Yong-pal: Episode 3
I like it. I really, really like it. Yong-pal is sleek, stylish, but most of all, human—and it never gets so caught up in its beautiful and sometimes haunting imagery that it forgets what it wants to say. It’s just the opposite actually, since the visuals work to add depth to the narrative, which isn’t as intuitive a process for some directors as it should be. For a PD whose past work mostly consists of home dramas, this is an unexpected turn, and most definitely a welcome one.
Visuals aside though, this hour delves deeper into the world Tae-hyun and our sleeping princess have to live in, which is its own kind of hell for all parties involved. Money may be able to move mountains and imprison the innocent, but if there’s one thing it can’t move, it’s the heart. And while Tae-hyun may be willing to sell his pride to get what he wants, he’s incapable of selling his soul.
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Yeo-jin is subdued and rushed through the hospital, her main and most pressing injury being the wrist she slashed in her suicide attempt.
While performing their unauthorized surgery on Patient Young-shik, Tae-hyun is forced to shut the lights off and hide when he hears activity in the hallway. It’s Nurse Hwang and her group of lackeys with Yeo-jin, though they fortunately choose the operating room Tae-hyun isn’t in.
He edges the door open just a crack to see what’s outside, and ends up face-to-face with Yeo-jin on her hospital bed. She doesn’t notice him, instead focusing all her strength on bringing the vase shard she’s hidden up to her throat before she’s caught.
Risking detection, Tae-hyun sees what she’s trying to do and reaches his hand out of the slit in the doorway to grab the shard before she can impale herself with it.
She looks at him pleadingly as he disappears back into the darkened room, as if begging him to give it back to her so she can end her life. Tae-hyun is haunted by that look later, and how she desperately whispered, “Please.”
The next morning, we find Tae-hyun greeting his new coworkers on the VIP floor. A meticulously dressed woman named CYNTHIA PARK (Stephanie Lee) confidently introduces herself as manager of customer satisfaction, and a laugh is had at Tae-hyun’s expense when he has trouble with the pronunciation of her name. (Even coming from Chief Lee, it sounds like “shin-shi-ah.”)
Chief Shin causes a ruckus when he hears about Tae-hyun’s reassignment, and accuses Chief Lee of stealing his resident. Only when the hospital director intervenes to say that he’s the one who reassigned Tae-hyun does Chief Shin back down, but he and Tae-yong make no bones about viewing Tae-hyun’s defection to the VIP floor as treason.
The transfer Tae-hyun requested for Patient Young-shik goes through, with his new doctors being surprised that the patient is still alive. Nurse Oh smiles to herself, knowing that she and Tae-hyun saved him.
Cynthia seems to sense that Tae-hyun is uncomfortable in his high-rise office with a stellar view, so she turns him so he can catch a better look while reminding him that the view isn’t for him—it’s for their clients.
Similarly, if this is where they sign their consent forms for treatment, Tae-hyun can’t be caught looking like a beggar with cheap taste in pens. She gifts him a nice one to help with his image, and sits across from him in what she calls the true seat of power.
But when Tae-hyun casually asks about the patient known only as Young-ae, she smiles conspiratorially and notes that the rumors about him being able to smell money must be true. If he could get into the princess’ room and she found favor with him, there’d be no limit to the heights he could climb.
Then again, she mock-sighs, it’s best for him to keep his dreams more realistic. Only Chief Lee, Nurse Hwang, and the hospital director have access to that room.
Detective Lee’s boss tears into him about focusing only on Yong-pal when there are real criminals to find—like the mob boss that escaped with Yong-pal. Even though he’s threatened with possible demotion, Detective Lee vows to bring Yong-pal down.
After calling loan shark buddy Man-shik up to tell him he won’t be able to moonlight as a gangster doctor for a while, Tae-hyun gets a visit from Tae-yong, who wonders if his frenemy is happy now that he’s working on the VIP floor.
When Tae-hyun insists that he’s very happy, Tae-yong brings up Patient Young-shik having survived, and seems to note Tae-hyun’s very measured reaction to that. Without calling him out for having performed a secret surgery, Tae-yong only tells him that being a doctor isn’t about the money no matter how tough the circumstances.
Tae-hyun agrees with him completely, and shares his hope that Tae-yong will go on to become a doctor known for his humanism. Tae-hyun reasons that his materialism as a doctor, which isn’t about to change anytime soon, will only make Tae-yong shine that much brighter. It’s needlessly self-depreciating, and Tae-yong knows it.
Both Chief Lee and Nurse Hwang have to answer for Yeo-jin’s latest incident, which the hospital director is not pleased about. At least Yeo-jin wasn’t able to cut deep enough to do real damage because her muscles had atrophied, Chief Lee reasons, and her tolerance for the medicine they’re using to keep her in a coma is what caused her to regain consciousness.
The hospital director doesn’t care about any of that—what they all have to fear is Yeo-jin’s brother, the CEO of Hanshin Group, and his well-known temper.
Speaking of, Do-joon complains to his secretary about having to fend off all the board members who keep insisting on seeing Yeo-jin. His father’s power was never questioned when he was alive, so Do-joon is incensed that he’s still having to play nice with these people. Unless they’ve caught onto something.
His secretary insists that’s not the case, causing Do-joon to say something cryptic about ending the comedy of these “two families under one roof.” Huh, so maybe he’s an illegitimate son? That would explain why he’s still having to fight for power when it comes to his younger sister.
He still sees a reason to get after his secretary/possible lawyer, who he claims has been negligent in clearing a path for him—if he’s still having to visit his sister’s hospital room to act like he’s getting her approval, then he still doesn’t have the absolute power her wants.
They’re interrupted by Do-joon’s wife, LEE CHAE-YOUNG (Chae Jung-ahn), and though it seems like she could’ve been eavesdropping with a motive at first, it’s quickly revealed that she’s waaaay too simple for that.
Do-joon doesn’t even know how to deal with her, since she laughs at jokes that don’t exist and thinks her husband is legitimately funny. When she leaves, Do-joon complains even more to his secretary about his simple wife—and it’s clear his secretary thinks he’s being paranoid when he worries she could’ve been eavesdropping. I think his secretary thinks a lot of things about him he can’t say out loud.
Chae-young pays a visit to the VIP floor for some cosmetic surgery (she’s a regular), only to blow up when her usual room is taken. It’s only when Cynthia arrives to diffuse the situation that Chae-young calms down, because she knows just what to say to appeal to her vanity.
Interestingly enough, the secretary has a minion keeping tabs on Chae-young, though he reports nothing out of the ordinary with her. It’s only when Chae-young’s alone that she drops the airhead act and calls her father.
It turns out she was eavesdropping and reports what she’s heard to him, sure that Do-joon has something in the works with his promise to end the comedy of two families under one roof. Her father, and the man she simply refers to as “Ahjusshi,” take this to the interested parties who’ve been pressuring Do-joon to see Yeo-jin. They’ll get what they want if she signs a power of attorney document.
It’s clear that Chae-young’s father is a powerful man, and he’ll stand to gain a lot of shares if the people on his side can get to Yeo-jin. He claims he’s just doing this out of respect for her late father and his in-law, the chairman, who foresaw this power struggle before it even happened.
In her dream world, Yeo-jin is trapped in a circular room made up of glass panels that reflect a muted cloudscape. She can hear what goes on in the waking world like it’s far away and above her, and is aware of everything—like the fact that Wednesday is the day Nurse Hwang eats steak that’s been passed through a warm room at best.
While Nurse Hwang relishes in her blood-drenched steak and drinks wine from a vampire’s cellar right next to her comatose body, Yeo-jin says:
“It’s been 1,165 days since I’ve been trapped in this glass bottle. During the first year, if someone would have helped me to wake up, I’d decided to grant him his wish no matter what it was. The next year, I had decided to grant a wish to anyone who would help kill me and put and end to my suffering, no matter what it was. And today, three years later, if I am to ever wake, I’ve decided to kill those who imprisoned me here and anyone who helped them.”
But now she can’t help but think of Tae-hyun reaching through that doorway to take the shard out of her hand, though she doesn’t know who he is—only that he’s the first outsider she’s seen in three years.
Tae-hyun finds himself shunned by other doctors he used to associate with at lunch, with them presumably having been told that he transferred out of their department. The only person who will sit with him is Nurse Oh, who wonders why he allows everyone to think he’s just after money when he had Patient Young-shik transferred for his own good.
For whatever reason, Tae-hyun doesn’t care to clear his name when it comes to his fellow doctors, content to let them think whatever they want of him. What he does want to know is who the patient was that got surgery in the room across fro theirs yesterday, since there’s no record of it.
Nurse Oh guesses that it was a patient from the VIP floor, and only knows that Chief Lee performed the surgery. Curiouser and curiouser.
Tae-hyun confronts one of his hoobaes over why he’s not even allowed in the operating room anymore, to which the young doctor blames Tae-yong—he’d always wanted to get rid of Tae-hyun anyway, so he just took the opportunity given to him.
Cynthia tries to deal with a VIP client who desperately needs to get to their hospital but can’t risk the media attention. Just then, Chief Lee spots Tae-hyun moving all his stuff from his old department, and knows that his backpack contains the surgery equipment he’d use as Yong-pal.
So he gathers extra supplies and stores of blood to put in Tae-hyun’s backpack, telling him that it’s not a request but an order for him to pay a house call to the marooned celebrity.
Cynthia drives him there in her awesome sports car (literally, the word “awesome” is written on the car) and fills him in on the details—it’s a Hallyu star’s girlfriend who got hurt in their hotel room, and they can’t risk extracting her without the press finding out.
She pays off whoever she needs to in order to ease their way, eventually leading him inside the suite. Immediately, Tae-hyun goes to the bloody figure on the floor everyone inside seems to be ignoring, and can tell from her bruises that she was beaten by the star and stabbed with a glass bottle.
He calls Cynthia over to tell her that they’re looking at a crime scene, not an accident, and it’s also sexual assault. She doesn’t have the moral scruples he has, and tells him to just take care of the patient. Their client is the star who beat her, and they have to take care of him and his reputation first.
Tae-hyun gets some of the star’s retinue to help him only after telling them that they’ll go to prison if the girl dies. Using his experience as Yong-pal, Tae-hyun turns the hotel room into a functional operating room, and even fashions a coat hanger into an IV drip.
Cynthia stops him before he can make an incision—the goal was just to stabilize her so they could get her to the hospital. Despite how she caters to the rich, it seems she has no love for them, and knows that the star would be able to weasel out of being blamed for the girl’s death if Tae-hyun were to cut into her.
Despite her warnings, Tae-hyun does the surgery anyway, knowing that the girl would die without it. Of course, the media later presents the story the way the star would want it, painting him as a hero who stopped a random attack and saved a girl’s life.
Afterward, Cynthia seems impressed with Tae-hyun, since the stunt in the hotel room proves that he’s not just in it for the money like all the rumors claim. She finds that attractive on a personal level, but it’s not a trait she’d encourage as a comrade. “Don’t act like you know me when you don’t know me,” Tae-hyun replies.
As a way of repaying him, she tells him to go over Chief Lee’s head and go straight to the hospital director if he wants access to the princess’ room. Who knows, if he finds the director in a good mood, he just might get permission.
The hospital director is overjoyed with the job Tae-hyun did, and commends Chief Lee for his creativity in sending Tae-hyun on a house call, which has given him the brilliant idea to make house calls a VIP service.
He gives Cynthia and Tae-hyun envelopes of money to thank them, and gets a kick out of how grateful Tae-hyun is. It’s because he likes money, Chief Lee mutters, but the director doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Who doesn’t like money?
But when asked if there’s anything else he’d like, Tae-hyun takes the opportunity to ask for access to the restricted area, though he makes it sound like he just wants to help Chief Lee out, since he’s the only doctor on call all day every day right now.
Chief Lee wants to throttle him, but the oblivious hospital director thinks it’s a great idea for Tae-hyun to help out. He trusts Tae-hyun to do a good job with their super-secret patient, but entrusts Cynthia with getting him a new wardrobe so he can make house calls in fashion.
Tae-hyun doesn’t see anything wrong with the way he looks, but the flamboyant male stylist he’s sent to couldn’t disagree any more. Tae-hyun sleepwalks through multiple hairstyle changes, with Cynthia adding a final touch with a thick pair of eyeglasses.
Next up is clothes, and just the shoe choices are enough to overwhelm Tae-hyun, who couldn’t be any less into this if he tried. He ends up looking like a nerdy schoolboy who got lost on his way to prom, but Cynthia’s happy with it.
After securing him a luxury car he can use to make house calls, Cynthia admits that her “customer satisfaction” label is just that—she’s really all about sales. She explains how membership for the exclusive VIP floor works, and if you thought our 1% was bad, all that floor caters to is the 0.1% of society, the richest of the rich.
That’s all fine and well to Tae-hyun, but he wants to know about the patient they call Young-ae. Cynthia begins the story as it turns into a flashback, describing Yeo-jin’s story as Romeo and Juliet, where she was the Juliet and heiress of Hanshin Group in love with the eldest son and heir to their bitter rival.
Do-joon had at least pretended to be nice to his sister then, who clearly loved and admired her oppa. In the memory, he finds her overlooking the guests at a fancy gala as she sighs that all the women there look and act the same.
Yeo-jin asks her older brother if he’s really going to marry Chae-young like their father wants, to which Do-joon replies that he has no power to do otherwise. He knows who she likes and knows it won’t work, but promises her that he hasn’t told their father yet.
He gets uncomfortable when she shows him affection, but Yeo-jin doesn’t care—she wants to show her prospective in-laws that he he has a sister who loves him. And to Do-joon’s credit, his smiles directed at her seem genuine.
Do-joon offers to drive her home, only to be foiled by Yeo-jin’s unauthorized boyfriend. They speed off in her car together while Do-joon sends his minions to catch them. In voiceover, Cynthia tells Tae-hyun that they’d planned to get married that night.
But of course, it all goes horribly wrong in the ensuing car chase, which ends with Yeo-jin’s boyfriend getting impaled. That’s how the prince of Daejoon Group died and the princess of Hanshin Group survived, Cynthia says in the present.
Tae-hyun summarizes the story as two rich kids who fell in love and ended up in an accident, which is a much drier and succinct way of telling it. As to why Yeo-jin’s still in the hospital, Cynthia can only guess it has something to do with her mental state, and that she’s probably unable to make herself leave her hospital room.
Later that night, Tae-hyun shoves all his new digs away in his old locker, but he doesn’t escape the notice of his old department. Everyone’s in awe over how sharp(?) he looks except for Tae-yong, who calls him out for selling out so he wouldn’t have to hold a scalpel again and for wearing a stupid bow tie.
Tae-hyun’s reaction is surprising—he’s subtle about it, but everything he says after that is meant to take a dig at Tae-yong. He casually mentions his office, the view, the perks. Now he doesn’t have to cater to someone like Tae-yong in the hopes that he’ll get to stay at the hospital after his residency.
In fact, now he’s better off than Tae-yong, and will likely be given a fellowship. On that note, he asks, has Tae-yong been given a permanent position yet? No? Oh well, he’s sure Chief Shin will throw him a bone. He adds an extra douchey touch by showing off for the nurses, and he even invites the one who likes him out for coffee and/or soju.
But when he turns the corner, he cringes at how childish he must’ve sounded. Maybe you took it a little far, but it’s about time you stood up for yourself, I say.
Chief Lee ushers Tae-hyun into the princess’ room, proving that they have permission from the higher-ups by pointing to the nearest security camera, which nods its assent. Chae-young watches the two go in while lurking nearby.
It’s like walking into another world when Tae-hyun is taken into the futuristic stronghold that is Yeo-jin’s room, but it’s only when he’s told to introduce himself to her comatose form that he recognizes her from when he grabbed the shard out of her suicidal hand.
In her glass prison, Yeo-jin suddenly finds herself surrounded by light as she hears the syllables of his name float down to her. She looks up as if trying to catch a glimpse of him as she repeats, “Kim Tae-hyun?”
My attitude coming into this show can best be described as kicking and screaming, so convinced was I that any medical drama that labeled itself as being more was doomed for spectacularly epic failure. Because of the traumatizing effects of covering both Dr. Jin and Doctor Stranger (I’m not linking because I’m not cruel) in one lifetime, I can honestly say I had written off medical dramas as a genre that was just not ever going to be for me. And that was okay.
But then I watched the first episode of Yong-pal and was surprised that I actually liked it. Then the second episode, which I liked even more. And so here we are, and I can only hope and pray that if dramaland has any mercy in its heart, it won’t take the oh-so-cautious sense of optimism this show has somehow managed to tease out of me and crush/immolate/eviscerate it with inevitably boring hospital politics, nonsensical medical ethics, and all the other ways a drama like this can go terribly wrong.
The whole point I’m trying and likely failing to make is that it’s good. And it’s not just baseline good, or the kind of moderately competent fare that’s inoffensively watchable—there’s a compelling visual language at play here that manifests itself without being oppressive, and some really interesting ideas interwoven with the more basic stuff that moves the plot along. The world feels realized, and the people within it have goals of their own and purposes that seem to extend beyond the page.
Even side characters who could be just fillers, like the head nurse and Nurse Oh, instead operate based on a deeper understanding of Tae-hyun that he seems hell-bent on not cultivating amongst the people who know him. It’s a character trait of his that sets him apart in a meaningful way, because while many capable heroes downplay their abilities, Tae-hyun takes self-depreciating to a whole new level. And for what? Why would he rather let other people believe he’s an unfeeling, money-grubbing douche when there’s so much more to him? I wonder if it’s some sort of self-defense mechanism, or a knee-jerk reaction to positivity.
And after his most recent conversation with Tae-yong, he’s only made things worse as far as how people view him, but whether that’s something he wanted or not is up for grabs. It seemed intentional at first, the way he was bragging so everyone could hear, but then he chastised himself after in the way that we all belatedly view the stupid things that we do. He tries to tell himself to act differently and say the right (or in this case, wrong) things, but he’s also a human who has a patience threshold like everyone else. And one who had a perfectly respectable wardrobe before Cynthia messed it all up.
Poor taste in fashion aside though, Cynthia is an unexpected gem of a character. She’s not just the generic and perfectly manicured corporate sponsor, but a player who knows the game and only plays to survive. That moment in the hotel room when she felt a connection to Tae-hyun because neither of them belong to the upper echelon of people they serve said everything about her, and though she didn’t care too much about the girl bleeding on the floor, she cared enough to warn him against risking his neck for people who will never give a damn.
But try as Tae-hyun might to convince everyone otherwise, he actually cares. And for a princess who’s powerless against a scheming brother trying to use her and a nurse who has a very creepy fetish for living corpses, that’s exactly the kind of hero she needs. Now it’s just a matter of keeping her away from sharp objects long enough for her to get to know him. After that, revenge.