Soul Repairer: Episodes 1-2
Oh boy, this is exactly what I need after my last few shows being so dark and serious. Soul Repairer is irreverent, clever, and lighthearted, even though the subject matter can dip into the darker parts of human nature at times. I do have some issues with the medical aspects of the show (and not in the way you probably think), but I like the characters quite a lot, so I’m willing to hang around and see if it persists.
NOTE: This is just a first episode recap.
A soccer player (cameo by Wie Ha-joon) enters the hospital on crutches, clearly in a lot of pain. A trio of doctors attend him, but he insists on seeing an orthopedist — he’s decided to have his leg amputated since he’s in so much pain and can’t play soccer.
One of the doctors, our hero LEE SHI-JOON (Shin Ha-kyun), says that there’s a long wait to see an orthopedist, but that he’ll gladly remove the leg right now. The player starts to freak out as the other two doctors strap him down and Shi-joon brings out a wicked-looking saw tool. He stops an inch from the player’s knee and dramatically directs the other doctors to take him to the ER.
On the way, the player escapes his bindings and limps away as fast as he can. Strangely, his limp seems to improve, so that by the time he gets outside, he’s running normally. Shi-joon brings him his crutches and shoes, then they sit to discuss the player’s true condition — somatic symptom disorder.
He was making mistakes during games, so he became stressed, which caused him to develop a pain condition without an actual injury. Shi-joon tells him that his successes far outweigh his few mistakes, and the player begins to cheer up.
A stage actress named HAN WOO-JOO (Jung So-min) talks to her therapist about her first leading role after a decade of supporting roles. An idol named Jenny is performing in her production, and Jenny’s fans are accusing Woo-joo of bullying her.
Woo-joo complains that she always has to clean up when Jenny’s fans trash the dressing room, and that her costumes keep getting damaged. Once, the fans filled the entire lobby with Jenny posters, and Woo-joo was seen kicking and punching them, so Jenny’s fans have been out for blood since then. They keep pulling stunts like showing up in the audience wearing mourning clothes, or selling out the venue and then no-showing, so that Woo-joo ends up performing for an empty house.
DOCTOR JI (Park Ye-jin) tells Woo-joo that she has every right to be upset, it’s just that she expresses her anger inappropriately. She’s advised Woo-joo to count to six when she’s angry, and Woo-joo sighs that six seconds is a very long time.
Doctor Ji asks if anything else has upset Woo-joo lately, so she tells of a little boy who was crying on the street because his mother left him behind. Woo-joo had scooped him up and yelled at his mother for her parenting choices. Doctor Ji asks if Woo-joo felt so strongly for the little boy because her own life changed drastically when she was six.
Woo-joo refuses to discuss it and walks out. As she stomps angrily down the street, we’re informed that she’s been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder and possible borderline personality disorder, and that she shows no progress after eleven therapy sessions.
At night, Shi-joon walks the streets with a policeman, CHA DONG-IL (Kim Dong-young), who seems to be a very firm but compassionate cop. Eventually Shi-joon tells Dong-il that his shift is over (Okay, that seems a bit weird).
A scream sends them chasing a purse-snatcher. Eventually Dong-il tackles the thief, and the guy pulls a knife on him. Shi-joon kicks at the man’s knife-hand, but he accidentally hits his face and knocks him out cold.
Back at the hospital, Shi-joon defends himself to two of his superiors… Dong-il isn’t actually a real cop, he’s a patient with a delusional disorder. He’d run away, and Shi-joon was going along with him in an attempt to get him to return to the hospital. It’s not the first time this has happened, or the first time Dong-il has caused trouble while impersonating a policeman.
The deputy director wants Shi-joon disciplined for not keeping control of his patient, but the psychiatry chief, DOCTOR PARK (Jung Hae-kyun) gives him one more chance… but if Dong-il escapes again, he’ll be transferred to another hospital. He orders Shi-joon to stop with the “rapport-building” (as Shi-joon calls it) behavior like helping Dong-il patrol, and put him on medication.
Shi-joon gets a call for a consultation meeting. This time it’s a young woman who believes there are bugs crawling under her skin (oh god ~shudder~) and is scratching herself bloody as well as slowly poisoning herself with pesticides. When it was suggested she see a psychiatrist three months ago, she refused, but now her dermatologist is insisting.
The other doctors want to start her on medication, but Shi-joon argues that you have to form a rapport with your patient first. Because the patient is resistant to therapy, Shi-joon suggests talking to her family, but Professor In, her primary therapist, says she’ll scratch her skin off first.
Woo-jung, Shi-joon’s resident, suggests they team up to find out what triggered the patient’s condition. Everyone hurries off to do some research, but Shi-joon tells Professor In that he prefers to talk directly to the patient. Professor In says condescendingly that she’s his patient, so he’ll handle things his way.
In his session with Yu-ra, the patient, Professor In manages to offend the patient with his condescending tone, and he ignores her repeated statements that there are bugs under her skin. Her frustration triggers another episode, and while she’s screaming and scratching her arms, Professor In takes a picture to show her that there’s nothing under the skin.
She gets offended that he thinks she’s “crazy,” and storms out of his office. Professor In makes a call to have Yu-ra hospitalized in the general ward, effective immediately.
Woo-joo shows up to rehearsal in time to accidentally overhear two character actors in her show asking for a raise (they’re being paid 0.001% of what an idol is paid for the same show, ouch). The producer sneers that they’re easily replaceable, so Woo-joo speaks up on their behalf. The producer warns her not to get above herself or she could lose her first leading role and the “best new actress” award she’s been nominated for.
Dong-il goes on a hunger strike, so Shi-joon takes him to the hospital roof to talk. Deep in his delusion, Dong-il frets that he’ll be disciplined if he misses his patrols. Shi-joon tells Dong-il the story of a friend who lost his parents when he was young and was raised by his grandmother.
They were poor, so the friend stole bread when he was a teenager, but he escaped going to a youth detention center because of a kind and compassionate policeman. The friend dreamed of being a cop after that, but he kept failing the test because he had to work and didn’t have enough time to study.
His grandmother passed away in a DUI accident, so she never got to see him become a cop. On the day of her funeral, the friend stole a policeman’s uniform and wore it, and he began to believe that he truly is a policeman.
Dong-il’s eyes fill with tears as he listens to his own story. Shi-joon says he knows it’s hard to hear, but Dong-il isn’t really a cop. Dong-il explodes, insisting that he needs to leave for his patrol. Shi-joon says kindly that he can’t do that anymore… unless he gets better and becomes a true policeman.
Woo-joo treats the two actors to dinner at her friend Ji-seon’s restaurant and listens to them vent about their money troubles. She buys them alcohol and sends them home with a little pocket money, and Ji-seon chastises her for being too generous.
Shi-joon’s female resident, JI-HEE (Park Han-sol) also happens to be Woo-joo and Ji-seon’s friend, and she stops by the restaurant after her shift. Woo-joo and Ji-seon tease her for looking shabby even when she’s all dressed up, and she retaliates by whining annoyingly for food (LOL, she even bites Ji-seon).
Resident Woo-jung reports back to Shi-joon regarding Yu-ra — her guardian gave him a picture of her from three months ago, just before her condition started, and she looks completely different. He thinks something happened to her that changed her emotionally and set off her delusions.
On the phone with her boyfriend, reporter Hwang Min-wook, Woo-joo wonders how she can help her colleagues. Min-wook tells her to focus on herself, especially with the awards ceremony coming up tomorrow. She’s excited to learn that he’ll be there, too, covering the show. She’s in the middle of getting her hair done the next afternoon when the producer calls to admonish her not to be late — there’s a good chance she’s going to win the award.
Patient Yu-ra is still violently resisting any treatment, mental or medicinal. Shi-joon brings Professor In the photo of Yu-ra that Woo-jung found, and Professor In punishes his own team for not producing results fast enough. Meanwhile, Dong-il escapes the hospital again, so Shi-joon, Woo-jung, and Ji-hee set out to bring him back before he gets caught and transferred.
Traffic is terrible, and Woo-joo arrives late to the award ceremony despite the warnings. She parks illegally and tries to sneak into the building, but she’s stopped by a cop… well, Dong-il anyway, who thinks he’s on guard duty for the show.
She promises to move her car soon, but Dong-il insists she take a breathalyzer, even when she insists she hasn’t had a drink today. Oddly, Woo-joo blows 0.08%, over the legal limit, so Dong-il tries to arrest her for drunk driving. Woo-joo is over it, so she runs off into the building and escapes… for now.
After looking for Dong-il for hours with no luck, Shi-joon finally gives in. He tells Woo-jung to report Dong-il missing and let the hospital know. Just then he looks up at a video billboard broadcasting the red carpet event for the award show, and there’s Dong-il, directing foot traffic.
Woo-joo wins the award for Best Female Newcomer, but as soon as she starts her acceptance speech, Dong-il steps onstage, handcuffs her, and loudly places her under arrest for DUI. The presenter tries to play it off as a surprise “event,” but Dong-il is very much not kidding as he yanks Woo-joo backstage.
Min-wook runs to intercept them as Woo-joo protests again that she didn’t drink today. Luckily, Shi-joon catches up to them, but he tries to smooth the situation by pretending that Dong-il is a rookie and he’s his partner. He offers to let Woo-joo off the hook so long as she doesn’t report this and orders Dong-il to uncuff her.
Instead, Dong-il snaps the cuffs around Shi-joon’s wrist and arrests him for impersonating a police officer. PFFT, how ironic. Shi-joon sheepishly admits that he’s a psychiatrist, and that Dong-il is his patient, and LOL, Woo-joo’s expression is priceless.
Of course this ends up all over the news, and even though it’s reported that Dong-il isn’t a real policeman, Woo-joo fears that her reputation will take a hard hit from the drunk driving accusation. She ends up at the police station with Shi-joon after Dong-il is taken into custody, shaking with fury at the unfairness of it all.
She demands the police do a blood test to prove she wasn’t drinking, screaming and pounding on the table, and Shi-joon gives her a look like Overreact much? The cop does do another breathalyzer, which correctly assesses her blood alcohol level at zero, so he tests the one Dong-il used and realizes it’s broken.
It’s not enough to satisfy Woo-joo, so she calls Min-wook and begs him to write a story to vindicate her. He says breezily that he’ll do it later, and hangs up. Woo-joo tries to talk herself down — she did nothing wrong, so this isn’t that bad.
In the taxi on her way home, Woo-joo gets a video from her friend Ji-seon. It shows her arguing with Dong-il as soon as they got backstage, and she realizes that Min-wook must have recorded the confrontation and sent it to his work before coming to her supposed rescue.
She tries to call him, but he declines the call because he’s with another woman. But Woo-joo finds them and slams her palms on the hood of Min-wook’s car, fury turning her eyes into lasers. Min-wook makes excuses that the woman is just a work hoobae, but Woo-joo growls that she’s here about the video he leaked.
Uninterested in Min-wook’s excuses, Woo-joo grabs the bat she knows he keeps in his trunk and starts screaming and pounding on his car. In a flashback, Doctor Ji tells Woo-joo: “Everyone creates a basement in their heart, and in that basement, they hide their secrets. Things that other people don’t know. What are you hiding in your basement?”
Woo-joo continues crying and destroying Min-wook’s car while he calls the police. She’s being taken into the station for the second time that night, this time in real handcuffs, as Shi-joon leaves after talking with Dong-il. He recognizes her, but Woo-joo looks dazed and detached.
Interesting premiere — it’s not the most gripping first episode ever, but after the last few Very Serious Dramas I’ve recapped, I appreciate something a little lighter to watch. I do love shows that revolve around characters with psychological challenges, so that is enough to get me interested, and I like the characters enough that I’ll probably stick around to see what happens (not to mention the fact that psychology and musical theatre were my primary areas of study in college, so a show about a psychiatrist and a musical actress hits all my sweet spots). I do have a couple of little disagreements with Shi-joon’s methods (more on that later), but we all have to start our personal growth arcs somewhere.
I do like how flawed Woo-joo is — she’s talented and has a full life with friends and a promising career, but she obviously has some serious issues. Aside from her tentative diagnoses, she seems haunted by something that happened to her as a child, and judging by her reaction to the child in the street, it’s got something to do with abandonment. Woo-joo can handle anger to a certain point, but once that point has been reached, she completely loses control and lashes out physically, which isn’t socially acceptable or safe. I’m guessing this is what she’ll come under Shi-joon’s treatment for, and I’m interested to see them butt heads.
I’ve got less of an idea about who Shi-joon is as a person after just one episode, but it’s still very early. He’s definitely got some interesting ideas about how to treat a patient, and I’m not a doctor, but I’m side-eyeing most of them. Shi-joon argues that you have to create a rapport with your patients before treating them with medicine, which to me sounds like a very bad idea as a blanket policy — you can’t say that one method works for everyone. Some people (like Woo-joo) have the time to build that rapport and decide if medication is an appropriate treatment, but others, like the patient who’s literally scratching her skin off, almost certainly needs medical intervention just to get her to the point where she can face her issues. Not to mention that what Shi-joon calls “building rapport” with Dong-il looks a lot like encouragement to break the law by impersonating a policeman, and Shi-joon repeatedly allows Dong-il to enter into dangerous situations. I can already tell that, if I do drop the show, it will be over whether Shi-joon’s methods are presented by the drama as the Right Way, because I can’t see them as anything but reckless when patients’ lives and well-being are at stake.
I know that the main concern about Soul Repairer is the possibility of a romantic relationship between a doctor and a patient and the ethics surrounding that, but I can’t really comment on it since that part of the story didn’t come into play in the first episode. I do think I’ll stick with it, mainly just to see if/how that plays out, because it could be that the writer manages to skirt that issue in some way. It’s been done in other dramas such as Heart to Heart, where Yi-seok was a doctor and Hong-do a patient, but the ethics were satisfied by the fact that she was never his patient (if I remember correctly, she “worked” for him but wasn’t actually paid, so she benefited by hearing him treat other patients yet she herself was never his patient or his employee). I’m not sure which direction Soul Repairer will take — or whether there will even be a loveline between Shi-joon and Woo-joo at all — but I liked the premiere enough to stick around and see where it goes.