A Short Good-bye to Hospital Playlist – Season 1 [Drama Review]

——–Warning: Major spoilers for the finale———

Waaaah, it’s over! Whyyyyyy.

I can’t praise this writing-directing pair enough. From the way they set up the stories, the dynamics in the hospital, the daily exchanges between the friends and the staff that was the heart of the drama, and finally, for selecting such a great point to end the first season on.

The heroes: Writer Lee Woo-jung (Left) and PD Shin Won-ho (Right)

Before the advent of Netflix into dramaland, K-Dramas rarely did multiple seasons, and even if they did, each season had a complete arc. Dramas are usually conceived of as stories with a limited run of episodes. If you ask Anisa, she would tell you that no drama should be given more than 12 episodes to tell its tale. I’m more flexible, but I admit that many of them resort to adding padding to stretch the episode count to 16 or 20 just to shove in more product placements.

Hospital Playlist was in every way the perfect length. I know many viewers were fatigued by its movie length episode runtime, but I never noticed the time fly. I was enamored by the happy, friction-less camaraderie between the staff and the core group of friends.

It ran contrary to everything we’ve been told about developing tension in a plot. There were no villains, no secret resentments, no life-threatening danger that everyone must work together to overcome.

The show often setup an issue at the beginning of the episode, only to deflate it at its climax. Like its creators were laughing at us for expecting anything dramatic from them.

The only real tension came from the fate of certain relationships in the drama. And one in particular was setup from the very beginning and given a wonderful, almost old-fashioned ending by the close.

In the novel Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, the protagonist, Judy, visits her benefactor at the end of the story with a heavy heart. She’s given up any hopes of being with the one she loves and confesses her pain to the mysterious patron she’s been writing to for years. At this, he asks to finally meet her. She walks into his house and finds that her Daddy-long-legs was also the man she was in love with. And that he loved her back.

That’s the feeling Yeon-suk and Gyeo-wool’s final scene evoked in me. That gratification at the end of a long build-up when a nicely placed twist soothes all worries away and leaves you happily content.

It’s not that I didn’t suspect Yeon-suk’s interest in Gyeo-wool. It was that he’d convinced me that his desire to join the church was stronger.

I also really respected that Yeon-suk’s final decision was based not just on his feelings towards Gyeo-wool, but on his very real desire to help his patients. It’s what he’d struggled with from the very beginning. The deep hurt of not being able to save every child who was under his care.

Yeon-suk was sensitive enough that this pain ate into him, making him forget all the good he did at the hospital. But once his plans of accepting priesthood was put in motion, and the escape he imagined for himself was close, he started noticing all the lives that he became a part of with every little kid he worked to save.

The fate of the other friends were left a bit in the air, but it doesn’t feel like a cliff-hanger.

We know that Ik-jun and Song-hwa remain friends and play in the band together no matter what her answer was. We also know that even though the package came back, Jun wan and Ik-sun have a squee-ful, warm relationship that will weather their insecurities. (Though I’m a little worried that Ik-sun never received the package at all.)

And, I didn’t really think Suk-hyung was lying when he said he wasn’t interested in Min-ah. The show leaves us with the feeling that there’s more to his story than we know for now. 

I suspect my mellow acceptance of a year’s wait to find out what happens next is because over the last 13 weeks, the show has convinced me that these friends are an infinite source of comfort to each other, and no matter how difficult their lives get, they’ll be there for each other in the next year.

Now, if they had ended with one of the friends breaking off from the group, I would have been deeply unhappy. But thankfully we were spared such an awful cliffhanger.

“Eating with you and drinking coffee together. That’s a treat I give myself.”

— Ik-jun

And finally, as much as I adore Ik-jun and Song-hwa – together and apart – it genuinely feels like a half-way point for their romantic arc right now. I mean, they didn’t even give us a real indication of their feelings till episode 10! It would have felt terribly rushed if they had brought it to conclusion in just two episodes. My hope now is that we’ll get a nice, long unwinding of the history and complexity of their feelings over the next season.

That’s a treat I’m happy to wait for.

 This review first appeared in Weekend Drama Report [01.06.20]

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