A faint light of warmth and laughter in what was arguably one of the darkest years in recent history, the acclaimed Shin-Lee duo’s witty and heartfelt medical drama “Hospital Playlist” was a comfort to many in 2020. At long last, Yulje Medical Centre has opened its doors once again to a world of banter, hasty meals, and ’90s pop rock. In the season premiere, we reunite with our favourite dorky doctors to find them coping professionally, but faltering in their personal lives.
Korean Title: 슬기로운 의사생활 시즌2
Genre: Friendship, Comedy, Life, Drama, Medical
Channel: tvN, Netflix
Episode Number: Episode 1 (season premiere)
Episode Length: 80 minutes
Interestingly enough, the show picks up where we last left off – many were anticipating a timeskip given that season one takes place in 2019 and Songhwa was set to temporarily relocate to the Sokcho branch, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The opening scene is one we’ve seen before; obstetrics resident and the love of my life Chu Minha courageously sends a text to Seokhyeong, asking him to have Christmas dinner with her at the steakhouse across the street. It’s worth noting that Christmas is regarded as a highly romantic holiday in South Korea, so this is no small gesture. After extensively deliberating over whether or not to finish his message with a “Merry Christmas,” Seokhyeong politely declines, sans the holiday greeting. Rip. Immediately after, he receives a call from his ex-wife Shinhye (ugh), answering it with a pained expression. Her father has a cerebral hemorrhage, so Seokhyeong hurries over to the emergency room.
On his way there, Seokhyeong runs into Assistant ER Professor Bong Kwanghyun, who introduces him to his hoobae Kang Soye. She won’t start working at the hospital as a fellow until next year, but she’s here to learn the ropes. Seokhyeong rushes through the obligatory introductions and quickly asks Kwanghyun about the condition of Shinhye’s father. Bar poor motor responses on his left side, he’s apparently fine. Kwanghyun casually asks if Seokhyeong knows him, but he’s able to dodge the question with Shinhye’s appearance. However, the beautiful stranger’s utterance of the single word “oppa” is all it takes to pique the interest of Yulje’s resident gossip fanatic Kwanghyun.
Meanwhile, at the steakhouse, Minha enjoys an awkwardly lavish meal on her own. Surprise, surprise, the “friend” she assured Seokhyeong she could eat with in his place doesn’t exist. Though she sighs in delight as she downs the steak and attempts to make light of the situation by intermittently swapping seats to finish her would-be date’s meal, her loneliness is evident. She is presented with a complimentary Christmas cake though, which she seems to plan to share with Seokhyeong.
Seokhyeong talks through Shinhye’s father’s condition with Shinhye and her mother, and looks more than a little uncomfortable when Shinhye’s mother asks that he hasten her husband’s bed allocation process “for old times’ sake.” Things only get worse when Shinhye insists on having dinner with him. (Again, ugh.) Minha watches them step out into the snow together as she heads back to the hospital, obviously heartbroken at the idea that Seokhyeong has turned her down in order to spend Christmas with another woman.
Junwan isn’t faring much better either – sitting in his room with the returned ring he sent to Iksun on his desk, he finally manages to get a call back from her. Sensing in Junwan’s voice that there’s something wrong, Iksun teases that he must miss her, and he confirms this in such a lovey-dovey fashion that Jeongwon’s mocking appearance in the doorway startles him back to his usual snappy self. Junwan tells him to “get lost” before nonchalantly informing Iksun that the ring he sent her was returned to him. She doesn’t seem to know anything about it, and promises to collect it when she returns to South Korea next, whenever that may be. Hm, this doesn’t bode well. Iksun may not have returned the ring on purpose after all, but I daresay there’s something symbolic about the mix-up.
Jeongwon calls his mother, hinting at his decision to remain at the hospital rather than join the clergy like the rest of his siblings. Rosa excitedly shares the news over Christmas dinner, exclaiming that she (rightly) suspects her son has a girlfriend. However, nobody is more thrilled than Jeongwon himself, who makes an appointment with Jun to revoke his resignation before diving into his bed and thrashing around in loved-up excitement. Junwan interrupts to ask about band practice, and whether or not there’s dating going on. Panic fills Jeongwon’s eyes, but ever-oblivious Junwan is asking about Seokhyeong. Junwan should really worry about himself though, because Iksun’s voice briefly escapes from his phone, and a faint look of recognition flickers across Jeongwon’s face in the moments following Junwan’s hasty exit. Oh well, he’s too busy grinning over Gyeoul to put two and two together.
Leaving for work at an ungodly hour, Ikjun visits a sleeping Woojoo and he and his sister marvel at how big his son has gotten. It’s almost like he’s aged a whole year overnight! Pft, this is the kind of meta humour I missed. A man has a seizure on his commute, so Ikjun arrives at Yulje by ambulance, running into Songhwa on his way in. It seems like her responsibilities are split between Sokcho and Seoul, though this is a little unclear. In spite of Ikjun’s recent abrupt and indirect confession of love to Songhwa, the mood between the two is humorous and friendly, though the camera notably lingers on their contemplative expressions when Ikjun suggests that they share some coffee.
The sun is up at last, and we get a glimpse into everyone’s mornings. Gyeoul seems especially comfortable, developing routines with her patients, and confidently directing her interns. We love to see it. Jeongwon manages to bait Junwan into admitting that he used his shampoo and lobs toilet paper at him as an act of retribution, the first scene of the season that really capitalises on the main cast’s comedic chemistry.
Jang Hongdo (who’s apparently now a sub-intern) observes Junwan’s surgery, but he’s told off for not having done his background research beforehand. Later in the PICU, Hongdo and cardiothoracic chief intern Do Jaehak fawn over Eunji, one of their patients. Junwan sneaks up on them and reprimands Hongdo yet again, this time for failing a pop quiz. I hope Yoonbok will make an appearance in a later episode too, because the twins really brightened up season one.
Down at pediatrics, Jeongwon and Gyeoul maintain a professional air as they attend to patients. Gyeoul informs Jeongwon that a liver transplant patient, Chaeeun, is in a bad mood, and he goes to console her. When Chaeeun is unreceptive to Jeongwon’s playful greetings, she abruptly asks him how long she’ll be able to live, having heard her mother ask him the same question repeatedly. Oh god. Jeongwon crouches down and admits that whilst he doesn’t know how long she has to live, it’s probably much longer than him.
Over at obstetrics, Minha is in the midst of changing a vaginal pack when she picks up a phone call from Seokhyeong about a new patient. When he realises his resident is neglecting the uncomfortable woman with her legs awkwardly spread in front of her, Seokhyeong tells Minha to finish the job first and call her back afterwards. The next time he sees her, he gently reprimands her for taking his call in that situation and asks her not to do it again. She’s Minha, so naturally, she falls into a mortified funk.
After Songhwa steps out of a surgery, neurology chief resident Yong Seokmin gives her a call, and they discuss the fact that he’s leaving the hospital. Wait, what? They eventually cross paths in the hall, where neurology resident Seonbin, initially not seeing that Songhwa is there too, affectionately bounces up to Seokmin and grabs his shoulder. Songhwa gives the couple a knowing smile and shares her reasoning for sending Ahn Chihong to the Jongno branch. Then she panics that she sounds like a total kkondae, but Seokmin reassures her that she’s anything but. The residents ask Songhwa if she can persuade Ikjun to give lecture somewhere, and when she goes to ask, she walks in on Ikjun and Junwan wrestling over some PPL crackers. In an attempt to salvage Ikjun’s “charismatic professor” image, Songhwa quickly shuts the door and simply tells the residents that he’s happy to do it, while muffled shouts escape from the office. Smooth.
Later on, a grief-stricken mother whose child, Yeonwoo, spent his entire life and death at the hospital comes to visit. The staff seem used to listening to her shaky anecdotes about her friends’ kids and accepting her illicit food gifts, but are visibly uncomfortable nonetheless. She’s especially keen to talk to her son’s former doctor Gyeoul, but it’s only a matter of time before her professor calls her and she has to go, leaving the woman looking quietly devastated.
Minha’s day is only getting worse back at obstetrics. When a patient suffers from premature rupture of the fetal membranes, she has to tell her there’s nothing she can do – the pregnancy won’t be viable. However, the patient swallows her pride and asks to see Seokhyeong, as she’s heard he’s saved doomed pregnancies before. Seokhyeong agrees, and tells the distraught couple that whilst things don’t look good for their baby, he’ll do everything he can.
In the ER, a pediatric traffic accident patient needs surgery, so Jeongwon is called by Soye. After checking up on the patient he asks her to book an OR, and her gaze follows him as he leaves. Later on, as Jeongwon is getting ready to head home, Soye grabs him by the arm and asks if he can buy her a coffee. He awkwardly pries off her arm, and tells her to use his ID to buy it herself. Yikes.
Unluckily for Soye, Gyeoul is in the midst of getting ready to meet Jeongwon. Before heading out, she makes an effort to comfort Minha, who’s bummed out again over giving up on a patient Seokhyeong was prepared to make an effort for. After heading out, Gyeoul taps her feet in front of the hospital, upset that the rain might ruin her specially blow-dried hair. Luckily, Jeongwon swoops in with a back hug and an umbrella. Aw, we finally get a Winter Garden moment. Over dinner, the couple discuss who it might be okay to share their relationship with, and settle on Jeongwon’s friends and Minha. Jeongwon sympathises with the fact that Gyeoul will be working night shifts all week and offers to stay with her at night, before chuckling and clarifying that he’ll be in his office.
Gyeoul changes the topic by shyly asking if she can ask one personal question and one professional question, and Jeongwon consents. The former is about whether they can go to the movies this weekend. (They can.) The latter is a little more complicated, as Gyeoul expresses confusion over why Yeonwoo’s mother keeps visiting the hospital where her beloved son died and seeking Gyeoul out. Jeongwon explains to Gyeoul that Yeonwoo’s mother simply wants an opportunity to talk about her son to the only people who ever knew him, and encourages Gyeoul to reach out first the next time she sees her.
Minha visits Seokhyeong’s office and similarly tells him that she has two questions for him. However, unlike Jeongwon, Seokhyeong keeps his distance and tells Minha that she only gets one question per day. She settles on asking him what gave him the courage to try and help the patient whose pregnancy was as good as gone, and he answers that he simply wanted to do everything he could to help her. Minha asks if he’s not scared of the potential resentment from her family in the event that something goes wrong. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Seokhyeong admits that he is scared, but he needs to put those feelings aside in order to be of any help.
By the time he’s answered her question, it’s midnight, and Minha realises it’s technically a new day, so she can ask a new question. It turns out her second question is a personal one too, as she tentatively asks about his relationship with Shinhye. Upon hearing that she’s his ex-wife, Minha starts to ask Seokhyeong to dinner again, but he tells her that he has band practice tomorrow. In the process, he accidentally overshares about his life and quietly wonders why he’s saying those things to Minha, turning around to look at her as she leaves. Hmm.
Outside the hospital, the boys are waiting for Songhwa in the rain. Ikjun asks Jeongwon if he’s truly not dating Gyeoul, and Jeongwon tells him it’s none of his business, changing the topic to the fact that Junwan’s girlfriend has moved to London. Ikjun expresses surprise, and while Junwan quietly panics that he’s been exposed, Ikjun asks if she knows Iksun. After a moment’s pause, Ikjun whirls around multiple times and tells Junwan that he absolutely needs to ask her – Iksun’s a total insider after all. Okay, Ikjun HAS to be playing dumb at this point. To Junwan’s relief, Songhwa finally pulls up in her fancy new car, and the guys all whoop in excitement.
At the hospital, Yeonwoo’s mother shows up once more, and this time, Gyeoul offers to buy her a coffee. She tells her that she can seek her out whenever she wants to talk about her son, as she’s the person who knew him best. Yeonwoo’s mother expresses her gratitude with a gift of some hair clips, and shows signs of beginning to move on. As expected, Jeongwon’s advice was solid. The perfect backdrop for this tender conversation, the gang are performing Park Joonghoon’s “Rain and You” at band practice. After finishing up, Songhwa ends up driving Ikjun home, and they listen to the song they just practiced. With lyrics about unrequited love blasting through the speakers, the tension is palpable.
The next day, Seokhyeong gets another call from Shinhye, who wants to eat dinner with him again, and he reluctantly agrees. During their meal, she hopefully suggests that they meet up to have dinner together on a regular basis, and he sips his water in silence. Can she please just take a hint already? Meanwhile, Songhwa sits in her car pensively before calling Ikjun and asking if she can drop by his office briefly. He agrees to see her in the evening, and she sighs deeply after hanging up. Uh-oh.
Songhwa arrives at Ikjun’s office, and he senses awkwardness in her demeanour when she declines to sit down. She tells him that she’s here to give him an answer to his question about whether or not he should confess to that long-time friend of his. As Ikjun stares blankly, Songhwa clears her throat hesitantly and tells him not to confess. She says that as a long-time friend, he’d probably just make things awkward. Ikjun nods, trying to hide his sadness, and Songhwa tells him what she figures the woman would say to him – “I want to stay best friends, the way we are now.” Ouch. Songhwa tries to laugh it off with a mocking shudder as she heads off, telling Ikjun not to ask for her advice on this kind of stuff. Left alone in his office, Ikjun sits quietly, looking defeated.
Episode in review:
All in all, I’d say we’re off to a decent start. I must say though, this episode went in a direction that was slightly different to I was expecting. The ending of season one (Songhwa’s decision to relocate for a year, Iksun’s move to the UK, Jeongwon’s new relationship) very much felt like the show was gearing up for a timeskip, but not even a single second passed. The tone of the episode also felt relatively sombre, with almost every scene set at night, and rain as a motif. Rather than springing back into the bouncy, humorous side of the show, there was far greater focus on the characters’ inner turmoil, and the cinematography and acting captured those central emotions of loneliness and hesitancy perfectly.
In terms of Songhwa’s decision to reject Ikjun, I know many fans will be devastated, but I personally appreciated the depiction of what it’s like to fall in love with a close friend, something Jeon Mido and Jo Jungseok have been portraying with outstanding realism and honesty. It’s also worth mentioning that all hope is not lost – their relationship may very well develop later on down the track.
Shinhye’s attempts to weasel her way back into Seokhyeong’s life were also painful to watch, and she’s not making it any easier for him to accept what looks like emerging feelings for Minha. The future of Junwan and Iksun’s relationship looks iffy too, with long-distance dating clearly taking a toll on the pair. The only person who seems to be doing more or less okay is Jeongwon – the guy is honestly just living his best life, and it’s nice to see his relationship playing out so well. Going into future episodes, I’m really hoping to see more of that classic HP humour, more self-contained plots, and some nods to the COVID-19 pandemic further on in the timeline.
This week’s playlist:
I’m honestly a little disappointed to hear the show largely recycling season one’s OST, but Lee Mujin’s rendition of “Rain and You” is a lovely addition. I recently binged “Sing Again,” so hearing his voice made me sit up. Naturally, the band smashed it this week too, with Jo Jungseok’s voice being a great fit for the track. With its delicate acoustic melodies and thematically appropriate lyrics, “Rain and You” may very well end up being one of my favourites from this season.
Most valuable MD this week goes to Jeongwon, for his razor-sharp assessment of the grieving mother’s needs and helping Gyeoul to console her. The decision to show the typically blunt and reserved Gyeoul seek out Jeongwon’s advice felt very intentional, and I think it was an important step for her character.
Though the premiere of “Hospital Playlist 2” makes a slight divergence from the show’s usual approach, quality acting and some interesting narrative choices keep things afloat. With the groundwork laid for character development and stylistic flexibility, the drama sets itself up well for more confident future episodes.