One believes in Eastern medicine, one believes in Western medicine, and they just can’t get along. But they’re going to find out that being brothers in the same hospital is a lot harder than they thought it’d be.
Sound familiar? Vaguely an amalgamation of other medical dramas you’ve seen before? It probably is.
I’ll be the first to say that medical dramas aren’t high on my list of favorite things, and Third Ward promises plenty of the medical drama norm, with a new(?) twist on the “I can save lives better than you!” story mechanic. If nothing else we’ll definitely be getting a pretty show, but whether that’s enough to slake your thirst for high stakes doctoring is up to you.
Note: This is a one-time recap just to get a whiff of tvN’s newest medical dramedy. (And yes, maybe just to get a peek at Oh Ji-ho.)
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Orchestral music swells as we move right into the opening shot: Brain surgery as performed by neurosurgeon KIM DOO-HYUN (Kim Seung-woo). He coolly finishes the surgery and leaves the stitching up to his colleagues, just in time for him to not be on time to a hospital opening ceremony.
In contrast, we find KIM SEUNG-HYUN (Oh Ji-ho) staring at a beautiful vista from his spot on a very high cliff, which he then rappels off of.
We cut back to what seems to be the opening ceremony for Seohan National Medical Center, and the Head Director prepares to give his speech.
Someone’s late to the ceremony, and the frazzled girl jumps out of her bunk bed, eats some breakfast cookies she finds on her floor, and roots through her dirty socks to find the pair with the least offensive stench.
Either she’s living in the hospital or she just lives with another female doctor, who tsks at her roommate’s filthy habits. This is JIN HYE-IN (Kim Min-jung), who haphazardly throws on her own doctor’s coat but is delayed on her way out by a package of cup noodles on the floor which she debates on eating. Does the five second rule not apply here?
Back with the fancy speech, Head Director stresses that their medical center strives for one thing above all else: Communication and harmony between Western Medicine and Eastern Medicine.
Hye-in sneaks in during the speech, drops the cup noodles, then sneaks right back out. Her colleagues just roll their eyes.
We’re jumping from character to character pretty fast here, as a colleague calls Seung-hyun from the ceremony because he wants him there – Seung-hyun is their best weapon in terms of Eastern Medicine.
Seung-hyun scoffs at this, and his breath is a bit short because he’s on a cell phone while hanging off a cliff. His colleague thinks the heavy breathing is because he’s with a girl, which Seung-hyun lies is true just so he can get off the phone. Ha.
Another doctor colleague calls Doo-hyun about this apparently holy ceremony, but Doo-hyun doesn’t feel sorry that he’s late because he had to finish a surgery. “To go to that opening ceremony, do I have to make a patient into a corpse when I could save that life?”
Why is he having to argue with people about his priorities, when his first one is saving lives? You’d think other doctors would be like “Oh yeah, that is more important than a ceremony” but everyone’s all, “You should have gone to the ceremony.” Doo-hyun is the only one speaking sense.
Regardless, Doctor Colleague feels sorry for Doo-hyun since he’s been reassigned to Seohan, which we know is a collaboration hospital between two different facets of medicine. Doo-hyun is Western Medicine all the way, and snubs the very idea of Eastern Medicine and its “doctors”.
However, Doo-hyun is almost run off the road by a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel. Cue dramatic editing cuts.
Seung-hyun’s in danger too, since the reason he put himself in such a precarious position was to get a rare plant/herb from the cliffside. But grabbing it makes him lose his balance, and he ends up at the mercy of the rope he’s hanging from.
The sleepy truck driver ends up running Doo-hyun off the road, but he’s safe. The same can’t be said for the truck driver, who careens into some trees and causes a multi-car pileup behind him.
Seung-hyun saves the plant, and even answers the phone while he’s hanging. He’s more than unhappy to hear his colleague tell him that if he doesn’t come to the ceremony, the Eastern Medicine Director will take back the house Seung-hyun rents from him.
Doo-hyun tends to one of the drivers from the accident, covered in blood from head to toe. (I’m glad he’s helping, but did he call EMS yet?) He saves the driver’s life by inserting a needle in his chest to clear some trapped air, and is taken along by EMS since Seohan is more than five minutes away and they need the help.
And poor Hye-in gets interrupted from finally eating her ramen by a call from a doctor, about Doo-hyun’s emergency patient coming in. One text gets all her colleagues out of the ceremony and ready for surgery.
She meets Doo-hyun outside the ambulance, while Seung-hyun leisurely strolls into the hospital. Er, what? Were you climbing a mountain two feet away from the entrance?
Security personnel don’t seem to believe Seung-hyun when he says he’s a doctor, even as he tries to help with a sick child a frantic mother brings in. The hospital isn’t supposed to open for emergencies till tomorrow, but you can’t really say no when someone’s dying. Seung-hyun gets to work.
In a different part of the hospital, Doo-hyun prepares to perform brain surgery on the accident patient.
Seung-hyun checks the boy over and thinks a Qi point is blocked, and asks for a scalpel. The nurse can’t give him one by law since he’s an Oriental doctor, so he dumps out his hiking bag to find one in there. Uh. Is that against the law?
He uses his own scalpel from his acupuncture needle roll and gives the boy a tracheotomy, aka a hole in his throat, while Doo-hyun performs surgery under the watch of the hospital directors.
While Seung-hyun seems successful in pulling out something the boy shouldn’t have swallowed, Doo-hyun gets sprayed with blood from his patient’s head. Something’s gone wrong in the form of a sinus rupture, and the doctors watching note that the case looks pretty hopeless. But I guess because they’re doctors they can just sit back and shrug like they’re watching the Discovery Channel.
After the procedure, Mom asks whether her son is alive. Seung-hyun replies that he’s alive, but it could be that he’s not alive… so, vegetative state. Mom breaks down in tears and begs Seung-hyun to save her child, so Seung-hyun brings out the acupuncture needles.
While Doo-hyun sets to suturing the ruptured vein, Seung-hyun inserts a long acupuncture needle into the boy’s head, noting in voiceover how dangerous a procedure it is.
But lo and behold, acupuncture saves the child from a permanent vegetative state.
As for Doo-hyun’s patient, the surgery is successful. All the watching doctors clap and cheer.
Seung-hyun packs his hiking bag up again, and doesn’t forget his Maxim magazine, either. The nurse gets a chuckle out of that.
The hospital directors call Seung-hyun “The Second Heo Joon” (a legendary doctor from the Joseon era), but they’re all surprised once Seung-hyun finally shows up with a goofy grin. One of the directors gets a belated call that an Oriental doctor performed a tracheotomy, and they all give Seung-hyun the hairy eyeball. Wamp wamp waaamp.
He gets pulled before the board of directors for a talking-to, but he yawns his way through because he’s too easygoing to care about medical laws. Cue comedic music when he finds out his salary is getting docked for a month because of it.
His director is mostly mad ’cause he wants to make a good impression as an Eastern doctor, since his ideal is to change the face of modern medicine by going back to traditional, Eastern methods. Seung-hyun reluctantly agrees to help him.
Seung-hyun’s colleague fishes through his backpack and finds the rare plant along with a framed picture of Seung-hyun’s mom. He offers to buy the plant/herb, but Seung-hyun wants the price to match his newly docked pay, and the colleague backs out.
No one seems to want to work at Seohan, especially when rivalries between the two schools of thought are high. Doo-hyun’s colleague laments that they have to work with Oriental doctors, and would rather get rid of them than collaborate with them. Doo-hyun seems to agree.
All the Western neurosurgeons go out for a group dinner and pep talk, though the subject of Hye-in’s father being an Oriental doctor raises some suspicions about her.
She claims that she’s there to overcome the limits of Oriental medicine, although one of the older doctors scoffs that she’d even call Oriental medicine “medicine” at all. (He calls it a philosophy instead.)
Then all the boys, minus her mentor Doo-hyun, make a big to-do about her applying for neurosurgery, because being a neurosurgeon is a man’s job and not for wittle girls. You know, because there’s a biological difference between men and women. Blerg.
Hye-in doesn’t stand up for herself, so Doo-hyun does it for her and cuts the sexist doctor down to size.
The next day, a female patient suffering from constant vomiting/diarrhea goes to see both Doo-hyun and Seung-hyun separately, with Doo-hyun diagnosing her with celiac disease (an allergy to gluten) and Seung-hyun diagnosing her with an Oriental medicine term for a stomach that rejects food.
They both give her different courses of treatment according to their medicinal beliefs, just to make sure we know they’re at odds.
Seung-hyun’s made his mountain plant into an edible medicine ball, but finds himself stooping underneath a female doctor’s legs to find it after he accidentally drops it.
Hye-in walks in on the situation and, thinking he’s a pervert, launches into a physical attack on him. Well, I guess it’s good that, though Hye-in can’t stand up for herself when faced with sexist comments, she can cause a huge scene when it comes to rash assumptions. Girl needs to simmer down nah.
Doo-hyun arrives in time to stop the ruckus, and he and Seung-hyun participate in a silent glaring contest.
Seung-hyun heads to the hospital roof and broods as he remembers a time when he suffered a accident as a child, and Mini Doo-hyun had angrily told him that he should have just died.
Another day, another case – this time it’s a grandma that Seung-hyun tends to, and she urges him to hurry up and get married. That means it’s a perfect opportunity for him and Hye-in to bicker crossly, because she’s still convinced he’s a pervert.
Right, so they totally can’t talk out this misunderstanding like adults, because that would just make too much sense.
Hye-in gets called in to see the brain surgery patient and his angry mother, who complains about his inability to use his right hand now. She wants to file for medical malpractice, and Hye-in loses her temper as she tells the mother that she should just be grateful to Doo-hyun that her son is even alive.
She storms out, but Mom runs after her and demands that her son receive treatment from an Oriental medicine doctor, even though the usual procedure is to wait until regular treatment is finished.
Mom isn’t happy with that answer, and wants her son treated sooner rather than later, since Hye-in is denying him alternative treatment when she herself doesn’t have the confidence to fix his hand.
Hye-in asks Doo-hyun about the whole Oriental medicine treatment idea, and he shoots it down without a second thought. She ends up delivering this news to Mom & Family, and Mom reacts violently: “What kind of collaboration hospital is this?!”
She tears the poster advertising collaboration healthcare from the wall, as Hye-in watches nervously.
So Mom decides to take her son to Seung-hyun, rules be damned. Doo-hyun finds the patient gone, as Seung-hyun talks to that same patient about being unable to offer help unless the doctor on duty asks for a collaboration.
He tries to explain the whole “official hospital procedures” thing to Mom, but she just asks him to look at her one-year-old grandson’s face and tell him that his father won’t be able to work forever with a bad hand (he’s a piano teacher, go figure).
Mom and Grandson cry together, so Seung-hyun says to heck with it, they’ll go ahead with treatment.
Doo-hyun has heard from the patient’s wife that Mom took him for some acupuncture, and heads down the hallway with a sour expression while Seung-hyun starts the treatment.
He barges in in the middle of the session, and orders Seung-hyun to take the acupuncture needles out. When he doesn’t, Doo-hyun begins plucking them from the patient’s arm himself.
Seung-hyun demands to know what he’s doing. Cue another glaring contest.
To be fair, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this show, other than that it’s pretty formulaic. It’s well shot and well edited (which shouldn’t be a surprise from tvN), and at least the episodes are brief. Not every show can be the newest story ever told, but it’s nice for stories we already know to have some extra spark or pizzaz, which this first outing wasn’t necessarily oozing.
So we have one hard-nosed Western doctor at odds with an easygoing Eastern doctor, check. They’re also brothers, check. Maybe they’ll fight over the same girl, but in the end learn to cooperate and love each other again. To this I feel like going: Aaaand…?
There’s probably more, but to be totally honest, there’s not much from this first episode that makes me want to stick around and wait for the ‘more’ part, even though the inherent dissonance between Eastern and Western schools of medical thought is interesting, especially when we look at which form of medicine is commonly given versus which form might be better, depending on the case.
So, even though Angry Mom was angry, it was really hard to blame her for wanting to try anything possible to make her child well again. I understand Seung-hyun’s reluctance to say no when he thinks he can help, but, medical laws and procedures are probably in place for a reason, right? But then we enter the realm of “But if it helps, why not?” which I don’t really have a good answer for.
From a character perspective, nothing really new is going on. No matter how many quick cuts we got to juxtapose Doo-hyun/Seung-hyun’s medical scenes, no one did anything to exceed the expectations of their character type. Not necessarily bad, again, but not really all that exciting either.
The comedy felt pretty forced, especially when it came to Hye-in acting totally irrational when she was completely rational as a doctor in the scene before. I get that it’s supposed to be funny when she gives Seung-hyun a beating, but it wasn’t. Add that to the comedic bickering scene along with the “you should just be grateful your son is alive” bit, and you get a slightly apathetic if not minutely annoyed reaction. If I’m wondering whether Hye-in is fit to hold peoples’ lives in the palm of her hand, it’s probably not the best place for a drama to be. But hey, maybe she’ll learn and grow through the series to become a true blue neurosurgeon and show the world that Eastern and Western medicine can be used together for better results than they get apart.
If medical dramas are your premiere cup of tea though, then Third Ward should fit in nicely. The surgery scenes were nauseatingly realistic, which is a good thing in the medical dramasphere (bad example: Dr. Jin), but I’m not really seeing how we’ll be deviating from the land of predictability, either.