Different Dreams: Episodes 1-2
New weekend drama Different Dreams introduces a compelling story about independence and national identity through the lens of two characters living in different realities. Set in the 1930s at a time of immense political tension within and amongst affinity groups, this show presents a cast of disparate characters and piques curiosity of how these seemingly divergent threads will weave together.
While this will be a one-episode recap, I’ll probably stick around and continue to watch this show, which follows a newer format of releasing four 30-minute episodes (so 2-hours worth) on Saturday. Or maybe I’ll wait until the show finishes its run and watch it all at once. Binging is the new watching — haven’t ya heard?
EPISODES 1-2: The Joseon Woman Doctor
In the year 1920, the ideological strife of diplomacy versus armed conflict deepened in the de facto Korean government. The assassination of independence fighter Kim Lib over the Russian funds for the independence movement and the subsequent disappearance of 600,000 Russian ruble furthered the divide.
After the departure of Prime Minister Lee Seung-man, Minister of Domestic Affairs Ahn Chang-ho, and Minister of Defense Lee Dong-hui left the government, Secretary of State Kim Gu was left alone to defend the government. In 1930, Kim Gu created a secret group called the Korean Patriots Society that promoted armed conflict. He partnered with fellow independence activist Kim Won-bong’s Noble Society to lead this movement, but internal conflict held them back in confusion and chaos.
In a dark room, an independence fighter reads the newspaper with a decoder. He interprets a message, and it reads: The blue bird will be granted permission.
It’s 1931 in Kyeongseong, and a patient throws a tantrum as he’s being rolled through the charity hospital on a gurney. When the doctors fail to calm down the patient, a lady doctor kicks them aside and scolds them for delaying an urgent operation. Despite his pain, the patient refuses to receive surgery because he can’t fathom anyone — let alone a woman — cutting into him with a knife to heal him.
The lady doctor, whom we’ll later know as LEE YOUNG-JIN (Lee Yo-won), prepares a big needle with anesthetic and sticks it in the patient without any hesitation. The patient immediately falls unconscious, and the doctors proceed to prepare him for surgery.
At a nearby church, independence fighter and leader of the Noble Society KIM WON-BONG (Yoo Ji-tae) confides in a fellow activist KIM NAM-OK (Jo Bok-rae) about a comrade who has yet to report on his return to Kyeongseong. It’s the first time this has happened, and Won-bong orders that they assassinate the comrade when he appears.
Noble Society member Nam-ok seems more sympathetic and suggests that they capture their comrade for questioning. He says that there are reasons for betrayal — poverty, family, hatred of Joseon — but Won-bong says that betrayal for any reason warrants death.
Jongro Police officer MATSUURA (Heo Sung-tae), whose given name Noh Jung-sul implies that he was born a Korean, rendezvous with independence activist Park Hyuk, who’s the comrade that Won-bong has ordered assassinated. Won-bong watches the interaction through his binoculars. After confirming the identity of the traitor, he lowers his binoculars and seems to remember something.
One month ago in Shanghai, Won-bong met up with secret agent Jin Soo, who reported on an enemy who may have been involved in Kim Lib’s murder. There’s also a possibility their comrade/doctor Yoo Tae-joon, who was in charge of funds and arms procurement from Comintern, would also be in danger. Jin Soo gave Won-bong the decoder for a message he would send in the newspaper and confirmed that the enemy was in Kyeongseong.
Back to the church bell tower, Won-bong sternly orders Nam-ok to shoot their comrade, as enemy police officer Matsuura demands information. Nam-ok can’t get himself to shoot, so Won-bong pushes him aside and takes the gun.
On the ground, traitor Park Hyuk hesitates before disclosing that Kim Gu’s spy is in Kyeongseong with a plot for an assassination or a bombing. Matsuura smiles at the information and demands to know the name and whereabouts of this spy. Park Hyuk pleads that Matsuura promise him an escape to Japan, and before he can say more, he’s shot in the chest.
Won-bong fires more fatal shots at his comrade before packing up and fleeing the scene, over the church rooftop and through the adjacent neighborhood. Matsuura urgently takes Park Hyuk to the hospital and orders for more police officers to stand guard of their valuable traitor.
At the hospital, a new doctor walks into Young-jin’s office, and Young-jin runs to her in pleasant surprise. She’s a close colleague, and she’s joining the hospital as a new surgeon. Their reunion is interrupted by an urgent gunshot patient, and Young-jin asks her to stay until she’s done.
In the operation room, Young-jin notices Matsuura and tells him to get out. He warns her that she wouldn’t be saying that if she knew who she was operating on, but she doesn’t care. She orders him out, and he silently defers to her demands. Morale is low, but Young-jin orders her doctors to not give up before they’ve tried and begins surgery.
At the Noble Society’s home base in Namdaemun, Won-bong drinks makgeolli in silence while Nam-ok externalizes his slight concerns about traitor Hyuk surviving the shots. He reassures himself that there aren’t any doctors skilled enough to treat the traitor, but he knows that there will be many more traitors like Hyuk.
Nam-ok nonchalantly questions the purpose of the independence movement and admits that he gets tired of it sometimes. At that, Won-bong flips the table and reminds Nam-ok of clause 10 of the Noble Society’s pledge: Traitors will be assassinated. He says that this is the only reason they’re still alive — because they’ve killed the traitors. Won-bong warns Nam-ok that if he hesitates to kill a traitor one more time, then he’s dead to him.
After the surgery, Matsuura asks Young-jin when the patient will wake up, and Young-jin responds that the patient is still in critical condition because of the risk of infection. Matsuura clarifies that he wasn’t asking if the patient would live or die; he was asking when he would wake up so that he could talk to him. Young-jin doesn’t falter at his threatening demand and says that her priority is the save lives.
Matsuura approaches Young-jin and claims that he’s also in the business of saving lives. He has something to hear from the patient immediately. Young-jin says that it’s not possible right now and walks away.
Nam-ok finds Won-bong after his anger has subsided, and Won-bong tells him that they need to find the spy — the blue bird. Traitor Hyuk had information on Kim Gu’s spy that they don’t know, and he was trying to bargain with that information. The de facto government is also after the missing money, and the blue bird is the closest person to that intel. They need to find her no matter what.
At the hospital, Young-jin tells new doctor and close unni ESTHER (Yoon Ji-hye) that she’s heard close to nothing from her over the past few years and says that their hospital isn’t the best place to work because they barely get recognized for their hard work. Esther asks if she’s heard anything from their sunbae, Yoo Tae-joon (the doctor mentioned in the Shanghai conversation), but Young-jin says that they’ve heard nothing since he vanished 10 years ago.
Matsuura reports the survival of the Noble Society traitor and the intel on the spy to Police Chief Kenta Ono. The chief says that the spy must be stopped, and he grants Matsuura’s request to take urgent measures to capture Kim Gu’s spy.
At the Kyeongseong clubhouse, a group of ladies admire the new prosecutor in town: FUKUDA (Im Joo-hwan). One of the ladies, MIKI (Nam Gyuri), feigns disinterest, but she steals a glance at him curiously.
When Young-jin arrives home, she finds that her family hasn’t eaten yet. Her mother signals at the room, saying that someone was waiting. We see that this someone is her adoptive father, HIROSHI SHU (Lee Hae-young), a doctor of the government hospital and head of the military police.
As she settles in, Young-jin notices the doll in the glass cabinet and remembers a time in her youth. As a younger girl, Young-jin had taken the doll out of the cabinet, and Hiroshi had told her that the dolls need to stay in the glass cabinet because the outside world is too dangerous and dirty.
Young-jin eats dinner with her family and tells them that Esther returned to Kyeongseong to work at her hospital. Hiroshi notes that Esther had initially determined that she would work at the government hospital. Young-jin asks permission for Esther to visit, and Hiroshi tells his wife that she’s in charge of household matters.
That night, Esther looks through the medical record room alone. She flips through the records on the shelves and picks out one belonging to Nagumo Junichi.
Won-bong meets up with Noble Society comrade Yoon Se-joo, who reports that the traitor Park Hyuk just barely survived after surgery. Se-joo offers to finish the job for him, but Won-bong says that he’ll do it. Se-joo reminds Won-bong that this war is a long one — a marathon, not a sprint — and Won-bong responds that he comes from a line of impatient people who get things done when they put their minds to it.
At the hospital, Young-jin tells Esther that her question about Yoon Tae-joon has been bothering her. She suspects that Esther knows why Tae-joon disappeared after the attempted murder of the governor, as the rumors indicate that Tae-joon is still involved in that work (read: activism). Young-jin says that she doesn’t want to get involved in whatever Tae-joon was a part of.
Esther reminisces how the three of them were so close back in the day. She wonders, “If one of us died, would the news reach us all?” Young-jin looks confused by the question, but their conversation is cut short by a nurse urgently calling for Young-jin.
Matsuura had demanded that the doctors wake the traitor patient, and Young-jin catches them just before a young doctor injects epinephrine in the recovering patient. Matsuura reaches to inject the drug himself, but Young-jin asserts that she makes the calls around here.
Attempting to assert authority, Matsuura references the code of conduct that entitles him to interrogate this traitor patient, but Young-jin says that forcing the patient awake can lead to shock and kill the patient. Matsuura says that the patient can die as long as he hears one thing from him.
Young-jin tells Matsuura to take responsibility for those words, and she proceeds to inject epinephrine into the patient to wake him up. After a moment, the patient begins to shake, and his eyes burst open.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
When Traitor Hyuk trembles and bursts awake, Matsuura demands to know the identity of the spy. He responds that it’s the blue bird, a Joseon woman doctor. Young-jin pushes Matsuura away as the patient’s convulsions become more violent and demands the doctors to bring a sedative.
In the hallway, Esther overhears this conversation and walks in the opposite direction as Matsuura heads out. Outside, Matsuura orders his minion to search for all alumni of Kyeongseong Medical School to find this doctor. As Matsuura discusses this, Won-bong passes by, disguised as a medical supply delivery man.
Inside the hospital, Won-bong overhears the nurses discussing who the lady doctor spy could be. They dismiss the possibility that it’s Young-jin because she’s a Japanese person, the adoptive daughter of the government hospital’s vice director.
Won-bong continues onward to Hyuk’s hospital room, but he finds it guarded by the police. He turns around, and on his way out, he sees Young-jin grabbing onto Esther. Young-jin asks her to come home with her and pauses when she sees the suspicious Won-bong passing by. As he sees the two doctors, he recalls the description of the spy: a Joseon woman doctor.
At a coffee shop, Young-jin tells Esther about the gunshot patient claiming that the Joseon woman doctor spy would kill him. She asks if that doctor is Esther, and Esther remains silent. When she responds, Esther asks Young-jin, “Are you a Joseon person or a Japanese person?”
Esther asks if Young-jin really doesn’t understand why their sunbae Tae-joon engaged in activism or if she’s just pretending not to know. Young-jin asks if Esther is blaming her for not supporting people who throw bombs, but Esther stays focused on her point: “Your Joseon blood doesn’t change just because you were raised by a Japanese person.”
Esther begins to warn Young-jin that the Japanese invasion will take over Asia, but Young-jin stops her. She’s offended by Esther’s comment about her Joseon blood being different from those who raised her and promises to stay quiet if Esther agrees to leave the hospital. She walks out, and we see that Won-bong had been watching these two from afar.
That night, Young-jin stays late at the hospital. The guard goes on a bathroom break while she checks on the traitor patient, and as she approaches the patient, someone covers her mouth from behind. It’s Won-bong with a gun, and he tells her that she won’t get hurt as long as she’s quiet.
Won-bong asks about Hyuk’s condition, and she responds that he’s recovering well without infection. When she shares that Hyuk woke up briefly, he asks what he said. She repeats his words: a spy coming to kill him, a Joseon woman doctor, the blue bird. The pieces finally come together from Won-bong.
Won-bong points his gun at Hyuk and says that he’s killing a comrade who betrayed his country. Young-jin pleads that he stop and threatens to scream, but Won-bong simply responds that two people will die as a result. Before he can shoot, Young-jin grabs the gun and points it away from the patient.
At Young-jin’s bold interference, Won-bong asks if she’s not afraid of him or the gun. Young-jin admits that she’s scared, but this is her way of survival. She tells Won-bong that if he wants to kill the patient, he’ll need to wait until Hyuk walks out of this hospital.
Then, the police guard enters the hospital room and immediately points his gun at Won-bong. Young-jin stands between them and tells them both not to shoot. She slowly approaches the guard, and when she runs for the door, Won-bong has disappeared behind her.
At Jongro police station, Matsuura hears the investigation report from his minions, and all of them have come up empty in their search for a Joseon woman doctor. Matsuura suggests Young-jin as their prime suspect, but his minion says that she’s registered as Japanese, as she’s the daughter of Hiroshi, the government hospital vice director. He orders them to continue their search in local hospitals. Then, they receive a call about the attempted assassination.
Back at home base, Nam-ok says that Won-bong must finally understand the hesitation in killing a fellow comrade. There’s an inexplicable bond that they’ve formed, and even betrayal can’t completely sever that bond. Won-bong admits that he wanted to ask Hyuk why he betrayed them. Hyuk remained resolute to the cause even when his parents died, even when they fought barefoot.
Nam-ok directs the same question to Won-bong: Why is he committed to the independence movement? Won-bong passionately responds that it’s mortifying to be treated like pigs and dogs. He says that there’s no reason in reclaiming one’s nation. He refuses to forgive the thieves and those who latched onto the colonizers. That answer suffices for Nam-ok.
Nam-ok then realizes that the captive doctor saw Won-bong’s face, but Won-bong doesn’t seem too concerned about that. Instead, he’s more interested in investigating this blue bird, the Joseon woman doctor.
The next morning, Esther explains to her fellow doctor that she’s requesting for a patient, military commander Nagumo Junichi (the medical record she picked out), to receive an additional test. When Young-jin walks in, there’s a palpable tension between the two, and neither of them greet each other. The younger doctor reports that the police took the patient after he woke up, and Young-jin gets frustrated that they moved her patient without her permission.
Once they have the office to themselves, Esther approaches Young-jn and apologizes for her harsh words yesterday. Young-jin tells Esther to leave the hospital, and Esther assures her that she’ll be gone by tomorrow, maybe even in the next few hours. Still upset, Young-jin tells Esther that she can do whatever she wants, as long as it’s not at the hospital. Esther doesn’t respond and leaves the office to tend to her targeted patient, Nagumo Junichi.
Won-bong hangs out at fellow comrade Se-joo’s butcher shop, and his calm morning is interrupted by urgent news from Nam-ok. He reports that the blue bird was a doctor at the Korean Independence Movement headquarters, serving the chief commander. This person is Kim Gu’s spy.
At the hospital, Esther prepares to treat Nagumo Junichi and enters the locked and well-guarded treatment room. She introduces herself as the doctor who discovered an issue with the lung scan, and Nagumo Junichi seems eager to receive treatment.
Won-bong speeds through the streets to the hospital. He tells Nam-ok that they need to stop or save Esther because she’s their only connection to Yoon Tae-joon. She’s too valuable to lose.
Young-jin finds the police guard back at the hospital, and he explains that he’s tending to some unfinished business. The nurses hand him information on Esther and confirm that she’s a Joseon person. The guard reaches for the phone to make a call, and Young-jin looks nervous at the discovery of Esther.
Then, Young-jin thinks back to Esther’s promise to leave in the next few hours, and the finality of those words hit her. She runs to find Esther, but she’s stopped from entering the treatment room by the guards. Nagumo Junichi looks confused by the commotion outside, and Esther assures him that the treatment will be soon be complete.
As Esther picks up the needle with the lethal injection, Young-jin begins to yell for Esther. Nagumo Junichi looks alarmed and stops Esther from injecting the lethal substance, finally realizing that he’s being attacked. Esther fights him and stabs the needle into his chest, announcing to him that she’s getting revenge for her family. He throws her off, and the syringe shatters.
Esther grabs the scalpel and stabs Nagumo, but she’s thrown off once again. Outside the room, the guards start to shoot at the door, and once they gain entry, they shoot at Esther. She falls to the ground, and Young-jin looks shocked.
Fatally injured, Esther still crawls back up, and Nagumo grabs her by her hair. Won-bong finally arrives at the hospital, and he hears the final gun shot from Nagumo. Young-jin falls to her knees and cries at the sight of her unni being brutally murdered.
This period of history can be tricky for storytelling because of its sensitive nature, but Different Dreams managed to pull of a solid and compelling introduction to their story. Japanese occupation will always be a source of political strife, and when you also include real historical figures (like Kim Won-bong) to be adapted as characters in the story, there’s bound to be contention about how the character is perceived or misconstrued. Many people care a lot about this period of history, so while this can be a tricky story to tell, it can also work in favor of this drama.
By choosing this period of history, the story innately carries a pathos and poignancy that is uniquely powerful. The themes of justice, revenge, independence, and pride are all embedded in this period, so in a way, it’s easier to tell compelling story. And while the story and production is not nearly at the level of Gaksital or Mr. Sunshine, I think there’s an interesting story to tell. As long as the drama doesn’t rely on this pathos as a crutch, I think it will be a great watch. So far, I’m intrigued by the character line-up and the veteran cast, and I think they carry a great combination of experience and intention in their roles. Yoo Ji-tae’s acting is reliable, and though his Serious Acting can sometimes seem a bit overdone, I think he’ll lead this cast very well. The more interesting character is clearly Young-jin, and I trust that Lee Yo-won has the experience and capacity to guide this character through a full transformation.
The question about why one fights for independence was a nice foundational question to kick off this show. For Won-bong, that question seems ridiculous because there’s only one answer: If you’re a Joseon person, you fight for independence. His way of thinking in extremes aligns with his role as the leader of the activist group, but it lacks nuance. He’s an admirable leader and figure, but not everyone can be so strictly committed like he is. That’s why Young-jin is an interesting counterpart to his character. She’s a Joseon person registered as Japanese person, raised by a Japanese family, and uninterested in identity politics. She refuses to deconstruct her identity, and she doesn’t care about other people’s politics. She’s merely a doctor who prioritizes saving lives.
That simple reality is about to change for Young-jin. Seeing Esther being murdered is hopefully the impetus to get her thinking about why she can’t exist in the bubble of her own reality. Young-jin’s father has been shielding her from the outside world, and the doll in the glass cabinet seemed to be metaphor for Young-jin’s life. She’s been hidden from the danger and filth of the world, existing behind the glass of her father’s protection. Now that she’s ventured outside the glass, I’m hoping that she embraces her full reality — not to accept it but to challenge it, to figure out why others and ultimately why she may fight for independence.