It’s been a great opening week for medical thriller Doctor Stranger, which polished off its unique and chilling backstory in another suspenseful hour that’s high on emotions, stakes, and pretty much anything else that would appeal to the adrenaline junkie in all of us. Especially those with a soft spot for a moony-eyed hero who knows how to save lives and end them.
And though I was sure it’d be a cold day in hell before I’d ever like a medical drama enough to commit the previously unspeakable act of continuing to watch, the time has finally come. If I thought it’d help my case, I’d mention how my interest in this show is directly relative to how dark it’s gone and how emotionally scarring it’s still willing to go—but I wouldn’t, because that’d be a completely crazy reason to study a show on a weekly basis. I mean, no one could be that masochistic.
On the ratings front, the race for first remains close: Triangle still won out with 9.6%, while Stranger rose to 9.4%. Big Man had the smallest numbers at 8.2%.
SONG OF THE DAY
Bobby Kim – “Stranger” from the OST. [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Hoon watches helplessly behind a locked gate as Dad is shot in front of him. Despite the dozens of armed soldiers who soon surround his father, Hoon frantically works at the lock until he opens the door.
He knocks away the soldiers who try to hold him back as he forces his way into the circle to cradle his dying dad. He screams for immediate medical intervention, but none of the soldiers are keen on complying.
Dad knows as much, and chokes out his final words to his son: “Make me just one promise. From now on… don’t ever forget the fact that you are a doctor.” Aw.
With that, Dad passes, leaving Hoon to sob over his body. (Is that Agent Cha watching?)
Hoon’s planned trip to Budapest is still on schedule for the next day, even though he has to choke back his tears at the sight of the courtyard where it all happened. Agent Cha is there to menacingly remind Hoon to do his job and secure the foreign funding, “If not, you’ll end up like your father.”
But just because Hoon’s leaving the country, he’s not off Agent Cha’s suspicion radar, since he instructs his minion to find out everything he can about Hoon’s relationship to Jae-hee.
Budapest is a busy international hotspot these days, since we find Assemblyman Jang there to give a presentation to an audience of both Koreans and Hungarians. His creepy bodyguard (who wears his sunglasses at night) seems to be especially on guard after he receives a secret update on a secret, secretly.
Hoon arrives on site in an ambulance carrying a still-unconscious Jae-hee on a gurney. But he’s not alone—Agent Cha has managed to get there before him (Pyongyang has a better commercial airline infrastructure than I thought), because he knows it’s not just coincidence that Jae-hee is Hoon’s patient when he now knows that they both attended the same school. Uh oh.
While Assemblyman Jang gives a speech about how the Korean community in Hungary will positively influence their economy, Bodyguard Nightshade covertly accepts large sums of money by men claiming to support Jang’s potential run for presidency.
But when they get back to the meeting hall, Nightshade is shown images taken by the South Korean Embassy of Agent Cha, Hoon, and the rest of their party in Budapest.
Though Nightshade knows they’re from the North, he doesn’t see why their presence would’ve alerted the embassy, until his colleague tells him that one of the party members has requested political asylum. It’s Hoon.
Speaking of, Hoon visits Jae-hee’s hospital bed after being snuck an ampoule by a sympathetic fellow doctor. Her eyes slowly open after he redresses her surgical wound, and Hoon is almost brought to tears as he chokes out, “Do you recognize me?”
The first thing she asks about is her father, and a tear escapes her eye as she reads Hoon’s pained silence as confirmation that her father didn’t make it. If only she knew why.
Hoon looks so loving, and so very, very afraid as he asks her to trust him. She nods her assent, and Hoon breaks open the smuggled ampoule to administer its contents into her eyes so that they stay closed.
And just in time too, since Agent Cha comes snooping around because he’s got a strong feeling that Hoon is the one who requested political asylum from South Korea. He makes sure to warn Hoon that his plan would never work—he and Jae-hee could be killed at any time. I love that Hoon reaches behind him to squeeze Jae-hee’s hand protectively, while his eyes shoot daggers at Agent Cha.
Luckily for Hoon though, he’s too important of an asset to be done away with right away. Agent Cha knows that they need him to secure the foreign funding, because if they don’t get it, not even he will be spared from prison camp.
While the guards aren’t looking, Hoon injects Jae-hee with a syringe that will stop her heart in a few hours. In voiceover he says, “You have to endure it, Jae-hee.”
Meanwhile, Nightshade delivers Assemblyman Jang’s blood money, meant to help his run for the presidency. It’s no surprise that he’s corrupt, but he’s reminded of his murderous past when Nightshade brings up the fact that Hoon, son of the man Jang left to die, is in the city.
A code blue is announced, since Jae-hee’s heart has stopped as per Hoon’s plan. In order to use a defibrillator, Hoon demands that the guards remove the metal handcuffs keeping Jae-hee tied to the bed. Smart.
And then we see just how meticulous Hoon’s plan is—using advice from the sympathetic Hungarian doctor, Hoon secretly unplugged the heart monitor so that even if he did get her heart to start beating, it would still look to everyone else that she flatlined.
Agent Cha, suspicious as ever, feels for her pulse and opens her eyes to see if her pupils react to light. They don’t, and though we know that it’s due to Hoon’s ampoule, it serves as confirmation to Agent Cha that she’s dead.
Aw, I love that Hoon’s made a friend in the sympathetic Hungarian doctor, since he comes in to (falsely) confirm that Jae-hee is, in fact, dead. In a flashback, we hear the doctor tell Hoon that after he confirms her heart has stopped, Hoon has only five minutes to revive her.
As Jae-hee’s bed is wheeled out, Hoon attacks one of two guards with a syringe. The other one won’t go down as easily, and Hoon struggles desperately to free himself from the man’s grasp so that he can save Jae-hee, who’s only feet away.
His eyes are wild as he’s held down, and his watch tells him he has only three minutes left. In a burst of strength, Hoon throws the guard off him and uses an IV stand as a weapon to knock him down before using Jae-hee’s gurney to knock another oncoming guard down the stairs. Badass.
The clock is ticking, but Hoon’s not out of trouble yet—Agent Cha and his lackeys come running. But Hoon, with Jae-hee held tightly in his arms, plays a game of cat and mouse with his pursuers, smartly using the building’s architecture to his advantage.
One minute left. Hoon rushes Jae-hee into a shower where he douses her in hot water and performs CPR. Still desperate when she doesn’t respond, Hoon brings his fists down hard on her chest. One. Two. Three.
And then… she wakes.
By the time Agent Cha finds the pin Hoon accidentally dropped near the shower, he’s too late—the lovebirds are gone. While the petulant little man screams his frustration, Hoon carries Jae-hee to a car he had prepared (man, he really is a genius) and speeds off.
Another car collides with them as they make their getaway, giving Agent Cha and his men an opportunity to surround the vehicle with guns drawn. But no one’s inside.
And that’s because Hoon escaped with Jae-hee out the back door, and by the time Agent Cha realizes it, Hoon has already commandeered (okay, stolen) a motorcycle with Jae-hee weakly holding onto him from behind.
Hoon speeds through the narrow streets of Budapest while Hoon and his men stay hot on their tail in a thrilling high-speed chase. Agent Cha proves ruthlessly persistent as Hoon takes a detour through a building, but just when you think Hoon’s safe after driving his motorcycle down some stairs that Cha’s car can’t follow, he finds himself trapped.
You see the wheels turning in Hoon’s head as he realizes that he has only one very dangerous way out—he has to drive back up the stairs toward Agent Cha and a gun.
After taking in a few nervous breaths, Hoon makes his move, and runs over Agent Cha to freedom. Agent Cha knows that they’re going to the South Korean embassy and orders his men to keep pursuing them.
While Assemblyman Jang mulls over Hoon’s request for political asylum, considering that Hoon might remember just how much Jang was responsible for what happened to his family, Hoon shares a tender moment with Jae-hee as they drive toward the embassy.
But when they reach the golden gates of the embassy, the doors are locked. The guards inside approach unlocking said doors like they’re practicing their arthritic slo-mo, and while Hoon and Jae-hee embrace each other in relief outside, the moment screams that it’s too soon for celebration. They’re not safe yet.
Inside, Assemblyman Jang pats himself on the back for taking the credit for saving the country from nuclear war all those years ago, since that’s what put him on the road to being a presidential candidate. At least his right hand man, Nightshade (aka Secretary Kim), seems to have a conscience as he asks whether Hoon’s father really had to die.
Assemblyman Jang qualifies his answer in that twisted logic loved by especially crazy villains round the world: “It was a sacrifice for a higher purpose.” And then he reminds Nightshade that his hands aren’t clean either—because ten years ago, Jang ordered him to kill Hoon’s mother.
But as we see in a flashback, it’s possible that Nightshade had mercy on Hoon’s mother. Iiinteresting.
Assemblyman Jang makes a call which bars Hoon and Jae-hee entry into the embassy. The guards inside turn a blind eye to Hoon’s pleas to be let inside, while Jae-hee seems resigned to her fate as Agent Cha and his goons converge on their location.
While Hoon and Jae-hee run for their lives, Assemblyman Jang seems almost amused as he watches from his window. After convincing himself (which isn’t hard) that he can’t afford the scandal Hoon could bring to his run for president, he implicitly suggests that Nightshade get rid of the threat.
But Nightshade looks to a jar of lollipops he’s collected ever since the day that Mini Hoon offered him one out of kindness. Aww. He does have a conscience. I like this ajusshi.
Hoon and Jae-hee try escaping on foot, but Jae-hee’s too weak to go much further. She urges him to escape alone but he flatly refuses, even when they’re trapped by Agent Cha and his men.
To his credit, Hoon fights for their lives, but his willpower alone isn’t enough. As one of the agents aims his gun, Hoon positions himself protectively in front of Jae-hee and squeezes her hand behind his back.
Hoon closes his eyes as the sound of a gunshot rings out. After a long, tense moment of uncertainty, his eyes open. Has he been shot?
He focuses on Jae-hee, who now stands in front of him. In horror, Hoon looks down to see blood staining her dress. Oh god, she took the bullet for him.
His eyes grow wider and more frightened as she starts backing toward the bridge’s railing. Hoon reaches out as she falls over the edge and catches her hand before she plummets into the river below.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Hoon tries to reassure her, even though she’s hanging on by a thread. She can only cry feebly as a gun is pressed to the back of Hoon’s head, helpless to help him or herself.
A shot rings out, and Hoon’s would-be murderer drops like a stone. The sniper is none other than Nightshade, who chooses not to shoot Hoon as ordered and instead shoots at his attackers.
But Agent Cha is determined as ever to get his, and manages to shoot Hoon in the shoulder. Blood drips down Hoon’s arm and onto Jae-hee, who’s still hanging onto his hand.
Again, Hoon tells her that everything’s going to be all right, but Jae-hee knows better. He knows what she’s planning to do as her expression goes serene, and begs her not to let go.
“Please remember me,” she says through her tears. “My doctor… Comrade Park Hoon… Goodbye.” Hoon is crying now, still pleading, but she squeezes his hand one last time before she lets go.
He screams in agony as she falls down, down, down, and after she disappears into the water below. The arrival of the local police force is the only thing that stops Hoon from jumping in after her.
Two years later.
At a hospital in Seoul, Doctor MOON HYUNG-WOOK, spokesdoc of the cardiothoracic surgery department, discusses the pros of having
Assemblyman, now Prime Minister Jang’s upcoming surgery at his hospital.
Even if the new prime minister’s surgery is turning into a publicity stunt, Doctor Moon sees it in a positive light—maybe it’ll encourage more medical students to get into cardiothoracic surgery, since he claims they steer clear due to the difficulty level.
A code blue interrupts his meeting, and while doctors and nurses alike rush to the emergency room, one doctor in particular seems more interested in building an intricate doll house. He’s cardiothoracic surgeon HAN JAE-JOON (Park Hae-jin), because fictional reality was made for doctors just like him.
…Although he’s also got that how-did-you-even-get-here quickness of Batman, since he’s in the room with the flatlining patient before Doctor Moon even catches his breath.
While Jae-joon suggests taking the patient into surgery, Doctor Moon would rather blame everyone around him for messing things up, since he’s got Prime Minister Jang’s people to impress.
But the arrival of Hospital Director OH JOON-GYU (Jeon Gook-hwan) puts a stop to their bickering, as he reminds the doctors present that they have a patient to save. In order to cover his ass in case the patient’s condition was their fault, Doctor Moon declares that he’ll head the surgical team.
Jae-joon seems to have his own plans, however, and makes a call to assemble his preferred dream team. The first doctor he calls is OH SOO-HYUN (Kang So-ra), and the other two doctors arrive after a game of Dramatic Telephone. Cue slow motion doctor walk.
Doctor Moon must not know how to get around in his own hospital, because he makes it to the operating theater in time to find that Jae-joon and his team have already beaten him to the punch and are prepped for surgery. Jae-joon wins.
Doctor Moon goes to Director Oh to complain about being suddenly upended from his position because of one tiny mistake, but Director Oh is firm in his decision to suspend him—they’re going to be responsible for Prime Minister Jang’s surgery, so they can’t afford any bad press.
But if Doctor Moon wants to change his lot, he has to create a dream team that’s capable of beating out Jae-joon’s.
We finally get to catch up with Hoon outside a Seoul prison, and it’s made clear that this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s pretty cavalier about it though, even as he’s picked up by his tomboyish friend LEE CHANG-YI (Sistar’s Yoon Bo-ra), who calls him “hyung” like she’s one of the guys.
Like him, she’s also a refugee from North Korea, and is made fun of for her attempt to fit in better by adopting a Seoulite accent. From their conversation, it seems like they pooled their resources to buy a small clinic, which Hoon wanted her to sell while he was in prison so he could take half the cash.
Chang-yi knows that he wants the money so he can continue his attempts to find Jae-hee, since he’s convinced that she’s still alive and that she was taken back to the DPRK. But he won’t listen to reason when she tells him that she’s been trying forever to smuggle her mother into South Korea, all to no avail.
Until now, that is. He’s more than a little skeptical when she tells him she struck a very expensive bargain with a human smuggler they both know in the hopes that he’ll deliver her mom to her, but changes his attitude when Chang-yi tells him that he needs to make money if he wants the smuggler to bring Jae-hee.
In his quest to earn money, Hoon gets into an adorable tiff with a little girl over who has the rights to a dropped coin. The little girl wins, but Hoon notices that her finger is broken and uses nearby objects to set it. Then he asks her to pay him for his services… to the tune of that one coin. Haha.
Having ignored the fact that Hoon wanted her to sell their tiny clinic, Chang-yi forces him back in a headlock because she advertised for the clinic’s reopening. But when they find the inside filled with mobsters, she scrams to save her skin, leaving Hoon to face them alone.
He doesn’t seem too concerned, as usual, until he realizes that the thugs aren’t there to collect—they’ve brought their boss for treatment, since he can’t exactly go to a real hospital for help. (Is this music reminding anyone else of Disneyworld on cocaine?)
Hoon uses his medical genius to diagnose the boss with appendicitis, and performs a breezy surgery while the underlings look on. (It’s worth noting that Nightshade knows where Hoon and his clinic are.) And he’s smart enough to ask for payment when the boss’ abdomen is still open, since the underlings have no choice but to pay him to finish the surgery.
And ha, Hoon cheerfully extorts every single dollar that he can, even going so far as to charge separately for each stitch. To top it all off, he asks for a fifty cent coin, since he lost his chance to snag the one who got away at the playground.
Hoon rushes to meet Chang-yi as she gives the shady human smuggler the last of her money… and to Hoon’s utter surprise, her mother is actually delivered straight to their door as promised.
Mother and daughter share a tearful reunion, all thanks to Teacher/Smuggler Im. After they’re gone, the smuggler tells Hoon how his operation works and then mentions Jae-hee’s name. Now he’s got Hoon hook, line, and sinker.
Hoon tries to give him the money he received from the gangsters in exchange for information, but gets nowhere with Smuggler Im’s American Dollars Only policy.
Meanwhile, Nightshade returns to Prime Minister Jang (who’s of course not content with being prime minister when he wanted to be president) with the latest report on Hoon’s movements. They know everything about him, and worse yet, they wanted Hoon to react the way he did to Smuggler Im. I know, I don’t know either.
Prime Minister Jang seems interested in Hoon only because they know he’s the best cardiothoracic surgeon in both Koreas, and he’s in need of Hoon’s doctoring skills for his own ailing body. But it’s getting Hoon to agree that’ll be the problem.
So by their own design, Smuggler Im has the same tape of Jae-hee in a North Korean prison camp as they do. Huh. But what matters most is that Hoon gets his first piece of solid evidence that Jae-hee is, in fact, still alive.
All she can manage to eke out is Hoon’s name, and he hers, as they reach out to each other across the digital divide.
And the plot thickens. I’m sure it surprised none of us that Jae-hee was still alive, since the saying “water is life” finds its best application when used in drama logic. I’m sure it also surprised all zero viewers that Prime Minister Jang is sticking to his villainously corrupt character trajectory, which means that we’re left to try and piece together the last two years of Hoon’s life as well as Jang’s murky involvement in Hoon’s quest to find his missing love.
Based only on what we know right now—while keeping in mind that the amount of things we knew dropped drastically after the time skip and country switch—the conspiracy to get Hoon to agree to perform Prime Minister Jang’s surgery comes off as unnecessarily complicated, doesn’t it? Unraveling those strands is going to have to depend on more than just coincidence, because if Jae-hee being fished half-dead from a river in Hungary only to be transported back to a North Korean gulag turns out to be anything less than a conspiracy, then we’ll have a lot more on our Issues plate than Hoon’s prison sleepovers and how exactly he’s practicing medicine.
Speaking of curing the sick and injured, one of Doctor Stranger’s biggest initial draws for me was the dark and downright horrifying places they went with Hoon’s character—and all in its first hour, no less. What started out as a familiar, boy-and-his-genius tale turned into anyone’s worst nightmare, but especially so for a kid who wanted only to be a doctor. To then put him through half a decade of being forced to treat people like guinea pigs while committing unspeakable atrocities and flat-out murder is one of the deepest and darkest would-be hero introductions in recent memory. I mean, he literally killed Jae-hee’s father because he liked her better. If that doesn’t immediately register as one of the most messed up ways to show undying love for another human being, then romance is really and truly dead.
On a lighter note, but hopefully not one underscored by music the show pilfered from an unloved toddler’s birthday party, all the macabre backstory in the world could not a compelling hero make—so for that, we thankfully have Lee Jong-seok, whose performance thus far has been so off the charts that it deserves a special mention and then some. The whole chase scene in Hungary depended on his ability to use silent action to express his devotion, and if nothing else, we can believe in his obsessive and maybe even dangerous love for Jae-hee.
However, the jury’s still out on Hoon’s x-ray vision. It seemed inevitable that in dramaland’s never-ending quest to make each genius more genius-y than the last, adding superhuman abilities to the heroic gene pool was just a matter of time. What matters now is whether the show will choose to use its willingness to go where others of its ilk dare not, hopefully to set a new precedent in its timeworn genre. Because to not do so would be a waste of all the potential Doctor Stranger has to take us for a bloody good ride.
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- Doctor Stranger’s new mishmash of a preview
- Doctor Stranger pushes premiere, releases teaser
- Hot and cold geniuses in Doctor Stranger
- First script read for medical melo Doctor Stranger
- Jin Se-yeon joins Lee Jong-seok in Doctor Stranger
- Doctor Stranger: Lee Jong-seok in, Park Min-young out
- Park Min-young offered lead in Doctor Stranger
- Park Hae-jin in talks to join Doctor Stranger
- Lee Jong-seok considers new medical drama