A cholera epidemic sweeps Joseon, and it’s up to Dr. Jin to save the day. There’s almost as much dramatic material as there are bodily fluids in this episode, so a warning to those with weak stomachs: This is not your ideal hour of television. However, if you can look past that, you’ll find that maybe, just maybe, Dr. Jin is starting to find its own voice.
Ratings dropped to 13.6% while A Gentleman’s Dignity rose to 14.8%. Not too surprising when you give your viewers a choice of Jang Dong-gun or diarrhea.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Explosive diarrhea! No, seriously, that’s how we open this episode. There’s vomiting, too.
News of a cholera outbreak has reached the palace, and a roomful of ministers stew over what’s to be done. Bodies are lining the streets in the Southern provinces but they’re more concerned about Hanyang, and decide to shut the capital off to outsiders in order to prevent another epidemic.
Doctor Yoo approaches Minister Kim after the meeting to ask how they should handle the spread of information, specifically how much reaches the King’s ears. Minister Kim makes it clear that all news of the outbreak must be reported to him and him alone because their positions are at stake, and because plans like these always work out for the best.
But, he has a thought – maybe Dr. Jin will know what to do. Doctor Yoo gets a strange gleam in his eyes; he knows just the place to put his rival doctor.
Hyuk and Young-rae arrive home to find Kyung-tak waiting, though she’s a bundle of nerves and goes straight to the water basin to sterilize herself.
Hyuk just kind of stands there while she’s clearly frightened out of her mind, and she manages to eke out that gwejil (ye olde term for cholera) has started to spread again before huddling away in the corner of her room.
Kyung-tak has come with an order from Doctor Yoo to send Hyuk to Hwalinseo (a Joseon-era hospital/triage unit/village for the sick located outside Hanyang) to treat those suffering from cholera. He also warns Young-rae’s mother against going outside for the time being. Everyone’s scared, and rightfully so.
So Kyung-tak and his men go to make their outbreak announcement to the same deserted street, and the same cholera-ridden man gets sick again right in front of Kyung-tak. He’s taken away by the police, since anyone suffering from the disease is to be taken outside Hanyang.
Hyuk gives us some Cholera Facts in voiceover as we see officials dumping disease-ridden people at Hwalinseo to die, and then dumping the bodies into mass graves. Spread by contaminated food and water, cholera caused uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, and ultimately death was the result of dehydration. He knows that no one knows the cause or treatment of cholera in this era, and wonders what he can do.
The maidservant comes to tell Mom of how their neighbors have been carted off or died due to cholera, and Mom goes searching for Joseon-era prevention methods – cow blood and talismans.
Young-hwi tries to stop Hyuk from going to the common people’s hospital filled with quacks, but Hyuk calmly assures him that he’ll do what he can there. Young-rae overhears their conversation and rushes to Hyuk, “Don’t go! What will you do if you get sick as well? You could lose your life.”
Hyuk tells her not to worry, and gives her some cholera prevention advice – like boiling all their food and water, and covering their mouths around sick people. He leaves for Hwalinseo with her brother, who explains Young-rae’s terror concerning cholera; that’s how their father passed away five years ago. She was the only one who watched over her father until the bitter end.
He takes Hyuk to the gate leading outside the city but no further, since no one is allowed back in. Once again he tries swaying the ever-calm Hyuk to no avail, and finally places his trust in him. To his family cholera is not just a disease, but an enemy, and he hopes Hyuk will defeat it.
A harrowing sight greets Hyuk once he passes through the door to Hwalinseo – the streets are filled with the dead and the dying, with those still living crying out to be saved. He follows a skittish doctor into a room filled with other doctors packing up their supplies. They’re getting ready to abandon the hospital.
Hyuk’s in disbelief, and asks where the doctor in charge is. He finds resident quack HEO GWANG (Jung Eun-pyo) giving talismans to the patients as he performs a useless ritual, claiming it will cure cholera. You can sort of see Hyuk facepalm.
At Young-rae’s house, the maidservant pours cow blood on the doorways as Mom puts up talismans. Young-rae knows the act is useless, and that cholera won’t disappear with superstitions.
Hyuk is facing an uphill battle when he seriously questions Heo Gwang about the use of talismans – does he really think they’re blocking the epidemic? Heo Gwang: “Of course. This is an epidemic caused by a twenty-year-old ghost, this cat talisman will protect you from all health failures!” Er.
Holding up the talisman, Hyuk asks him again, “Do you really think that you can block the epidemic with this piece of paper?” He’s starting to lose his cool, because Heo Gwang won’t listen to reason. He claims he’s a descendent of the legendary Joseon doctor Heo Joon, which, pfft.
The problem is, only Hyuk knows that cholera is caused by bacteria and that dehydration is what kills people. He tries explaining that giving out clean water will save lives, an idea which Heo Gwang thinks is laughable. He makes Hyuk look like the quack by exclaiming to the people gathered that they can just drink water and be cured, and everyone laughs at such a silly idea.
He’s all too happy to undress and show Hyuk the talismans stuck to his body, claiming them as the reason for his survival thus far. Only he stops suddenly… and then projectile vomits all over Hyuk. Whoops.
Meanwhile, Ha-eung has to explain to Chun-hong that Hyuk has gone to treat the sick, since he promised he’d bring him to her. He tsks that it’s a waste since cholera can’t be cured with just skill, though she believes it’s possible with someone like Hyuk. Chun-hong: “This humble girl, having sold my smile, knows a little bit about people. However I see it, that man is no ordinary doctor.”
It’s clear she has affection for the man who saved her life, though she’s soon confronted with the man who didn’t save her – Dae-gyun. He’s got the matter of her throwing him off the boat to talk about, but for the moment the cholera outbreak is more important.
Ha-eung follows Dae-gyun and his cohort out, wondering if there’s anything he can do help. The fellow minister is all, Oh no, how could we dare use the relative of the royal family? They want nothing to do with him.
They run into a small boy and instantly recognize him as Myeong-bok, Ha-eung’s second son. He’s carrying a book from his attendance at a seodang (a private, Joseon-era elementary school) that his father instantly rips from his hands.
He berates his son for studying, since relatives of the royal family were forbidden from holding public office. (Therefore, his son is aspiring to something he can’t do.) Minister Jokerton makes fun of Myeong-bok studying while Dae-gyun simply says it’s for the best: “The smarter a relative of the royal family is, the shorter his lifespan is, they say, due to the possibility of being framed for treason.” Ha-eung’s expression turns sour.
Back at Hwalinseo, the doctors are abandoning all the sick and dying. Hyuk comes upon them leaving as he supports the sick Heo Gwang from falling. He pleads with one of the doctors, “Please help me, it’s impossible by myself.”
But the moment Heo Gwang vomits, the doctor runs. Hyuk is on his own.
The Father/Husband who smashed Hyuk’s finger with a mallet comes running – something’s wrong with his wife, the woman Hyuk saved. She’s also suffering from cholera, vomiting like the rest of the townspeople.
I actually feel bad for Hyuk, because he’s literally trying to save an entire village from dying all on his own. He makes an announcement to the townspeople to bring all the sick into one place, and to bring sugar, salt, or anything like it (to replace electrolytes caused by dehydration).
He sets up a makeshift hospital and quarantines the sick, and does his best to educate the people on methods of prevention. Father and Son bring him all the salt and corn syrup they could scrounge up. At least he’s getting some help, and while they work on making beds with holes for diarrhea to flow through (ew), Hyuk works on concocting Joseon-era gatorade.
Back in the capital, Ha-eung’s wife finds him wandering around drunk and gives him some sobering news – Myeong-bok has started throwing up. Uh oh. He rushes home to carry his son away.
Minister Kim holds a meeting over the cholera outbreak, with Kyung-tak sitting away from the rest. The state of the outbreak is relatively controlled within the city walls, it’s outside that’s the problem – and Hyuk is now the only doctor working to help.
Kyung-tak is responsible for maintaining the city’s security, though when he notes that the limited supplies have led to rocketing prices and decreased public sentiment, Dae-gyun and Minister Jokerton start huffing nervously. I’d wager a bet that they’re the ones taking advantage of the shortage. Minister Kim takes that into account, but notes that security is most important for the time being.
Outside, Dae-gyun does what he normally does, and belittles Kyung-tak for talking out of turn when he’s a bastard.
Ha-eung comes running through the gates with his son on his back, desperately asking for Doctor Yoo to save his son. As soon as they realize it’s cholera everyone recoils, and Ha-eung fights off the men who try to take his son away.
Falling to his knees before Minister Kim, he earnestly begs for him to command Doctor Yoo to save his son. “If you do so, I will serve you all my life,” Ha-eung begs. “My Lord, please listen to the wish of a bad father. Please!” His pleas are earnest, the whole speech moving.
But Minister Kim simply says, “Prince Heungseon. Human life is up to heaven’s will.” So what’s the big deal if one member of Ha-eung’s clan dies? Ha-eung is in shock, and when men come again to take his son, he shields him with his body and gets beaten mercilessly for it. Kyung-tak looks away.
They’re thrown out on the street, and Ha-eung clutches his son to him with tears in his eyes. He promises that he’ll save his son no matter what, and thinks back to Chun-hong’s words about Hyuk being more than an ordinary doctor.
Young-rae and her maidservant travel to the main gate to assess the situation outside the capital, and it’s not good. Guards block the horde of citizens trying to get in, and it’s not long before a riot breaks out as the people rush the guards, resulting in pandemonium.
Separated from her maid, Young-rae finds herself face to face with starving, sunken-eyed men from the riot. They recognize her as a noblewoman and ask for money, growing violent when she claims she has none.
Kyung-tak comes to the rescue, and single-handedly fights off all her assailants. He chides her for leaving the house when he told her not to, and when he notices that she’s still trembling from fear, he gently pulls her into an embrace. (Sad Violin, we meet again! I thought we were through with you.)
He assures her that everything’s alright now, and she murmurs her earnest thanks through tears. It’s the first time she hasn’t recoiled from him, and Kyung-tak can’t help a small smile as he holds her tighter. D’aww. Kyung-tak: “I am also thankful.”
We cut from that scene to the hospital, where everyone is still vomiting. Heo Gwang refuses to drink the electrolyte concoction, convinced that such a simple cure can’t be effective. Hyuk shoves it down his throat anyway.
He meets Finger Smasher outside, and notes that his wife will need an IV drip to keep her hydrated, only no such thing exists in Joseon. Finger Smasher offers his help in making anything Hyuk needs with his lifetime of blacksmith experience, and Hyuk excitedly brings out a syringe to show him the needle, wondering if he can make something like it.
On the ground Hyuk draws out the specifics for the glass bottle portion of the IV, though he’s without a way to get rubber tubing since rubber doesn’t exist yet. Luckily a flashback reveals that he had rubber tubing in his doctor’s bag, only he left it at Young-rae’s house, and there’s no way back into the city to retrieve it.
Finger Smasher has no problem making what Hyuk needs, it’s money that’s the problem – the materials are too expensive. Ha-eung’s voice cuts in as he rushes to Hyuk with his son. He’ll take care of all that Hyuk needs, if he’ll only save Myeong-bok.
Luckily Hyuk is up on his history, because he looks down at Myeong-bok and realizes that he’s holding the future King Gojong. He knows (and we know) that he lived to become king in three years historically, but Hyuk still worries that history could be changed if something were to go wrong.
Ha-eung is stuck outside the capital gates like everyone else, though he notices one of Joo Pal’s suspicious minions acting as an illegal messenger and threatens him into revealing how he’s been getting in and out of the capital. Once he’s led to a hole in the wall, he has no qualms crawling through.
Now this is interesting – we see Young-rae sneak into a room to uncover a cross she’s kept well-hidden, which tells us she’s Catholic. She thinks of Hyuk as she prays, and it’s a nice tie-in that Ha-eung is the one to interrupt her, when only a few years later he becomes well-known for his unrelenting persecution of Catholics in Joseon.
She scurries to hide the cross before going out to meet him. He asks for the rubber tubing and notes that Hyuk is working alone to cure all the sick. Mom freaks out when Ha-eung asks if Young-hwi can deliver the tubing (he’s got somewhere else to be), and Young-rae overhears. When Mom goes to get her she’s already left for Hwalinseo, tubing in hand.
Hyuk tends to Myeong-bok, who murmurs that it would be better to die. “I won’t live my whole life like my father did, being ignored because we are relatives of the King.”
Ha-eung tracks down his own loan shark, Joo Pal, who’s more than unhappy that his own minion showed him the way into the city and the location of their hideout. The air is filled with forced civility as Ha-eung tells Joo Pal that owing him thirty nyang is nothing… how about upping it to make an even two-hundred?
He offers one of his orchid paintings as a deposit, and Joo Pal hilariously hands it over to his minion to use as toilet paper. No deal – he just wants what he’s owed.
Ha-eung plops himself on a stash of grain Joo Pal’s been hiding (supplies have been scarce since they closed off the capital), and gleefully threatens to tell the police. Joo Pal blusters that what he has is pittance compared to the real thief, Kim Dae-gyun. Now Dae-gyun’s earlier visit to the gibang makes sense, and Ha-eung is on the case.
Back at the gibang, Dae-gyun tells Chun-hong that all is forgiven between them for that inexplicable drowning incident. Ha-eung shows his penchant for expert party-crashing as he comes in to demand five-hundred nyang in exchange for keeping quiet about Dae-gyun’s supply corruption.
When he tells them that the money is for the cholera-stricken and not for gambling, the noblemen laugh in his face. Even when Ha-eung threatens to tell Minister Kim, Dae-gyun doesn’t budge: “Why don’t you go tell father and see what he says? I, too, am curious to see who he would really believe – the word of his eldest son, or the empty word of the King’s blood-related punk?”
Chun-hong, who has witnessed the exchange, intervenes with another tactic – she chides Ha-eung for going the blackmail route when she’s sure that if he only asked nicely, then surely Dae-gyun, the very pillar of love and understanding for the citizens and their health, would give him the money. Ha. I like her.
Dae-gyun knows what she’s up to, thinking that she’s taking pity on Ha-eung, but she outsmarts him by claiming that she only speaks for his good – if he gives money to save those with cholera, he’ll be the talk of the town. Dae-gyun is swayed, and her and Ha-eung share a knowing look.
Things are taking a turn for the worse at Hwalinseo, since Hyuk has no more Joseon Gatorade to give to Myeong-bok. Heo Gwang just moans and whines, even when Hyuk points out that a child is taking this illness better than he is.
Unfortunately, the patient next to Heo Gwang has died. It’s a hard hit to Hyuk’s already frazzled nerves, and he’s unable to stop tears from slipping out. This moment would be more heartbreaking if Heo Gwang wasn’t trying to run a one-man comedy show two feet away.
Back at the gibang, Dae-gyun tries to convince himself that the five-hundred nyang he gave was money well-spent. His cohort thinks differently, thinking that Ha-eung will continue to extort them, and suggests that Dae-gyun get his money back and have a “talk” with Ha-eung.
Ha-eung runs to Joo Pal and his gang as shelter from the men chasing after him and his oodles of nyang, resulting in a hilarious exchange between all three parties. He leaves Joo Pal to take care of his attackers, even though Joo Pal has no idea why he’s looking out for Ha-eung in the first place.
As Ha-eung runs with the money, he thinks, “Myeong-bok, wait just a little while. Your dad is on his way.”
Hyuk sits defeated as bodies are put into mass graves. In voiceover he says, “No matter how hard I try, this time period doesn’t have the means to cure an epidemic disease. I thought that I would be able to overcome it somehow, but was I being too arrogant? Exactly what am I doing here? What can I do on my own?”
Young-rae arrives just then, oddly cheerful even with corpses nearby. He tells her to go back because he doesn’t need the tubing anymore, and she surmises that he’s given up just because a few patients died. She gives him some words of wisdom: “If you keep running away every time you are scared, then you will do nothing but hide your entire life. Is that really how a person should live their life?”
She tells him that he can’t win without fighting, and she’ll be there to help him. Heo Gwang emerges from the triage room smiling – he’s finally feeling better! Young-rae: “Look. You have saved yet another life.” She then holds his hand, saying that she also wants to help. They offer each other reassuring looks.
All is better now as Young-rae makes the Joseon Gatorade, and Hyuk tends to Myeong-bok.
Scratch that, since Kyung-tak comes to take Young-rae home. She doesn’t let him past the sacred rope delineating the patients from the non-patients, so Kyung-tak slices through with his sword before wielding it at Hyuk.
And to think, this episode was actually doing pretty well before the cliffhanger.
That aside, I can’t help thinking that this episode (minus the Vomit Cam) would have been a better start for Dr. Jin, rather than having him perform X amount of brain surgeries flawlessly the second he time-warped. Hyuk is best when he’s in over his head, as he was during the prison scene in episode two and the cholera scenes here. Instead of constantly inventing random head injuries for him to treat, this episode had a smoother flow because he could hop from patient to patient without the circumstances feeling so contrived. It gave him a chance to be relatable, which is a refreshing change from his normal state of endless calm. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of that.
The standout scene of the show so far belongs to Lee Beom-soo, who sort of ran a one-man show for a good chunk of this episode with aplomb. Finally we had a scene that let itself be dramatic the whole way through, with Ha-eung begging Minister Kim to save his son. Although the issue of Myeong-bok’s future was technically addressed, it’s still slightly confusing since we know (and Hyuk knows) that he lives to become King Gojong. Under that logic, Hyuk theoretically wouldn’t need to do anything to help him because his fate is guaranteed… Orrrr is it? I’d definitely like to see the show answer its own questions, at least on that front, because now we’re dealing with major historical events.
I’m still not finding much of an attachment to Young-rae’s character, although I like the Catholic development because of the dramatic possibilities that come with it. It’s why this cliffhanger was a little deflating – even though love triangles are part and parcel nowadays, this one is already showing little to no wiggle room for surprises. Hopefully I get proven wrong on that point, and hopefully it won’t just be all downhill from here as far as Kyung-tak is concerned, because life pretty much sucks for him as is.