With just three episodes left, Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim begins to explore some of the show’s biggest mysteries in earnest. We focus mainly on our beloved Teacher Kim, but this episode is really all about Doldam itself and the relationships between its people, the ones who have made us laugh, cry, swoon, and hope for a brighter and better future.
Chapter 18: “Whether You Want It or Not”
We pick up with Reporter Oh asking Teacher Kim to tell him what exactly happened fourteen years ago. Teacher Kim sighs heavily, his mind whirling with thoughts and memories. In voiceover, he says: “Sometimes in life, there are things you can only see after time has passed. Such as the reasons why those things happened to me. Why I’d met someone like that. Why I’d taken a detour like that.”
As he speaks, the memories of his old student’s fatal surgery, his first encounter with a young Dong-joo, and finally, the night he found Seo-jung on the side of the mountain, all cross through his mind.
We flash back to the fateful moment Teacher Kim first met his now deceased student JANG HYUN-JOO. Teacher Kim looks confident and smartly dressed as he enters an elevator in Geodae, where Hyun-joo—dressed in a patient’s gown with an arm attached to an IV pole—eyes him curiously from behind. After a beat or two, she asks Teacher Kim what department he works in, and if he knows a doctor named Bu Yong-joo.
Teacher Kim continues to narrate over the scene and says: “The countless moments that I’d deemed insignificant all start to become significant, one by one. And they started to pave a path, at one point.”
He then begins to see the parallel moments between his past and present students. Comparing the memory of the day Dong-joo confronted him for being Bu Yong-joo with another in the past, where Teacher Kim had asked Hyun-joo why she was so keen on meeting Bu Yong-joo (since she was seemingly unaware that she was talking to that very man).
She had replied cheerily that he is someone she respects, and that her dream is to become a doctor just like him.
Seo-jung uses a similar reason in another memory, and tells Teacher Kim that she respects him and dreams of doing a joint surgery together. The scenes go back and forth, creating a beautiful parallel between eras and students. He can’t help seeing the similarities, and the idea appears to trouble him deeply.
We return to the present moment, as Reporter Oh repeats his question, and this time he adds a few more, asking to know why Hyun-joo died, and subsequently why Teacher Kim left Geodae.
Cryptically, Teacher Kim replies, “There is no ‘truth.’ Fourteen years ago, Bu Yong-joo was a coward and fell silent. And he ran away. That’s all there is to it.” With that, he forlornly hangs up the phone.
Nurse Oh accuses Ki-tae of leaking Teacher Kim’s plans for a Doldam trauma center to Dr. Do. She asks if he was promoted in exchange for becoming their little spy. When he denies it, she demands to know why he was rifling through Teacher Kim’s trash that one day. She doesn’t believe him when he offers his defense (he says he was cleaning), but he continues to maintain his innocence in the face of her intimidation.
Back at the udon shop, the woman declares firmly that she doesn’t know or remember anything, and Director Yeo—in his usual calm and measured way—says he just wants to eat udon.
Meanwhile, Reporter Oh erases the words he’s written and writes a new, albeit very brief, post stating that CEO Shin is at Doldam and is currently comatose after a procedure. Then he submits it to a securities and investment forum.
In CEO Shin’s office, Dr. Do discusses next steps with Hyun-jung, since it has now been a full twenty-four hours since the operation, and he predicts that CEO Shin has developed some brain damage. He proposes that they shut down Doldam entirely and move CEO Shin for further treatment. Hyun-jung expresses surprise at his swift and drastic judgement, so Dr. Do informs her of the rumors circling online about CEO Shin’s condition. He urges her to make a decision, since time is of the essence.
At Doldam—as if on cue—the phones begin ringing off the hook from reporters calling to get more information on CEO Shin. The phone calls grow out of control, and word eventually reaches Teacher Kim. However, before he has time to let the media leak sink in, Dr. Do walks into Doldam in search of Director Yeo.
Since Director Yeo is still out at the udon shop, Dr. Do informs him via phone that Doldam will be no more by tomorrow, and in consideration of their friendship, he advises Director Yeo to do as he says or else he’ll find himself without a new job, too.
Dr. Do meets individually with Seo-jung to give her a heads up, and also to encourage her to come back to Geodae. She asks why he must go to such lengths. He hides behind excuses of the hospital’s age and small size to avoid answering her directly, then he even offers to let her continue to watch over CEO Shin at Geodae.
Teacher Kim seeks out Hyun-jung to confront her about her decision, and she defends herself by explaining that Teacher Kim left her no choice, since he threatened her with that paper her father signed. He shoots back with statistics on how many people need Doldam, and the amount of patients that rely on their care in an attempt to change her mind.
He asks if she is just going to abandon those people. So she presents her own statistic—apparently Doldam operates on a one million won deficit each year.
He growls at her to wait until the forty-eight-hour mark, and the statement causes Hyun-jung to snap. She roars that the longer they wait, the greater her father’s chances are of becoming brain-dead.
Teacher Kim erupts at what he views as a baseless claim and demands to know who uttered such nonsense, since it certainly wasn’t him. This leads him to wonder aloud if Hyun-jung and Dr. Do actually want CEO Shin to die so that they can control his fortune and influence.
Hyun-jung is flabbergasted by his view of the situation, and can’t seem to process what he is accusing her of. So he makes it clearer for her, and barks at her to wait to decide what to do about Doldam until after he saves CEO Shin.
Meanwhile, the employees of Doldam stress over the news of their impending closure, but there isn’t much time to fret over the fact that they may all soon be jobless, because patients still need help. In the ER, Yeon-hwa tries to reason with a drunken patient who refuses treatment for his stomach pain.
He throws them off when the staff tries to restrain him, then with a scowl, he stumbles out of the ER. When Yeon-hwa asks Nurse Oh if it’s all right to let him go, the senior nurse replies that it happens often with drunken patients.
Dong-joo wanders by the ICU in search of Seo-jung and finds her resting just outside on a bench. Tiredly, Seo-jung expresses her dismay over the news of the closure, so Dong-joo hands her Teacher Kim’s plans for a Doldam trauma center after having picked it up from the floor in the last episode. He asks if she had any idea about it, and she says she didn’t. Then, silently, they try to process the possibility of their lives without Doldam.
At the udon shop, Director Yeo continues to sit alone at the bar. When the woman comes to check on him, he says vaguely that he’ll probably be fine because he is a powerless person that stepped to the side. He then adds, “But still, I wanted to become an adult who sided with justice and who gave that justice some strength to act.”
Then he reveals that Doldam will be shut down by Dr. Do. The news surprises the woman, but she says nothing as Director Yeo continues to ruminate to himself about how strange it is that Dr. Do is still the one that holds the power, even though everyone knows the way he does things is wrong. Director Yeo leaves her with that final thought before setting down his payment and thanking her for his meal.
After Teacher Kim returns from his meeting with Hyun-jung, Dr. Song waits in the lobby to brag about the fact that CEO Shin will soon be transferred to Geodae. He suggests that Teacher Kim give up his fight, then rhetorically asks if he actually believes that CEO Shin will wake up, only to laugh at the notion.
In response, Teacher Kim instructs Ki-tae to “take out the trash,” and to prohibit any of the Geodae transfer team from entering the ICU. Dr. Song grumbles after being deemed trash, so Teacher Kim explains that only the most despicable doctor would wish for a patient not to wake up.
Dr. Song argues that he was merely trying to stop Teacher Kim from wasting his time hoping, since, according to him, it’s not going to happen at this point. Teacher Kim doesn’t care what Dr. Song thinks and grabs the man by the collar before threatening to sue. Hilariously, Dr. Song just goes limp and falls silent as Teacher Kim shakes him, like a sad little puppy. Ha, this is so weird.
The moment Teacher Kim is gone, Dr. Song sings a different tune, and throws his weight around while demanding Ki-tae pick a side to be loyal to before stomping off like the man-child he is.
In the ER, nobody can hide their anxiety over the uncertainty of their fates, and they nearly neglect to answer the phone about a patient coming in with glass shards in his abdomen.
When Teacher Kim comes in to take the call, instead of springing into action like the team normally does, everyone just kind of stands around staring at him, looking lost or worried (or both). Dong-joo takes on the responsibility of voicing all of their fears and asks Teacher Kim to confirm the rumors himself.
Teacher Kim flips the question back to them and asks, “Have you all decided to shut Doldam Hospital down already?” And if not, he asks why they are acting as if Doldam is already gone. Because to him, he explains, he has no intention of closing their hospital doors. He tenderly tells Dong-joo that they should focus on caring for their patients and continue doing what they always have.
At that moment, the patient with the glass in his stomach enters the ER. For a long beat everyone remains frozen in place, until Dong-joo decides to follow Teacher Kim’s advice and goes to check on the patient. Little by little, the staff gets back to work, and soon the entire ER resumes again.
Teacher Kim and a nervous-looking Nurse Oh exchange hopeful glances while Dong-joo and Yeon-hwa attend to the patient. When Yeon-hwa begins cutting into the patient’s jacket, suddenly a flurry of feathers explode into the air and drift slowly down like snow. Teacher Kim looks up at the sight and smiles.
As the scene plays, Dong-joo says in voiceover, “Teacher Kim said that the scariest thing to do is to act as you normally do instead of backing down in the face of uncertainty and fear. Teacher Kim may have already known that our worries and fears could become even lighter than feathers.”
Over in the ICU, Seo-jung sits at CEO Shin’s bedside and lights up when his fingers begin to move. Outside the hospital, Dr. Shim arrives with his Geodae transfer team, but is swiftly blocked by a human barricade of Doldam staff, with Ki-tae at the front. Ki-tae repeats Teacher Kim’s edict of barring anyone from entering the ICU.
Sweetly, Ki-tae looks over to glance at Nurse Oh in the ER before he confronts Dr. Song and firmly picks his allegiance. The two rival groups then hilariously shuffle back and forth a few times, but remain in their deadlock.
Teacher Kim rushes to the ICU after receiving word of CEO Shin’s condition. He leans over the elderly man and calls out to him, but gets no response. Teacher Kim then asks CEO Shin to move his hand if he is able to hear his voice. After a long moment, CEO Shin’s fingers wiggle a little, until finally, he wraps his entire hand around Teacher Kim’s in confirmation.
The movement brings tears to Teacher Kim’s eyes, and slowly, CEO Shin opens his eyes slightly. Elated, Seo-jung, Teacher Kim, and Dr. Nam laugh in relief and pure joy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Song complains to Dr. Do about being stopped, which prompts Dr. Do to order him get to CEO Shin using whatever means necessary, even if it means forcing their way through. What follows is an all-out tussle between the two teams as they fight to get up the staircase.
Ki-tae puts up a valiant, though comical effort, but eventually Dr. Song sneaks pass him, only for Teacher Kim to appear at the top of the staircase to ask what on earth is going on. Dr. Song explains his mission again, but Teacher Kim cuts him off to let him know that CEO Shin is awake now, so he can get lost.
Hyun-jung receives a call from Doldam informing her of the wonderful news. Dr. Do (who is there with her) repeats the sentence in disbelief, fully aware that he underestimated Teacher Kim yet again.
In the ICU, now conscious, CEO Shin asks how the surgery went. Teacher Kim tells him that it went well, and so CEO Shin replies, “Well done.” Hyun-jung arrives moments later, and with worried eyes she carefully asks her father how he is doing. Once he confirms he is fine, she breaks down and cries into his arms, overcome with relief.
Teacher Kim watches the scene with a complicated look on his face. He then turns to look through the glass doors and sees Dr. Do standing there. They stare each other down as usual, until Teacher Kim cutely sticks his tongue out at Dr. Do.
Dr. Do leads his entourage out immediately, unable to stand the sight of Teacher Kim’s victory, or perhaps he’s going to plot his next move. In the lobby, he comes across Dong-joo, who bows his head briefly before continuing on. Sparked with an idea, Dr. Do watches the young surgeon go, and nearly smiles.
Dr. Song uses the opportunity to try and transfer back to Geodae, but Dr. Do tells him that the game is still on, and then warns that Dr. Song’s career will be over if Doldam fails to be shut down.
In the shared office, the younger doctors celebrate over some pizza. In-bum morosely excuses himself and stays out of the merriment. Dong-joo follows after him, and adorably asks In-bum to look at the CT scans for the new patient together. D’aww.
In-bum asks what he’s doing before proceeding to address the elephant in the room, pointing out that his dad is terrorizing Doldam at the moment, so In-bum supposes no one really wants to see his face. Dong-joo admits that he really doesn’t like Dr. Do, but adds that nothing is In-bum’s fault—even though, if he were In-bum, he’d be totally embarrassed. Dong-joo then glosses over his concerns and tells him to hurry and help him. In the usual In-bum fashion, he hesitates for a beat, but then grumbles after agreeing to help.
When they walk out together, Dong-joo is handed an envelope containing surgery records with Teacher Kim’s name on them. The date of the surgery is: April 29, 2002. When Dong-joo inquires after the identity of the sender, the messenger replies that he isn’t sure, only that it’s from Geodae. Dong-joo reads over the file, and in his mind, he flashes back to the day his father died.
We don’t have to wonder who the sender is for long, because Dr. Do asks his secretary if she sent the file to Dong-joo. In voiceover, Dr. Do says ominously, “The scariest thing in the world is a seed of doubt. If you just scatter it, it grows well without any effort on your part.”
Teacher Kim exits the ICU with Hyun-jung, who promises that the plans to shut down Doldam will be put on hold, though she warns him that their peace will only last as long as CEO Shin remains a patient. She adds that although she can’t acknowledge Teacher Kim, she is still very grateful for his help. She takes the opportunity to correct a misconception Teacher Kim has about her, and explains that just because she’s rich, that doesn’t mean she only cares about money. In truth, she admits, she would like to live under her father’s shadow for a long time.
Hyun-jung then announces that she is going back to Florida to be with her children for a while, but will return to check on her father. She asks that he takes care of him in her stead. Then, before she leaves, she asks how he picked the name “Teacher Kim.”
We flash back to Teacher Kim’s younger days, to the time he spent with Hyun-joo. And in order to hide his identity, he lied and said he had a really boring name, “Kim-Something.” From then on, Hyun-joo called him “Dr. Kim Something.” In a montage, we see her chasing Teacher Kim down in the hospital to ask very specific surgical questions. Eventually, he handed her a video to see all the answers for herself. Thankful, she changed his nickname to Teacher Kim once and for all.
Later, at Hyun-joo’s funeral, her mother gave Teacher Kim a gift from Hyun-joo. It was her student ID card, a letter, and the mixtape that Teacher Kim always plays in his office. Alone in his car, he read her last letter.
She revealed that she knew his real identity all along, but bungled her wording when they first met, so she simply continued with the lie. She thanked him for his help and for leading her surgery, and promised to visit while revealing her dream of operating alongside him.
The words had a powerful effect on an already beaten Teacher Kim. When he finished reading, he could only sob uncontrollably to himself.
In the present, Dong-joo and In-bum review the CT scan, and the patient’s fretful guardian asks Dong-joo to confirm that the patient’s injuries aren’t life-threatening. A strange look crosses Dong-joo’s face, before he gingerly explains that it’s impossible to say until after they’ve taken a closer look in the OR.
Another patient comes into the ER and complains of excruciating pain in his chest. At the same time, Seo-jung and Dong-joo guess his condition to be an aortic dissection. Yet another patient comes in, this time it’s the drunken patient from earlier who had refused treatment. He’s now experiencing severe stomach pains and is defecating blood.
Teacher Kim is called down to the ER, where Dong-joo and Seo-jung explain the situation to him. In short, there are three patients that require emergency surgery. Teacher Kim is briefed on each of the situations, and even he is confused on what to do, since there isn’t enough time to transfer any of the patients to another facility.
Soon, Dong-joo and Seo-jung are arguing over which patient takes precedence. Dong-joo suddenly starts advocating for the patient with the aortic dissection very passionately, until even Seo-jung asks why he’s getting so worked up. We pan over to the patient, and we see his wife and young son standing beside the bed.
Elsewhere, Reporter Oh goes to visit Dong-joo’s mother at her mandoo shop in order to ask her about the day Dong-joo destroyed the ER fourteen years earlier. She becomes defensive at the question, so Reporter Oh confesses that he is looking into something, but the pieces aren’t fitting together—therefore, he is trying to find the truth on his own. He continues with his line of questioning and begins to ask about her deceased husband, who he tries to confirm died from problems related to his aorta. (Oh!) He also asks who helped her pay back the cost for the damages incurred during Dong-joo’s destructive rampage.
Back at Doldam, Teacher Kim sides with Seo-jung and orders preparation for her patient before telling Dong-joo to chill. Bitterly, Dong-joo shoots out a cryptic retort, asking Teacher Kim if this is how he lost the last one. The statement stops Teacher Kim in his tracks, and Dong-joo goes on to explain that he now knows that Teacher Kim was the surgeon that prioritized the VIP the day his father died. He asks why Teacher Kim pushed back his father’s surgery.
I’m glad we’re finally circling back to the questions about Hyun-joo, and how Teacher Kim and Dong-joo are connected. It’s a nice setup, so I was worried we wouldn’t get enough time to properly see it play out, but I suppose I was worried for nothing.
Regarding Dong-joo’s outburst at the end of the episode, I always wondered if the show might choose something a little more nuanced, since it is somewhat hypocritical of Dong-joo, given that he did the exact same thing to another family and patient. True, Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim is hardly subtle in its execution of dramatic moments, but often the show’s handling of certain topics surprises me with their depth and compassion. So I’m hoping this happens here. It’s hardly unbelievable for someone to still feel anger over the wrongful death of their loved one, even if they did the same thing, but I hope this incident compels Teacher Kim to come clean with everyone (and the world) once and for all about Dr. Do’s evil deeds.
It pleases me to see Dong-joo display so much patience and goodwill toward In-bum. They’re a great pair—as they proved last week—so it’s nice to see them together and getting along. Their growing camaraderie is a perfect vehicle to illustrate Dong-joo’s character development—he’s certainly come a long way.
Speaking of Dr. Do, it was kind of sad and super manipulative of him to try and win back Seo-jung again. Their relationship is a mess, and I’m sure that Seo-jung was glad Dr. Do had previously severed it, because she seems very used to his antics and also seems rather emotionally detached at this point. I really want to see specifically what happened in their past, so I hope they give us at a least scene or some more breadcrumbs to fully understand what happened there.
After spending most of the show painting rich people with power as selfish, ruthless people, it’s nice that Hyun-jung was given some layers. I like that Teacher Kim was so wrong about her, because ever since CEO Shin became his patient, it almost seems like Teacher Kim forgot that he thought about CEO Shin in the same way. Obviously, Teacher Kim’s sense of duty toward his patients is extremely high, but his prejudice toward the rich and powerful often clouds him from seeing clearly or judging people fairly. Not everyone is a Dr. Do—though, hopefully no one is.
I love the theme of identity that continues to be an essential part of the show, with Teacher Kim struggling to understand who Bu Yong-joo really is, and vice versa. Even Dong-joo, who is finding the doctor in himself, and in doing so, he’s learning not to be so jaded about the world. And Seo-jung, who fought to not let the scars of her past take away her future, and who worries about letting her relationship with a man define her, even if it means pushing away Dong-joo. As we approach the end of the series, I am happy to have an episode for the characters to take a second to think about what Doldam truly means to them. Because ultimately, the greatest gift of Doldam for these characters has been the ability to find out who they are in their own way, and at their own pace. Outside Doldam, they are constantly fighting with their various identities, trying to be more or less than they are, and yet never enough somehow. But at Doldam, they don’t have to know who they are or who they were, they can just be.
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 17
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 16
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 15
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 14
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 13
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim in talks for extension
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 12
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 11
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 10
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 9
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 8
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 7
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 6
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 5
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 4
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 2
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 1