Doctor Stranger: Episode 4
Doctor Stranger is settling down into its new home quite nicely, and spends this hour exploring the personal lives of characters who aren’t our lovable ragamuffin hero and his question mark of a first love. The hospital politicking keeps a low and welcome profile, except for the competition for Best Cardiothoracic Top Team—which, of course, gets created as a response to the shortage of surgeons. Because what better way to deal with dwindling doctors than to split their numbers by making them fight to the death (of their careers)?
Ratings-wise, Stranger picked up first place with 12.7%, while former top drama Triangle brought up the rear at 7.4%.
SONG OF THE DAY
DMTN (달마시안) – “E.R.” [ Download ]
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Hoon chases Jae-hee’s doppelgänger through the hospital, but loses her outside when she gets into an ambulance. When asked what took her so long by the driver, Jae-hee(?) replies that she was tending to a patient named Kim Eun-hee—Doctor Soo-hyun’s mom.
The ambulance drives away, leaving Hoon all alone. Curiously though, Maybe Jae-hee seems to notice him in her side mirror.
Unsettled, Hoon goes directly to Smuggler Im to demand an answer, sure that the man knows where Jae-hee is. The smuggler brushes Hoon off by claiming that the girl he saw was a different person, and puts the heat on him to round up at least fifty grand to get Jae-hee out of prison camp.
After Hoon leaves, a mysterious man pays Smuggler Im for lying. But when the smuggler asks whether Jae-hee really is in the North, the shadowy man with a missing finger uses the “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you” line before he magically disappears.
Doctor Moon is so desperate to get Hoon to work at his hospital that he pulls out the fifty grand Hoon needs from his wallet to casually wave it under his nose.
He claims he’s in support of young love, when really, he just wants Hoon to head and create a rival cardiothoracic surgical dream team at the hospital Hoon was just barred from re-entering for life. But in the face of all that money, Hoon is definitely considering it.
When Jae-joon and Soo-hyun finally get a chance to talk about her unwelcome (at least on his end) move to hospital administration, they’re interrupted by a giddy and oblivious Doctor Moon. The discussion is yet again tabled, while Doctor Moon mentions that he’s got the perfect new candidate for their department…
Cut to: Jae-joon presenting his candidate choice to his fellow hospital administrators. While they’re all happy to go with whoever Jae-joon picks, Doctor Moon interjects to play footage from Hoon’s impromptu surgery.
The doctors are in awe, not only of Hoon’s precision (since the incision was so perfect that there was no bleeding), but also his speed. Even Jae-joon admires the mysterious surgeon’s skills, but while he’d like to see the surgeon’s records first, Doctor Moon bypasses him by inviting the surgeon in.
The doors open, and Hoon struts confidently into the conference hall. Soo-hyun’s jaw drops, to which Hoon offers her a cavalier wink and a wave: “Hi, Quack Doc.”
Hospital Director Choi, the ajusshi whose portrait Hoon recognized, pays a visit to Chairman Oh after returning from a long leave of absence. Even though he’s close to retirement, Director Choi has a recommendation now that Chairman Oh is looking for new doctors…
Meanwhile, there’s a hiccup in Hoon’s introduction to the conference: when asked where he studied medicine, he replies, “Pyongyang Medical School.” That nips the support movement for him right in the bud.
Jae-joon stays behind with Doctor Moon, and isn’t so much angry as he is practical. If Hoon were to join the team, who would he be operating on? Doctor Moon: “The Prime Minister, of course.” Jae-joon’s next question: how would Prime Minister Jang feel about a North Korean defector operating on him? That’s when Doctor Moon sees where he’s coming from.
Once they’re left alone, Doctor Moon frantically paws at Hoon’s crotch for his money back. Even if everyone were to accept Hoon as a doctor, he wouldn’t, because he hates commies.
He throws a few dollars on the floor, and then proceeds to insult Hoon for stooping to pick it up. Soo-hyun ends up watching the exchange when she goes back in to return Hoon’s 500 won coin, sympathy clearly written all over her face.
Hoon finally has had enough with Doctor Moon’s wheedling, and confronts him with a dangerous gleam in his eye: “That’s right. I want money. I’m crazy for it. I’d give my whole body, not just my kidneys and liver, for this,” he says as he waves the few measly dollars. “Why can’t I do that? What’s wrong with that?”
Soo-hyun stops him as he storms out to ask him why he doesn’t just start a business if he needs money—doesn’t he have pride as a doctor? Hoon scoffs at her use of the word “pride” as he grips her doctor’s coat to make a point. “You don’t get pride from wearing this. Understand, Quack?”
Chang-yi congratulates Hoon for getting a job with a pair of shoes, which he knocks out of her hands. At least he immediately feels bad about it, and puts the shoes on to make her happy. D’aw.
It seems that the semi-retired Director Choi’s candidate recommendation was Hoon, since Chairman Oh calls Doctor Moon and Jae-joon in to tell them that he’s hiring the doctor neither of them want.
To add insult to injury, he all but forces Doctor Moon to take Hoon on in order to form a dream team to compete with Jae-joon’s, since Chairman Oh claims competition is healthy. Whoever wins will have the honor of representing their hospital’s cardiothoracic surgery department, and will also win a prize. Whoever loses will be penalized. Let’s play with people’s lives!
Doctor Moon seems almost scared of Jae-joon, because he can’t help but tuck his tail beneath his legs when Jae-joon flatly asks, “Do you think you can be my rival?” Clearly, Doctor Moon doesn’t.
Hoon helps Chang-yi’s mother settle into the hospital, and declines Chang-yi’s offer to take Mom to his clinic since he’s selling it. Chang-yi protests, but Hoon’s firm on his decision. (I’m not sure if this is important, but Mom throws a strange glance their way. Is she actually sick?)
After Director Choi tells him that Prime Minister Jang wants Hoon on the team, a bipolar Doctor Moon is back to waving money under Hoon’s nose, citing his change of heart as due to his non-existent generosity.
Hoon has no option but to comply if he wants the money, even though Doctor Moon insists that he call him “Master.” Hoon is going to be his general in battle against Jae-joon.
While Jae-joon assembles his team and leaves the hitherto obedient “trashy bastard” Doctor Yang out of it, Doctor Moon swoops him up into Hoon’s team.
Meanwhile, Hoon waves the fifty thousand under Smuggler Im’s nose before tearing the bills in half. He gives the smuggler one half while he keeps the other, promising to give him the full amount once he can prove that Jae-hee’s out of the prison camp. (Just because I’m curious: why didn’t Hoon just give him half the amount instead of half the paper?)
Sang-jin, Soo-hyun’s petulant half-brother, surprises their father by showing him to her mother’s hospital bed. Soo-hyun still doesn’t know she’s there.
Speaking of unwanted guests, Soo-hyun is more than surprised to find Hoon working in her department. He answers all her questions by calling her “Quack”, and because he knows how much he’s grating on her nerves, he protects his cheeks from being slapped with his hands again. Ha.
I love how he’s like, Don’t you just wanna slap me? to which she replies that no, she doesn’t… before she kicks him right in the family jewels. OUCH. Disproportionate response.
Unbeknownst to Soo-hyun, Chairman Oh consults Jae-joon over the probability of success if her mother were to get surgery—but the prognosis is bleak.
Chairman Oh mentions nothing of it when she goes to him to protest Hoon being hired, remaining firm in his decision. That’s when douchey half-brother Sang-jin arrives to forcefully drag her out and into her mother’s hospital room, acting like he’s just won a prize for being the biggest asshat in town. Now here’s a guy who could use a firm kick to the huevos rancheros.
He’s totally taken aback when Soo-hyun has a non-reaction to learning that her mother has one week to live because of terminal lung cancer, and starts blustering when Soo-hyun only identifies his mother as her mother and calls the dying patient only “that woman.”
She leaves Sang-jin without a leg to stand on, though it’s clear she’s compartmentalizing her pain, especially when Hoon off-handedly mentions that the patient signed a “do not resuscitate” order—meaning that if she were to need CPR or life-saving measures, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it.
Soo-hyun visits her mother in private and demands that a nurse try and wake her from her comatose state, because she has something to ask her. A flashback shows that Soo-hyun spent her whole life being ignored by her mother, no matter how desperately she wanted a relationship with her. It looks like Mom was purposefully pushing her away so that she’d continue to live with her father.
She’s especially distant at a dinner Jae-joon has arranged for his dream team, even as he keeps his speech short and says only that his team is like a family to him.
But then she gets a text with shocking news: her mother has flatlined. Though Jae-joon wants to know where she’s going, she keeps him in the dark for now. The air’s still not clear between them.
A code blue is announced at the hospital, and Hoon rushes in to see the nurses just standing by, since the order was for them not to resuscitate the patient. But he refuses to just stand by while someone’s dying, and begins measures to bring her back.
Soo-hyun tries to maintain her composure as she makes her way to her mother’s hospital room, only now instead of remembering the bad times, she remembers being loved by her mother as a child. Before she was sent away, anyway.
Meanwhile, her mother remains unresponsive to a defibrillator, as well as Hoon’s regular methods for CPR. The world goes silent as he takes a step back—did her mother die?
Soo-hyun mentally prepares herself to see her mother dead as she walks into the hospital room. Her fears are confirmed when she finds her mother’s bed empty… only to be told that her mother’s alive and in ICU.
Instead of being happy to find her mother alive, Soo-hyun drags Hoon aside to ream him for going against the patient’s wishes. He responds that he couldn’t just let her die, and that her “do not resuscitate” order was signed a long time ago.
“Maybe she wanted to die since then,” Soo-hyun grits out. Hoon is confused by the reaction, until Soo-hyun tells him that the patient has been suffering immeasurable pain due to her terminal lung cancer, and that by bringing her back, Hoon only prolonged her suffering.
Hoon argues that if the patient truly didn’t have the will to live, the CPR wouldn’t have worked. Soo-hyun can only scoff that a woman who’s barely breathing on life support couldn’t have a will to live before she storms off.
She leaves Hoon curious about her relationship with the patient, at least until he comes across the bracelet the comatose woman is wearing—the same one he once made and gave to Jae-hee.
He calls the attending physician on the patient’s form… and it’s Maybe Jae-hee who answers, only she introduces herself as Doctor HAN SEUNG-HEE. (For ease of use we’ll play ball with the show and call her by her new name, at least until we’re given a reason not to.)
But when Hoon doesn’t immediately answer, Seung-hee leaves the phone to tend to an emergency. Hoon is left to ask the nurse if she knows where their former patient, Kim Eun-hee, got her bracelet from.
The nurse knows nothing about it, and claims that Patient Kim doesn’t even have a family he can contact. The trail’s gone cold.
Only, Seung-hee lied about tending to another patient, since she leaves the hospital to meet the nine-fingered man who bribed the smuggler, now revealed to be Agent Cha. Curiouser and curiouser.
After skillfully avoiding questions dealing with possible bribery charges from the last primary race at an informal press conference, Prime Minister Jang is confronted with them head on when Nightshade tells him that state prosecutors are digging into the details on his campaign funding.
Sure that it’s the president himself toying with him, Prime Minister Jang uses Nightshade as a scapegoat. When the issue blows up on the news, it’s Nightshade who publicly takes the fall for bribery, while insisting that Prime Minister Jang had no part of it.
Rookie doc Chi-gyu gets caught macking on another intern by his bespectacled colleague in love with the anesthesiologist—a love Chi-gyu exploits in order to get out of trouble when Doctor Moon comes looking for Hoon.
Hoon tells Doctor Moon that he wants to operate on Patient Kim because he’s sure that he can save her, even though she has only days to live. Doctor Moon’s blood pressure spikes as he finds a million different ways to say the word no, but Hoon’s just as stubborn as he claims that he will save her, because there’s something he has to ask her.
Jae-joon finds Soo-hyun watching over Patient Kim, and recognizes her medical file from his conversation with Chairman Oh. Soo-hyun seems surprised that her father even took a look at her mother’s situation, but when Jae-joon tells her that his opinion was that operating would be futile, she all but whispers: “Even so, can you operate on her?”
His reply is the same, but not for the reason you’d think—he’s caught up in the new competition with Doctor Moon, and since winning depends on how many successful surgeries they can perform, a failed operation on Patient Kim means that their dream team would lose points. The fact that she’d die comes second.
But when Jae-joon asks who the patient is, Soo-hyun calmly replies: “My mom. My biological mom.”
Meanwhile, Hoon activates his genius to run an in-depth scenario depicting how his operation on Soo-hyun’s mom would go. Even though the first scenario fails, Hoon doesn’t stop dreaming.
Soo-hyun confronts her father over bringing her mother to their hospital, which he explains as an act of love. But she differs from her father in wanting to prolong her mother’s suffering, and asks for his permission to remove her from life support. She wants to be there, alone, when her mother passes.
After remembering the night her mother sent her to live with her father after commanding her not to cry, Soo-hyun begins to slowly turn off the life support equipment as her eyes brim with unshed tears.
Jae-joon requests permission to operate on Soo-hyun’s mother from Chairman Oh, who answers no as he reminds him that he’s got his competition with Hoon to think of now. Plus it’d tarnish their record if a patient were to die during surgery. Having a patient die from willful negligence, though—that’s totally fine.
While Hoon’s virtual scenarios keep failing, Soo-hyun finishes unplugging the life support. She seems unwilling to leave, as if hopeful that her mother will miraculously wake up, and it’s only after she works up her resolve that she stops to look down…
…as her mother’s hand reaches out to hold hers. In complete shock, Soo-hyun watches in tears as her mom’s eyes flutter open. “Mom…” she whispers, but her mother’s hand soon drops and her eyes close.
Soo-hyun frantically calls Jae-joon, who knows what she wants to ask and avoids her calls. Then she pulls out something she’d forgotten about—Hoon’s 500 won coin.
Hoon wakes up from a nightmare of losing Jae-hee in Hungary only to come face to face with Soo-hyun, who asks him if he can operate on her mother.
He admits that he wanted to, but can’t because the success rate is too low. Soo-hyun latches onto the fact that there is a chance, no matter how small, which makes him clarify that even if the surgery is a success, she’ll still live in pain.
“I had something to ask her, so I wanted to save her,” Hoon confesses. “But I don’t think I can.” Soo-hyun fires back with what he’d told her about her mother having the will to live, which he apologizes for saying now. “I’m sorry, Quack.”
But Soo-hyun, nearing tears, hands him back his 500 won coin as she says that she’ll pay him whatever he wants for the surgery. When he still says no, she tells him that the patient is her mother. “I have something to tell her. I’m begging you… please save her.”
Chairman Oh finds Soo-hyun prepping for her mother’s surgery in the operating theater, and tells her that she’s wasting her time since he rejected Jae-joon for the surgery.
When Hoon enters as the surgeon, Chairman Oh demands to talk to him so he can order a stop to the surgery. It’s sweet how Soo-hyun gives Hoon a chance to back out, since she knows that there’ll be ramifications if he goes against the hospital chairman’s wishes.
But even at the threat of getting his license revoked, Hoon looks up to Chairman Oh as he says, “Sorry, but the surgery fee has already been paid.” Then he winks at Soo-hyun. Aww, did he accept the 500 won coin as payment?
Doctor Moon’s nose-breaking gag continues as he tries to convince a very angry Chairman Oh that he didn’t give Hoon permission for the surgery, but it’s no use.
Jae-joon enters the theater on the mezzanine, and shares only a silent gaze with Soo-hyun as the surgery begins. And for all his bluster, Chairman Oh remains as he watches the surgery from his office.
Hours pass. Hoon and Soo-hyun are the only ones left standing, until a sudden arterial spray marks the beginning of a cardiac arrest. Hoon applies the defibrillator directly to Mom’s heart, while Doctor Moon faints in a ridiculous bout of comic extremity.
They can’t get Mom’s heart beating again, and Hoon stops trying. Soo-hyun holds onto the hope that it’s a part of his strategy… until Hoon tells everyone that they’re done.
“It’s not over yet,” Soo-hyun insists desperately. “It’s not over yet!” Hoon just hangs his head and apologizes, but Soo-hyun refuses to give up. She starts massaging Mom’s heart manually, ignoring Hoon’s insistence that she stop.
Hoon ends up stepping back to give Soo-hyun the time to realize that she’s holding a dead heart. It comes over her slowly, ending in her asking her mother what she wanted so desperately to hear when she was alive: “Why did you do that? Why did you do that to me?”
Breaking down fully, Soo-hyun can only ask, “Why me?” It’s unbelievably sad to watch, especially when Hoon calls the time of death. Soo-hyun still can’t accept it and insists that her mother’s not dead, she’s still alive… and Hoon does the only thing he can do to help her now. He pulls her into a hug.
Even as she begs him to bring her mother back between her sobs, he continues to hold her close. “I’m sorry, but she’s gone now.” Hoon says softly. “I’m sorry.”
Her fists grow weaker as she leans further into Hoon for support, both of them so lost in the moment that they don’t notice Jae-joon enter.
And at the sight of the two so close, a muscle in Jae-joon’s jaw clenches.
This was Soo-hyun’s episode by a long shot, which definitely came as a surprise in a show that initially seemed like it would have a one-track mind when it came to its central romance. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it’s just plain praiseworthy in this day and age for a second lead female to get an interesting and meaningful character trajectory at all, especially one that doesn’t involve sacrificing one’s humanity for unrequited love. You know which dramas you are.
But if the central message of this episode was really about love and loss, then the execution was near perfect when it came to Soo-hyun’s story, which managed to not only expand upon her character, but also those in her direct orbit. While the show dips heavily into some very well-worn tropes in its journey to be every drama ever, it’s at least not doing so at the expense of character. Yet.
Which means that as stereotypical as characters like Prime Minister Jang and Doctor Moon are, we get the ones who break the mold as well—like Chairman Oh, who could’ve just been another uncaring chaebol father, but who mourned Soo-hyun’s mother’s death in his own way. Or Jae-joon, who’s anything but the perfect boyfriend or person, since he seems to have issues with caring only when it’s convenient. What grounds him and makes him imperfect, rather than insane, is the fact that he does attempt to listen to that inner voice telling him when he should make an effort. What makes him almost tragic is that his attempts at personhood end up just below the heroic dramaland average, which means that he’ll always lose to the Hoon’s of the world unless he figures out how to put others first.
In that vein, having Hoon change his tune from wanting to save the patient for selfish reasons to wanting to save the patient for Soo-hyun helped in adding some texture to a character who’s impossible not to like, but one who seems to have the least opportunity for personal growth. The years spent on human experimentation under an oppressive regime didn’t really make a dent in Hoon becoming the doctor he was already born to be, so it’ll be interesting to see how his character evolves from having a superior brain and bleeding heart to… not that? I really have no idea where he can even go from here, but am no less willing to stick around and see.
Hopefully the show will figure out how to juggle all the various things it’s still trying to be in the future, because I do find the medical stuff pretty compelling. The inclusion of the Big Conspiracy and Maybe Jae-hee come off as cuts from a different drama at present, so I can’t take the possible plot twists too seriously, if only because they all sound completely ridiculous. Whether Jae-hee’s a cyborg, alien, clone, identical twin, or simply herself as a brainwashed spy, let’s just hope whatever she is makes just enough sense. Don’t disappoint us, Cyborg Spy Jae-hee. Don’t disappoint us.