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Beautiful Mind: Episode 1

The creators of Beautiful Mind promised that its attention to detail would set this drama apart. After watching the carefully crafted and dynamic first episode, I have to admit they kept their word. Every important character is given nuance and history without ever making the story lag. The plot moves quickly, weaving through complex relationships, and plays on perception. This story has all the makings of an excellent medical thriller, and with a cast this powerfully talented it would take a major debacle for it to go wrong.

 

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

On an airplane, a passenger suddenly falls unconscious. The cabin crew immediately asks for help from any doctor on board, and one attendant enters the business class and anxiously asks a man if he’s a doctor. Without looking up from his paper he says, “Why do you ask?” She explains that a patient needs medical attention. This gets no response from him.

She asks him again if he’s a doctor since the passenger list states that he is. Dr. LEE YOUNG-OH (Jang Hyuk) finally folds away his paper and calmly points out that this isn’t his workplace. Giving up, the attendant walks away.

Back in Seoul, a police car streaks through the streets after a speeding motorcyclist. Our determined traffic cop, GYE JIN-SUNG (Park So-dam) veers dangerously close to a bus as her partner, Sergeant Park, holds on for dear life. He doesn’t understand why she’s so intent on catching this guy when they’ve already filled their monthly quota for fines.

But Jin-sung doesn’t want to be another cop who just fines people. She explains with fierce earnestness that she has to do this to protect the citizens, and this citizen wasn’t wearing a helmet.

The runaway motorcyclist finally comes to a stop in front of Hyunsung Medical Center, the cops close on his heels. Before running in after the man, Jin-sung hands over her ID to her startled partner, voluntarily reporting herself for speeding.

Inside the hospital, Assemblyman KIM MYUNG-SOO (Ryu Seung-soo) is speaking to the press about a new medical technology that his government is helping the hospital develop. He has a flair for rhetoric and his speech draws big applause from the media, though the doctors look less than impressed.

One of the directors of the hospital, Director KANG HYUN-JOON (Oh Jung-se), thanks Assemblyman Kim for making the opening of their Cardio-cerebrovascular Center the first event he attends as a presidential candidate.

The assemblyman is then introduced to Dr. LEE GUN-MYUNG (Heo Joon-ho) who looks impatient to be done with this. When the assemblyman asks for his help in taking this initiative forward, Dr. Lee looks at him blandly and says that he’s only good at taking care of his patients. Everyone laughs awkwardly and Director Kang remarks that Dr. Lee will make things difficult.

The hospital’s head director, Chief Director Shin, catches up with Dr. Lee in the hallway and asks why he couldn’t be nicer to the politician. Dr. Lee retorts that Hyunsung’s biggest contribution to medicine is making well-fed pets of its doctors. As Chief Director Shin sighs, Dr. Lee tells him that they should try to grow old with dignity.

Just then, the motorcyclist pushes past them wielding a metal pole and screams that Assemblyman Kim is a liar and he’s going to tell everyone what the assemblyman has done. He wildly rushes at the man and bodyguards converge on them to keep the assemblyman safe.

After a tussle they disarm the man and take him out of the hall still screaming. Jin-sung arrives in time to see them escort the man out. Just for a moment her eyes meet the assailant’s.

But instead of being turned over to the police, the man is pushed into a van with his hands tied. His face is slack with terror as the door slams shut and the car drives away.

Everyone is curious about who the assailant was but the Assemblyman says the man’s identity doesn’t matter. What matters is how he plays the game. Now, instead of being an unwanted presidential candidate, he is the victim of political terrorism and the press got a scoop worth the airtime.

Chief Director Shin urges them to move towards the pressroom but a voice ahead tells them that they’ll have to cancel the conference.

They turn to look at Lee Young-oh, who suggests that the assemblyman should cancel everything on his schedule. The group ignores him, but Young-oh states that there’s a time bomb ticking in Assemblyman Kim’s head. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Assemblyman Kim gets annoyed and asks who he is — a member of the opposition party, perhaps? Director Kang identifies Young-oh as a newly recruited surgeon at the hospital.

Young-oh simply says that they’ll know what he means before the elevator door opens. The door opens and nothing happens, and a relieved Assemblyman Kim walks in. But Young-oh keeps looking at his watch. Then they hear a thud and the door slides open again with the assemblyman doubled over in pain, and Young-oh smiles at the spectacle.

Assemblyman Kim learns that he had a giant aneurysm and asks how Young-oh predicted it. Young-oh enumerates the signs he was displaying before his attack and is merciless in emphasizing how dire the situation is. An operation could result in partial paralysis, neurological damage, or death, but even so the case is interesting enough for Young-oh to suggest a live surgery.

This news startles the staff all over the hospital. Despite his impressive credentials, operating on a high-profile politician while the world watches is a bold and showy move. They wonder if Dr. Lee will approve of it.

He doesn’t approve. He explains to Chief Director Shin that exposing a high-profile patient’s identity to gain public attention is unethical. But Chief Director Shin wonders if Dr. Lee’s disapproval is really about the surgery or the surgeon who suggested it.

The assemblyman is worried he would lose public support in the election if people knew he was sick. Young-oh tells him flatly that he would rather be the politician who survived illness than be the politician who tested positive on illegal drugs.

He shows Assemblyman Kim the test results, which were positive for cocaine. Assemblyman Kim feels threatened, but Young-oh says he can either be exposed as a drug user or volunteer himself for the growth of medical science in Korea.

He gets the Assemblyman’s signature on the consent form and the live surgery is announced. Dr. Lee asks Young-oh why he didn’t discuss the surgery with him before announcing it. Young-oh says that this was a gift from him to Dr. Lee for getting appointed head of the center.

Then Young-oh turns and smiles before calling out, “Father.”

Dr. Lee tells him that he had been getting reports on Young-oh from his advisors in the States. Young-oh’s smile disappears for a moment and he says he knows all about the weekly letters.

Dr. Lee looks startled and Young-oh tells him he shouldn’t have bothered, as he should know his son better than anyone else, and will soon find out what kind of doctor Young-oh has become.

At the police station, Sergeant Park catches Jin-sung all dressed up and teases her about going out on a date. She denies it and flounces out of the locker room, only to come back a moment later and ask him which of the three different ways she tucks her hair around her ears looks best.

Jin-sung arrives at the restaurant early and waits several hours for her date. When the dinner service is almost over and her date hasn’t come, she pulls up a phone number saved under “One More Bottle.”

Then someone bumps into her shoulder making her accidentally dial it. One More Bottle picks up almost immediately and she hyperventilates a little before saying hello. She tries to sound flippant, saying that she only called to say hi and will hang up now since he must be busy.

Jin-sung sits in her car and sighs as she puts on a ring made out of a bottle cap. Suddenly, a van screeches down the lane and a man is pushed out of it. He scrambles up and limps towards her car, but the van backs up and hits the man at full speed. The man flies into her windshield and falls to the ground.

Jin-sung gets out of the car in time to catch the make and color of the van. She reports the accident to Sergeant Park and then notices the burn scar on the man’s right arm.

Then her eyes travel to his courier service jacket and his keychain with a picture of him and a boy. She realizes it’s the motorcyclist from that morning. She kneels closer to the man as his mouth moves and he says, “Please don’t kill me… I won’t tell anyone…” Jin-sung straightens slowly and tells Sergeant Park that this wasn’t an accident; it was a murder.

Jin-sung goes with the patient to the emergency ward of Hyunsung Hospital. When the doctors ask if she’s his guardian, she stops to take out her ID but is preempted by HYUN SUK-JOO (Yoon Hyun-min) who calls out that she’s a patrol officer.

He puts on his lab coat as he walks past her and starts talking to one of the doctors about preparing for immediate surgery, even as Jin-sung impatiently asks him about the man’s condition. He just tells her to find the victim’s family. He knows she’s in shock but he says he can’t worry about her right now. He hands her money to buy a warm drink and tells her to breathe deeply.

As he starts to go back, Jin-sung notices that she’s still wearing the bottle-cap ring and hurriedly takes it off. Suk-joo stops and seems to remember that they had dinner plans tonight. He promises to make it up to her after the operation and she walks away happy.

Suk-joo explains the case to Young-oh, but Young-oh argues that with that amount of bleeding and a chest surgery that could last up to four hours, the chances of brain death are ninety percent, and he won’t operate. Suk-joo says he has quick hands and can do the chest surgery quickly. Young-oh promises to keep that in mind, but walks away.

One of the residents, Lee Shi-hyun, hears this and asks loudly if only presidential candidates have dignity of life. Young-oh stops, but not at her words. He notices a boy accompanied by Jin-sung, and his eyes catch the quick shift in the boy’s gaze, the tightening of his grip on his bag, and Young-oh frowns.

Jin-sung introduces the boy as the patient’s son. Suk-joo asks Young-oh to reconsider his decision since the patient isn’t brain-dead yet. Young-oh just watches the boy and bangs his hand on the window of the patient’s room. No one inside reacts.

Young-oh explains that no matter what they do, this man would likely end up a vegetable, and he has no interest in such an operation. Jin-sung has had enough and recites verbatim the Article of Medical Emergency Services Act that he just violated by refusing to operate. She handcuffs him and says, “I sure hope you find this interesting.” Young-oh just watches her with oddly rapt attention.

Suk-joo says that Young-oh is right, and proposes a joint surgery by both departments instead. He knows that it’s a risky operation, and Young-oh adds that one thing is pretty high — the chance of the patient dying during the surgery.

Suk-joo insists that they still have to try. Young-oh finally agrees and turns to Jin-sung with his cuffed hands held up, his eyes smiling.

The cooperative surgery begins and Suk-joo has an encouraging, pleasant word for everyone in the operating room and the mood is relaxed. The cardiothoracic team moves methodically and things only get a little tense when they stop the heart and they race against the clock to get it all done in half an hour.

Jin-sung waits outside with the patient’s son, who ignores her attempts to be friendly. Jin-sung persists and finally pulls away one of his earbuds to see what he’s listening to, but it turns out there’s no audio. Jin-sung scolds him for being a sullen teen and hopes that for his sake his dad wakes up so someone can nag him.

Back in the operating room the mood is almost jubilant as the chest surgery is declared complete. Young-oh keeps doing his own work on the brain, barely sparing them a glance. They restart the heart and everyone sighs in relief except Young-oh, and Suk-joo begins to suture the wound when one of the doctors notices blood welling up in the chest cavity.

The atmosphere immediately changes. Suk-joo works fast to stem the blood flow but the man’s vitals start failing. The doctor assisting Young-oh wonders how this suddenly happened, and Young-oh just says that next will be a premature ventricular contraction (PVC). The words are prophetic as the heart suffers a PVC and everyone watches in silent sympathy as Suk-joo works with desperation trying to revive the patient.

Finally, Young-oh leans forward and declares the time of death and walks away. Suk-joo stands over the body, exhausted and defeated.

Young-oh walks out past Jin-sung and the patient’s son without a word. Suk-joo and the rest of the team come out a moment later, looking tired and depressed. Suk-joo tells them that the man passed away during surgery.

He walks up to the son and bows deeply in apology, regret stamped all over his face. The boy walks towards the operating room and bangs his fist against the glass, an incoherent cry rising from his throat. He turns to them and his fingers fly in sign language, his mouth forming soundless desperate questions. Getting no reply from the stunned doctors, he screams and bangs at the door again.

The death has a deep impact on everyone involved. Suk-joo finds Young-oh on the rooftop and sadly remarks that his efforts were made worthless because Suk-joo failed to keep the man alive. But he’s still grateful to Young-oh for helping him try his best to save the man. Young-oh says that he didn’t do the surgery because of Suk-joo or because he believed that he could save the man.

He’d already said that the chances of survival were minuscule, but he went in because he wanted to see whether his cold statistics would win or Suk-joo’s romantic idealism would. He calls it a kind of game or a bet with himself and says that there was one more reason.

He wanted to see Suk-joo’s face at the end of the game, stripped of his confidence. “Unfortunately,” he says pleasantly, “This time I won.” He leaves, walking past Jin-sung, who’s heard everything.

Dr. Lee looks concerned when he hears that Young-oh’s patient died on the operating table. Beside him on a bookshelf is a framed picture of a younger Dr. Lee hugging a smiling little boy.

Young-oh comes back to his office to find Dr. KIM MIN-JAE (Park Se-young) organizing his desk. He puts things back, saying that he thought she was smart enough to know that he dislikes strangers going through his things.

Min-jae is unfazed and says since she asked him out first and he left her here for five years to go study abroad, they may very well be strangers. She says they should end it here, but Young-oh digs into the box Min-jae was emptying, he brings out a ring.

“Kim Min-jae,” he says right there, “Marry me.” As Min-jae laughs, Young-oh puts the ring on her finger and says that they would make good partners. He also promises that he’ll never let another woman make his heart flutter.

At the police station, Jin-sung is frustrated with her partner for not taking the hit-and-run case to homicide. He says there are no witnesses and no CCTV footage to corroborate her statement, and with the victim dying on the surgery table, how can they claim it’s a homicide?

Just then she spots the victim’s son being escorted out by social services and the boy’s eyes linger on her. Sergeant Park follows her and asks why she didn’t at least say goodbye to the boy and she bursts out that she didn’t know what to say if the boy asked her who killed his father. Jin-sung tells her partner that she asked for an autopsy and intends to get to the bottom of this.

Suk-joo lies on an operating table reliving the surgery in his mind. He goes over the details of his procedure, trying to figure out where he went wrong. He remembers Young-oh pronouncing the time of death and later saying that it was all a game, and that he won this round.

Agitated, he gets up and goes in search of Young-oh. He finds the doctor who’d been assisting Young-oh and asks him if anything odd happened during the operation. The guy tells him about Young-oh predicting the PVC before it happened.

Suk-joo tracks Young-oh down and asks how he could have been so confident about the results. Young-oh smiles at the accusation in his tone. He reminds Suk-joo that if there is a mistake or malpractice on the part of the lead surgeon, no one can prove it unless the surgeon confesses himself.

Suk-joo goes in search of the surgery video footage but finds that it’s all been deleted. He goes to the hospital’s Assistant Manager Chae, who dismisses his conspiracy theories. He does tell Suk-joo that the police are going to conduct an autopsy, so if anything is suspicious, it wouldn’t hurt to wait for the results to bring them up.

In the morgue, a man in a lab coat pulls out the victim’s body and is surprised that his heart is missing. Somewhere else another man puts a heart in a jar of fluid.

Jin-sung is having no luck with the autopsy. The medical examiner is pretty sure it was an ordinary accident and nothing special marked his death.

Young-oh leaves his office and comes across his father in the hallway. Dr. Lee greets him pleasantly and remarks on the attention he’s getting for his surgeries. Then Dr. Lee begins to say that with more people watching… But Young-oh stops him and moves closer. After checking the hallway for people, he says softly with a smile, “Father, I wasn’t caught.”

Sergeant Park tells Jin-sung that the car search results are in, and the perp was in an unregistered car, so it’s impossible to find the driver and the car has probably already been scrapped. Jin-sung accidentally burns her hand on the hot water she’s pouring into her ramyun and suddenly thinks of the burn mark on the victim that was missing from the body on the autopsy table.

She rushes back to the medical examiner but the body has already been sent for cremation. Apparently the victim’s son himself called and told them to go ahead with the cremation. This is so obviously a cover-up that she realizes that the bodies must have been switched at the hospital. She checks the morgue CCTV and watches as a man in a doctor’s coat enters and pulls out the body. She waits to catch a glimpse of his face, and is rewarded when Young-oh looks straight at the camera and smiles.

That evening, Jin-sung sneaks into Young-oh’s office, after having been told that the surgery footage was deleted due to an error. Now she easily finds the missing video on Young-oh’s computer. As the footage plays, she sits there in shock.

Young-oh returns to his office and she tells him that she knew it was him. He closes the door and approaches her, not denying it. She asks what exactly he did that day in the operating room, but Young-oh looks keenly at her and brushes her lips with his thumb. She trembles in fear and rage as she accuses him of killing a patient and then disposing of his body. Young-oh grabs her by the throat and picks up a scalpel. Her eyes widen in fear as he raises the blade. She cries “no!” and Young-oh stabs her with it.

 
COMMENTS

Let’s talk about that cliffhanger for a moment. Who bought it? For an episode that was characterized by carefully crafted moments, giving us hints and clues but never the full picture, this last scene felt like a half-hearted nod to the thriller genre. However, if we step back from the did-he or didn’t-he and examine the story leading up to that moment we see that Young-oh stabbing Jin-sung was a very natural (albeit cliched) place for the episode to culminate. For an entire hour we’ve watched Jin-sung’s fear mounting as she stumbles upon political intrigue, kidnapping, and murder. To someone like her, Young-oh’s amoral, apathetic approach to medicine is alien and suspicious. So when she finds what she believes is proof of his guilt, her mind doesn’t hesitate to imbue him with every irredeemable quality. She’s convinced that he’s the killer and therefore in this episode, which has been all about perceptions, of course Young-oh stabs Jin-sung.

I was somewhat concerned about how Jang Hyuk would choose to portray this character. The only thing I’ve seen him in was Fated to Love You and I didn’t love him in it. But Beautiful Mind has cleared all my doubts. I understand his appeal completely now. This is a character who has studied human emotions so he could mimic them. Why wouldn’t he use that beautiful smile to bewilder the people around him? As a rule I have always disliked un-empathetic heroes with jerk-syndrome, but in a man with a real medical condition, the same annoying traits have suddenly become utterly fascinating. All the more because Young-oh is never unreasonable. There is logic behind the worst of his actions and if the rest of humanity was as unencumbered by emotions as he is, we would agree with him immediately.

Instead, as Suk-joo and Jin-sung showed us, people react strongly to a lack of empathy. Suk-joo is honest with himself and could get beyond Young-oh’s blunt refusal to help a dying man, because he could understand his reasoning. But once Young-oh rejected his genuine gratitude and mocked his sincerity, he could no longer hold back his natural instinct to view Young-oh with suspicion. And there was ample reason to be suspicious. The more Jin-sung and Suk-joo uncovered about the events leading up to and after the surgery, the deeper Young-oh seemed to be embroiled in it all. Yet all the clues linking him to the victim’s death so far are circumstantial. The evidence seems more solid than it actually is because both our earnest investigators are riding on a wave of guilt and grief and haven’t thought things through.

I was really puzzled by the director’s insistence on Park So-dam playing Jin-sung. Given how delayed the production already was it seemed odd that they should be so hung up on one actor. But having spent an hour with this Jin-sung, who is strong and impulsive, naive and passionate, I can see that the actor wasn’t interchangeable. It’s not so much that Park So-dam was indispensable to the production, but that she brings to this character a certain emotional determination that is crucial to a story where the leading man doesn’t understand the power of feeling deeply for another.

This is what made that scene between Jin-sung and Young-oh in the hallway so interesting. Jin-sung was reacting from outrage on behalf of another human being. Something Young-oh could perceive but not understand. Young-oh’s indifference stands out all the more starkly against Jin-sung’s fierce need to protect and help others.

It’s a really pleasant change to see Yoon Hyun-min portraying a good-hearted, idealistic doctor from the dark, twisted character he played in Falling For Innocence last year. He made me genuinely dislike him before and now I’m well on my way to contracting Second Lead Syndrome. And Suk-joo is certainly cut from the second lead cloth. He meets the girl first, probably has a ridiculously sweet meet-cute (if the bottle references are any clue) and then manages to ignore/forget about her until the lead starts showing interest. I hope that’s not how they play it, but the setup does seem familiar. I’m not even sure if he considered the promised dinner with Jin-sung a date. Which would make it all the worse if he starts feeling jealous of a new guy in Jin-sung’s life. The thing that works for me though is the strong thread of ethics that I see running through everything he does. Plus he’s a genuinely good guy. If at some point Suk-joo and Young-oh could become friends, I would be very happy.

I must say I’m really looking forward to the drama exploring Young-oh’s relationship with his father. As tentative and worried as Dr. Lee looked throughout the episode, I got the sense that he loved his son very much and wanted to protect him. Whether he believes that Young-oh needs protecting from the world or himself, I can’t quite tell. Heo Joon-ho is amazingly good in this role. Whenever Jang Hyuk shared screen space with the man, I almost clapped. They have this unbelievable chemistry that makes me completely invested in their relationship in this story. I believe that they could be father and son.

The one we saw very little of this time was Park Se-young’s Min-jae. She is particularly interesting to me given the long relationship she’s had with Young-oh. We don’t yet know if she genuinely believes that he loves her or if she knows and accepts that he never can. It’s not that I think Young-oh is bereft of all emotions. There’s a subtle thread of anger under his smiling indifference that makes me believe that he’s faced suspicion and dislike for being who he is for a very long time. His ‘bet’ with himself — the need to prove that his unemotional judgment was correct — seems to indicate an urge to convince himself that he is better without the weakness of empathy. Seen in this context, Young-oh’s cruel remark to Suk-joo becomes a key to his real self.

 
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This is totally random but I just realised Sam Clafin and Jang Hyuk look pretty similar... Might lurk around the recaps for a bit before fully investing, as I'm still awiting to finish OHY before starting another drama.

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yawn... coz i fell asleep midway thru Ep 2. this drama takes itself too seriously and there is a lack of chemistry between the characters, except for rookie traffic policewoman and father figure mentor. there is also no link between the events in this drama, not to mention a total lack of suspense - like, who cares why these random people are dying in the operating theatre? And I get that Jang Hyuk can't feel anything but does he have to have a frozen face? I mean, Yoo Jung in CiTT was a cold person but even he had some emotions flitting across his face. sorry but I will not be watching this drama.... The drama could have spent more time fleshing out the victims' back stories before delving into the hospital mysteries, to get the audience emotionally invested. The sterility of the drama and the blank expressions on the higher ups in the hospital are a real yawn...... why is there even a comparison with "Signal"? puhleez... it's no where near the tightly plotted and heart wrenching phenomenal force which was "Signal".

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Watched the first episode and for my loyalty to JH i'm planning to continue watching, but i'm really worried its going the doctor stranger 02 route. Outsider can easily sneak into medical officer offices? She can even ask the surgery footage from the counter? I thought thats confidential...

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Thank you for the excellent recap and comments. This drama has started out well with interesting writing, great directing and outstanding acting. Jang Hyuk is a phenomenal actor...his performance in Chuno is a must see!

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@festerfaster,

Thanks for your recap! Started watching earlier this week after OHYA ended, but first have been catching up with MOTW. Getting around at last to watch one of my all-time favorite actors, JH, in a CHUNO alumnae reunion with Jo Jae-Wan.

I prefer sageuks, and have enjoyed his performances in DAEMANG / GREAT AMBITION and SHINE OR GO CRAZY, as well as CHUNO, which was just plain epic in my book. I've viewed some of his other genres and films, too: VOLCANO HIGH; DANCE OF THE DRAGON (as a ballroom dance student -- as always, it's a blast to watch how he moves), OLD GOODBYE (touching... with its own neurological angle); and the "His Concern" segment of FIVE SENSES OF EROS (watch his eyes speak...).

Back to the show at hand: JH may not literally be swashing any buckles in this drama, but I had to fasten my seat belt anyway. The first two episodes were gripping, and had me hooked in an heartbeat -- even though I'm not all that keen on medical dramas. It's taut and tightly written, and the characters are believable. I'm really glad I tuned in, and that you recapped it. ;-)

Shout out to the royalty in the house: Park Se-Young (Princess Nogoog in FAITH) and Lee Jae-Ryong (memorably terrific in the role of King Muryeong in THE KING'S DAUGHTER, SU BAEK-HYANG)...

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Omgoodness. This is so good. And I'm only two episodes in. Why I doubt that, baffles me...

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