What a strange finale indeed. We get one half filled to the brim with sheer ridiculousness, while the other serves as an epilogue chronicling the bitter pill that is Doctor Stranger as it circles the drain of eternity. Looking back now, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Myungwoo was never a hospital at all—it was clearly an asylum for crazy people.
Stranger finished its run in first place at 12.7%, leaving Triangle with 9.5% while Trot Lovers brought up the rear with 7.2%.
SONG OF THE DAY
NU’EST – “굿 바이 바이 (Good Bye Bye)” [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Jang isn’t keen on giving up just because his entire plan has been found out. Now faced with a wide awake president, his men, along with Hoon and Jae-hee, Jang arrogantly claims that he’ll still get his chance to be president if the president dies…
…Which I guess is what he’s planning, since he orders his men to drag Hoon and Jae-hee out. When none of his men move, Nightshade tells Prime Minister Jang that it’s time to stop now. Just stop.
The president interjects to offer Prime Minister Jang an unbelievable deal: If he stops all this lunacy now, he’ll be forgiven and allowed to keep his position. No one besides them will ever have to know any of this happened. All Prime Minister Jang has to do is follow his orders and be his yes-man. Which, what?
Luckily, Hoon echoes the same sentiment as he reminds the president that Prime Minister Jang is the person who tried to, y’know, kill him. Jae-hee also tries to remind him that if he lets Prime Minister Jang go now, he could attempt to do the same thing in the future.
But this talk is too rational for the president to hear, and he shushes the two doctors for getting involved in state affairs. “Being rewarded for doing wrong and being penalized for doing right… that’s politics, don’t you think?” the president asks. IS IT THOUGH? Isn’t it kind of your job to try and affect change? What is wrong with you people?!
Even though he’s being given a grand opportunity that would never exist among sane people, Prime Minister Jang still acts haughty about it even as he agrees. He just has one condition, because he actually gets to make one: He wants Hoon and Jae-hee handed over to him.
The best part? The president agrees. Even when Hoon and Jae-hee protest, the president is all, What could possibly go wrong? Yes, what COULD possibly go wrong in handing these two people over to a murderous psychopath?
“You promised to save us!” Hoon screams to the president as he’s dragged away. Wow. WOW. I’ve handled a lot of crazy finales in my life, but this? This is a ride to Crazytown on the shortest bus imaginable.
After the president is driven away in an ambulance, Prime Minister Jang tells Nightshade that they’ve got some stuff to hash out. What neither of them notice is that Agent Cha is lurking near the hospital entrance disguised as a bodyguard, because you are what you wear in this world.
We find Hoon and Jae-hee being held hostage in their own hospital, guarded by Secret Service agents who aren’t allowing any of the other doctors near. Hoon tries to make sense of the nonsensical, completely stunned by the president going back on his word after he promised to save them.
He flashes back to when he told the president about Prime Minister Jang’s plans, and how sane the president had seemed then. Jae-hee again blames herself for choosing to go along with Agent Cha’s plan.
“If I could go back… if I could just go back… then it wouldn’t have come to this,” Jae-hee insists. Hoon: “It’s not over yet.” Don’t remind me.
Prime Minister Jang slow claps his way into the room, and warns Jae-hee not to pull out any of her spy maneuvers lest Hoon get a bullet to the head in the middle of a functioning hospital.
He goes into this diatribe about how all these coincidences must add up to Fate, since he had meant for Hoon and his father to die long ago and for Jae-hee to die too, since he was the one who had the embassy doors closed to them back in Budapest.
But now that they’re still alive, he asks them if they really had so much faith in humanity as to trust the president to keep his word. They should have begged him for mercy instead.
“You still wouldn’t have spared us,” Hoon notes wryly, to which Prime Minister Jang just nods as being true. Before he has his men escort them out, he reminds them to act accordingly since they’re in a hospital that saves human lives. (Again proving that no one can resist the compulsion to negate their own threats.)
Prime Minister Jang leaves them at the hospital entrance as he’s driven away—only to have his car suddenly stop. The driver reveals himself to be a laughing Agent Cha as he aims a gun at the prime minister…
Pop! Pop! Pop! Hoon and Co. watch as the car lights up from the three gunshots, and by the time the prime minister’s security detail makes it to the car, Agent Cha has magically vanished.
But since bullets in Stranger are made of life-saving unicorn’s tears, Prime Minister Jang is of course Not Dead, prompting Hoon to get him prepped for surgery.
While Nightshade receives some shady orders from the president, Chang-yi goes to the hospital looking for Hoon. A sympathetic Chi-gyu agrees to help her.
With no other doctors or secret service agents around, Jae-hee and Hoon are left to take Prime Minister Jang to the operating theatre alone. She tries to stop him outside by making an impassioned argument as to why they shouldn’t save the man who caused them so much misery, who killed Hoon’s father, and who’ll try to kill them if he lives.
All Hoon has to do, she says, is let go of the artificial breathing device and let the prime minister die naturally. When Hoon says no, she brings up how he killed her father to save her—why can’t he do this to save her, himself, and his mother now?
But Hoon is adamant in his refusal, because it would be a slap in his father’s face if he were to do as she says. His father died so that he could pick up a scalpel only to save lives, and now Prime Minister Jang is nothing more than a sick patient he has to cure.
Jae-hee tries removing the pressure from Prime Minister Jang’s gunshot wounds, only for Hoon to place her hand back over them. “Feel it,” he urges her. “It’s still beating.”
She finally and reluctantly caves when Hoon forces her to recognize that they can’t ignore a heart that’s still beating, at least until their surgery prep is interrupted by the (very late) arrival of Nightshade and the rest of the security detail. I guess no one’s concerned about sanitary conditions in the operating theatre.
Since the president is a lunatic anyway and okayed the prime minister’s death, Nightshade passes on the message to Hoon that no one will hold him responsible if Prime Minister Jang were to suffer a “table death,” wink wink nudge nudge.
He gives Hoon the same choice Jae-hee did: sunshine and rainbows if Prime Minister Jang dies, and the ninth circle of hell if he lives. Hoon still doesn’t waiver because he’s a doctor, damn it.
“You’ve done a lot of terrible things,” he says to the unconscious prime minister, in his classic devil may care way. “How can there be no one telling me to save you?” Regardless, he’s going to try, even if he and Jae-hee will be working solo.
Even though the president gets to watch the live feed from the operating theatre as the complicated surgery begins, the rest of the hospital remains unaware that any surgery is even taking place. Of course.
While Hoon easily fishes bullets from the blood pool that is Prime Minister Jang’s chest cavity, Secretary #2 worries that this could mean that Jang might, gulp, live. But Nightshade points out that Secretary #2 is relieved when the surgery is successful as proof that he’s on Hoon’s side. Or something.
After Prime Minister Jang is wheeled away, Nightshade gives Hoon and Jae-hee keys to a car he’s had prepared so they can run away from the coming backlash. He’ll make preparations for them to leave the country while they find a place to hide, and promises that he’ll send Mom somewhere safe.
Soo-hyun joins the search for Hoon when Chang-yi goes to her for help, finding out the (irrelevant?) tidbit that Jae-hee didn’t come from Japan and that Hoon’s mom has gone missing. (Aside: All the doctors have been conveniently moved to a “new building” no one’s ever heard or talked about until this point.)
She finds out from Chi-gyu that Hoon was last spotted heading away from the hospital. We find him and Jae-hee in new digs as they run toward the car…
…At least until Hoon is suddenly struck by a bullet. Seriously.
He tries to pass it off as nothing while urging Jae-hee to go on without him, but she’s kind of distracted by that new blood spot he wasn’t sporting before. Plus, Agent Cha reveals himself as the shooter as he stalks toward them with his gun drawn.
Hoon stands in front of Jae-hee protectively as Agent Cha’s finger tightens on the trigger. But Jae-hee, always faster than a bullet, manages to fling herself in front of Hoon before the gun goes off.
Soo-hyun and Chang-yi watch the events unfold from a distance and call the police, which gives Jae-hee juuuust enough time to climb over the railing in a reenactment of the Budapest sequence. Again, no one’s kidding you. This is real.
Now I get why we had the sudden wardrobe change, since Hoon finds himself holding Jae-hee by the hand as she dangles precariously over the requisite body of water.
She tries to get Hoon to release her (again), since she’s been shot somewhere near the heart (again), and since Agent Cha is approaching him with a gun (again). Hoon tells her not to let go (again), but this time Agent Cha sidles up next to them on the balcony all, Isn’t this a familiar scene? Please, please, for the love of god don’t treat us like we need to be reminded.
Agent Cha draws up the similarities to the Budapest scene before noting the one key difference: No one’s there to help them this time. He gives Hoon a chance to live if he only lets go of Jae-hee’s hand, since it’ll be vengeance enough if Hoon lives with the memory of killing her.
Hoon would rather Agent Cha kill him instead, but Agent Cha claims that’s not a possibility even as he levels the gun at Hoon’s head anyway and gives them until the count of three.
Jae-hee begs him to let go to save himself, but Hoon refuses—his biggest regret was letting go of her back then. “I said I would go wherever you went. Do you see the river? No matter where it takes you, don’t worry. Because I’ll be with you.”
He smiles just as Agent Cha counts to three. Though the gun seems to have been leveled at his head, Agent Cha shoots, vaulting Hoon over the railing so that he and Jae-hee fall into the water below.
While Soo-hyun and Chang-yi watch on helplessly, Agent Cha turns the gun on himself. “Long live the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he says with one last shaky breath, and dies.
Since it would make too much sense for Soo-hyun and Chang-yi to search the river bank for their friends, they instead go to the bridge they fell off of in an attempt to look for them.
Of course, they don’t even see so much as a bubble from the water, even though an extremely strong ocean current running underneath has undoubtedly grabbed our two lovers to whisk them away to safety.
One year later.
Prime Minister Jang is just now being arrested for crimes wholly unrelated to the ones he should be jailed for, a televised event the president watches with interest.
He’s apparently changed because of what Hoon said about people doing their actual jobs, and now believes that a politician should practice clean politics. Gee golly mister, that sure is swell for you to say now.
After checking in on Chang-yi and Chi-gyu as a couple, we find Soo-hyun running a tight ship in the operating theatre. Later, she remembers Hoon because she performed the same operation as he once did.
Anesthesiologist Min-se and Doctor Geum are expecting their first child, Chi-gyu has graduated from being a playboy to being a real doctor, and Doctor Moon (now chief the cardiothoracic surgery department) has grown a not-just-comic-relief-anymore goatee. He’s on his way to the ceremony celebrating his appointment as Myungwoo Hospital’s newest director.
Min-se notes that their team doesn’t quite feel complete as they ride the elevator there together, but any hope at being serious dissipates when Doctor Moon lets out a loud fart. And then another.
Soo-hyun finds Doctor Moon crying from happiness after the ceremony, even though his thoughts turn to whether Hoon is watching over him from the afterlife.
He leaves some of Hoon’s favorite snacks in the locker that still bears his name, and promises that he’ll live up to his own father’s will and make Myungwoo a hospital people might actually want to go to.
Chang-yi joins Soo-hyun on the bridge where they lost Hoon and Jae-hee, both believing them to be dead. “Hyung’s at peace, right?” Chang-yi asks. Soo-hyun gives a slight nod, and affirms that Hoon went with the woman he loved.
When asked why Chang-yi still calls Hoon “hyung,” a term used by boys amongst other boys, she admits that it was the distance she put between them so that she wouldn’t end up liking Hoon.
Then she drops a memorial flower into the water with a heavy sigh.
As Nurse Min says her final goodbyes (she’s leaving the hospital to work where her husband does), Jae-joon pays an unexpected visit. Chairman Oh is now a permanent patient at his own hospital, and Jae-joon has come to apologize to him, not to get one.
Jae-joon explains to the chairman that he’s been helping a friend’s law firm in the States since he no longer has any right to be a doctor. But he happened upon a file about Korean hospitals and their malpractice suits, finding that Myungwoo’s level is only 1/10th compared to everyone else.
He’s trying to give Chairman Oh a pat on the back for doing a good job regarding these cases, but Chairman Oh doesn’t seem keen on hearing what he has to say. However, he asks to hear the apology Jae-joon came to give.
Jae-joon: “I wanted to apologize to Soo-hyun’s father. Because I was foolish, I hurt Soo-hyun deeply. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance, but someday, I would like to be forgiven for what I did.” He walks out to find Soo-hyun standing outside the room. Did she hear him?
However, it’s Chairman Oh who rises from his bed to tell Jae-joon that he forgives him only as his daughter’s Han Jae-joon. Considering all those pesky dual identities running around, it’s probably good for him to be specific.
Soo-hyun and Jae-joon finally get a moment, and she switches to calling him by his birth name, Lee Seung-hoon. (Since there’s only this recap left, let’s stick with Jae-joon though.)
She admits that she only ever thought about how he lied to her without considering how much pain he was going through, and says that she’s the one who needs his forgiveness. But Jae-joon claims that there’s another person they need to ask forgiveness from: Hoon.
The next day, Jae-joon takes Soo-hyun on a scenic drive as he tells her he heard something unbelievable about Hoon and Jae-hee. Is he the only one who knows they’re alive?
Soo-hyun seems reluctant to follow him and regretful that she ever pushed her feelings onto Hoon. Likewise, Jae-joon claims that he never really thought much about who Hoon was deep down inside. They both had misconceptions about Hoon, hooray, let’s move on.
But Jae-joon urges her to follow him, because there’s someone he wants her to meet. As if knowing her question before she even asks it, Jae-joon assures her that yes, it’s “that person.”
At a rural health care center, Jae-joon leads Soo-hyun to find Hoon perfectly alive, well, and practicing medicine. Hoon sees her and greets her like nothing happened, calling her “Quack” as usual.
She storms up to him with a pained expression as she tells him how she thought he was dead this whole time—couldn’t he have just told her he was fine? Hoon just laughs off her impotent anger as she hits him a few times with her purse.
After some last minute product placement, Jae-joon asks Hoon what happened after he fell into the water. “I had some help,” Hoon explains without explaining, since we cut to his mother doing well in a hospital.
Nightshade gives Mom a stethoscope Hoon gave her as a gift. She smiles before turning to look longingly at a picture of her and Hoon together.
As if expecting Jae-joon’s visit, Hoon hands him a present too, and it’s… another stethoscope? Man, I wouldn’t want Hoon as my secret santa.
Anyway, the gift is his way of telling Jae-joon that doctoring suits him much better than lawyering. Soo-hyun ignores it as she asks about Jae-hee, only to be told by Jae-joon (who magically knows all things) that Jae-hee applied for asylum in China.
“She’s in China right now then?” Soo-hyun asks, only to be met with silence as Hoon’s face falls.
Soo-hyun and Jae-joon walk to a hilltop where they see Hoon waiting on a dirt road far below. Hoon stares down the road expectantly, as Jae-joon explains to Soo-hyun that he used his connections to help Jae-hee gain status as a political refugee in China and that it all went through only months ago.
However, with her refugee status, Jae-hee was able to then seek political asylum back in Korea. (Don’t try to make sense out of this, trust me.) Then Jae-joon explains that the reason he returned to Korea was because today is the day Jae-hee is supposed to return as well.
As a black car drives toward Hoon, Soo-hyun asks Jae-joon, “You said you didn’t believe in fate, right? Do you still not?”
“No,” Jae-joon replies. “I believe in fate now too.”
Jae-hee gets out of the car and runs toward Hoon with a smile. She grabs him in a hug as Soo-hyun lets out a sigh and slips her hand into Jae-joon’s.
They share a moment while looking on as Jae-hee and Hoon hold each other close. Hoon finally allows himself to take it all in as he nestles his face into Jae-hee’s hair and smiles.
It sure felt like the show had just enough story—a term I use very, very loosely—to make it through the first half of this finale only. The second half, while tying the side characters’ stories into neat little bows, mostly felt like we’d run out of gas and were just coasting to the unearned and wholly unexplainable happy ending.
If we put those last three minutes aside, this finale was a perfect encapsulation of everything that made the experience of watching Doctor Stranger such a frustrating and thankless job. We have an easier time forgiving shows with severe logic fails when they manage to give us something we want in return—a tiny little thing that seems so simple in theory but not in practice, something that can be forged at will but never truly given unless it’s earned. And that something is payoff.
Yes, payoff, that most elusive of concepts which usually mandates that a writer follow through with their setups. Easy, right? Yet this show failed so astronomically at delivering payoffs that it’s honestly bewildering, not only because it’s lazy writing in its truest form, but because it couldn’t even attempt to fool us otherwise when every conflict was introduced in a self-negating vacuum.
I can’t really even wrap my head around all the conflict the show would take pains to introduce only for whatever happened next to make whatever just happened totally meaningless, because I can’t imagine any storyteller who would willingly and knowingly do that to themselves. Or us. Oh, the president just found out his second-in-command cooked up an elaborate(-ly ridiculous) plan to kill him? Why, he should just forgive him! Better yet, he should make sure that man stays in power. Better yet, he should give that lunatic the two people he’s made no secret about wanting to murder. What’s the worst that could happen?
The rest of this finale, as it turned out. What’s more mystifying about that beginning scene is how there was no attempt to peek into the president’s rationale for his actions, which were so beyond the realm of human understanding as to be unintentionally hilarious. By now we’ve come to expect that anyone in a position of power and responsibility must also be insane in this universe, but that? That was just special. Clearly the presidential election was decided by whoever displayed the best macaroni noodle art, and Prime Minister Jang was just the idiot who forgot to use glue.
We’ll never know why the show chose to move the focus of its story away from Hoon’s emotional journey, only that it was one of its greater missteps and a crying shame. He had so much promise as a North Korean refugee with a supernatural ability to diagnose chest-related illnesses, but was wasted as a puppy dog pining away for his old flame. As said flame, Jae-hee was a huge problem the show never quite solved, especially since her potential to be compelling was erased when she spent X amount of episodes disguising her identity because… she… felt like it?
Right. Well, the same could be said of Jae-joon’s reasoning for waiting as long as he did to plan and execute his Coke Zero of revenge plots, and for all those extra final bonus rounds of the competition. See also: the president’s decision, North Korea’s involvement, Soo-hyun’s meager existence, Doctor Moon’s flatulence, Prime Minister Jang’s idiocy, Nightshade’s normalcy, Agent Cha’s resilience, and Hoon’s wasted potential.
It doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to think that this was just someone’s passing fancy assembled with all the forethought of a finger painting, but sometimes dramaland’s truths cut deep. Coming from someone who’s been here too many times to count and who’s as qualified to be a doctor as the characters in this show (read: not), here’s a prescription for Fated To Love You. Take two and leave a comment in the morning.
(1) New Voicemail for: Doctor Stranger
Doctor Stranger, these past two months with you have been unforgettable—I don’t think there are enough words to describe all the things you’ve taught me, but here goes: Know that I’m doing this for myself and everyone else who made it to the other side when I say that I’ll be better off without you. The reason I want to be alone from now on is for my own sanity, and because you lost yours ages ago. Since you decided to tell me (lots of) things that happened off-screen, I decided to return the favor in kind by leaving you with this message.
You made any questionable medical and ethical judgment in other shows of your genre like Good Doctor and Medical Top Team look like child’s play (save for Dr. Jin, but I get it—it’s hard to aim to be that brand of crazy), and your baddie was nothing more than a petulant man-child. You taught us that personal revenge that spans decades could be illustrated through a Metaphor Castle that took weeks to build, but would only take hours, or sometimes even minutes for it to be cast aside, all but forgotten. You gave us glimpses of the living dead in the form of Zombie Cha and Inferius Jae-hee, and taught us that death by water is only the beginning. Or just that death is cheap. And every repeated coincidence hammers in the idea that it’s fate, you once said over and over again.
For the innumerable number of hours you made me stand vigil by your dramatic bedside, I say: Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole hospital! Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your scalpel!
Ahem, I think it’s better that we part ways here, and that I let go of your outstretched hand for both our sakes. And no, I won’t come find you again after I finish this message. Take care—I hear the branch hospital has an opening.
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 19
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 18
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 17
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 16
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 15
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 14
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 13
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 12
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 11
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 10
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 9
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 8
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 7
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 6
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 5
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 4
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 3
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 2
- Doctor Stranger: Episode 1