was already scarred or bruised.
Finally, let me talk about THE ship among the ships – Winter Garden. Jeong-won and Jang Gyeo-ul’s (Shin Hyun-been) story appealed to a lot of people because of two reasons: (1) we always root for the underdog; and (2) one-sided love was a universal experience for everyone unless you actually look like Won Bin or Kim Tae-hee.
Another reason why this loveline was well-supported? Gyeo-ul was so pivotal in Jeong-won’s main character conflict. Jeong-won was that kind of character who couldn’t be easily distracted. He was a marathon runner as a matter of fact. He could run a long race in his own controlled paced and without stopping. But Gyeo-ul, for someone who he said he’s not his cup of tea, shook his world with her arrival.
Unlike our beloved (and at times frustrating) spring-like pedia, Gyeo-ul was being true to her name. Her bluntness felt like a cold winter night. That didn’t sit well with Jeong-won but the Maggot scene definitely put Gyeo-ul in a new light. It was also the scene where I started liking this couple. As a romance junkie, that scene has a lot of ‘romantic meet-cute’ signs all over but I tried to ignore it because I was scarred by my Reply 1988 mistake. I should have listened to my usually reliable shipping hunches because Winter Garden was totally meant to happen.
We’ve seen how Gyeo-ul’s crush-at-first-sight turned into something deeper as she spends time with Jeong-won. The Garden, on the other hand, secretly grew affectionate for Gyeo-ul as well. During that scene in the smoking area, Ik-jun laid down every reason why Gyeo-ul deserves all the love… from his friend, of course. She’s not the type to complain or give up even if she’s having a hard time. She might make mistakes but she’s a quick learner. She’s blunt and has a “hard time sympathizing with people” but she’s slowly loosening up and trying her hardest to correct that trait (thanks to a certain someone who gave her a harsh lecture behind a curtain wall at the ER).
That’s why I couldn’t understand why some hated her character. Was it because she’s not the usual perfect manic pixie dream girl who usually ended up with the soulful brooding character? As an audience whose deal-breakers involve story arcs and endings, I preferred flawed characters because they were more interesting to watch than perfect characters; those types always fell flat for me. An unconventional character, on the other hand, could have interesting ups and downs throughout a story. Going back to Jeong-won and Gyeo-ul, they definitely complement each other. Gyeo-ul could learn a lot with Jeong-won while Gyeo-ul could make Jeong-won see his world in another perspective (not just in his optimistic rose-colored eyes).
And speaking of ending – my ultimate dealbreaker – that Winter Garden ending was too much for my little shipper heart who only wished for Jeong-won to stay. Gyeo-ul’s confession definitely wasn’t flashy but it was beautiful.
First reason: it happened AFTER Jeong-won realized he didn’t really want to become a priest. He decided on his own. Also, he didn’t really ‘give up’ becoming a priest. He couldn’t give up on something he never wanted fully in the first place. It was a childhood dream – a what-if that always crossed his mind. When he finally had the chance to fulfill it, he realized it wasn’t his dream after all. Thanks to the poignant words from Ik-jun and Song-hwa, he finally realized he was doing the world a favor for staying as a doctor. And the bonus of it was he could now unleash all those powerful feelings he developed for Gyeo-ul.
Second reason: Yoo Yeon-seok and Shin Hyun-been were at their best during that scene. Yeon-seok’s teary eyes conveyed that relief, gratitude, and repressed yearning for Gyeo-ul. Shin Hyun-been, for her part, effectively showed how her character was so nervous at that moment. Her voice was breaking, her whole body was shaking, and that little whimper as Jeong-won approached her showed how scared she was on Jeong-won’s reaction. As Rosa-eomonim put it, her confession would be a hit or miss. And it definitely was a hit.
My decision not to pick up Hospital Playlist for a weekly reaction blog would probably be one of my biggest regrets this year. No, scratch that. I’m definitely regretting not picking this up for a per-episode-write-up. There was so much feels to unpack every episode and I have no way to release/express it.
It’s always fun watching a Shin-PD-directed drama. There were a lot of Easter eggs in each frame of every episode. Every movement, props, and dialogues have meanings. They’re either foreshadowing a major plot twist or were hints for the next character development. Reading fan theories were also part of the experience in watching this series because well, I’m not that good at finding those hidden clues.
For the story itself, Lee Woo-jung has now mastered the slice-of-life genre. She could transform ordinary moments into touching, romantic, or funny scenes. I’d like to repeat what I’ve said in one of my TCA articles. The dramas she wrote needs “no magic, no exaggerated confrontations, and no intense-running-across-the border scenes.” In Hospital Playlist, she proved that presenting life as it is could be dramatic and interesting to watch on its own. It just needed the right narrative structure and narration has always been her strong suit.
A combination of good directing, believable production, excellent actors, and compelling storytelling was what made Hospital Playlist one great series. It has been a delight to watch it every week. And now I’m not sure what to do with my Thursdays anymore.
-Dr. Bong’s Salon should still continue in season 2!
-Quick season 2 guesses:
Song-hwa would take her time about Ik-jun’s confession. I feel like they’re the last couple to have their HEA.
Jun-wan and Ik-sun would have to make their decision and intensions clear or else they wouldn’t survive.
I’m so ready to watch adorable scenes from the now official Winter Garden couple. I also like to watch them get to know each other on a more personal level. I doubt Jeong-won realized his dating a K-pop stan yet haha. Plus, he still didn’t know that the guy who dropped her off was her brother. There should also be a lunch/dinner appointment with Rosa-eomonim at Yangpyeong okay?
Seok-hyeong and Chu Min-ha would have their positive ‘endgame’ in Season 2 because they’re Ik-jun’s next matchmaking mission.
-I would surely miss the GS samchons
-I would miss Ik-jun’s weekly dose of goofiness
-I’ll be listening to the whole OST to cope up with my sepanx for HP. Also, when will Jung Kyung-ho and Kim Dae-myung have their solo during the band practice?
[Image credit: tvN]