What happens when the only competent doctor in Joseon is down for the count, and the only other doctor is a psychopath? Epidemics, fires, victims and villains all come to the fore as Hyuk struggles to do right by his principles, even when fate seems to be working against him.

This episode showed some improvement, and I liked that it dreamed high, even if it couldn’t quite achieve everything it was going for. It’s honestly part of the draw this series has, and the reason I’m sticking with it – that underneath this clunky directing, a story waits. Then again, I might be the one dreaming high on that front.

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

Finger Smasher finally arrives with some IV prototypes, which include glass bottles for fluids and large (really, really large) needles. Hyuk demonstrates how to insert an IV to Young-rae as he performs the procedure on Myeong-bok, and after one go he’s all, You’ve got it now, right? Sure. How hard can it be?

Now we’re back to the end of the last episode, with Kyung-tak threatening Hyuk, “Did you bring her here?” Young-rae jumps in to defend him, claiming that it was her idea to come, but Hyuk one-ups her by saying he did bring her here. Hyuk: “The people who live here believe her and rely on her. That’s why I brought her here to help me.”

Kyung-tak: “Do you know who this woman is to me?” Hyuk: “I know. Your fiancée. This is not a job that anyone can do. You have an incredible person as your fiancée.”

Hyuk’s acknowledgment of their bond seems to calm Kyung-tak down, since he’s not willing to engage in a pissing match.

Okay, I officially love any exchange between Ha-eung and Kyung-tak, strictly because Ha-eung never wastes an opportunity to call Kyung-tak out for being a concubine’s son. He also firmly puts Kyung-tak in his place by saying that if he planned on killing Dr. Jin, he’d be killing all the patients inside the hospital too.

They’re interrupted by Heo Gwang, who’s taken up helping Hyuk now that he’s well. Myeong-bok’s health is declining, and Ha-eung is restrained outside while Hyuk tends to the boy who can barely breathe. The only (small) hope they have is to administer a shot in his thigh, where the artery is largest.

Myeong-bok is wise beyond his years, and asks without hesitation, “Am I dying?” Since Hyuk knows his history, he tells Myeong-bok, “You are not going to die. I know. Myeong-bok, later on, you will rise to the noblest position.” Hey Hyuk, how about not telling the future king he’s going to be king, just to be safe?

He eventually passes out, and Hyuk administers the emergency thigh-IV. Outside, Ha-eung earnestly pleads with the heavens to save his son.

The next morning, Young-rae finds Hyuk still glued to Myeong-bok’s bedside. She urges him to rest, though he’s insistent to stay, explaining: “Before, I’ve never… I’ve never been this desperate to save someone. Just because I was a doctor, I was saving people. That’s all I thought about. I… I really want to save this child.” She pats his shoulder for support, which is like third base in Joseon.

And just like that, Myeong-bok opens his eyes. Everyone crowds around him outside, cheering him on like they’re at a sports rally when really they just want him to urinate (a sign that he’s over the disease). The orchestra swells and everyone smiles when he does – he’s cured!

Ha-eung has only Hyuk to thank: “Ever since the first time I saw you, I knew you were someone special!” Hyuk quips back, “So is that why you tried to sell me to someone else?” HA. Please just keep these two together.

He gives Hyuk all the money he “borrowed” from Joo Pal for the hospital’s use, before they’re interrupted by an anonymous delivery of corn syrup and salt to make Joseon Gatorade.

Everyone is in high spirits, and Young-rae claims excitedly: “I guess there’s someone who understands what you’re trying to do, Doctor Jin.” Who could it be?

Ha! Anonymous gave an anonymous donation.

The day is brighter, and everyone’s feeling better. Even Finger Smasher’s wife is able to walk again. Heo Gwang comments that the number of patients is getting lower, which means the cholera epidemic will end soon… and as if on cue, Hyuk doubles over and vomits. Oh no! Someone call a doc-… oh wait.

We hear Hyuk ask himself disbelievingly in voiceover, even when he’s passed out, “I have… Cholera?” In case we weren’t sure. Young-rae gets him into the hospital where he continues to vomit, and doesn’t budge when he tries to shoo her away. Young-rae: “Now you aren’t a doctor, you’re a patient. Since you’ve saved everyone until now, it’s time for us to save you. Do you understand?”

Meanwhile, Minister Kim feasts with his son, Doctor Yoo, and Chun-hong. Under Kyung-tak’s orders an officer comes with news from Hwalinseo, and declares that Hyuk has come down with a severe case of cholera. This comes as a shock to everyone in the room, as they wonder if anyone is there to treat him.

The officer tells them that Heo Gwang is on the case, and hesitates before naming Young-rae as well. Now this doesn’t sit well with Minister Kim, and Kyung-tak covers for his fiancée by telling his father that he told her to help those in need.

“Do you have a big heart, or do you not have one at all?” Minister Kim demands to know. There aren’t enough excuses for Kyung-tak to come up with to appease his father, and Doctor Yoo shows his poor sense of comic timing as he teases Kyung tak: “It seems you do not know women very well yet.”

Back with Hyuk, Young-rae puts his teaching to good use by successfully inserting the IV needle into his arm. Only she can’t understand his instructions – she doesn’t know what a liter or ’30 minutes’ is – and even in his weakened state, he breaks it down for her. (Thirty minutes equals two gak, an archaic way of measuring fifteen-minute spans.)

Outside, Myeong-bok worries over Hyuk’s fate. Ha-eung: “He will definitely be alright. Do you know why? Your father won’t let him down like that. Like he saved you, Myeong-bok, I will definitely save Doctor Jin as well.” And so he shoulders a barrel of feces, presumably to dispose of it outside the village.

Lying on a hospital bed, Hyuk realizes just how terrible cholera is now that he has it. (Although it seemed like he was plenty sympathetic to the people’s plight without, but alright.) He watches Young-rae concocting gatorade nearby and thinks to himself: “I’m scared. I’m scared out of my mind. I don’t want to die like this.”

Chun-hong finds a frustrated Kyung-tak drinking his Young-rae related sorrows away. She mentions that Young-rae’s feelings for Hyuk must be sincere for her to have gone to Hwalinseo, which is about the last thing Kyung-tak needs to hear. But it seems she’s here to warn him of something she’s seen in his future: “Soon… you will be in danger.” Way to be vague.

“What a bewitching talent you have,” Kyung-tak quips back as he readies to leave. “Look for another patron if you want to tell fortunes.”

Ha-eung returns to the hospital to ask about Hyuk’s health, and Heo Gwang isn’t optimistic since they’ve got more patients than supplies. At least Ha-eung has his wits about him: “I don’t think this problem will be solved just by standing around.” He resolves to get support from the higher-ups, most notably Minister Kim, since he owes Hyuk his life.

Heo Gwang finds the idea that noblemen would care for the plight of the poor and cholera-stricken laughable. Ha-eung is much more optimistic that royal officials will be willing to lend a hand once they find out Hyuk’s methods are working and goes off to try, leaving Heo Gwang to laugh at the antics of a king’s relative, which has Myeong-bok fuming. Heo Gwang: “When you scold me like that, you look like a king.” If only you knew, buddy.

Later that night, a nervous Young-hwi bumps into Kyung-tak on a deserted road. Kyung-tak is oddly suspicious of his old friend, who’s suspicious right back, until he realizes something: “Are you drunk?” (Wait, is Kyung-tak drunk? That’s an impressive level of functionality.)

They end up sitting near a pond they used to play at while Kyung-tak takes a somber trip down memory lane. He remembers Young-hwi fondly because only he and his sister were willing to play with him as a child while everyone else treated him with disdain (because of his illegitimate birth). He even says that he was relieved that Young-hwi’s family lost their money, because otherwise he could have never dreamed of marrying Young-rae, the woman he’s loved ever since he was young.

Kyung-tak: “Because the woman I love is a nobleman’s daughter, my heart was torn just looking at her. How sad it is to call my father, ‘Your Excellency,’ who can cast me away at any time… Do you know what it feels like to dread such things? No, you can’t know.”

Young-hwi does sympathize, claiming that Kyung-tak isn’t the only one to suffer because of his class, and it’s clear that this is the idealistic, Anonymous leader talking. He’s a ‘fight the system’ sort of person, one who thinks that those in power are to blame for neglecting the people. But he quickly catches himself from such dangerous talk, and turns the subject back to Kyung-tak – everything’s gravy because he has his father’s acknowledgment and his fiancée, right?

Wrong. Kyung-tak reminds him that he hasn’t received his father’s acknowledgment, nor has he won Young-rae’s heart. On that note, Young-hwi claims that she went to the hospital because of her kind heart and nothing more. Kyung-tak isn’t so sure.

Hyuk isn’t faring well, and while I’m simultaneously happy(?) that the show is staying true to the effects of cholera by covering his bottom half with a sheet, it’s also an unpleasant reminder that Hyuk is probably having the runs through this entire scene. (I know, Everyone Poops.)

He’s delirious, and though it’s Young-rae wiping the sweat from his brow, all he sees is Mina. A romantic ballad plays as he grabs Young-rae’s hand while begging Mina not to leave, and she has to forcibly pull her hand away before getting some fresh air. She thinks to when he first asked her if she’d seen him before, and wonders, “Mina. Did he say ‘Mina’?”

There’s a big to-do when Chun-hong and her fellow gisaeng arrive at the hospital dressed in all their finery. There’s an immediate bit of animosity as she brings up Minister Kim’s party (and thus the CPR incident), with Young-rae claiming she doesn’t remember, which rings false. She’s quick to try and politely dismiss Chun-hong even when she’s brought rice as a gift.

Not to be deterred, Chun-hong comes right out with it: “Could I take Doctor Jin with me?” This takes Young-rae by surprise, and they very politely argue back and forth about who could take better care of him, with Chun-hong insistent because she owes him her life. Not to mention, the fact that he’s on the very brink of death is well-known, so she wants to be with him if he breathes his last.

Chun-hong seems to win the debate on the grounds that her place is heated and less bug-infested (a winning argument, in my book) and readies to go in and fetch Hyuk, but Young-rae stops her with the same “You shall not pass!” talk she gave Kyung-tak. I like that Chun-hong instantly calls her out on whether she speaks for Hyuk or herself, and adds, “If you truly care for him, figure out what is really the best for him. Also, you staying close to Doctor Jin is not medicine, but poison.”

Like most oracle talk it’s vague, and Young-rae doesn’t have time to catch its meaning when Heo Gwang comes rushing out to tell her that there’s trouble with Hyuk. She rushes inside while Finger Smasher keeps Chun-hong outside.

She finds Hyuk seizing/convulsing shortly before he just goes limp. Heo Gwang frets that he can’t find a pulse and that they need to administer more of the IV fluids, but there’s no way to do so. That’s when Young-rae remembers the femoral artery, though they’ve got a bit of a decency problem since Hyuk is naked under the sheet, and she needs to stick the needle in his upper thigh.

Heo Gwang can’t perform the procedure because he’s never seen it done, and after Young-rae gets an accidental glimpse under the sheet she steels herself and goes for it while Heo Gwang holds the sheet over Hyuk’s crotch for modesty’s sake. (He clucks in dismay the whole time though, since it’s unseemly for a noblewoman to be so touchy with an unrelated man’s thigh.)

Chun-hong can see Young-rae from outside, and turns to leave. When asked why, she admits that she underestimated Young-rae because of her noble birth. She leaves now knowing that Young-rae is capable of caring for Hyuk.

Meanwhile, Ha-eung has camped outside of Doctor Yoo’s home, and jumps at the chance to talk to him. He extols the virtues of Hyuk’s treatment and appeals to Yoo as a doctor to share Hyuk’s method with the people. Doctor Yoo seems to agree – he’s a doctor too, after all – and claims that he’ll take this issue to Minister Kim so that the royal court can be involved.

Young-rae keeps vigil at Hyuk’s bedside, urging him to come back.

Hyuk enters a delirious dream where he’s back on the hospital roof in the future, and wonders to himself whether this is a dream or reality as he steps onto the ledge. And somehow he thinks falling off the ledge will land him back in his own world, which would make some sense, only that the ledge he’s standing on is already back in his own world (even if it’s the dreamworld) so why wouldn’t he just, you know, stay put?

But it’s off the roof he goes, and only as he falls does he think that he shouldn’t leave Young-rae this way. And then her voice calls through the void: “Don’t go. Please come back, I beg you.”

And in the real world, Hyuk stirs back awake. Heo Gwang runs outside to tell the masses while Hyuk focuses on Mina. “You told me not to go. You asked me to come back.” Tears slip from his eyes, and hers. He continues, “Thank you, for calling me.”

The whole village cheers to hear Hyuk has regained consciousness, and so the whole village tramples into the hospital to see him (because an operating room is just a clown car that hasn’t happened yet).

Everyone’s happy, Ha-eung makes jokes, and even tells Hyuk that his treatment has been approved by the royal doctor and that the royal court will lend their support. Hip hip hooray!

So it’s (un)intentionally comical, then, that we immediately cut to Minister Kim repeating Doctor Yoo’s words all, What? Set the village on fire?

Yes, it’s just as the good Doctor Yoo has ordered – that the village of the sick and poor be burned, with all its occupants inside, to prevent cholera from spreading. So I guess he’s just a villain through and through because he wants to massacre an entire village for no reason other than that they’re poor, because he’s heard firsthand that the cholera outbreak is under control. Even then, what is wrong with you?

Kyung-tak has been the only voice of reason so far, though in the end he’s overruled by his father. He refuses a direct order, claiming, “I cannot commit such an evil act.” Which doesn’t matter to Daddy, since he orders the man outside to send word to the police bureau to burn the Sick Village.

So he gets sent outside so that Dae-gyun can talk about him inside, claiming that Kyung-tak is only incensed because his fiancée is in the village they’re about to burn. Minister Kim steps in on Kyung-tak’s behalf to defend him, “Even though he’s a concubine’s son, my blood flows through his veins. Do not say things so lightly.” Good sir, are you schizophrenic or just simple? If you like your illegitimate son so much, maybe it’s in your best interests not to make a kebab out of his fiancée.

Only, Kyung-tak storms back in the room and kneels before his father, asking to carry out the village-burning order after all. I hope this is a plan and not a turn toward evil…

…And it looks like the latter, because only Young-rae gets chloroformed by police and taken straight to Kyung-tak, who then orders that the whole village be burned to the ground.

Meanwhile, Ha-eung and the villagers go to meet the arriving officers, thinking that their medical supplies have arrived. Their smiles fade as we cut to Hyuk, who’s more or less back to normal, until he hears the villagers screaming outside: “FIRE!”

It’s pandemonium outside as officers set fire to every building. Ha-eung runs inside the hospital to tell Hyuk, and together (with Heo Gwang) they rush the patients out before they’re burned alive.

Finger Smasher notices his son is missing, and his wife goes searching for him. She finds him hiding inside a burning house, but just as they’re about to escape the doorway explodes in flames, trapping them inside.

A soot-covered Hyuk has helped his patients to safety, and only then does he notice that Finger Smasher is being held back from running into the burning building to save his wife and child. Hyuk attempts to go to the rescue but is held back by Ha-eung, who claims that it’s too late.

Hyuk sinks to his knees and cries, while Young-rae is forcibly carried away by Kyung-tak on horseback.

Cut to: The villagers putting out the last of the fire with buckets of water. Well, that was fast. Inside they find the boy and his mother, her back charred and black. She’s gone, but her son is still alive.

On a hill overlooking the burning village, Young-rae shakes in rage as she tells Kyung-tak: “Even if you work for the government, there are orders you should follow, and there are orders you must not follow.”

Kyung-tak claims that the order was going to be carried out with or without his consent, so, “I felt I needed to do it myself. That was the only way I could save you.” Young-rae isn’t moved, and wonders if he doesn’t fear heaven’s wrath for what he’s done.

Kyung-tak: “Since long ago, the heavens have never been on my side.”

With that declaration of future villainy he rides off, leaving Young-rae alone on the hill.

The entire village is in mourning as they bury the mother who died. Hyuk holds back his tears as he comforts her son. But in voiceover we hear him wonder:

“Maybe this woman should’ve died after she saved her son from the horse. No matter how hard I try, I cannot change what has already been decided here. But, to these people, words such as ‘history’ or ‘destiny’ mean nothing. They only want to survive. I cannot feign ignorance. I cannot make excuses. I must cure their pain. That is my destiny.”

On their exodus, Hyuk and Ha-eung spot Young-rae still on the hill. Hyuk seems to surmise everything that’s happened just by looking at her. Ha-eung looks over Hanyang and notes how peaceful it is when houses outside of it are burning and people are dying, “But it seems the people living there cannot see or hear anything.”

 
COMMENTS

And… cut to credits? This show has got to clear up its cliffhanger issues.

There were some interesting things going on this episode, but the execution sure knows how to muck things up. I can’t blame it all on the directing since there are some serious writer fallacies going on, which leave more head-scratching moments than presumably intended. For instance, Hyuk’s dream. What was supposed to be happening there? If we just look at the scene symbolically, absent of setting, then it’s Hyuk returning to life because he heard Young-rae’s voice. Fine. But why throw in the roof/time travel symbolism? Keep one symbol to one purpose, guys. Unless they’re trying to tell us that falling off the roof = time travel = life, which is still too convoluted, and where on earth is that time-traveling jar fetus anyway?

I get that Minister Kim, Doctor Yoo, and Dae-gyun are going to make up some sort of axis of evil, but darn if it’s not the usual suspects. Minister Kim has a really confusing tendency of saying sympathetic things in a scene only to be moved to complete unsympathetic acts in the next, I can only assume Doctor Yoo is just inexplicably evil to turn on his word and burn a village for no real purpose (other than mustache-twirling rights), and Dae-gyun is just there to be awful, as usual. This means that Kyung-tak, by virtue of now shunning his better self to please Daddy and save (and thus alienate) his girl, will probably be joining their pack, because he has no one else. What terrible company for a promising character to keep.

Hyuk’s inner monologue about whether saving the woman just dragged out her fate is an interesting conflict to explore, but also opens up a whole new can of very complicated worms. I like that he’s wondering how much his actions impact what’s already fated, but I’m not liking the vibe we’re getting so far that his actions can, at most, only delay the inevitable and that history will compensate for his meddling. But then by his logic, the woman he saved died as fate intended, so what about the son she saved while she was on borrowed time? Shouldn’t he be shuffling the mortal coil pretty soon?

I like Hyuk and his heart of gold, and I’m all for him saving lives, but it’d be nice to know that he’s not in some weird vacuum where nothing he does matters. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

 
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