Poong the Joseon Psychiatrist: Episodes 1-2
The door to our Joseon psychiatry clinic is about to be opened, but the road leading up to it is not all fanfare. We meet our characters at some of their brightest moments, and then go with them as they experience dark times. And in this healing drama, as our characters find their footing, they set out to bring a similar healing to the hearts of others.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
Let there be Joseon geeeniuses! And then there were, in the shape of our hero YOO SE-YEOB (Kim Min-jae). First of his name, son of the minister of personnel, conqueror of the liberal arts world, and now the medical world, as the head acupuncturist in the palace. Se-yeob is also friends with the crown prince (Oh Kyung-joo), and with good looks to boot, his road to the top is pretty much set. But life comes at him very fast and he falls for the scheme of the second state councilor (Yoo Sung-joo), who conspires to poison our favorite Joseon king (Ahn Nae-sang). Unfortunately, when Se-yeob attempts acupuncture on the king, he bleeds out and dies.
Se-yeob is jailed and to make matters worse, while his father investigates the poisoning, he is killed by the second state councilor’s assassin. There is a witness to the assassination, but for now, the crown prince (now king) heaps up the majority of the blame on Se-yeob’s father. He does this to get Se-yeob off with a lighter sentence (banishment from Hanyang for life) in the hopes that he stays alive to uncover the truth behind the late king’s death.
Away from Hanyang, we meet our bubbly Agatha Christie-like heroine, SEO EUN-WOO (Kim Hyang-gi). She’s a bride-to-be who is more interested in solving a murder case than going for dress fittings. Her search for the culprit leads her to a cliff where a disheartened Se-yeob is about to jump off, and she saves him. She can tell by his acupuncture kit that he’s a doctor, and says he should stay alive because he will save many lives. But life also comes at her, and when we see her a year later, our bubbly heroine has become a depressed widow.
Rounding out our main trio is KYE JI-HAN (Kim Sang-kyung) who runs a clinic with his daughter, IB-BUN (Kim Soo-ah), a little boy JANG-GOON (Han Chang-min), and a grandmother with dementia (Jeon Guk-hyang). Ji-han meets Se-yeob at an inn where a customer chokes on food; he notices Se-yeob’s trembling hands when he tries to administer acupuncture on the choking man (PTSD from his fatal attempt to save the king). Ji-han then comes to the rescue, burping the man to safety. Afterwards, he tells Se-yeob to come to his clinic to fix his hands, but Se-yeob scoffs at the offer.
Nevertheless, Se-yeob has to rush to Ji-han’s clinic when he saves Eun-woo from a drowning attempt. And when she leaves before they wake up the next morning, Ji-han holds a broke Se-yeob responsible for her medical fees. Ji-han then makes Se-yeob an offer: work for 11 days at the clinic to offset the debt, or be sent to the magistrate’s office for punishment (but I think it’s just a ploy to get a jaded Se-yeob out of his funk). Se-yeob’s servant, MAN-BOK (Ahn Chang-hwan) convinces (more like forces) him to sign the agreement with Ji-han, and Se-yeob agrees on the condition that he is allowed to leave once he cures a tightrope walker who suffers from dizziness.
Due to his acupuncture PTSD, Se-yeob uses alternative methods to treat the man. And while the man’s career as a tightrope walker is basically done, Se-yeob is able to convince him that the end of his career isn’t the end of the world for him. To fulfill the man’s wish of walking the tightrope for the last time, Se-yeob lays out the rope on the ground and encourages him to walk across. The man sashays on the rope to the music and cheers of his troupe members, and leaves with a full heart afterwards.
But since Se-yeob didn’t exactly cure the man enough for him to continue walking the tightrope, his contract with Ji-han continues, and he’s left with no choice but to stay on. After going on a house call with Ji-han, he is accosted by one of the servants to help her lady, who turns out to be Eun-woo. Eun-woo has slashed her wrist, and Se-yeob freezes on the sight of her blood as flashbacks from the late king’s deathbed play up in his mind. So Ji-han is called in to perform the acupuncture.
Eun-woo’s mother-in-law feigns concern, giving them money to prepare a tonic for Eun-woo, and then, in a warm gesture, offering them some pickled onion leaves. But when Se-yeob and Ji-han leave, she drops the nice act and locks Eun-woo up in a storage shed. Eun-woo’s brother-in-law is a much nicer person than his mother is, but unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to pass the state examination, and therefore his opinions don’t count as far as his mother is concerned. Tsk.
Back in the clinic, Se-yeob brings in some major organization to the way things are run. But thanks to Man-bok’s eating habits, their debts continue to climb and their contract at the clinic extends. Lol. Ji-han is pleased with the situation because, well, he could use some professional help in the clinic, and because Se-yeob is slowly settling into things. And for Ib-bun and the female patients, it’s because Se-yeob’s good looks light up the place. As for the grandmother with dementia, she has taken to calling Se-yeob “Poong” which, as we come to learn, is the name of her son.
Grandmother was one of the women who returned to Joseon after a barbarian invasion, but the returnees were shunned by people and called promiscuous. This is why her son prefers to think of her as dead, in order to maintain his social standing. Eun-woo, also being among those people whom society would rather consider dead, is rushed to the clinic again after a poisoning attempt. Unfortunately, they cannot find the immediate cause of the poisoning, and Se-yeob’s suspicion that it was in Eun-woo’s herbal tonic is disproved by the mother-in-law who drinks said tonic to prove her innocence.
Eun-woo’s parents visit her at the clinic and while her mother wants to take her home, her father is reluctant because of societal dictates that says a daughter-in-law belongs to her husband’s family. Thus, Eun-woo returns to the valley of the shadow of death that is her mother-in-law’s house. And when she attempts to jump off the same cliff she saved Se-yeob from jumping from, he is there to stop her. And as Eun-woo cries, Se-yeob comforts her the same way she did for him back then. He reminds her that she told him that he’ll save many lives, and he begs her to give him a chance to save her.
Thanks to Jang-goon’s insistence on separating similar looking herbs from each other, Se-yeob gets an eureka moment as to how Eun-woo was poisoned. Mother-in-law swapped the pickled onion leaves in Eun-woo’s meal with a similar looking poisonous leaf. Apparently, if a widow kills herself, the government will praise her for her virtue and reward the family. Hence, Mother-in-law’s grand plan is for Eun-woo to “kill herself” after which the government will grant her younger son a title as the reward. Aigoo. Se-yeob gives Mother-in-law an ultimatum: release Eun-woo from the family, or face the consequences of attempted murder. And I think we all know which option Mother-in-law will choose.
But Se-yeob is not done with the societal preaching of death as a proof of virtuousness, and his next stop is to set up a meeting with Grandmother’s son. Eun-woo asks the son when he’s going to stop allowing society to make him push his mother away when he obviously misses her. And as the son wrestles with his feelings, Grandmother unveils a bundle she has always carried with her, which contains gifts she has collected over the years for her son. This breaks him, and mother and son cling to each other in forgiveness and acceptance.
As they return to the clinic, Se-yeob tells Eun-woo that he has to survive because he doesn’t want to be remembered as a disloyal subject or a cowardly physician. And Eun-woo is left to ponder on whether her current situation is how she wants to be remembered. Seeing Grandmother beam with joy as she calls him Poong makes Se-yeob decide to take on the name – Yoo Se-poong – because as long as he can help people, his name doesn’t matter. And with this, Se-yeob — or should I say, Poong — smiles genuinely for the first time in a long time.
To cheer Eun-woo up, Poong takes her to a women-only night market to explore the beautiful scenery, and as Eun-woo gently sways on a hanging swing, she closes her eyes to despair and opens her eyes to hope. As they leave, they run into a young official, JO SHIN-WOO (Jung Won-chang). Eun-woo recognizes him and looks quite pleased to see him, but while Shin-woo smiles at her, the smile wipes off his face as his eyes settle on Poong. And this is where we wrap up our premiere week.
First off, phew!! Did they have to make each episode almost one hour and fifteen minutes long because they want to stick with a 12-episode count? Lol. Anyway, political machinations aside, the opening week did a great job of introducing our main characters, taking us through their stories, and setting up their relationships. Poong and Eun-woo have such a similar trajectory in their lives, and I’m grateful for a character like Ji-han who’s able to provide some stability for them.
And while Poong and Eun-woo appeared to have needed a hand to bring them out of their despair, I think they were the ones who individually helped themselves to overcome their situations. Eun-woo’s act of saving Poong at the cliff a year ago was one of his motivations to save her now, so she kind of saved herself if you think about it. And somehow by seeing himself in Eun-woo and seeking to give her a reason to live, Poong was able to help himself find the resolve to move forward in this new phase of his life.
Speaking of new phases, when he was going from Se-yeob to Se-poong, Poong said a name is just a name, but I disagree — I think it’s sort of a rebirth for him as he goes from acupuncturist to psychiatrist. As someone who has experienced coming out of depressing and difficult circumstances himself, Poong is well-positioned to help others heal from their wounds. And now that our psychiatrist and Agatha Christie have come under the tutelage of Ji-han, I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things they will accomplish together at the clinic.
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