Cholera? What cholera? Our good doctor has a new disease and a new conspiracy to face, not to mention his own ethical concerns, as he finally comes face to face with how deep his impact might be on history as we might not know it… because this could all be set in a parallel universe, theoretically, right? Wrong? I think all this theorizing has gone to my head.
EPISODE 6 RECAP
We pick up one month after the village burning incident, as Young-rae watches Hyuk give a lecture on human anatomy to a group of doctors.
She’s brought him lunch, and the ingredients used remind him of Mina’s cooking. She asks him about that time one month ago where he called her ‘Mina,’ and asks if she was his sweetheart, asserting that she’s only curious to see if he’d regained his memories. (This one month passing deal seems silly if people talk about events like they happened yesterday.)
Hyuk: “She is a person that is not in this world. Even if I want to meet her, I can’t.”
Ha-eung has a pretty hefty sum to repay to Joo Pal, and he tries getting out of it by proposing a joint business venture to take over one of the docks, an idea Joo Pal finds laughable because merchant guilds and the government wield absolute power where docks are concerned.
He’s a good salesman for sure, but Joo Pal is already wise to his tricks and has enough means to earn money. He reminds/threatens Ha-eung that the cutoff date is the fifteenth, and goes off to complete a deal. Ha-eung follows in secret.
Turns out Joo Pal has a meeting with Young-hwi in a guarded building, and brings a coffer filled with money to the Anonymous leader. It’s their first meeting, and Joo Pal notes that Young-hwi’s fair features suit a scholar more than a leader of a rebel group of bandits, but Young-hwi’s scowl discourages any more questioning.
As trade for the money, Young-hwi gives Joo Pal a large chest filled with pilfered items – gold, silver, jade. Ha-eung deduces the same from his spot on the hilltop, though he finds himself at the business end of a blade soon enough.
He’s brought down to the Anonymous hideout, where Joo Pal instantly disavows all knowledge of him to save his own skin. Ha-eung recognizes Young-hwi instantly, and since the bandit leader doesn’t bother to hide his face, he simply threatens Ha-eung that his life now hangs on his silence.
At home Young-hwi is a totally different person, acting like a momma’s boy and whining for food. Young-rae wonders why Hyuk hasn’t come home yet, which is when the maidservant arrives to tell the household that she saw Hyuk, Ha-eung, and Heo Gwang heading off to the gibang earlier. Young-rae doesn’t like the idea of it for obvious reasons, and Young-hwi is concerned because Ha-eung now knows his secret.
Hyuk doesn’t seem too thrilled to be having a night out, though Chun-hong has been waiting to see him for weeks now. The doctors party it up in another room while Chun-hong entertains Hyuk and Ha-eung privately, and asks if Young-rae ever told him that she came to visit while he was sick. He had no idea, and Chun-hong smiles, “I see. I thought she wouldn’t.”
Ha-eung takes the opportunity to casually ask about Young-hwi, and Hyuk starts squirming the minute Chun-hong makes a casual remark about Young-rae’s beauty and noble bearing. He gets up to leave and she rushes to stop him – she wanted to see him in person to thank him for saving her, but she has another request, a patient that she’d like him to see.
She leads Hyuk and Ha-eung to another room in the gibang and rouses a girl from bed with open sores covering her face and neck. Ha-eung instantly recognizes her as KYE-HYANG, and the two seem familiar, even as she tries to hide her face.
Hyuk takes a look at her, and Ha-eung chides Chun-hong for waiting so long to tell them. “I asked her not to tell,” Kye-hyang’s voice pipes up from behind her fan. “‘Kye-hyang, who left to become a concubine, contracted a disease that rots away her body.’ I did not want to hear those words.”
It’s a sore subject for her, and Hyuk asks her to tell him about the customers she’s had, “Not just the ones you gave alcohol to, but the ones you slept with as well.” Way to ease into that one, Hyuk. She takes such embarrassing questioning about how you’d expect, by throwing a table across the room. He’s has no choice but to leave for now.
Chun-hong turns on him once they’re outside: “Just because we make a living by entertaining men, do you think women like us have no shame?” Hyuk didn’t mean harm, of course, but he has to remind himself what time period he’s in. He explains to them that the disease she has is syphilis, a highly toxic and deadly sexually transmitted disease which rots the body.
Chun-hong is again offended, because she thinks Hyuk is insinuating that only women like her (aka gisaeng) will catch the disease. He has to remind himself that syphilis wasn’t widespread in Joseon before he tells Chun-hong that even he doesn’t have the cure.
Time for some Syphilis Facts, courtesy of Hyuk’s voice and a montage. We hear in voiceover: “Living in modern times, I have not seen this disease at such a severe stage. If there was just an antibiotic like penicillin, treatment might be possible. But, penicillin will not be discovered for sixty-eight more years. Even as I watch this patient die in pain like this, as of now, I cannot do anything.”
Outside, Ha-eung wonders about how such a disease can be sexually transmitted, while Hyuk is sure that if he could just find out who she’s slept with, he could know who gave the disease to her. Ha-eung tells him that Kye-hyang is different from other gisaeng and isn’t the type to just sleep with any man. Which prompts Hyuk to ask what Ha-eung’s relationship is with her, which prompts Ha-eung to look mystically into the distance, the universal cue for an oncoming flashback…
And in that flashback Kye-hyang performs a fan dance for her guests, who include Ha-eung and a lecherous-looking Dae-gyun. He gropes Kye-hyang incredibly inappropriately in view of everyone, and Ha-eung puts on his drunk act in order to spare her more harassment, getting kicked by Dae-gyun in the process. (For the record, this scene made for a really unpleasant and uncomfortable watching experience.)
Kye-hyang tends to Ha-eung’s bruises later, and unsubtly drops many, many hints that she likes him romantically. Kye-hyang: “Does a girl need much to be happy? We don’t need to be played around with by rich nobles, we just need one man’s true love.” Ha-eung understands her meaning, but smoothly covers by feigning ignorance, claiming: “From today on, I give you my word. I will spread the word that you want to be a concubine!” Friend-zoned.
Back in the present, Ha-eung shakes his head, wondering how such an innocent girl caught such a horrendous disease. Hyuk arrives home to find Young-rae waiting up for him, and though she lets it be known that she knew of his whereabouts, he ignores her and goes to sleep. Ha.
He talks syphilis over with Heo Gwang the next day, who’s only read about the disease in medical books, claiming that there is a cure only when the disease is not as advanced. Young-rae arrives just in time to overhear Hyuk say that he saw a gisaeng with an advanced case of syphilis, and that he must examine the other gisaeng to see if they also have the disease. Dr. Jin, OB/GYN.
Heo Gwang has taken a liking to one gisaeng in particular, Yeon-shim, and goes along to the gibang with Hyuk so that he’ll be the only one examining her. Young-rae also volunteers to tag along – if they’ll be examining women, wouldn’t it be better to have a woman around?
However, a group of gisaeng, headed by Yeon-shim, stop her at the gate. She clucks disapprovingly that a noble woman would come to a place where only men are allowed, “As there are rules for noble houses, we have rules in gisaeng houses as well.” Hyuk doesn’t do much to help out, and eventually Chun-hong intervenes and allows Young-rae through on the basis that she’s Hyuk’s aid for the day.
So, this is kind of awkward. Hyuk tells all the girls in the gibang that they need to be examined for syphilis, and none of them are keen on it. They’re also worried that word might get out about the STD, which would ruin their business. Hyuk is once again at a standstill until Chun-hong volunteers to be examined first, to set an example for the girls.
Young-rae takes Chun-hong to undress, and they remain separated from Hyuk and the rest of the girls by a screen. This might be a more awkward option than Hyuk doing the exam himself – is Young-rae going to have to give Hyuk a play-by-play of what she sees under Chun-hong’s skirt?
She apologizes to Chun-hong for this invasion of everything, and Chun-hong puts on her brave face as she muses, “You must be happy you do not have to receive this kind of examination.” Chun-hong, you are one of the best characters in this show.
With the exam over, they emerge from the room. Young-rae: “She’s clean. More than anybody else, she has the cleanest body.” TMI. The rest of the girls are still hesitant and Chun-hong explains that it’s because they’re afraid – even if they’re diagnosed, there’s no cure.
News of a visitor takes our group back to Kye-hyang’s room, where they find Doctor Yoo checking her pulse. He’s upset that Heo Gwang didn’t report this sooner, explaining that this gibang is where royal officials and noblemen come to “relax their minds from their hard work,” and that if this disease were to spread to them, it would shake the foundations of the nation.
So, he proposes that he treat Kye-hyang himself, only Hyuk sees that he’s trying to feed her liquid mercury. Either he truly believes it’ll cure her, which is unlikely, or he’s just trying to kill her to get her out of the way. He then challenges Hyuk: “If it were you, what kind of medicine would you use for this serious disease?”
And unfortunately, Hyuk doesn’t have an answer. Doctor Yoo is more than happy to jump all over him for it, claiming that he was just as incompetent with the cholera epidemic. He even knocks away Kye-hyang’s fan so everyone can get a look at her disfigured face, for no other reason than that he’s a royal asshole.
As they argue, Kye-hyang eyes the cup of mercury, and finally makes a grab for it to commit suicide. Hyuk knocks it out of her hands just in time. “Please let me die,” she cries piteously. “What is the use in living like this?”
Doctor Yoo gives the report that Kye-hyang won’t live long to Dae-gyun and his lackey. Dae-gyun is only slightly concerned that she’ll blurt things she shouldn’t, and seems assuaged that the prognosis is grim. He offers a chest of money to thank Doctor Yoo, a bribe which he refuses – he’d rather Dae-gyun owe him one, so that he can cash in a favor later if he so needs.
Kyung-tak makes his first appearance of the episode when Hyuk returns to the hospital, having waited because he has a bone to pick with Hyuk about taking his fiancée into a glorified whorehouse. He wants Hyuk to refuse Young-rae entry to the hospital, and Hyuk simply replies that Kyung-tak should look out for what Young-rae really wants.
Kyung-tak: “Whatever I want is what my fiancée would want.” Sigh. He also adds a threat, “If you want to keep your life, then you should not ignore my words.” Just in case we were on the verge of forgetting this love triangle.
Heo Gwang fusses over some moldy tangerines, the sight of which send Hyuk into a series of flashbacks from the future, where wouldn’t you know, he attended a conference on how to make home-grown penicillin using mold. He was half-asleep during most of it, but lucky for him, Mina was very interested and recited memorable lines such as: “We can produce penicillin without the help of modern facilities or chemical methods.” You don’t say.
So Hyuk, using his photographic memory, sits down to draft/draw a way to create penicillin.
Later that night, Ha-eung pays a visit to the ailing Kye-hyang. “There is one thing I regret in my life, that I feigned ignorance of your feelings toward me. That I didn’t hold on to you when you left. Well, even if I had held onto you, I couldn’t have made you my concubine, or given you treasures to make you happy. Even so, seeing you leave like that is one of my greatest regrets. I am sorry, Kye-hyang.”
Aww, sad. She stops him as he’s about to leave to finally tell her tale – that she’d been lured into thinking that she’d be removed from the gisaeng registry and made a concubine by a man who had her locked in a room with a Western merchant from Qing, whom she slept with. Ha-eung’s not upset until he hears that she didn’t even get anything out of the deal.
She pleads for him to kill her, but Ha-eung merely embraces her, his eyes filled with sorrow. Ha-eung: “Everything is the result of my carelessness. I am to blame for your current state.”
Young-rae arrives at the hospital the next morning to find that Hyuk has kept himself locked away since last night. Heo Gwang also tells her about Kyung-tak’s threatening visit, but they’re interrupted when Hyuk comes bursting through the doors: “I need green mold!”
He gives his written plans to Heo Gwang, claiming that he can make medicine with mold – it’s difficult, but not impossible. He sets off for the gibang as Young-rae sets off to find mold.
He runs into Ha-eung outside, who asks him if syphilis is something Kye-hyang could have gotten from sleeping with a Westerner. Hyuk affirms his suspicions, and adds that there’s a possibility to make medicine to cure her.
While Young-rae gathers mold, Hyuk excises Kye-hyang’s syphilis sores in close-up high definition for our viewing pleasure. He needs the puss from her sores to test the medicine’s efficacy, which has Chun-hong overjoyed that Kye-hyang’s life might be saved.
Hyuk runs into Minister Kim, Dae-gyun, and lackey outside, and the moment Chun-hong claims that Hyuk is creating medicine to cure Kye-hyang’s disease, Dae-gyun grows anxious.
Meanwhile, Ha-eung employs a reluctant Joo Pal’s strength to track down the middleman responsible for Kye-hyang’s night with the Westerner, and blackmails him by virtue of knowing his dealings with Anonymous.
Heo Gwang and Friends set to building Hyuk’s penicillin laboratory, although our good doctor’s expression grows serious when Heo Gwang marvels over how great this drug will be, and how it will surely spread and create a new world.
He has a crisis as he looks over all his 21st century trappings, including his cell phone (which flickers on briefly), thinking, “These things shouldn’t exist in this era. Yet, I tried to make penicillin without a thought… This medicine can completely change history.”
Young-rae meets him outside with mold at the ready, only to be shocked when Hyuk rips up the penicillin plans. He doesn’t want to make penicillin anymore, and Young-rae can’t understand why – is he going to leave Kye-hyang to die? “It’s unfortunate but it can’t be helped,” Hyuk says.
She still can’t understand why he’s giving up without even trying. Hyuk: “It’s tormenting me too.” Young-rae: “No matter how tormented you are, you won’t die! But that girl, her life is depending on you. Do you really not care as a doctor?” Hyuk finally loses his composure and shouts, “I am the doctor, not you!”
Dae-gyun takes his worries that Kye-hyang will speak to Doctor Yoo, even though she doesn’t know of his involvement in selling her to a foreigner. Doctor Yoo couldn’t care one way or the other, and tells Dae-gyun that if he’s so worried, he can kill her – whatever suits him best. (Also, it is so distracting that their voices echo like they’re in the deepest cave ever.)
They go to Kye-hyang’s room only to find her missing, and Chun-hong is out of her mind with worry since she’d been talking about suicide. Dae-gyun checks his reactions even as Chun-hong sinks to the floor, sobbing.
This is a win in Dae-gyun’s book, so he leaves with Doctor Yoo. Yeon-shim comes to tell Chun-hong that they’ve left, and Chun-hong immediately stops the waterworks – it was all an act, because she knew they were after Kye-hyang.
Ha-eung has taken her to a shed under Hyuk’s care in the meantime, since he’s found out Dae-gyun was behind the plot. Hyuk looks guilty when Ha-eung asks how the medicine is coming along, saying that there is no medicine. Kye-hyang overhears him.
Ha-eung can’t understand, so Hyuk shouts, “It is a medicine that must not be made!” He tries to explain how it could affect history, which has Ha-eung fuming – what is history if it isn’t defined by people’s actions? What is Hyuk so scared of?
Now this cliffhanger was legitimate, if only it weren’t edited so poorly. Rather than letting it trail off properly, it just seems as though Ha-eung was cut off mid-sentence. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all.
I’m a pretty big anti-fan of the time skip device, especially in a case like we had with this episode, where it’s used as a cheap trick to get us to move right along without actually moving things along. What about those villagers we saw two episodes of? What about that whole conflict with Young-rae being upset that Kyung-tak burned down a village? What about Kyung-tak, period? Also, will this engagement thing ever end, or will it be dragged out as a point of conflict forever? Someone please hire them a wedding planner and be done with it.
Though the issues were deeper this episode, the slow pacing made them almost painful to wade through. I never thought I’d say “I miss cholera” but here I am, missing cholera. I get the idea of exploring the syphilis issue and I like that there’s focus on helping these disenfranchised women so often ignored in dramas, but it’s kind of hard to transition from Hyuk saving an entire village to Hyuk not saving one woman. In fact, the time skip affected him negatively in that he seemed to undergo a factory reset where all his trials and character growth from the village were washed away. He was back to being the calm, “Just Doin’ My Job” Dr. Jin, when I liked the “I Must Save Everyone!” version of him that grew organically from his suffering.
So now we have a version of him that has only just now realized that his actions could have severe historical ramifications, which is a hard pill to swallow from our genius neurosurgeon. To be fair, maybe he thought everything was gravy as long as he was keeping the scope of his work small (although literally inventing IV drips to cure cholera is a pretty big deal), but this is a conflict that somehow feels misplaced. He could have benefited from this kind of crisis earlier in the series, because throwing it in now makes me wonder if Hyuk, despite how well-meaning he is, might not be the sharpest scalpel in the doctor’s bag.