Hospital Playlist: Episode 1
After delving into 1997, 1994, 1988, and then prison, the spotlight turns to hospitals and the doctors who work there. This is a story about a group of friends who stumble across each other one fateful evening, and though they may all be different, their shared bond and memories hold them together for decades. Whether you’re expecting another husband hunt or hospital politics, the show subverts expectations and delivers an entertaining watch with lovable—albeit odd—characters.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Thunder and lightning rumble outside as a woman, CHAE SONG-HWA (Jeon Mi-do), stands in a dark house waiting for her friend, YANG SEOK-HYUNG (Kim Dae-myung), to turn on the lights. As soon as the lights are on, Song-hwa notices the dust and cobwebs strewn over the furniture, and Seok-hyung explains that the house has been empty for years.
When one of the lights flickers off, Seok-hyung immediately calls his mom and asks for help. Song-hwa jokes about him being a “mama’s boy,” asking if he needs permission to drink coffee. To her exasperation, Seok-hyung already has his mom’s permission: “She said one cup a day is fine.” Pffft.
Seok-hyung asks if Song-hwa will do “it” with him, but she declines since all he needs is Ik-joon. She changes the topic, mentioning Seok-hyung’s younger sister Ji-eun, and he tells her that he bought her some treats and a speaker.
Th electricians arrive to fix the light, and Song-hwa advises the worker to shut off the breaker and wear some gloves lest he be electrocuted. Unfortunately, her advice comes too late as the electrician falls to the floor.
Without even blinking, Song-hwa rushes to the fallen man’s side while Seok-hyung calmly calls for an ambulance. He then holds the man’s head in place as Song-hwa administers CPR. As soon as the paramedics arrive, Song-hwa informs them of the patient’s condition and then points to the other doctor in the room who’ll accompany them to the hospital: Seok-hyung.
In the ambulance, Seok-hyung sits awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with everyone, when the patient grabs his hand to show his thanks. While Seok-hyung tries to pry his hand away, the other electrician asks why his companion feels so cold, and all eyes turn to Seok-hyung for answers. He momentarily stops pulling to explain that the patient is cold.
Doctors AHN JUNG-WON (Yoo Yeon-seok) and KIM JOON-WAN (Jung Kyung-ho) carpool to the hospital while discussing Seok-hyung’s favor. Jung-won already agreed to do “it” while Joon-wan plans to decline when he receives the text. Joon-wan would rather go on dates, and then waves at his hungover girlfriend who’s waiting for him outside the hospital.
In his office, Jung-won meets patients from a skeptical mother armed with internet-knowledge to a noncompliant toddler, but nothing ruffles his feathers as he handles both situations with poise and a smile. Afterwards, he runs into Joon-wan in the elevators and teases him about his cancelled date.
Unlike his pediatrician friend, Joon-wan is void of smiles when working. He scolds a couple of resident physicians for prescribing medicine to a patient without checking on her first and then solemnly informs a mother that her child needs heart surgery as soon as possible.
The mother asks for a week to procure the money for the operation, but Joon-wan assures her not to worry since the hospital can provide financial aid for families in need. He orders a resident to call for funds, but the confused resident has no clue who to contact. Despite his grumblings, Joon-wan helps out the resident, directing him towards the social services office and the Daddy-Long-Legs program.
Joon-wan is on the phone—most likely asking about the funds for the heart surgery—when Jung-won pops in to his office. Jung-won complains about Joon-wan ordering tteokbokki since he doesn’t enjoy spicy food, but Joon-wan tells him to just eat it.
After a few bites, Jung-won leaves to go home early for once, and on his way out, he calls Song-hwa to ask for a favor. Unfortunately for Jung-won, a patient needs his attention, and he returns to work.
Song-hwa browses the internet and reads the news about the comatose state of Yulje Foundation’s chairman. The foundation also runs the hospital she and her friends work at, and things look grim when her superior calls to ask her to watch over the patients in his stead because the chairman might not make the night.
Hospital Director Joo and the head of the neurology department (Song-hwa’s superior) greet the chairman’s wife JUNG ROSA (Kim Hae-sook) and Director JOO JONG-SOO (Kim Gab-soo). Rosa is unamused by their presence and quickly excuses herself when Lawyer Pyun arrives.
The hospital director offers Jong-soo coffee and drops all pretenses when they’re in his office since Jong-soo is his cousin. The hospital director and the neurology head wonder if the chairman’s third son will be in charge of the hospital now, and in the chairman’s hospital room, Lawyer Pyun discusses the same thing with Rosa.
The next foundation chairman will be decided by vote and the top two candidates are the current chairman’s third son and Jong-soo. Both sides need Chairman Hwang’s support to win the position, but the tide seems to be in the third son’s favor. However, Jong-soo cryptically tells his cousin that nothing has been decided yet.
The neurology head wonders why the third son is inheriting the position over the older sons, and the hospital director sighs over the doctor’s lack of interest in politics. He explains that the oldest son barely has enough time for his current job, and the second is serving a higher being: both are priests (hello there, familiar faces, Sung Dong-il and Kim Sung-kyun). He then asks the director about the daughters and learns that they, too, serve the Lord (cameos by Yeh Ji-won and Oh Yoon-ah). Heh.
Rosa asks about the whereabouts of her youngest, Andrea, and he arrives just then. He immediately walks up to his mom—his face hidden from the viewer—and wraps her in a hug. Afterwards, the oldest and youngest head outside, and following his mom’s advice, the youngest calls Chairman Hwang but can’t reach him.
Hyung is appalled to learn that his brother smokes and then tattles on him to their mother. Unfazed, Rosa replies, “I taught him twenty years ago.” Meanwhile, Jong-soo is also on the phone with someone late into the night.
Song-hwa’s boyfriend drops her off at work, and she weaves through the quiet halls into the busy hospital lobby to start her day. During one of her consultations, a patient hands her a book—with a thick envelope inside—but Song-hwa politely says that she already read that one and doesn’t take the obvious bribe.
Her next patient is an older woman and her grown-up daughter, and Song-hwa tells them with a heavy heart that the CT scans show a tumor in the mother’s brain. Though the mother remains calm, the daughter weeps uncontrollably. Once they leave her office, Song-hwa sighs since her heart feels heavy after delivering such somber news.
In the pediatric ward, a mother berates the doctors for not being more careful with her daughter. Jung-won arrives to check on the patient, and the mother bombards him with questions about every little detail concerning her daughter’s ongoing treatments. Jung-won hangs his head and advises her to prepare herself for the worse, but the mother snaps back at him, refusing to part with her child.
Song-hwa takes care of a patient and notices the daughter from early looking over her own son who’s lying unconscious in the ICU. They ride the elevator together, and the daughter explains that her son is waiting for a liver transplant.
The daughter confesses to Song-hwa that she doesn’t want to live anymore and laments her unfortunate fate. She collapses to the floor, sobbing, and Song-hwa crouches down next to her. When the elevator stops, Song-hwa tells the other doctors to ride the next one, and continues comforting the daughter in silence.
Song-hwa buys her colleague, ER Doctor Bong, coffee, and the two of them recite the medical favors they’ve done for each other. The news reports a major car accident near their hospital, and Dr. Bong runs off towards the ER. As a slew of patients are carted into the hospital, a man wearing a Darth Vader helmet stands in the middle of the chaos. Elsewhere, the daughter from before finds Song-hwa to tell her the good news: her son is getting a transplant.
Back outside the emergency room, a lady grabs a doctor and asks him to help a father who got his head glued to a helmet. However, there are more pressing issues at hand than dying from embarrassment, so the lady’s pleas are ignored. Since no one is willing to help them at the moment, the father grabs his son’s hand and marches towards the ER wielding a lightsaber.
Dr. Bong arrives at the ER to find Dr. Kwon sitting in a bed and wearing a sling. Song-hwa comes to check on the doctor as well and asks what he’ll do about the liver transplant patient. He’s surprised that she knows about his patient and then sighs since there’s no one else at their hospital who can perform the surgery.
While the doctors wrack their brain for a solution, Song-hwa looks up and says that “he” can do it. Dr. Bong quickly shakes his head, assuming that she’s talking about him, but she points to the man in the back…wearing a Darth Vader helmet. Say hello to Hepato-Billary-Pancreatic Surgeon LEE IK-JOON (Jo Jung-seok).
Dressed in scrubs—including a surgical cap for his helmet—Ik-joon mentions all the complications of an outside doctor performing a surgery, but Song-hwa has already resolved all the obstacles in his way. Resigned to his fate, Ik-joon enters the operating room without further complaints.
Given the difficulty of the surgery, Song-hwa babysits Ik-joon’s son Woo-joo and wakes up in the wee hours of the morning when her department head calls: “The chairman has passed.” At the funeral, Chairman Hwang gives his condolences to Rosa and sheds a few tears, clearly heartbroken. He bows to each of the children down the line until he reaches the youngest… it’s Jung-won.
Unlike Seok-hyung who’s been Jung-won’s friend since they were little, neither Song-hwa nor Joon-wan knew about his family background, so now they glare at their rich friend from afar. Joon-wan is especially annoyed because Jung-won has been mooching off him recently, but he can’t help but admit to understanding why Jung-won kept it a secret.
The hospital director arrives, and the friends, minus Seok-hyung, rise to greet their boss. The director asks if they know the late chairman’s youngest son, and Joon-wan claims to be his best friend. In the back, Song-hwa scoffs at his sudden change in attitude.
Jung-won thanks his friends for coming to the funeral and apologizes for keeping his family a secret. Joon-wan asks if he’s taking over the hospital then, but before Jung-won can answer, his phone rings and shocks everyone because his ringtone is an ambulance siren.
The friends exclaim common phrases to express their alarm, but the cardiothoracic surgeon takes offense to the phrase, “my heart was about to burst,” while the OB/GYN doctor is irked by the comment, “I nearly lost my unborn child.” Jung-won tells them to stop fighting because his “head is about to burst,” which upsets their neurosurgeon, heh.
Jung-won’s oldest brother calls him over and asks him why he isn’t picking up his phone. Jung-won pulls out a second phone and explains that he had it on vibrate.
Ik-joon finishes his surgery, and Song-hwa hurries upstairs to meet him. Since he’s still in his Darth Vader helmet, he thought she should inform the parents, so Song-hwa quickly goes out to tell the daughter that the surgery went well.
Adding to the good news, her mother’s biopsy showed that the tumor was first stage cancer, so with proper treatment, her mother will live for many more years. The daughter drops to the floor in tears, and taking back what she said earlier about her fate, she proclaims herself as the luckiest woman in the world for meeting such a wonderful doctor.
As the funeral nears its end, Rosa looks down the hall and shakes her head at the sight of Jong-soo. Afterwards, Jung-won helps his mother pack up his father’s belongings and notices the hospital bill. He gapes at the charges, but Rosa tells him that the VIP ward at their hospital is much cheaper than other places. Jung-won worries that the bill is too much for his mother to pay, but she reminds him that she married for convenience, not love.
Lawyer Pyun notifies Jung-won that Jong-soo is here to see him, and Rosa hits her son in the head. Apparently, Jung-won called Chairman Hwang as his mother wanted, but instead of asking for his vote, he resigned from the position altogether. As he informs Jong-soo of his decision, he asks for one thing in return: a portion of the profits from the VIP ward.
Jong-soo agrees to the terms and mentions that their hospital needs talented doctors to attract VIP patients. Jung-won tells him that he’s already got that solved, so all the director needs to do is prepare some high salaries.
Cut to Jung-won’s friends. Everyone reads over their contract with blank faces, confused over the restricting terms, until Jung-won mentions the benefit: double their current salary. The others immediately whip out their pens, ready to sign without reading further… all except for Seok-hyung.
He wants to hang out with his mom some more instead of working, so Jung-won sweetens the deal, offering him an assigned parking spot, exclusive research lab, and a personal office. The others complain about the favoritism, but Seok-hyung wants none of those things: All he wants is a band.
Joon-wan and Song-hwa refuse to participate, but Seok-hyung won’t sign the contract unless all his friends join the band. Having already predicted this situation, Jung-won easily “convinces” Joon-wan by mentioning some photos of Hawaii, but the real trouble is Song-hwa.
He asks the others if they have any dirt on her, and Ik-joon reprimands Jung-won for using underhanded means to achieve his goal. He suggests looking for positive incentives, instead, and Seok-hyung tells the others that Song-hwa agreed to join if she gets to be on vocals.
Ik-joon vehemently opposes the idea since Song-hwa is tone-deaf and lacks rhythm. However, Jung-won thinks they should let her sing, and Seok-hyung doesn’t care as long as everyone is together. They praise her voice as unique, and Ik-joon scowls at their blatant lies.
Song-hwa drinks a cup of eggs to lubricate her throat and takes the center microphone as the lead vocalist and bassist of their band. On first guitar is Ik-joon, on second guitar is Joon-wan, on drums is Jung-won, and lastly, on keyboards is Seok-hyung.
Their first practice song is “Lonely Night” by the band Boohwal, and Song-hwa frowns at the others for choosing this song. Gritting her teeth, she begins to sing, and the others can barely play along as she sings off-key and screeches to hit the high notes.
Rewind back to 1999. During their college orientation, a fellow freshman sang “Lonely Night” on stage, and while everyone else in the crowd cheered, Jung-won and Seok-hyung glumly drank alcohol. Seok-hyung told his friend that he would rather drop out than perform on stage, so the two of them quietly left.
As luck would have it, a couple of other students were hanging out near the entrance, barring their exit, so the two friends went to a nearby storage room to hide, instead. As soon as Jung-won opened the door, they found two other freshmen with the same, bright idea: Joon-wan and Ik-joon.
The two groups marveled at the other’s accent, and piled into the room, packed like sardines. After introducing themselves, Ik-joon said that they should be thankful no one else was coming. Cue Song-hwa. Thus, the first, fateful encounter between these five friends, and to commemorate their night, they took a group photo.
After their band practice, Ik-joon and Joon-wan tease Song-hwa’s singing, so in retaliation, she flings her shoe at them. This backfires on her as Joon-wan steals her shoe, and the others ignore her cries for help.
In his car, Jung-won receives a text message, addressing him as Daddy-Long-Legs, and he replies that he’ll be able to support more patients in the future as well. He then gets a call from his brother asking him for money to buy wine, and Jung-won complains that he’s short on funds, too. In the back, Song-hwa screams at Joon-wan to return her shoe. Hahaha!
In the VIP ward, Chairman Hwang greets Rosa, and they sit in the lobby for a moment to talk about Jong-soo. Rosa explains that she’s been best friends with him since they were little and expresses her regret for burdening him with the foundation when his wife is ill. That was also the reason why she didn’t want him at the funeral, but given his personality, of course Jong-soo would come to pay his respects.
Chairman Hwang admits that at first, he was cautious of Jong-soo because he misinterpreted his sullen expressions as scheming, so when Jong-soo contacted him a couple days before the chairman’s passing, he assumed it was about the vote. However, when Jong-soo came over to his house, he merely stared at a flower tree and asked for one to give his wife.
After their conversation, Rosa goes in to check on Jong-soo and finds him sleeping next to his wife’s bed. She leaves behind the food she packed for him while Jong-soo continues sleeping, unaware of the guest that visited.
Jung-won runs down the hospital halls to the pediatric ward where the other doctor performs CPR on the patient with the protective mother. Though Jung-won tries his best, he knows his actions are futile. With a heavy heart, he asks the mother to let her child rest, and the mother turns to her daughter one last time. With tears in her eyes, she apologizes for making her daughter experience so much pain and finally lets her go.
In the hall, the other staff members worry about what the mother wants to say to them, but Jung-won dismisses them and meets the mother by himself. When she sees Jung-won, the mother bows deeply and thanks him for loving her daughter these past three years. Her words bring Jung-won to tears, and he continues crying long after she’s left.
Later that evening, Jung-won confesses to a priest that he resented the Lord when a little girl died today. He asks for guidance, and the priest hands him a note to meet him at a restaurant. While his eldest brother eats, Jung-won gets roaring drunk and bellows out his woes.
He always wanted to join the priesthood as well and declares his intentions to quit practicing medicine since he’s unqualified. Without even glancing at Jung-won once, his eldest brother utters one piece of advice: just hold on for one more year.
One year ago, in the exact same spot, Jung-won cried to his brother about quitting after he lost a patient, but just a year before that one, Jung-won celebrated the recovery of a patient, claiming that day to be the happiest moment of his life. Then a year before that, Jung-won experienced another low and vowed to quit. Each time, his eldest brother gave the same advice: just one more year.
After pulling an all-nighter, Joon-wan drops by Song-hwa’s office, and she mentions his upcoming symposium this weekend. He realizes that her boyfriend will be in attendance as well, and promises to send her regards.
Joon-wan’s girlfriend waits outside to pick him up, but as soon as he gets in the car, he jumps out. He can smell the alcohol still on her, and though she claims to be sober, he grabs her keys. He offers to drive her car back to her apartment, but after she sobers up, he wants to end their relationship.
When the weekend arrives, Joon-wan arrives at the hotel where the symposium is held and recognizes Song-hwa’s boyfriend’s car. As he waits for the elevators, the doors open and reveal Song-hwa’s boyfriend kissing another girl on the cheek. With a hand in his pocket, Joon-wan stares at Song-hwa’s boyfriend while the cheater looks away from his piercing gaze.
I love when this director-writer duo creates ensemble stories, and Hospital Playlist really shows how much they’ve improved over the years. With each new drama they add to their list of experience, the better they become at telling stories about a group. In this first episode, they focus on Yulje Medical Center and the ’99 friends who work there. We jump from Jung-won’s day at the hospital to Joon-wan’s and then Song-hwa’s. At first, it feels hectic with only small mentions of how everyone is connected, but once Ik-joon appears, the group slowly mingles together and becomes one. Once they become a group, the story introduces its main plot and feels centered with everyone under one roof. Rather than have a singular, main character as in their other stories (the Reply series as well as the director’s work in Prison Playbook), it feels more balanced between the characters and actors. Though this hour was more about Jung-won and Song-hwa, they don’t necessarily feel like the Deok-sun’s or Je-hyuk’s of this drama. I get the impression that this is a tale about a group of friends, and its their relationship with each other and their environment that will propel the story going forward.
While a good ensemble drama needs a capable writer and director, it’s all for naught if the cast isn’t right, and so far, I love everyone in their roles. To no one’s surprise, the actors are doing a splendid job portraying their character’s little quirks, and even the supporting roles are filled with familiar and talented faces. Though all five friends are different, they somehow work together and create interesting group dynamics. They bring out different sides of each other, and I’m already looking forward to their story, past and present (because clearly there’s something there). For anyone worried about another round of “who’s the husband,” I don’t get the impression that this is the route the show will go, since this feels more like Prison Playbook in terms of storytelling with a mix of Reply 1988. Alas, I could be wrong, but a little shipping won’t hurt anyone… I hope.
Regardless of any potential love-lines that may exist, I find all five individuals charming in their own way. Despite having small screen time, Seok-hyung is quite the oddball, and I find his dry responses hilarious. Ik-joon is also funny, but in almost the opposite way of Seok-hyung with his over-the-top reactions and overall presence (the Darth Vader helmet had me in stitches). Joon-wan is the tsundere of the friend group who’s quick to voice his dissent, but ends up smiling the biggest in the group picture (such a marshmallow). Jung-won is the sweetest and most patient doctor I’ve seen on tv, and the way he doesn’t look for recognition for his acts of kindness already have me rooting for him unconditionally. But contrasting his sweet side, he’s also quite conniving which makes him much more interesting as a character. Lastly, there’s Song-hwa who’s adorable. Like Jung-won, she’s a compassionate doctor who goes out of her way to comfort a patient, but she’s also a nerd who wants to sing in a rock band despite her singing abilities (or lack thereof). Also, for anyone who didn’t know, Song-hwa might be a terrible singer, but Jeon Mi-do is not (watch her musical performances, they’re beautiful).
While I really liked the five friends introduced this episode, my favorite part was how the show subverted expectations related to hospital dramas and completely played up the hospital politics to only throw them out the window. Part of this was hinted at with Song-hwa’s department head who was also quite the surprise. I was expecting another conniving doctor (and Rosa seemed to be, too, from her initial response), but he turned out to be the opposite. I chuckled when the show told the audience that the department head was actually leaving the hospital to go to a more rural area, which is usually the “punishment” doctors face when they get demoted, and he seemed so happy about it. Heh.
The main surprise, though, was Jong-soo and his relationships with Rosa. Again, the show played with expectations and an actor’s image to deliver its punchline. Kim Gab-soo can play endearing really well, but he’s also amazingly good at portraying bad guys. With his stoic face and some dramatic background music, Jong-soo’s presence seemed to indicate a power struggle in the horizon, but in the end, it turns out that he’s actually a simpleminded person who’s devoted to his wife. Like the late chairman who donated most of his assets before passing, the people of Yulje Foundation really do seem like decent people. Also, I’m fascinated by the friendship between him and Rosa because dramas rarely show friendships between older people, let alone one that’s also between different sexes. In general, I find Rosa to be a fascinating character, and I don’t know what surprised me more, the fact that four of her kids became priests and nuns or that she has five children with the oldest being Sung Dong-il and the youngest being a forty-year-old Yoo Yeon-seok.
While dramas about hospitals aren’t my go-to genre, I’m already enjoying how the show puts an emphasize on the relationships within the hospital rather than the mechanics. The patients and their stories reflect the highs and lows people in the medical field experience, and it’s not really about the major case for each episode that our characters have to overcome but the everyday grind. Some days a character saves a patient and their passion for their work rekindles, while other days, their hearts are broken as they face death repeatedly. However, as Jung-won’s eldest brother said, it’s all about hanging in there one day at a time because just as much as these five friends will go through heartache, the joys they experience will keep them coming back and moving forward. Because, let’s be honest, Plan B: Rock and Roll isn’t a very good safety net, and Jung-won looks much better in a doctor’s gown than a priest’s robe.