I’m so loving Dr. Stranger its beyond bizarre. Considering the only two leads I liked were second leads Park Hae Jin and Kang Sora and I was ready to merely endure Lee Jong Seok and Jin Se Yeon, three episodes in and I’m fine if the entire drama is about Park Hoon performing random surgeries and being goofy the rest of the time to endure the immense emotional pain of his entire life. This is a man who literally doesn’t exist in the world other than as a victim of warring national interests, he has about as valid a reason as any K-drama lead to deem his life a cesspool of pain and refuse to function in it. But he’s emerged not only functional but still retaining all the inherent goodness in him. He’s grown up to be top surgeon with the same personality as the little boy who gave a lollipop to stern Secretary Kim and told his aloof daddy that he just wanted to be together no matter what. Adult Hoon still reaches out a hand to those in need and never forgets to fight for the remaining loved ones in his life. Right now he only has Jae Hee left, and maybe little dongsaeng Chang Yi, but in Hoon I see someone who can also serve the greater good but for life throwing him lemons at every opportunity.
Rarely do I feel so attached to a male lead this quickly so whatever magic power the screenwriter sprinkled on Park Hoon, all I can say is “please sir can I have some more?” The story continues to barrel forward like a runaway train with turbo boosters strapped on. Park Hoon unleashes his surgical prowess on unsuspecting Myung Woo Hospital doctors and runs into the Jae Hee doppleganger all the in span of one episode. Once Hoon gets introduced into the hospital setting is when all whole plot coalesces for me, bringing Hoon into the orbit of seemingly perfect Dr. Han Jae Joon and ambitious prickly Dr. Oh Soo Hyun. It’s yet early to say what my feelings for the two Seoul docs will be but on the shallow side they make a ridiculously gorgeous eye candy pair. I’m content with the drama taking flying leaps of logic because I’ve placed it in pseudo-fantasy land already and anything short of a brain transplant is something I can buy into for the sake of the narrative that has delivered on the stirring emotional draw of Hoon desperately seeking solace and a place to call home. Last week it was too close to call with all three Mon-Tues dramas neck-in-neck with ratings, but this week Dr. Stranger led with a big jump to 12.1%, Big Man took second place with 9.7%, and Triangle brings up the rear with 7.5%.
Episode 3 recap:
Evil PM Jang watches the same prison recorded video of Jae Hee at the same time Hoon’s watching the same recording. Bruised and battered Jae Hee calls out to Hoon and reaches out for him as the camera recording her pulls back. Hoon reaches out to her as well and starts crying but they’re separated across barriers that he can’t yet breach. Hoon calls out “Jae Hee-ahh” and looks determined.
Mr. Lim comes down to the basement and asks if Hoon found her looking alive and well? Hoon cuts to the chase and wants to know when Mr. Lim can facilitate her escape out of there? As soon as Hoon can give Mr. Lim the money to grease the transaction, but he cautions that this particular girl is going to be more expensive. Hoon asks how much and hears the astronomical price of $50K US dollars. Holy! Mr. Lim shoos Hoon off to start making money now and points out being a doctor is great for skimming off the side.
PM Jang gets a list of the doctors being considered for his heart surgery. He opens one file and pulls out the hospital brochure for Myung Woo Hospital led by Chairman Oh Kyu Joon (Soo Hyun’s dad). PM Jang seems to recognize him and smirks.
The reporters who witnessed Dr. Moon’s botched surgery is taken out to dinner by Chairman Oh. They wonder who the young doctor who did the second surgery looked familiar and Chairman Oh brings Dr. Han in to introduce him as the Harvard medical school trained newly arrived head of cardiothoracic surgery at the hospital.
Dr. Moon is beating up his junior Dr. Yang Jung Han for being useless and embarrassing him today! Because of the botched surgery, Dr. Moon’s chances at becoming hospital director, or even department head, have flown out the window. He orders Dr. Yang to get out and yells at him not to show up for work again!
Jae Joon sends Chairman Oh off after dinner and then hears a car beeping its horn at him. A red convertible pulls up and Soo Hyun rolls down the window. They smile at each other. Soo Hyun drives Jae Joon back to the the hospital but asks him not to go back since it’s his day off. He’s headed back to check on the patients and promises he’ll take her out on her day off.
Soo Hyun wanted to talk to Jae Joon about something but he leans in for a lovely kiss to silence her. They kiss and pull apart with a smile. He asks to talk later and she sighs an agreement because who could say no to that kind of major kissage.
Jae Joon walks into the hospital doctor resting room and a topless junior Dr. Kim Chi Gyu pops out of the bottom bunk to awkwardly greet Jae Joon as professor. Jae Joon clearly knows him personally because he asks Dr. Kim to call him “hyung” when they are alone. Dr. Kim asks why Jae Joon is here and hears he was just passing by. Jae Joon smirks and asks if Dr. Kim wants to die and Dr. Kim quickly says no. Jae Joon leaves with a knowing look and turns off the lights, clearly aware Dr. Kim has someone in his bunk. After Jae Joon leaves, another young doctor pops out of Dr. Kim’s bunk and swoons over how cool Dr. Han Jae Joon is. Dr. Kim warns her that Jae Joon is taken and then the two young doctors resuming their hospital hanky panky.
Dr. Yang is staring at Jae Joon’s model when he walks up and offers him a drink. Dr. Yang informs Jae Joon that he did as ordered during Dr. Moon’s surgery. Oooooh, so Jae Joon sabotaged Dr. Moon! Nice to see he’s got some hard edges. Dr. Yang asks if Jae Joon will make him assistant professor next year? Jae Joon points to the knight standing at the model castle’s gate, Dr. Yang is like that knight and the protection he did for this castle will of course net him his due reward. Dr. Yang bows to him and then leaves. Jae Joon’s face then hardens and he calls Dr. Yang a piece of trash.
Hoon sits in his room watching the same video of Jae Hee over and over. Suddenly Jae Hee pops over his shoulder and tells him to stop watching since she’s right here. Hoon smiles and closes the computer before walking over to check on the dinner he’s heating over the stove. Jae Hee asks if he’s earned a lot of money already running this little hospital? Hoon whines that he worked so hard he almost died from exhaustion. Jae Hee wonders if he feels regretful about doing it but Hoon says of course not.
The two lovebirds sit down to heated curry rice and Hoon offers Jae Hee a piece of seaweed to eat with it and assures her it’s super tasty. Jae Hee takes a bite and loves it, urging Hoon to eat up as well. Suddenly the sound of Jae Hee painfully calling for Hoon comes out of the computer since the video is still playing. Hoon looks around his empty apartment as his vision of Jae Hee disappears.
Hoon blinks back tears and lays his tired head down on the table.
Soo Hyun pulls up to the Oh mansion in her shiny red convertible. Chairman Oh’s legitimate son Oh Sang Jin walks out and Soo Hyun politely calls him oppa. He snarls that she’s concubine born so has no right to call him oppa. He marvels at her pretty new ride and gets into check it out as Soo Hyun walks off. She then walks back and takes a big rock to smash the window and says he can have the car.
Sang Jin follows Soo Hyun into the mansion where a family meeting is going on. Chairman Oh asks his wife where Soo Hyun’s seat is and she doesn’t have one for her since this is a family meeting. Chairman Oh asks Sang Jin what he’s doing and hears he works at a job his mom arranged for him running the annex hospital. Chairman Oh orders his son to get out of the seat and tells Soo Hyun to sit down. This is a report on the hospital and Soo Hyun wants to learn whereas Sang Jin is useless.
Chang Yi stops Hoon from watching the Jae Hee prison video over and over by asking him a favor to take over the water delivery for the Myung Woo hospital. She reminds him that he needs to earn more money to rescue Jae Hee. Hoon keeps turning her down until he sees Chang Yi’s mom wearing a pretty hanbok standing there happily waiting for her day to tour Seoul with Chang Yi. Hoon has no choice but to agree to do Chang Yi’s water delivery today.
As Chang Yi and her mom leave for their sightseeing, mom wonders why Park Hoon’s name sounds familiar to her? Chang Yi brushes it off as a common name.
Hoon arrives at Myung Woo Hospital and brings the water delivery inside. He sees a picture of the previous hospital chairmans on the wall and stops at the most recent one. The picture triggers a memory of his childhood in Seoul when the same doctor greeted Hoon on the street and offered to take Hoon to see his dad.
Dr. Kim is inspecting the broken pinky on the playground little girl and marvels at the nicely done splint. He orders an x-ray but the nurse is too busy so tells the father-daughter to follow the painted blue line on the ground and it’ll take them to the radiology department. Father-daughter gets lost trying to find the department and runs into Hoon delivering water and he recognizes the little girl and calls her five hundred won. Her dad starts to cough and clutch his chest and Hoon asks if he has shortness if breath when he’s trying to sleep? He reaches out to touch the dad’s chest but the man declines Hoon’s help. Hoon claims he’s headed to the same department and gets directions from another doctor.
The three set out together and follow the dark blue line but it abruptly stops nowhere near the radiology department. They ask another nurse who points them to a different blue line. They continue following the line into the stairwell and up the stairs. Everyone is starting to get exhausted from all the walking, especially Hoon who is carting a jug of water. That line leads them nowhere again and they head back downstairs and arrive back at the ER.
Soo Hyun happens to walk past and Hoon grabs her arm to ask where the radiology department is? Soo Hyun points to the blue line again but Hoon yells that it’s so confusing. She points to the sign on the wall that indicating where the department is and the three of them finally trudge there. The little girl is so happy to finally arrive she hugs her dad and then hilariously gets a slow mo hug with Hoon before she pushes them away since she still refuses to consider him a friend. They head into department while Hoon resumes delivering water.
All the doctors are called down to the ER because a truck and bus accident is sending fifteen accident trauma patients to their hospital shortly. Jae Joon orders everyone to get ready. The little girl stops a nurse to ask for a doctor to check on her dad because he’s having trouble breathing and is in pain. The nurse hands the matter to another doctor who is on the phone and doesn’t take it seriously.
Hoon walks out of the hospital and sees the ambulances arriving to drop off one trauma patient after another. Jae Joon and Soo Hyun head outside to diagnose the arrivals before sending each patient in with a junior doctor to handle. Jae Joon is very efficient and capable and quickly susses out the injury on each patient and sends them all into the ER before he goes to the ones with the most serious injury. Hoon is delivering water to the ER and the little girl is still trying to get a doctor to check on her dad but due to the commotion no one is paying any attention to her.
Hoon notices the little girl trying to summon help for her dad as he sits on a patient bed fairly drooping in pain. The little girl goes to check on her dad and asks if he’s alright but her dad’s head falls forward. Finally the little girl screams loudly and all activity stops in the ER for a second before everyone goes back to their task. The little girl screams again and finally Dr. Oh Soo Hyun walks over to check on her but the little girl says it’s her dad that needs to see a doctor right away. The little girl tells Dr. Oh that her dad has been taking medicine to help his indigestion and recently said his back hurt and is using pain patches.
Hoon hears this from the corner and watches Dr. Oh listening to his chest but she can’t hear any problem in his lungs. Hoon pops over and suggests maybe the heart? Dr. Oh is called back to work on the trauma patient and she hands the little girl’s dad to junior Dr. Kim. He tries to get the dad to walk to radiology himself for chest x-rays but Hoon grabs Dr. Kim and tells him to take him directly.
In the elevator heading up the radiology, Hoon asks the little girl questions about how long her dad’s feet have been swollen (recently) and how often he pees (rarely). Dr. Kim tells Hoon to stop it but wonders if Hoon is a doctor? Hoon says somewhat and then suddenly the little girl’s dad collapses. The two guys carry him out of the elevator and puts him on the ground. Dr. Kim heads to find help while Hoon puts his magic hand on the dad’s chest and feels what the problem is in the heart.
Dr. Kim runs back and Hoon tells him to do CPR right away. Dr. Kim tells him to stop interfering but Hoon screams for him to listen to the heart right now! Dr. Kim listens to the heart and can’t find a heartbeat. Hoon yells for him start CPR while he calls for the defibrillator to jolt the heart back to beating. He delivers a few jolts that restarts the heart and tells Dr. Kim that the problem needs immediate heart surgery. Dr. Kim orders a nurse to prep an OR but she wonders who will do the surgery? Dr. Kim calls Dr. Han to come do the surgery on a patient that Dr. Oh handed off to him. Dr. Han tries to find out from Dr. Oh what the problem with the patient is but she’s too busy in the ER so he orders more tests and will come after he does an amputation on a bus trauma patient int the ER.
Dr. Kim pulls Dr. Eun into the OR with him and says Dr. Han is coming to do the surgery. Dr. Eun doesn’t think this patient with a myocardial infraction and a septal rupture will last until Dr. Han is done with his ER amputation. Dr. Kim concedes the patient’s heart stopped earlier and then runs outside to keep calling Dr. Han to arrive for the surgery but he can’t get through. Hoon and the little girl are waiting outside and watching Dr. Kim fretting. Dr. Eun walks out and says if this surgery doesn’t happen immediately the patient will expire. They decide to call Dr. Moon who screams back that he won’t do it since he’s currently suspended from doing surgeries. He yells that if the patient dies it’s all on Dr. Han’s shoulders!
The little girl hears the two doctors saying the patient will “expire” and asks Hoon what that word means? He doesn’t answer but she knows it’s not a good word. She asks Hoon to do the surgery and he teases that he’s very expensive to hire. The little girl takes out the 500 won she tricked from him on the playground and asks if this is enough. Hoon says it’s not enough and the little girl cries and says nothing else. She cries and tells Hoon hat she wants to be with her dad.
Hoon looks at the coin and smiles at the little girl. Dr. Kim rushes out of the ER and trips over an empty water jug. Suddenly he’s told that Dr. Han is coming and we see Hoon wearing scrubs with his faced masked walking into the OR prep. He remembers his dying dad’s reminder that he’s a doctor and not to forget it. Hoon grouses at his dad for dying and leaving him with such a heavy burden before heading into the OR.
Hoon walks into the OR and the nurses suit him up. Dr. Moon has staggered to the OR viewing room to watch Dr. Han get into trouble for letting a patient die. Hoon walks right up to the patient and orders the doctors and nurses to hand him what he needs. The two doctors ask if he’s Dr. Han and order him to stop but Hoon grabs a scalpel and cuts into the patient. Dr. Moon almost falls off his chair and then calls down to the OR to ask Dr. Kim if they are operating on a cadaver otherwise why is the patient not bleeding? Dr. Kim is in awe and admits he’s never seen this before either!
Dr. Han finishes with the ER amputation and tells Dr. Oh that he’s headed to the heart patient surgery for the patient that she handed off to Dr. Kim. Dr. Oh is surprised and changes into scrubs and walks into the OR where Hoon is operating right now and the surgery is fully in progress. She asks Dr. Kim who the operating surgeon is? No one knows and she asks Hoon directly so he leans in and tells her that he’s a doctor, okay? Dr. Oh tells him to stop and wants Dr. Eun to be ready to take over so Hoon steps back and is fine letting them finish the surgery since all he wants is the patient to be fine. Dr. Eun knows Dr. Oh can’t handle this surgery alone and she trusts this doctor so far and supports letting him finish the surgery. Dr. Oh calls security but Dr. Moon answers from the viewing room and smirks at her.
Dr. Oh walks out to the patient waiting area and finds the little girl sitting there waiting for her dad to come out of surgery. She looks at Dr. Oh plaintively so Dr. Oh calls off her security guards for now and runs back into the OR. She finds the surgery completed and is shocked at how quickly that went. Hoon is nowhere in sight and she sends the security team to chase him down. The team chases Hoon but loses him at the elevator banks.
The little girl is so happy to see her dad wheeled out of the OR and runs up to hear that her dad will be alright. Dr. Moon suddenly pulls Dr. Kim aside to ask who was the surgeon back there? Dr. Kim claims he doesn’t know but Dr. Moon says he has to know since he was with the patient the entire time! Dr. Kim thinks about it and connects the surgeon with Hoon the water delivery boy.
Hoon is sneaking out of the hospital after changing back into his street clothes. He drops the 500 won coin which Soo Hyun steps on as she’s arrived with the hospital security in tow to apprehend Hoon.
Dr. Eun and Dr. Kim discuss how capable that surgeon was back there, his experience was clearly someone who had done hundreds of surgeries. Dr. Kim is sure that guy who wielded the scalpel was the water delivery boy. Suddenly the little girl’s dad starts to code as his vitals spike.
Soo Hyun delivers a resounding slap to Hoon and asks how he dares to operate on a patient when he’s not a doctor. Hoon says he’s a doctor and then sasses back at Soo Hyun which gets him another slap! Suddenly Dr. Kim calls her to tell him that the patient is coding. Soo Hyun informs Hoon that the patient is coding and tells the security guards to call the cops. Hoon diagnoses the problem and tells Soo Hyun how to treat it, which is the same treatment that the arriving Jae Joon orders as well by the patient’s bedside which immediately stabilizes him.
Soo Hyun is shocked that Hoon fixed the problem as well and asks to speak with Jae Joon to confirm the patient is stabilized. Hoon smiles at her and then holds his two cheeks to make sure she doesn’t slap him again. Jae Joon arrives to find Hoon being restrained by the security guards as he tries to leave. Jae Joon walks up and says Hoon made a mistake by practicing medicine without an authorization at this hospital. Jae Joon wants to know where Hoon got his medical license but Hoon won’t say. Jae Joon orders Hoon not to show up at this hospital again and lets him go.
Hoon is about to leave but remembers to ask Soo Hyun for his surgery fee but she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Hoon grouses and leaves. Soo Hyun asks why Jae Joon is letting Hoon go and hears that if they lost that patient it would be the hospital’s fault. Soo Hyun suddenly remembers and takes out the 500 won in her pocket that Hoon was chasing.
Hoon runs into Chang Yi at the hospital and is upset this all happened because of her asking him to deliver water today. He wants Chang Yi to take over but she can’t since she’s at the hospital now because her mom has a headache. Suddenly Dr. Moon and his own minions arrive to chase down Hoon and he immediately books it.
Chang Yi hears her number called and looks up when suddenly she sees a female doctor walk past who looks just like Jae Hee. Hoon successfully leaves the hospital without being stopped by Dr. Moon. He gets a call from Chang Yi and orders her to come back immediately. She doesn’t get a word in edgewise to tell him that she just saw a Jae Hee doppleganger. Hoon heads inside when Dr. Moon’s car pulls up.
Hoon hears incessant knocking on the door and opens it to find Dr. Moon who introduces himself as from the hospital. He slams the door shut but Dr. Moon assures him that he’s not here to torment Hoon but wants Hoon to work for him. Chang Yi arrives and asks who Dr. Moon is? She knocks and calls for Hoon who opens the door and pulls her inside before slamming the door shut again.
Hoon pulls her by the ear and asks for a week’s pay for his problems endured today. Chang Yi asks to watch the Jae Hee video again and then confirms that she saw the same girl at the hospital earlier. Hoon opens the door to Dr. Moon and agrees to go back to the hospital with him.
Chairman Oh sits with Jae Joon and Soo Hyun to discuss bringing in fresh blood surgeons to develop their department.
Chairman Oh’s son Sang Jin is at the hospital and in the room of an older female patient who is unconscious. He leans in to tell the ahjumma that her daughter gave him a really fancy car so he’s returning the favor now by giving Soo Hyun back her mom. He warns Soo Hyun’s mom not to die before she sees Soo Hyun. Sang Jin goes to talk with Soo Hyun and claims he’s here to return to gift she gave him. She doesn’t have time for him and tells him to not piss her off if he still wants to be hospital director of the associate hospital. She leaves without hearing what Sang Jin has to say. Sang Jin snarls after the elevator door has closed that he’s going to get Soo Hyun back for this.
Dr. Han Seung Hee (the Jae Hee lookalike) is talking to Soo Hyun’s unconscious mom and tells her that she’s been transferred to the main hospital now and will be better off. She ties a bracelet around Soo Hyun’s mom’s wrist and agrees to let her hang on to it for now since Soo Hyun’s mom really wanted it. Dr. Han asks Soo Hyun’s mom to keep it safe. It’s the same bracelet that little Hoon gave little Jae Hee.
Dr. Moon’s car pulls up to the hospital and Hoon and Chang Yi run inside with him. They go confirm that a Dr. Song Jae Hee is here and run to pharmacy storage room where she supposedly is right now. Hoon runs in and finds a white coat with Dr. Song Jae Hee written on it. He finds a girl kissing Dr. Kim but it’s not his Jae Hee but another doctor with the same name.
Hoon is leaving all dejectedly and Dr. Moon asks to talk with him and claims that he can help Hoon find whoever he’s searching for. Hoon asks for $500K US now or else don’t even come bother him anymore! He’s about to leave when he looks in through the window at the hospital cafeteria and sees Dr. Han Seung Hee inside ordering coffee. She turns and walks off and Hoon gets a clear look at her face. He calls out “Jae Hee-ahh” and then runs after her. He loses her in the corridors but keeps yelling for her.
Suddenly Dr. Han walks right behind him and Hoon senses her. He turns around and sees her rounding the corner.
Thoughts of Mine:
As much as Dr. Stranger is entertaining as hell, it’s got a certain all-over-the-place execution that fairly begs for a snarky takedown. I can do that and still love it, right? Only time will tell if it was a good idea to introduce Seoul Jae Hee-doppleganger Dr. Han Seung Hee and immediately reveal that she really is Jae Hee by the presence of the special woven bracelet. It probably works because the two girls are identical and rather than have the audience guessing what the connection is, share it right away and let the characters trying to figure out what’s going on. Or it could be that North Korea found identical girls and gave Seung Hee the special Jae Hee bracelet and sent her in undercover to do something to Hoon. That seems less plausible since Hoon isn’t working at Myung Woo Hospital yet at this point. All signs point to Seung Hee being Jae Hee and Hoon needing to save his girl in a different way than if she was stilled locked up in a North Korean prison and he needed to earn enough money to buy her freedom.
It was massively ridiculous the way Hoon wandered around the hospital, how coincidental he ran into the little girl from the playground, how serendipitous her dad needed heart surgery which is just his specialty, and how the hospital suddenly had an influx of trauma patients to tie up the attendings in the ER. Nothing super Hoon can’t solve with a scalpel and a 500 won payment, right? At least he saved a life, the converse would be an entire functioning hospital letting a patient die while waiting for a surgeon to arrive at the OR. Hoon has chemistry with every character he interacts with, whether it a little girl worried about her sick dad, a green around the gills young doctor fumbling to treat a patient, in-your-face and by-the-books Dr. Oh, and even sleazy career climbing Dr. Moon. A good medical drama needs to have an interesting ensemble of onscreen doctors and so far DS has delivered on that score. The second leads Soo Hyun and Jae Joon remain just faintly developed so far. I see she’s got family issues being mistress-born and having a seething incompetent half-brother vying for the inheritance of the hospital with her.
Jae Joon appears ambitious and calculating, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but bribing Dr. Yang to sabotage Dr. Moon’s surgery so that he could swoop in to save the day in front of the reporters was really underhanded. Too bad Dr. Moon’s not all that sympathetic either since he’s just a walking ball of ambition without any skills to back it up. I’ll side with the competent doctor any day even if Jae Joon is playing politics with patient’s lives using this method. I figure he’ll be due for an awakening and reckoning down the road as he works with Hoon so it’s better to give him some flaws and let the story peel away at his faulty layers. It’s hard to say if Jae Joon or Soo Hyun are really in love, the hot kiss notwithstanding, since there is also baggage behind them what with her status as the daughter of the Chairman and his angling to climb all the way to the top. I’m relieved that the action remains interesting and compelling with just the medical aspect of the narrative now that the North Korean spy thriller portion of the drama exited stage right for the time being. Dr. Stranger keeps on working in the most inexplicable of ways and looks like more and more of the domestic viewing audience is feeling the same way and joining the fun.
Click here to watch Dr. Stranger.