Emergency Couple premiered over the weekend as tvN’s new Friday-Saturday show. I caught the first two episodes to see what it was all about, and as advertised, it’s a lighthearted medical workplace drama about a divorced couple reuniting, and the first episode delivers the expected setup to a tee, while the second episode is probably a better example of what the show will be like in future episodes. Tonally the show is a bit strange, but more on that later.
I’m not in love with it, but I did eventually come to like Song Ji-hyo’s underdog heroine and found myself rooting for her, even if it was to smash Choi Jin-hyuk’s nose into a wall to flatten his giant ego. It’s an understatement to say that he’s a bit of a pill; let’s just say it’s going to take some serious doing to get me to root for them to get back together romantically.
This is just a one-off recap for now, with no immediate plans to continue the rest of the series.
SONG OF THE DAY
Rumble Fish – “Falling Out” [ Download ]
EPISODES 1-2 RECAP
In the middle of a crowded city street, a bride and groom run holding hands, looking at each other in slow motion like they’re in a music video. But we soon find that they’re not frolicking; they’re being chased by a pair of goons.
They run all the way to a church and crash a service in the middle of a sermon, and just walk down the aisle as if all this is normal. The minister is appalled, but clearly friendly with the groom to give him a disgruntled look but proceed with the request to marry them on the spot.
They apologize to the people in the church who cheer them on, and the groom hands the minister a pre-written speech that includes a long segment on how the groom is the handsomest, most wonderful guy ever. They exchange rings, and just like that, they’re married. He dips her for a kiss.
We go from the guerilla wedding to the couple’s happy home, where the faces in a wedding photo go from happy to snarling before our very eyes. We’re introduced to the characters as they confide in the same psychiatrist (separately), about the mounting stress in their marriage.
The once dashing groom, OH CHANG-MIN (Choi Jin-hyuk), is now an overbearing complainer who doesn’t understand why his wife doesn’t even try to get a job. The doc pours water into a glass and he describes it as half-empty, complaining that he can’t even comprehend how someone could see it as half-full, mimicking his wife’s voice and calling her crazy.
He’s given up his dream of becoming a doctor because he was cut off from his family’s money for marrying her, and finds his home life so stressful that he’s having trouble peeing.
His wife, OH JIN-HEE (Song Ji-hyo), has become so hypersensitive due to his family’s rejection (they still treat her like a non-entity) and her husband’s constant belittling (he calls her stupid in almost every other sentence), that she’s losing her hair and having regular panic attacks, on top of which she also thinks her husband might be trying to poison her.
Instead of finishing med school, Chang-min went straight to work for a pharmaceutical company, and now has to suffer the indignity of peddling drugs to med school hoobaes who are now surgeons. He’s too prideful to take rejection cleanly, and instead picks a fight with a doc for not buying the latest drug he’s selling.
Things have gotten bad enough that Jin-hee keeps divorce papers in her dresser drawer that Chang-min has already signed. She considers them for a moment but puts them back and tells herself this is the last chance and she’s going to try to make it work.
While making dinner, her mother-in-law calls, and Jin-hee’s face goes white immediately. She tries and tries to get a word in, but ultimately can’t, and has another panic attack. She tries calling Chang-min but there’s no answer, and she scrambles for the medicine chest but hesitates and can’t take the meds he recommended because she can’t trust him.
Meanwhile, Chang-min gets taken by the med school hoobae to see his hospital’s chief of staff to try and make the sale to her, though she turns out to be a cougar who feels him up the first chance she gets.
He tucks away his pride and parties with the group of senior doctors who feed him drinks and make him sing and dance, and though the chief of staff paws at him and gives him a kiss on the cheek, she doesn’t want to talk business, and he’s left trudging home in defeat, drunk and dejected in the rain.
It’s just one of those days, and he drops his box of medicine only to pick it up and have it collapse from the sopping rain, and he just kicks it in frustration. He’s on his last nerve when he arrives home, and walks in demanding a towel.
Jin-hee ignores him and pretends to be asleep, and when he complains enough she just reminds him that she told him to take an umbrella this morning. They bicker about the usual things, and then Chang-min gasps to see his goldfish floating dead in his aquarium.
He accuses her of killing them on purpose, while she says she couldn’t feed them because she was dying herself, wondering why he keeps giving her different meds and if he’s trying to kill her.
He tells her it’s all in her head, and when she tries again to tell him she almost died tonight, he doesn’t listen and tells her she’s the one who killed his fish. This is getting ugly fast.
He cuts up her dog’s old clothes in retaliation, totally relishing it, and so she goes to the kitchen to grab a knife and tears apart his sound system.
He cuts up her designer purse, she breaks his camera, and then it’s just all-out destruction as they throw and smash everything in sight. Once the damage is done, they stand in the rubble and it sinks in that this is the end.
Six years later, Chang-min is getting dressed in a fancy tux at a wedding hall. He tells his friends that he’s nervous, and then gets raised onto the stage on a fancy lift. Is this how grooms make their entrances now? Like pop stars?
Outside the hall, Jin-hee arrives a little late to play piano for the ceremony, and complains that it’s not even the first time they’re getting married. She sneaks in from behind, too preoccupied to notice that Chang-min is up in front, introducing himself as the groom’s best friend, and the guy who’s about to sing the congratulatory song. Oh, this gonna be bad. At least he’s not the groom?
He asks the pianist for a quick song change, which is when she finally realizes it’s her ex-husband standing on the other side of the piano, and just ducks without thinking. She finally raises her head because she has nowhere to run, and his jaw drops when he sees her face.
They make disgruntled faces at each other and he drops the mic as she slams her hands down on the piano, and then we cut to the reception where Jin-hee stabs a sausage with a fork. Ha.
Chang-min leaves right away, only to find that another car is double-parked behind him. He calls the number on the car, and Jin-hee chokes to hear Chang-min’s voice on the other end.
He still belittles her with every breath, calling her stupid and a terrible driver who shouldn’t be on the road, but now she just bites back that he’s as rude as ever, wondering why he didn’t just stay in the States forever.
But then she loses ground in the argument when he notices that she happens to be wearing her wedding dress, and he laughs that it must be the best thing she owns, and that that day must still be the highlight of her life. Ugh. I want to hit you.
Chang-min goes to a family dinner, and pwaha, Park Joon-geum plays his doting mother, after playing the hateful stepmother he so loathed in Heirs.
It’s not hard to believe that she was the horrible mother-in-law who used to give Jin-hee panic attacks, though it looks like she gets her fair share of ridicule from her own siblings who are all renowned doctors, while she was just married to one.
It’s clear that Chang-min is her pride and joy, and she asks to have him included in family dinners now that he’s a doctor too. They scoff that he’s only an intern, and see through her ploy to get her brother to pass on his hospital to Chang-min someday.
Mom still complains about the years he wasted with Jin-hee, promising that she’ll let it go now that he’s about to embark on his new career and all is right with the world.
Jin-hee goes drinking with her friends and gets plastered despite the reminders that tomorrow is her first day of work. She swears she’ll be fine and won’t waste all her hard work so easily, but the more she drinks she sees Chang-min’s face floating in her glass and taunting her about the only dress she owns, and downs a shot of something so strong it literally knocks her out.
She gets wheeled away in an ambulance and starts seizing, and the attending physician in the ER is GOOK CHUN-SOO (Lee Pil-mo). He handles the situation calmly, and yanks out a piece of shellfish caught in her throat before intubating.
A few hours later, she stirs awake so he takes the tube out, and in her drunken haze she slaps the doctor across the face and murmurs, “Sonofabitch!”
In the morning, Chun-soo watches as the new interns arrive, among them Chang-min and his med school buddy, who say that they’ll be happy to be assigned anywhere as long as it’s not the ER. Chang-min says they might as well give up on life if they end up in ER, which is where doctors become zombies.
The two boys drool as a woman in a tiny dress walks by, and Chang-min offers to get her number for his buddy, playing the part of the hotshot doctor. Chun-soo watches all of this quietly from the other end of the hallway.
They join the other interns and find that they’re grouped with a newlywed couple that Chang-min knew from med school, and then the girl he just hit on and lied to walks in as a member of their team. Too bad she wasn’t his boss. She introduces herself as HAN AH-REUM (Clara).
They hear that the chief of the ER is famously known at this hospital as The Devil, and that he eats interns for breakfast, making them quit and flee by the droves. Of course The Devil turns out to be Chun-soo, who is every bit the humorless drill sergeant.
He tells them that in the ER, one teammate’s failing grade means they all get Fs, and when they complain he makes it clear that in the ER his word is law. He singles out Chang-min, calling him out for his bravado and girl-chasing.
He says that in the ER an intern is a slave of the lowest birth, known commonly as the “three gods” [god = shin]. At work the deung-shin [idiot], while eating the gul-shin [ravenously hungry], and while sleeping the gwi-shin [ghost].
As they all cringe in horror, Jin-hee stirs awake in her bed, and it takes her a moment to figure out where she is. She gets up groggily and then freaks out to realize how late she is for her first day of work.
Chun-soo tells his new slaves that he hates interns who have their feet planted on the ground, interns who know nothing but talk like they do, and interns who are late. Uh-oh. Jin-hee is close enough that she can hear every word he’s saying, and her ears perk up curiously at words like “emergency room” and “intern.”
He then takes out his chart for roll call and then calls out: “Oh Jin-hee.” Chang-min freezes and then shakes the thought out of his head that it could be his Jin-hee, but from her hospital bed, Jin-hee gapes to hear her name and just about dies when she sees the hospital’s name on the sheets.
Chun-soo crosses her name off ready to fire her on the spot, which is when she scrambles to try and sneak out undetected… and trips and falls, just on the other side of a curtain from where they’re all standing.
She stumbles out, hungover and wearing one shoe, and announces to Chun-soo that she’s Oh Jin-hee. She adds under her breath that technically she was here first, and bows over and over again in apology.
She’s so busy bowing that she doesn’t even register Chang-min’s frozen gaze, and then finally locks eyes with him. Gah, and she’s still wearing that wedding dress, go figure.
As Episode 2 opens, Jin-hee and Chang-min are both willing themselves to wake up from this horrible nightmare. Jin-hee at least has the chance to shower the smell of alcohol and vomit off of her if not the shame, and lights up at the white lab coat hanging in her locker with her name stitched in it.
She takes a moment to relish it and kisses her nametag, before it settles in that she has nothing to wear under the coat. Thankfully Ah-reum has an entire suitcase full of clothes and lets her borrow something.
The Devil calls her into his office to yell at her some more, and he quizzes her on what to do with a patient and asks why she became a doctor. She stammers under pressure and he just tells her to quit right now.
Chang-min finds the rest of the interns eavesdropping, calling the ajumma a blight on their team. He shoos them away but continues listening in, and cricks the door open just in time to see her get on her knees.
She can’t fight the tears, and begs for another chance. He tells her that she doesn’t have the right to become a doctor, which is something he just tends to say generically, but she takes it personally and literally—so much so that he’s taken aback by her flood of tears.
She asks through tears if it’s because she’s older than everyone, got lower grades, and went to school for four years instead of six. She sighs that she thought even without the prestigious schooling, if she just worked hard enough, she would endure and make it. “Am I wrong? Was I wrong to think that?”
She refuses to quit after working so hard to get here and just now finding her life, and asks him to go through official channels to fire her if he must, after which she’ll just re-test and re-apply here all over again.
He softens at her determination to see this through, and tells her to get up. But her legs give out halfway up, and she hilariously grabs the first thing in sight: his pants. Falling would’ve been better, I think. He gives her one last chance.
Chang-min drags her into the stairwell so they can finally talk, and he asks how on earth she’s here, still refusing to acknowledge that she could have become a doctor with her rocks for brains.
He tells her to get out because she’ll never make it here, while she just scoffs that he’s no one to her and she’ll do as she pleases. She tells him to get out if he’s so bothered by her.
He spits that a patient would be crazy to trust her, wondering how a person who couldn’t wield a kitchen knife properly is going to handle a scalpel. He tells her to quit now for the good of mankind, and she just screams back that she’ll make it and he can see for himself.
The whole team suddenly gets paged, and they run in to that slow-motion shot in eeeeevery hospital show, where the emergency room is a disaster zone teeming with activity, and Jin-hee stands in the middle of it, taking it all in as people zoom past her.
A patient gets wheeled in, and Chang-min and Jin-hee are the only interns who assert themselves without being prodded.
On their way back from the lab, Chang-min flails frantically when he sees Mom approaching from one end of the hall just as Jin-hee is walking up from the other end, and without warning just grabs Jin-hee and stuffs her into the nearest supply closet.
He clamps a hand over her mouth and tells Mom over the phone that he’s too busy to see her, sighing in relief that he dodged a bullet. Jin-hee takes him to task, wondering why she has to hide at all from his mother, because they’re strangers now and this is her workplace.
He counters that this is his workplace which she inserted herself into like a chili flake stuck between teeth, and tells her she’s better off quitting than suffering his mother finding out and getting her ousted.
At that, she throws the bag of urine in her hand right in his face. Ugh. Gross. They run back to the ER and get chewed out again—she pulled the wrong fluids and he didn’t check the test.
The rest of the interns grumble over their potential F because of Jin-hee, and Chang-min vows to make her leave. He flirts with Ah-reum in the lunch line, who takes a direct approach with Jin-hee and tells her to get her act together for the sake of the team.
Chang-min goes to The Devil to ask for Jin-hee to get transferred to a different department, which he refuses. So then he asks if he can get transferred, and Chun-soo wonders why—did they date or something?
Chang-min jumps to say no way, not with someone below his level like her, and gets told to suck it up. His last-ditch effort is to describe Jin-hee as a ticking time bomb of clumsy idiotic mistakes, and Chun-soo’s response is for Chang-min to stick close and keep an eye on her then. So much for that.
Jin-hee takes the long subway ride home exhausted, only to find her mom in the middle of a party celebrating her doctor daughter’s first day with her ajumma friends. One of them wants to set her up with a man, but when Mom hears he has a child, she takes offense.
At the same time, Chang-min’s mom is telling her friends that she plans to erase his one-year marriage from his past, as if she can just strike it from the record. She’s perfectly serious about it too, and plans to marry him off as a bachelor.
The next morning at the hospital, Chang-min treats a curious patient named SHIM JI-HYE (Choi Yeo-jin), who says she’s allergic to most pain meds and just asks for Demerol. Uh, red flag? He hedges, but she basically argues and asks for his superiors until he agrees. Uh-oh.
Jin-hee assists Chun-soo with a patient and does well today with a diagnosis, and though she worries about the patient’s residual pain, Chun-soo gets called away with another emergency.
Jin-hee’s patient gets worse, so she runs out but no one else but Chang-min is around. Oh, simultaneous medical emergencies. Where would dramas be without you? Chang-min’s Demerol junkie Ji-hye overhears them, and runs in to take charge while they’re arguing.
She’s obviously a doctor, but doesn’t stop to explain herself and just demands a scalpel. Lady, you can’t just do that. Both Chang-min and Jin-hee try to stop her, especially because she wants to cut into the guy without anesthesia, but Ji-hye is apparently Dr. House and doesn’t give a crap about ethics, and just digs the scalpel into the man’s chest. Aaaaack.
She saves him, and greets a very shocked Chun-soo in a soft, familiar tone: “It’s been a while.” After getting over his initial shock, they sit down for coffee, and she explains that she was recruited by the hospital. The chief asked her to go undercover as a patient to get a feel for their emergency room, which she couldn’t manage when she saw the interns about to lose a patient.
She’s a surgeon, but has agreed to work in the ER starting tomorrow. Chun-soo’s face freezes all over again, and she asks, “Sunbae, do I still make you uncomfortable?” He doesn’t answer.
Later that night, a crazed suicidal man gets dragged in by two cops, one of whom is bleeding from his gut. They stopped the crazy man from trying to kill himself over a broken heart, but he just takes the opportunity to grab the cop’s gun and hold the whole ER hostage, demanding that they bring him his girlfriend.
Chun-soo runs in with security guards (because he’s Super Doc, naturally), and tries to talk the man down. But when Jin-hee accidentally drops a tray, the gunman notices them and takes Chang-min as a hostage. (What is this music?? It’s so jarring.)
Jin-hee sees the defibrillator nearby and inches the cart closer and closer to the gunman, and charges it up…
Uh… doesn’t this seem like a dangerous plan when he’s holding a gun to Chang-min’s temple?
When he’s busy waving his gun at Chang-min and making threats to Chun-soo, she grabs the paddles and jolts him. Both men go down.
That wasn’t the zippiest opening, considering that it takes the full first episode to set us up for the basic premise. But taken as a pair of episodes, it makes for a more complete premiere. Tonally, the show is strange, in that it feels a little like it’s still trying to decide what it is. It’s wildly extreme from one end of the spectrum to the other, with a rather dark set of characters who then suddenly act farcically over-the-top and maniacal at the drop of a hat.
That’s not always a bad thing, since the broad comedy can have its place in the right moments. There’s just a bit of smoothing that needs to happen in the execution, because right now it hasn’t quite gelled and I’m left wondering if a scene is meant to be funny or not. I think it wants to be Scrubs—funny and at times poignant and thoughtful—but both the humor and the poignancy fall a bit short of the mark, and you can see what the show is aiming for but not quite mastering. I like that they’re shooting for something different, but it does end up leaving me a little detached, thinking about the strangely happy score meant to tell me that the gunman isn’t an actual threat (because boppy music does that?) or the leads’ consistent mugging for the camera, which can’t go on for twenty episodes, right?
At first I didn’t really connect with the leads, though Choi Jin-hyuk seems meant to be hateful and petty from the outset (at least he’s going for it with gusto?) and I didn’t really buy Song Ji-hyo as the scared bird-like version of her character, but things clicked into place belatedly when we got to them six years after the divorce. That character felt MUCH more organic to her, and changed how I was watching the show. This girl I could understand and root for, mortifying drunken trip to the emergency room and all, because she was played more believably. So far Lee Pil-mo is my favorite thing about the show, because he seems to be the only one who’s got a handle on the comic tone without going overboard. It’s probably due to the fact that his character gets to be the least ridiculous, which means he has the advantage of subtlety.
There’s promise in the setup, more so as a workplace drama than anything else. Right now I don’t feel sparks between the leads—oh, there are plenty of antagonistic sparks, but as of yet they don’t have that underlying sizzle subtext that I was envisioning for the romance. No doubt the drama will work its way up to showing us why they were also good for each other as much as they were bad for each other, but they went so far to sell the divorce initially that I find myself rooting for the heroine to survive the internship and get as far away from her ex-husband as possible. I’m sure he’ll be redeemed eventually, but by the end of the second episode, I buy them as enemy combatants, but not as former lovers. Workplace shenanigans alone aren’t enough for me, but once the show can manage to set up the romance in an engaging way, I might feel more compelled to reach for the next episode.