KBS’s new medical drama Good Doctor got off to a strong start, and led the Monday-Tuesday ratings game out of the gate with a fast-moving intro that covers our premise and backstory in one episode flat.
With an autistic hero at the center of the story, it’s definitely a show with a message to tell, but thankfully it’s one of hope and tolerance, and the overall tone isn’t patronizing. It certainly doesn’t leave anything to chance though, and makes damn sure you’re on the hero’s side. As if we needed prodding to root for a guy who saves children’s lives.
Episode 1 led with 10.9%, but Tuesday’s episode jumped up to 14.0%, taking the decidedly puny Monday-Tuesday numbers into a new range. Hopefully a sign of good things to come.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Young-hyun – “Miracle” for the OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open at the crack of dawn as our hero PARK SHI-ON (Joo-won) wordlessly begins his day by washing up and getting dressed in a suit. He wheels a suitcase out of a tiny house in a sleepy village, and makes his way to the train.
As he walks along the tracks, a passing train brings him into a flashback. He watches as if the scene is playing out in front of him, as Little Shi-on gets beat up and called a dummy by the other boys.
Hyung comes running to the rescue and chases off the bullies, nagging his little brother not to wander away from his side. Shi-on just seems to fixate on his pet rabbit without crying or complaining.
We see that home life isn’t much better either, as the boys’ father gets into a violent drunken rage while arguing with Mom over whether or not to send Shi-on to a special institute. (Mom wants what’s best for Shi-on, while Dad doesn’t care to spend another dime on him.) Mom ends up huddled with Shi-on in the street while Hyung takes a broom to Dad to get him to stop.
Dad fumes and throws Shi-on’s rabbit cage to the ground in a rage. Dude. You’re the world’s shittiest father AND you kill bunnies? What the hell.
The next day Shi-on takes his bunny to the doctor, who tells him the bad news. He asks haltingly if that means Rabbit went to heaven, and if doctors can fix things so that they don’t have to die. The nice doctor nods. Little Shi-on decides he’d like to be a doctor someday.
He buries Rabbit on the hillside next to some flowers, and draws pictures of his dear departed friend. Hyung nags him for still carrying around the empty cage wherever he goes, and takes Little Shi-on to meet the other boys.
The other boys dare Hyung to go inside the abandoned mine, and Hyung makes sure the deal is still on: they fulfill the dare and the other boys stop harassing Shi-on. They agree to be nice to him, and so the brothers walk in, hand-in-hand.
They barely get past the rickety entrance when the mine caves in around them. It’s nightfall by the time rescue workers get down there, and it’s the country doctor again who finds them first. They get trapped in, and he puts his oxygen mask on Shi-on while trying to resuscitate his hyung. It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.
And then sometime later, Shi-on stands on the same hillside, a plastic green scalpel in his hand.
A close-up of the scalpel puts it in grown-up Shi-on’s hand now, as he waits for the train.
He can’t help but gaze at a mother and young son eating eggs across the aisle, and the little boy comes up and hands him an egg. He demonstrates cracking it on his head, and Shi-on follows suit, only to clutch his forehead from the pain as the boy erupts in a fit of laughter.
At the same time, our heroine, doctor CHA YOON-SEO (Moon Chae-won) is in the middle of telling a scary story to a rapt audience of kids in the children’s ward at a hospital.
She gets animated as she acts out the story of a ghost creeping up behind a kid in a hospital… and the nurse gets the jump on them with a “Raaaaar!” from behind. She ends the story with: “And that ghost will get you if you don’t take your medicine!” Ha.
We cut away to a man who plops a bouquet of flowers down at a memorial—this is KIM DO-HAN (Joo Sang-wook), and so far all we know about him is that he’s angry and either there are two pictures of the brother whose ashes he’s visiting, or they were twins. (That’s just me guessing—I have no idea who died.)
Either way, he’s not happy to be there, and he leaves just as quickly as he came.
Apparently we’re just going to barrel through all our main characters in one go, because then we cut to YOO CHAE-KYUNG (Kim Min-seo), who’s on the hospital administrative staff.
The board president tells her that the university hospital isn’t a factory and the patients’ lives come first, while Chae-kyung counters that the hospital’s well-being comes first. Well aren’t you a gem.
Shi-on arrives at his stop and as he makes his way through the crowd on the platform, he begins to rattle off the route he’s supposed to take, down to the bus lines, the distance in kilometers, and the cost of each ticket.
Something makes him stop in his tracks, and suddenly he’s standing in front of a display for a 3-D TV, jaw hanging open at the cartoon bird.
In an office, a doctor looks out his window. It’s Doctor Choi, our country doctor who saved Shi-on, and he isn’t a country doctor anymore. As he waits, he flashes back to his days in that small town.
Shi-on would spend his days sitting in his office watching him work, and one day he found the little boy reading one of his medical texts. And that stack of books just kept growing and multiplying.
Back at the train station, while Shi-on is still absorbed in the 3-D cartoon, the little boy who shared an egg with him on the train wanders away from his mother and happens to stand right under a giant billboard that breaks and falls, along with the sheet of glass in front of it. Aaaaah.
It shatters and the little boy gets knocked unconscious, with glass shards in his throat and chest. Mom screams for help, and a doctor comes running up to apply pressure to the neck wound. The man checks and says the boy will be fine.
But Shi-on breaks through the crowd and says he can’t apply pressure that way to a small child. He kneels down and checks for signs that the boy is breathing, and then runs to the train station pharmacy to get supplies. He asks for a tube, which they don’t have, so he grabs the nearest ballpoint pen. Ack, not the pen-tracheotomy! I hate that TV doctor move. *covers eyes*
After sterilizing the knife, he cuts into the child’s lung and sticks the pen there so he can breathe. Oh phew. The medics arrive with equipment, and Shi-on continues to take charge of the situation very methodically, checking everything as he goes as if reciting verbatim out of a medical text.
He intubates and then has to make another incision for the IV tube, why I don’t know, other than to make sure we know it’s Very Impressive Doctoring. He saves the boy, who clearly would not have survived had the other doctor treated him as he would an adult patient.
Shi-on even calls the boy by name and says he’ll be okay now, and the crowd cheers. He goes on his way, but the mother rushes to thank him and begs him to come along in the ambulance because she doesn’t feel safe without him there.
So Shi-on rides in the ambulance, preoccupied with the fact that he’s supposed to be somewhere else right now. He asks to be taken to the university hospital, and the medic tells him that’s where they’re going. “Are you a doctor there?”
Shi-on answers hesitantly, “Yes.” That sounds like a pretty iffy yes.
It turns out that Doctor Choi is presenting Shi-on to the staff as a resident candidate, and he’s met with skeptical looks from the room. He explains that Shi-on has savant syndrome, a form of autism that’s accompanied by astounding genius.
As he explains Shi-on’s extraordinary gift for spatial memory, we watch as Little Shi-on reads his medical text and then goes outside to draw a mind-bogglingly exact replica of the human body and internal organs.
Inside the ambulance, something starts to go wrong with the child as they reach the hospital, and Shi-on presses his ear to the heart cavity. He listens for a second, and says they have to hurry.
He runs with the hospital trauma staff as they wheel the boy into surgery, and Shi-on says they have to check his heart. The other doctor dismisses him, and Shi-on is left waiting outside, unable to tell them what to look for.
Meanwhile, Yoon-seo checks on a little girl who’s afraid of her upcoming surgery, and she promises that her visit with the child psychiatrist tomorrow will help make all her fears go away.
The nurse assures the little girl she can trust the pretty doctor, and her resident sidekick HAN JIN-WOOK (Kim Young-kwang) jokes, “Who’s pretty?” He gets a punch to the gut for that remark.
But then Mom runs in to say that the appointment with the shrink got canceled and the surgery got moved up to tomorrow, on Doctor Kim Do-han’s orders. Yoon-seo marches over to Do-han in a huff, and judging by Jin-wook’s reaction, this is a pretty regular occurrence.
She picks a fight with him but he doesn’t budge, and tells her that they’re surgeons here, and if she cares that badly she should’ve been a kindergarten teacher. Yeesh. Jin-wook does his best to smooth things out, to no avail. (Note: He calls Do-han “professor” because he’s actually their teacher and bossypants boss, while he calls Yoon-seo “teacher” in the “doctor” sense of the word.)
Do-han gets called to the trauma ward, and Jin-wook is among the residents shadowing him. They scrub up to begin surgery on the little boy that Shi-on saved, and suddenly there’s a disturbance outside.
Shi-on charges in to try and tell them what to look for, but Do-han orders the guards to escort him out. As they cover Shi-on’s mouth and drag him away, his muffled cries of “echocardiogram” get drowned out, and Do-han begins surgery without taking a look at the boy’s heart.
As all this is going on, upstairs Doctor Choi is still presenting Shi-on’s case to the board. He explains that Shi-on passed med school with flying colors and should’ve been on his way to a resident position, but the school discovered his past and took back his credentials.
What he’s proposing is that they take him on as a resident for a year on a trial basis, to undo that action. The room is full of skeptics, ranging from simply disbelieving to downright bigoted, and Doctor Choi’s insistence that Shi-on has been diagnosed as fully functioning falls on deaf ears.
Shi-on is nowhere to be found (his bag and phone are still sitting in the train station where he left them), and the decision is put to a vote. He’s denied, and Doctor Choi’s face falls. Notably, the president of the board is the only one who doesn’t vote against Shi-on.
What he doesn’t know is that Shi-on is just downstairs, unable to walk away from the surgical ward. Inside Do-han gets started, and notes that whoever treated this boy knew what they were doing. All of a sudden the boy’s heart starts to fail, and it dawns on him that Shi-on was screaming “echocardiogram” at him as he was being dragged away.
As Do-han switches gears to work on the boy’s failing heart, outside Shi-on paces with worry, and then finally calms down by imagining himself performing the surgery. We watch side-by-side renditions of Do-han and Shi-on working on the boy, and Shi-on even prepares for an eventuality that Do-han misses.
But Do-han gets through the surgery and saves the boy, earning another round of awe from his residents and tear-filled thanks from the mother. He asks about the person who saved her son, and she says he’s a doctor here at this hospital.
Shi-on sticks around just long enough to hear that the boy made it, and walks off before Do-han has a chance to catch up to him.
He finally shows up to the board meeting, where Doctor Choi is sitting alone. He snaps at Shi-on for being so late, but as soon as he sees Shi-on’s scared reaction, he softens. Shi-on says he ran late because he had to help a boy who got hurt, and just says that he’s okay now. Doctor Choi takes his hand as he prepares to give him the bad news.
The residents hear that they’ve got a new rookie on the way today, and eagerly anticipate shunting their duties off on the new guy so they can get some sleep. Meanwhile Do-han can’t stop thinking about Shi-on’s outburst before surgery.
Doctor Choi holds Shi-on’s hand as they sit outside, and asks if he isn’t hungry. He says no just as his stomach starts to growl, and Doctor Choi teases that he was going to go eat delicious galbi stew, but if he isn’t hungry…
Shi-on shoots up and asks if he means grade-A beef with caramelized chestnuts, like he’s reading ad copy off a restaurant menu, and Doctor Choi points out that he said he wasn’t hungry. Shi-on says he’s fine, but his intestines seem to have expanded. Ha, I rather like his technical medico-speak in place of everyday feelings like hunger.
The board walks out to the lobby for lunch, and they come across a group of reporters at the front desk, wanting an interview with the doctor who performed the emergency surgery at the train station today.
As Shi-on and Doctor Choi eat lunch, the news story hits, and there’s Shi-on’s face on someone’s cell phone camera, performing the emergency surgery. Doctor Choi’s face freezes and he gapes looking back and forth from the TV to Shi-on, stuffing his face full of galbi.
So then the board meets all over again, and the naysayers complain that they’ve never in the history of this hospital had a revote like this. The president points out that that video has gone viral, but it’s not just the fact that Shi-on is known as a doctor here, but his astounding skills that they need to reconsider.
It’s still tough going to get an approval, so this time Doctor Choi speaks up to ask for just a six-month probation residency, during which time he’ll take full responsibility for anything that happens because of Shi-on, and quit as chief of staff if things go wrong.
He says that Shi-on’s disability is fully treatable, but this appointment isn’t about one man’s growth, but about giving hope to all people in this country with a disability. He asks them to have an open mind.
Shi-on enters the room and takes the floor, and the board’s president asks why he wants to be a doctor. Shi-on: “The day the tree smelled of ice cream, Rabbit went up to heaven. The day the mine smelled of rusty metal, Hyung went up to heaven. Neither of them able to become adults. I wanted to let them become adults, to have children of their own and love them.”
He adds that he’d also like to make a lot of money and buy the children at the clinic a 3-D TV, because they’ve never seen anything like it before. Aw. The board’s president welcomes Doctor Park Shi-on as a resident on staff as of today, and they clap. The room is definitely divided, and Chae-kyung is among the people scoffing.
Doctor Choi beams with pride. After the board meeting, president Lee worries that Doctor Choi is being reckless, when he knows full well those sharks voted in favor only to find a reason to oust him as chief.
He doesn’t much care for power plays though, and says either way he’ll still be a doctor, so it won’t make a difference to him. She sighs that it’s like talking to a wall. Well at least we know she’s on his side.
Shi-on goes down for an interview with the TV crew, and the evil board members immediately begin to plot Doctor Choi’s demise. The frowny-faced assistant chief leads the charge, and his minion with slicked back hair does his evil bidding.
Do-han works away at his twelve-sided Rubik’s cube, sighing that he thought he’d do it in no time (show-off) but he’s been at it for a week. Doctor Pomade interrupts to introduce the new resident to Do-han’s team, and he whispers that his condition is a little… “Well you’ll see.”
Shi-on and Doctor Choi arrive, and the residents all gape—they recognize him right away as the guy who burst into the surgical ward a few hours ago. Doctor Choi prods him for an introduction, so he rattles off a life story in about thirty seconds.
The residents are a little taken aback but they engage him in friendly conversation, when Doctor Pomade cuts in, shouting in Shi-on’s ear to act properly because this is a world-class hospital. Shi-on suddenly turns to him: “Coffee. If you collect the energy from a person shouting for eight years, you can brew one cup of coffee.” LOL.
He peers down at Doctor Pomade’s nametag before finishing: “But judging by Doctor Go’s decibel levels, that time can be shortened I think.” Hahaha. The residents tamp down their laughter.
Do-han goes straight to Doctor Choi to complain that it isn’t Shi-on’s savant syndrome that’s the issue, but his childlike social skills that’ll keep him from interacting with patients and guardians properly. Do-han can’t trust his judgment, and therefore refuses to take him on.
Doctor Choi appeals to him as his teacher, and says that every single one of them is like a child to him. Do-han shows that he isn’t all ice, and asks if he’s one of Doctor Choi’s children then shouldn’t he have a say too? Doctor Choi asks him to help Shi-on for his sake, and despite all logic telling him not to, Do-han relents out of respect for his teacher.
He interrogates Shi-on on what it means to be a surgeon, and says that Shi-on’s goal for the next six months will be to figure out the answer to the question: why he can’t be a surgeon.
Shi-on isn’t even listening because he happens to see the unsolved Rubik’s puzzle on Do-han’s desk. Do-han barks at him to pay attention, and says that there are two things he won’t ever stand for: mistakes and excuses.
Jin-wook pulls him away from this desk to look at an x-ray, and when he comes back Shi-on is still standing there at his desk. I’ll die laughing if he solved that puzzle in those forty seconds.
Do-han sends him out and then he sees it—his puzzle, will all sides matched. Ha. He looks back and forth from the puzzle to Shi-on with a sigh. It’s going to drive him crazy that Shi-on’s smarter than him, isn’t it?
Doctor Pomade gets called in to look at one of his patients, who’s in pain after surgery. But he doesn’t so much as stop to feel a pulse before just declaring that it’s a common side effect of surgery and he’ll be fine. We geddit. He’s evil.
Yoon-seo gets drunk, and either she’s preempting her hangover by hooking herself up to an IV as she drinks, or this is a hospital-themed bar with IV cocktails. Yunno, literally.
I’m thinking it’s the latter, since the other thing can’t be legal (even though it’s kind of brilliant), and she calls the bartender “uncle” while he listens to her complain about Do-han like it’s nothing new. Do-han calls to ask where she is, and she says library but he immediately knows she’s drinking at a bar.
She asks if he’s calling to make her feel better, but no, he’s calling to tell her to think about what she did wrong, even while she’s drunk. Pfft.
He tells her to stop before she gets too wasted because she has a surgery in the morning, and then hangs up, leaving her more flabbergasted than ever. She tells the bartender to mix ALL the liquor in this place for her next drink.
Shi-on arrives in his new dorm room and takes a look around.
Do-han comes home to find someone’s there, and Chae-kyung comes out of the shower. She tells him about the board meeting and says she tried to stop the Shi-on thing, but Doctor Choi put his chief of staff position on the line. Do-han sighs at that, not having realized that his teacher put his job on the line too.
Yoon-seo staggers down the street, drunk and ornery. Ha, I like her.
In his room, Shi-on lights a candle on a stack of chocopies. Is it your birthday too? It sends us into a flashback, where Hyung sings happy birthday to Little Shi-on and tells him to blow out the candle on a stack of chocopies.
He gives him a kid’s play-doctor set as a present, and says that Shi-on will become a doctor someday, “Because you’re my little brother.” Awwwww. Shi-on nods and holds up the little green scalpel, “Yup, because I’m hyung-ah’s little brother.”
Hyung tells him not to believe anyone who calls him a dummy, and says that Shi-on is much, much smarter than he is. Hyung tells him to become a great doctor someday, and feeds him a chocopie.
Back in the present, Shi-on blows out his candle and munches on a chocopie, when suddenly Yoon-seo opens the lock code and walks right in. Wait, they can’t be roommates, can they? I mean, lord knows I certainly hope so, but I’m guessing it’s a mistake.
She just goes straight for the bed and starts stripping down, and Shi-on stands there, mouth hanging open as the layers come off. This is pretty hysterical.
She climbs into bed and he tries to wake her up to say that there’s been some kind of mistake, but she just bolts up and tells him to shut it, thinking that she’s still talking to imaginary Do-han in her drunken state.
She falls asleep, and he paces back and forth, not knowing what to do. He gazes at her as she sleeps, and then we cut to morning.
A scream. Yoon-seo bolts up in bed, gaping at Shi-on who’s standing in front of her in nothing but boxers, brushing his teeth like nothing’s the matter.
I didn’t expect a rom-com ending to the episode, but hey, I’ll take it. That was a pretty zippy first episode, that is if your tolerance for a hero’s sob story is rather high. They did lay it on thick with the bullies and the dad and the bunny AND hyung’s death on top of it all, and the only thing that didn’t tip the scales for me was the fact that it went by really quickly, and it wasn’t told in that melodramatic way that’s trying to wring tears out of you. I don’t think Shi-on’s situation needed to be that dire for us to root for him, since all we really needed was Hyung’s warmth. I’m just grateful that Doctor Choi is a surrogate father and a good person, because I don’t think I could watch an entire drama of Shi-on getting bullied at the hospital without warm-hearted people by his side.
That’s pretty much the thing that makes this show work—it’s going for heartwarming more than high drama, and Shi-on feels like a fully capable young man who doesn’t need to be coddled. I was wondering how the childlike personality would fit with the job (I certainly don’t disagree with Do-han’s worries even if he is kind of an ass about how he expresses things.) but they seem to be going for a frank, childlike honesty, not a man who functions as a child. And the attendant humor that comes from him saying what he’s thinking even if that breaks the social rules, well that’s just gravy. He and Yoon-seo already seem alike in that respect, so I can imagine they’ll bond over their mutual lack of filters when it comes to dogging their superiors.
Joo-won strikes a fairly good balance with his performance, much of which is silent. But he never pulled me out of the moment, and the way I read his character made me think that Shi-on could feel every emotion but lacked the ability to express them. I have no idea if that’s accurate as far as the disability goes, but it worked for me on a basic character level. And Moon Chae-won is just likable from the start, so I don’t imagine that’ll change much. I always enjoy when she’s playing a spitfire.
The show looks gorgeous and feels slick, though a lot of the fancy medical moves are wasted on a viewer like me, who’s like, blood, blood, artery, technobabble, yeah, yeah, no matter what medical show I’m watching. The important thing is the character beat, and for the premiere all we really need to know is that pediatric surgery is TOTALLY DIFFERENT, ya hear, and that Shi-on is as good in action as he is with the books. The train station incident was way too convenient a device when it was the thing that caused his residency revote, but it was necessary to show us from the get-go that he’s not just book-smart, but fully capable of making quick decisions in a trauma situation. I just hope the show doesn’t throw a flying billboard at every child in his path from here to the end of the series.
So far the performances and the directing feel solid, while the writing feels standard. There’s a lot of falling back on convenient tropes to set up a sympathetic hero, his cold new boss, a political hospital dynamic—all boilerplate workplace drama stuff. But of course what keeps it all fresh is the hero, and for once there’s a genius in dramaland who’s actually a genius and not just a jerk who’s good at stuff. I know.
We’ll be weighing in on other shows before deciding what to stick with, so no promises on recaps until the dust settles from premiere week.
- New set of posters and stills for Good Doctor
- The love triangle takes off in Good Doctor
- Joo Sang-wook and Moon Chae-won suit up for Good Doctor
- Upcoming drama previews: Master, Doctor, Who Are You, Her Legend
- Joo-won begins shoots for Good Doctor
- Kim Min-seo joins cast of Good Doctor
- Kim Young-kwang joins Good Doctor
- Moon Chae-won set to romance Joo-won in Green Scalpel
- Moon Chae-won offered lead in Green Scalpel
- Joo-won confirmed to headline Green Scalpel
- Joo-won and Joo Sang-wook courted for new medical drama