Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3
After the high intensity of last week, this third episode takes on a slightly slower pace, as our two apprentices try to negotiate the large space between them. Seo-jung is intent on keeping her distance and pushing Dong-joo away, but Dong-joo is filled with unanswered questions for both Seo-jung and especially Teacher Kim, that refuse to go unanswered. He spends the majority of the episode clashing with the two, but at the end of the day it’s he who begins to question all he had believed before.
Chapter 3: “Friday of Thirteen People”
We return right where we left our team of doctors at the end of the last episode. Teacher Kim assesses Seo-jung’s wrist injury, and asks Dong-joo if he has any experience in this kind of procedure. He seems a little distracted, but eventually admits that he hasn’t, which leads Teacher Kim to threaten the safety of Dong-joo’s hand yet again should he screw up.
Teacher Kim commences with the surgery and announces that he will finish rejoining the cut nerve, artery, and three tendons within thirty minutes. Dong-joo wonders to himself if that is even possible, but withholds voicing his disbelief.
In voiceover, Dong-joo explains the 10,000-hour rule, where if a person works every single day for three hours on something, they can become an expert. However, the time it takes to become a specialist is twenty hours a day for eleven years, totaling at 80,300 hours.
We flash back to Dong-joo’s conversation with Teacher Kim in the last episode, where he vowed to go back to his old hospital no matter what. In voiceover, Dong-joo colors the memory with his newfound doubt, “But, the present seemed to be as grim as ever, and thus, I was more uncertain about my future.”
Back in the present, Dong-joo continues to observe Teacher Kim’s surgical skills, commenting in astonishment at his speed, as he struggles to keep up with Teacher Kim’s pace. Meanwhile, Nurse Oh counts down as they work, cool as a cucumber, and precise in her movements.
Teacher Kim is relentless in his operating, exhibiting laser focus and accuracy, shouting at Dong-joo whenever he isn’t there when he needs him. As they approach Teacher Kim’s deadline, Dong-joo’s nerves get the best of him and he clumsily knocks down a pair of surgical scissors, alarming all in the room.
He apologizes and tries to recover, but Nurse Oh swiftly fills the void, and takes over Dong-joo’s duties with more skill and speed than he had before. He notes to himself how she always seemed to know what Teacher Kim needs, and is ready without ever making a single mistake.
Teacher Kim finishes his last stitch just as the promised thirty minutes elapses, then immediately inquires after Seo-jung’s vital levels. Nurse Oh reports everything back as normal and with that Teacher Kim gets up from his seat.
He takes a few steps to place his hand over Seo-jung’s forehead, then instructs Dong-joo to close up the wound and finish up the procedure. He can’t resist adding a bit of sarcasm at the end, stating, “You can handle that much, right?” And Dong-joo thinks to himself, “I’m so pissed off. But there was nothing that I could say. The surgical procedure he performed was the most perfect one I’d ever seen, and in that moment, I felt more stupid than I ever had before.”
Dong-joo stumbles backward, perhaps buckling under the weight of his excessive arrogance, then announces that he’s all right when the remaining surgical staff look over at him, but say nothing.
Later in his office, Teacher Kim receives a call from Nurse Oh, who informs him that they’ve moved Seo-jung to the ICU. Also, she adds, Dong-joo’s in total shock at the moment. She hangs up the phone, as Ki-tae comments on how Teacher Kim is giving someone a hard time again.
Nurse Oh thinks nothing of it, retorting that it’s the “Same as always. Teacher Kim’s usual approach.” Ki-tae predicts that based on previous doctors who’ve come and quickly gone, Dong-joo will soon leave cursing Teacher Kim’s name. At that moment, Dong-joo gets up and storms down the hall in order to confront Teacher Kim.
Dong-joo demands to know who Teacher Kim really is. He tries to make sense of all the random facts he knows: the crazy man that threatened to cut off his hand in the casino, the “Chief of the Surgical Department,” the man sleeping casually in the ER.
He continues that based on the surgery Teacher Kim performed on the patient in the runaway car, he could be a general surgeon, but the operation on Seo-jung requires the skills of a specialist. With that, Dong-joo asks for Teacher Kim’s specialty, but Teacher Kim just responds glibly that his specialty is “saving lives.”
Annoyed, Dong-joo requests a serious answer, to which Teacher Kim wonders aloud if Dong-joo is acting this way because he feels embarrassed for humiliating himself in the operating room. And since he brought up the casino, Teacher Kim ridicules him for nearly using a defibrillator on a choking patient.
Dong-joo warns Teacher Kim not to patronize him since he’s passed his boards with the highest marks in the country and is far from unskilled. But Teacher Kim asks him what his credentials are worth if he can’t even keep up and keep it together in the operating room when it truly matters. Dong-joo shoots back that Teacher Kim worked at an abnormally fast rate.
Teacher Kim then asks Dong-joo if he knows why surgeons wear masks in the operating room. Dong-joo replies immediately that it’s to prevent contamination, but Teacher Kim corrects him, “No, it’s so you keep your damn mouth shut.” Dangg. He adds that it’s Dong-joo’s talent that should do the talking, and advises him not to make excuses to the patient who is lying unconscious on the operating table, because surgeons do not get second chances.
Teacher Kim attempts a mic drop and begins walking away, but Dong-joo isn’t finished talking. He asks again who Teacher Kim really is, and exasperated, Teacher Kim gets up in Dong-joo’s face and declares again that he’s “Teacher Kim,” then leaves.
Ki-tae, who has witnessed the entire exchange with Nurse Oh, smiles widely after Teacher Kim leaves. He muses over Dong-joo’s “highest marks in the country,” comment, and looks on very pleased, but when Dong-joo shoots them a glance, they scatter.
Late in the night, Dong-joo sits beside Seo-jung as she sleeps, and asks why she is working at such a strange hospital. He recalls Teacher Kim putting his hand on Seo-jung’s forehead in the operating room, and watching over her tenderly, with an uneasy look in his eyes.
The next morning, Seo-jung awakes and examines her bandaged hand. She pieces together fragments of her memory, and cringes when she realizes what happened.
Meanwhile, Dong-joo updates his sunbae at his old hospital, about finding Seo-jung. The sunbae is surprised to hear that Seo-jung is preparing for her double board certification. When asked why, Dong-joo says he doesn’t know and adds that it’s a waste of time. He then asks his sunbae to look into Teacher Kim for him. Unfortunately, Dong-joo doesn’t have much information to offer, not even the man’s real name.
Before he can finish his request, Seo-jung steals the phone from him. She tells the sunbae to forget everything Dong-joo said, because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Upon hearing her voice, the sunbae begins asking to know what happened to her, and why she never contacted anyone for five years. But instead of answering she just hangs up on him.
Dr. Do’s son, DO IN-BUM, who has overheard the conversation, asks about Seo-jung, wondering who she is. The sunbae explains that she used to be a star member of their ER team, but after getting into a car accident she disappeared, only to have been hiding in Doldam Hospital all along. The name Doldam Hospital doesn’t sound familiar to In-bum, so the sunbae clarifies that it’s the hospital Dong-joo was “unfairly” transferred to. He immediately begins backpedaling after remembering whom he is talking to, but it isn’t very convincing.
At Doldam, Seo-jung accuses Dong-joo of spying on Teacher Kim. Dong-joo tries to pivot off-topic by chastising her for walking around so soon after her surgery. But she just ignores him and warns Dong-joo not to cause any trouble while he’s here.
He stops her as she walks away, grabbing her arm, and orders her back to bed lest her wound becomes infected. Instead of complying she tells him off for jeopardizing her effort over the last five years, and begs him to act as if they are strangers while he is at Doldam. She then warns him not to look into Teacher Kim’s affairs.
He looks away conscience-stricken, but at the mention of Teacher Kim he suddenly blurts out, “Do you like him?” then asks if that’s the reason she’s stayed at Doldam all this time. Ugh, really? She calls him a “crazy bastard,” then leaves as the memory of their kiss fades into the distance. At least he knows he said something he shouldn’t, and he berates himself for his last question, once Seo-jung is gone.
In Director Yeo’s office, Ki-tae begins his campaign for keeping Dong-joo at Doldam. Nurse Oh points out that Ki-tae was recently making bets on Dong-joo leaving Doldam soon. Ki-tae argues back that that was before he learned how talented Dong-joo is and insists they do something to persuade him to stay.
After all, he reasons, Dong-joo is young, smart, and good-looking, and the women in the area will be lured to their hospital by him. He alleges that all the new hospitals are doing it, and that their thinking is way too old. Nurse Oh suggests they speak with Teacher Kim about the idea before making any decisions, and Director Yeo agrees to Ki-tae’s dismay.
Following her argument with Dong-joo, Seo-jung carefully sneaks back to her station in the ER, looking around for someone. As soon as she sits down, Nurse Oh enters and tells her that Teacher Kim hasn’t come in yet. Echoing Dong-joo, Nurse Oh pointedly asks if she should be walking around so soon, and Seo-jung tries to play it off, explaining that she felt restless.
Luckily, she escapes any more questioning when the phone rings and Nurse Oh announces that five patients involved in a motorcycle accident are on their way. One patient in particular seems more seriously injured then the rest, and he’s rolled in on a stretcher, unconscious. Sensing an opportunity of redemption, Seo-jung jumps up to help with a delighted glint in her eyes.
Elsewhere in the hospital, Ki-tae tells Dong-joo that the patient in the runaway car from the day before hit two middle school students then drove off, and the police have arrived for questioning. Ki-tae assures Dong-joo that he will speak with the insurance company to cover the cost of damages done to Dong-joo’s car, trying to soften him up and make him feel fully taken care of.
Dong-joo manages a polite smile before his mom calls in time to save him from the awkward exchange. For a moment he seems to seriously consider finally answering her call, but alas, one of the nurses runs over to tell him about the situation in the ER, and he puts his phone in his pocket then rushes over.
In the ER, Dong-joo examines the unconscious patient, when Seo-jung comes over to inform him that the patient needs immediate surgery. Dong-joo asks the whereabouts of the guardian, and Seo-jung replies that they are about an hour away. He tells her that he will operate only after the guardian arrives and gives consent to the procedure. She shoots back that the patient could die of excessive bleeding, but Dong-joo pulls rank over her as the general surgeon and dismisses her.
She tells him to focus on saving the patient instead of worrying about what could go wrong, but he doesn’t relent, and explains that he’s seen many surgeons get sued after using her logic. She accuses him of changing and being “no fun,” but he says he was always like this, though she may not remember it. She then calls him a son of a bitch and tries to take over, when Teacher Kim comes in and barks at them to knock it off.
Teacher Kim seemingly sides with Seo-jung and orders the preparations for the surgery. But when she tries to do as instructed, he stops her and says he was talking to Dong-joo. She protests that she can do it, but Teacher Kim tells her to leave. When she proceeds anyway, Teacher Kim erupts and roars at her to step away from the patient. By his evaluation, she is mentally unfit to be a doctor since she harmed herself, and he disqualifies her from the hospital permanently.
Dong-joo sticks up for Seo-jung after she leaves, and says Teacher Kim is being too harsh, but Teacher Kim doesn’t have time to argue and begins ignoring Dong-joo. When a nurse asks about the lack of guardian consent, Teacher Kim merely says to get it over the phone.
Also, Teacher Kim adds, since they’ve now lost their ER specialist, he places Dong-joo on call for the Friday night shift, which Dong-joo takes immediate issue with, deeming it outside the scope of his responsibility. But Teacher Kim isn’t taking requests and reiterates his order.
Outside, Seo-jung cries over her circumstance, as Dong-joo watches on, when his phone rings again. This time it’s Dr. Song, the chief surgeon at Dong-joo’s old hospital. Dr. Song claims to feel bad for the way Dong-joo left, especially since no one compares to Dong-joo when it comes to skill. He invites Dong-joo to dinner tonight with head honcho Dr. Do, calling it an opportunity to ask for his old position back.
Dong-joo estimates that he will need to leave at 6 o’clock to make it to the dinner on time, sighing at the terrible timing. He heads in to begin his Friday night shift at the ER, and what awaits him is utter chaos—the ER now filled to the brim with new patients.
In Teacher Kim’s office, Director Yeo swings by to ask about Seo-jung, hoping Teacher Kim didn’t realllly fire her, right? But if he answers, we don’t get to hear it. Outside in the hall, Teacher Kim finds Nurse Oh waiting for him, and when asked where he’s going, he says he’s going to enjoy his hobby. She replies back that the Friday rush might be too much for Dong-joo to handle alone. But Teacher Kim thinks it’s good for Dong-joo to have too much work sometimes, as it will build up his experience and endurance.
Then, in a quieter voice, she asks if he really meant it when he fired Seo-jung. This time he affirms it, adding with a scowl that no one is going to change his mind. As he heads toward the exit, he receives a text message from an unnamed number, notifying him that the “VIP” arrived. He pauses for a moment to watch Dong-joo work tirelessly in the chaotic ER, with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Meanwhile, Seo-jung can’t accept that decision either and decides to beg Teacher Kim for her position back. Inside, she sees a slightly deranged-looking woman wandering through the hospital. The woman ends up in the ICU, and asks to go inside to see the driver of the runaway car, explaining that she’s his guardian.
The nurse sends her in, and we immediately see that she isn’t his guardian at all, but actually the mother of one of the middle school students he had hit. She begins strangling the unconscious patient, alerting a nearby nurse. Seo-jung jumps in to help wrestle the woman away, and sends the nurse to get help. The woman soon turns her ire onto Seo-jung, deeming her morally complicit in the wrongful death of her son for having saved the driver. Thankfully, backup arrives in time before the woman can seriously harm an already injured Seo-jung.
As the woman thrashes against the staff trying to restrain her, Seo-jung shouts that the patient she attacked isn’t the driver she is looking for—that man was moved earlier to another room–meaning she almost killed an innocent person.
Realizing what she’s done, the woman begins wailing for her departed child as she is taken out of the ICU. Seo-jung goes to check on the patient and determines he is okay, before her knees give in from the stress.
At around 6:20 p.m., Dong-joo looks around the ER, which seems to have calmed down from the earlier craziness. The window of opportunity proves extremely tempting to Dong-joo and he convinces himself to leave while he can.
However, right at that moment, another emergency patient comes in, freezing Dong-joo in place. Nurse Oh calls him over, but instead he just stands in front of the doorway, realizing that if he misses the dinner, he can kiss his chances of returning to his old job goodbye. He takes another step forward determined to leave, as Nurse Oh shouts after him, a nervous look in her eyes, as if sensing what he intends to do. Then, suddenly the mother of the new patient begins crying out to him, begging him to save her son.
The memory of his own mother’s pleads for someone to save his dying father reverberates through him like a cold chill, and Dong-joo turns around conflicted.
At the dinner, Dr. Song informs Dr. Do that he invited Dong-joo, because evidently he needs more fellow surgeons in the department to help out, and asks Dr. Do to consider taking the young surgeon back. Dr. Do gives his tacit approval, but as the evening ticks on, Dong-joo’s seat remains empty. Dr. Song calls Dong-joo in a tizzy, and growls into his voicemail that he’s finished.
Back at Doldam, the incoming patient apparently consumed a certain kind of pesticide in a drunken state, so Dong-joo gets to work pumping his stomach and trying to resuscitate him. He works as fast as he can, never letting up. But his efforts are simply not enough and tragically, the patient dies. Forlorn, he wonders to himself just what he’s doing.
Dong-joo goes out into the hall to deliver the news, but the elderly parents can’t quite hear him because they left their hearing aids at home. He tries to repeat himself, but they still can’t make it out, and instead the couple implores Dong-joo to save their son. The effect is devastating for Dong-joo who can’t bear to watch the parents beg, and he shouts that their son died. The truth finally dawns on them as their grief spreads through them.
Later, Dong-joo listens to Dr. Song’s voicemail with a defeated look on his face, the night heavy on his shoulders. A moment later, his mother calls again, and this time he answers.
Surprised to finally get through, she asks how things are going. When he doesn’t answer, she says knowingly, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” The question and the sound of his mother’s voice breaks him and he begins to sob.
Meanwhile, Nurse Oh reports to Teacher Kim, attributing the success of the night to Dong-joo, then chastises him for leaving. She urges him to come right back, but he tells her he isn’t done with his business yet before hanging up. He smiles to himself after the call. And then a man in a wheelchair enters the casino and Teacher Kim watches him intently.
Late in the night, Dong-joo goes to check on Seo-jung who sits in her hospital bed, wistful. He’s heard about her tussle in the ICU, and checks for swelling in her wrist and a fever, but she’s okay. Straightaway, she requests a different doctor, but he replies that there aren’t any. He amends himself and offers to call Teacher Kim, but guesses she doesn’t want that. Pettily, he comments that he thought she and Teacher Kim were close.
Fed up with his meddling, Seo-jung asks why he showed up in her life again, but he corrects her—he didn’t come because he wanted to, she just happened to be here, that’s all. She doesn’t argue with him, but says that it is wrong for them both to be working in the same hospital again. He corrects her again and says technically they aren’t working together since she got fired. Annoyed, she calls him a jerk, but he says he’s always been like this, straight-forward, freely speaking his mind, but perhaps she just doesn’t remember.
She doesn’t have anything else to say, so in a softer voice Dong-joo asks why she took the sedative that led to her episode. For a moment there is a fragile look in her eyes, but she doesn’t answer, then orders him to leave because she’s tired. He lingers around her bed even after she lies down, then confesses, “I missed you.”
Overcome, she pulls the blanket over her head, and Dong-joo reaches down to cover the tips of her toes that came uncovered. Under the blanket, a conflicted look crosses Seo-jung’s eyes. As he turns to leave, his phone rings—it’s Nurse Oh, saying that his help is needed with four incoming burn patients. Seo-jung springs up at the mention of burn patients and she tells Dong-joo to hurry, but he nervously admits that he’s never treated anyone with burns before.
Eventually, he makes it down to the ER, and in his ear is bluetooth headset. Is she going to tell him what to do through that? Cuuuties. From outside the ER door, Seo-jung serves as his counsel, talking through her phone, answering all his questions.
Nearby, another one of the burn patients begins choking from the burn on his respiratory tract. One of the other doctors begins walking over to perform an intubation and secure the patient’s airway, when a badly bruised Teacher Kim swoops in to take over.
Nurse Oh and the other staff members stare at him stunned, but Teacher Kim acts if nothing is wrong, though he can’t bring himself to look anyone directly in the eyes.
Teacher Kim heads over to the patient Dong-joo is working on, and stops short when he sees Seo-jung issuing instructions into her phone outside the hybrid operating room. Seo-jung doesn’t notice him there at first, but Dong-joo does, and he stops what he’s doing and looks at Teacher Kim. Confused, Seo-jung squawks at Dong-joo to hurry, but then her eyes drift over and she freezes.
In voiceover, Dong-joo narrates, “Our Friday night isn’t over yet.”
After the crackling energy, unbridled cheekiness, and air of mystery that permeated last week’s episodes, this episode was comparatively less fun. It wasn’t necessarily because of the pace, which was slower, and it was in no way uneventful. As I said before, slow isn’t a problem so long as the moments are used effectively, and there’s a definite mixture of hit and miss moments here today. But by the end, I really missed the quirky and whimsical vibe we got before, particularly from Teacher Kim.
Today, he was crotchety without much of the eccentricity we were promised in the beginning. I can’t wait for him to have more to do, and for us to start getting bits and pieces of his dark past. His altercation with Dong-joo and their burgeoning discord established a great conflict, which is sure to get much worse before it gets better.
It was gratifying watching Dong-joo recalibrate and slowly reconnect to the most basic fundamental values of what it means to be a doctor, after foregoing his important dinner then failing to save the patient anyway. You see him begin to understand what it means to have the ability and responsibility to save the lives of helpless people who can do nothing else but stand by and pray. It provides a stark contrast to his cavalier perspective on the death of that former assemblyman, who at the end of the day was still a person who also died, which he viewed only as a chess piece in his ambitions.
I’m enjoying the parallel between Dong-joo, a character that almost prides himself in being blunt and borderline offensive, duking it out with Teacher Kim who can play Dong-joo’s game even better than he can. In fact, he can do basically everything better than Dong-joo can, particularly the job he spent eleven years of his life committed to. But instead of seeing bits of himself in Teacher Kim, and/or recognizing the taste of his own medicine, he becomes obsessed with uncovering Teacher Kim’s secrets (weaknesses), hoping it might help shatter his seemingly mythical surgical abilities. Because while Dong-joo was playing the game of thrones at Geodae, the objectives are more basic and thoroughly human at Doldam and he’s outclassed here.
On the other hand, perhaps subconsciously, Dong-joo does understand the similarities between Teacher Kim and himself. From his perspective, Teacher Kim is a man who is far more talented than Dong-joo is as a surgeon, but even then he still ends up at a crappy, outdated hospital like Doldam. Perhaps to Dong-joo, Teacher Kim is a painful reminder that no matter how skilled one is, still the forces of nepotism cannot be conquered.
I was surprised to see Nurse Oh’s character shine in this episode, even from her seemingly preferred place in the background. Initially, she seemed a bit aloof, and the sensible type, but in glimpses we are beginning to see that in actuality she’s the network at Doldam, keeping tabs on everyone and checking to make sure everyone is doing all right. I loved the moment when she watched on fearfully as Dong-joo struggled to make the right choice in the ER, but then immediately welcomed him back when he did. Her method seems to involve stepping back and letting our capricious trio of doctors come into their own, but nudging them along the way.
For Seo-jung, she may have used working in the ER as a crutch to cope with her grief over Dr. Moon’s death, but when she’s coaching Dong-joo through the burn patient’s treatment there’s a light in her eyes. It’s obvious that she truly puts her heart and soul into her work, and loves every moment of it. I was glad to see Seo-jung and Dong-joo implement a temporary cease-fire on their arguing to come together, since they really are much better teammates than enemies.
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