This was an incredible episode of Descendants of the Sun and easily the best one so far in both emotion and action. The tears came freely and from genuine moments of tragedy that was nicely built up, moments that flowed from both the greater natural disaster and the small human elements. The romance for both OTPs took a welcomed back seat and one where I hope it can confidently sit without needing to exert itself as forcefully as it in the earlier episodes. There is a time and place for cute banter and flirting and the middle of devastation is certainly not it. But the connections have been created to let the smaller gestures now mean so much, whether it’s from camaraderie or pent up longing, the characters in DotS really came alive in this episode and not a moment too soon.
I was holding my faith that the drama would do more with such an interesting diverse cast of characters and episode 7 showcased that even minutes of screen time can deliver exponential amounts of connection with the story. The earthquake in Urk shook up Mo Yeon’s world in many ways but she continues to rise to the challenge, and in the process make poor Shi Jin even more crazy in love with her. I think the boy is a lost cause and it’s up to her to take a chance with him, which is looking more and more likely as she confronts the reality that life is lived in the now rather than the future because death can come knocking at any moment.
Episode 7 recap:
Shi Jin leads a team of additional soldiers from South Korea and arrives back at Urk in the middle of the night to help with disaster relief. The soldiers dramatically helicopter drops on the site of the collapsed power plant and gets to work helping to dig out buried survivors to hand off to the Hae Sung medical team. Shi Jin takes a moment to tie Mo Yeon’s shoelaces and ask her to stay safe. He admits his regret at leaving that morning without seeing her again, which is as much as he can say about personal feelings in such a dire situation around them.
It’s morning time and Shi Jin peers through a crack in the fallen building to scan for buried survivors but doesn’t see anyone inside. He’s certain this area would have possible survivors while the Manager keeps trying to get the soldiers to clear out the area where the office is since he’s desperate to retrieve his hidden diamonds. Dae Young explains that areas that look safe may have sustained internal damage and could collapse if anything is moved.
The team picks up faint sounds from inside and quickly scramble to confirm. We see the Team Leader Go under concrete slabs and the worker who was impaled by a beam trying to use a rock to make sound. Team Leader urges him to be patient and is certain people are looking for them. Other trapped workers calling out for help manage to make contact with the Team Leader.
The rescue team gather to discuss strategy to get inside – digging through concrete takes too long because its reinforced concrete and using heavy machinery to lift up pieces could cause the inside to topple. The Manager keeps insisting they start with the office area because there are survivors there and also important documents. He tries to order Shi Jin to do as he says since he’s managing the construction site and is forcibly escorted away. Shi Jin wants to use four hydraulic lifts to push up the fallen concrete but the team only has one to use so he brings in three water weight bags to fill up as support beams knowing it won’t be strong enough to last long, but hopefully long enough to get inside for the rescue.
Ki Bum delivers walkie talkies to Mo Yeon sent by Daniel with news that the town is a mess and an entire village has been wiped out. He wants to use the walkie talkie to communicate with Mo Yeon’s medical team.
Daniel has brought the injured to the Hae Sung medical facility and wants Mo Yeon’s permission so that he can operate despite not getting any official permission. Mo Yeon orders her team back there to let Daniel bring the patient in for surgery. Daniel has sent Ye Hwa over to the power plant to help out. Shi Jin listens in on this exchange with a smile.
The soldiers are starting to move pieces of concrete with the hydraulic lift and water bags, enough to create a tiny space to crawl through. Shi Jin crawls inside followed by his men. Survivors who can still move are slowly brought out through that tiny gap as medical personnel led by Mo Yeon are outside waiting to treat them. One survivor says that the Team Leader Go is still inside somewhere below where he was stuck.
Mo Yeon watches Shi Jin go back inside with a bundle of rope. Myung Joo is treating a survivor who goes into shock and Mo Yeon walks up to do chest compressions which brings back his pulse. She believes the patient has abdominal bleeding and the surgery center is full and it’s a 30 minute ride back to the main army base and the patient won’t make it. Mo Yeon declares that the surgery will have to be done here. What?
Myung Joo calls Mo Yeon crazy for considering surgery without doing a CT scan to confirm he is bleeding. Mo Yeon says there is no choice even when Myung Joo points out all the potential complications of doing field surgery in such a filthy environment.
Ki Bum tries to help but with his arm in a sling he’s clumsy and knocks over boxes and is told to stand aside. He sees Min Ji grabbing stuff to head back for Mo Yeon and Myung Joo’s field surgery.
Chi Hoon is treating a female patient and she freaks out when he tries to inject her with a needle full of anesthesia. Chi Hoon tries to communicate with her that it won’t hurt but she forcibly prevents him from injecting her. She explains that she’s pregnant and shows him the ultrasound. Chi Hoon tells her it will be extremely painful and then reaches down to set her broken leg. He twists and she screams in pain.
A reporter arrive on the site of the collapsed power plant and runs up to Ki Bum to ask for an update. Ki Bum takes him over to Nurse Ha who tells him that she’s busy and walks off. Ki Bum brings the reporter over to Dr. Song who gets into the reporter’s car and tells him to drive to the hospital where’s he’s been called back to assist with surgeries and along the way he’ll do the interview.
Ki Bum hears a call over the walkie talkie needing type AB blood and radios back that he’s type AB. He goes over to give blood to Ye Hwa as Mo Yeon and Myung Joo operate out on the field. Shi Jin comes to grab Mo Yeon to craw inside with him to treat the Team Leader immediately.
Mo Yeon finds the Team Leader under concrete and his leg is all swollen and he can no longer feel anything. Shi Jin brings Mo Yeon to see the worker who has been impaled by the beam and she hooks him up to an IV. Shi Jin pulls Mo Yeon aside to explain that the two areas are connected – if the concrete is lifted off Team Leader Go, it will pull the beam impaling the other worker up and slice him through. If they cut off the beam first then the rest of the concrete will fall completely on the Team Leader. OUCH. And no noes!
Shi Jin wants Mo Yeon to pick and they will save the patient who has the greater chance of surviving. That is Mo Yeon’s job as a doctor, to make this difficult decision. Mo Yeon looks absolutely stricken as the camera shows the two trapped patients in split screen. Shi Jin gives her ten minutes to decide as he tells Sargent Choi to further confirm they have to make this Solomon’s Choice.
The Manager goes to harangue Shi Jin about the importance of the documents in the office having to do with the political future of Urk and South Korea, claiming it’s cross borders contracts of upmost diplomatic necessity. He tells Shi Jin to quickly save the person here who best can survive and then move on to clearing the office. He tells Shi Jin to do his job as a soldier and put the country’s interests first, and at a time like this it doesn’t matter if one or two people die.
Shi Jin growls at him to shut him, saying that the role of a soldier is to protect the people and that is the utmost importance. Even if a bastard like the Manager is in need Shi Jin will save him. The Manager warns Shi Jin that he is making a big mistake and Shi Jin tells him to scram. A beam falls on top of them and Shi Jin protects the Manager and takes the brunt of the beam. Shi Jin makes sure the Manager is fine before walking away but the Manager sees drops of blood on his hand from the bloody wound on Shi Jin’s shoulder.
Mo Yeon is treating Team Leader Go who knows that only one of them can be saved. He tells Mo Yeon that he has three kids and has worked overseas on construction for thirty years so he knows what to expect. He teases that it’s not bad to lay here, not needing to work and getting to look at the sky. He’s done well for himself, earning US dollars and sending his kids to college. The impaled worker asks for more anesthesia and Mo Yeon tells him that she can’t give him more now as he will soon be in surgery. The man asks if he will be saved and Mo Yeon smiles at him.
Myung Joo is operating on the patient as Ki Bum is providing the type AB blood transfusion. He’s so proud to be helping and wants Myung Joo to tell Dae Young.
Ye Hwa is getting blood from the reporters and others there to help. Ye Hwa asks the reporter who he wants to interview among the heads here and is annoyed he wants to talk to Daniel because he’s such a smooth talker and looks good on camera.
Dae Young is heading into a rescue zone and falls through an unstable ground and his fall is broadcast over the walkie talkie. Ki Bum worriedly wants to go help but Myung Joo calmly continues the surgery and orders him to stay put. Dae Young radios in that he’s fine and fell on some sand and we see Myung Joo’s twitch of relief.
Mo Yeon gives Shi Jin her decision – Team Leader Go’s leg is atrophied and he might go into septic shock even after being rescued, while the other worker isn’t bleeding because of the beam but once it’s removed he will likely bleed out. She wants to know what Shi Jin would decide and asks for his opinion based on his greater experience. Shi Jin coldly asks why she is asking him, hasn’t she made her medical assessment already? He doesn’t know what is better, on the field he just solves problems and there is no time to hesitate or waffle. She can’t do that to try and be a perfect doctor, he needs a regular doctor willing to make a split second decision.
Mo Yeon contains her tears and tells Shi Jin what her decision is on who to save first.
The next scene we see the impaled worker wheeled into the OR in the Hae Sung medical facility with Mo Yeon. She meets up with Dr. Song and they head into surgery with the patient. The team pulls out the beam and gets ready for surgery.
The deceased are being prepped for transport and Team Leader Go is laying there among them. Shi Jin takes out Team Leader’s wallet and looks at the picture inside with his three kids. He tucks the wallet back in Team Leader Go’s hands and salutes him before he’s zipped up.
Ye Hwa picks up the stopped clock and Daniel takes it from her to hang it back up. Myung Joo finishes field surgery and saves the patient’s life. She and Ki Bum salute each other.
The soldiers continue to dig for survivors as Colonel Park arrives with more men to exchange shifts. He sends the exhausted soldiers back to the base along with the medical team.
Myung Joo and Dae Young are sitting on the back of the transport truck and she doesn’t have eyes for him this time, looking down at her bloody hands.
General Yoon calls in Shi Jin’s dad to report that their soldiers are all safe and Shi Jin has gone back to Urk. He feels relieved that Shi Jin is there with Myung Joo. General Yoon compliments Shi Jin as a future four star general in the making.
The hospital Managing Director tells everyone that their medical team is safe in Urk. Chi Hoon’s mom wants to talk to her son to make sure he’s safe and orders the Managing Director to make that call happen because she invested in the hospital.
Chi Hoon is brooding back at the base trying to make sense of how many people died. Dr. Song comes out after surgery for a smoke and shares that the patient is temporarily stabilized. He asks Chi Hoon how he’s doing and gets silence in return. Chi Hoon asks for a cigarette but Dr. Song tells him not to start as they sit there in silence.
The Manager is at the medical facility demanding to see a doctor. Nurse Ha walks up to him as he demands to lay down and get an IV after such a trying day. Nurse Ha radios in asking for a doctor who is not busy to come here and give a patient an IV since he is clearly blind and can’t see there are people who need critical assistance. Nurse Ha sasses him directly before walking off.
Shi Jin and Dae Young discuss how there aren’t enough provisions for the soldiers and medical staff to eat. The girl from the bar comes by with a truck full of sandwiches for everyone. Shi Jin offers to have Dae Young buy 100 bottles of wine from her next time before calling everyone out to eat.
The soldiers are scarfing down their sandwiches when Shi Jin walks out to announce that they have worked hard for two days and nights. Their parents have all been notified that they are safe so they need to rest up tonight to continue the search and rescue tomorrow. He reminds them to do their jobs and obey his orders.
Dae Young is washing up outside when Myung Joo takes his towel to dry his face. She wants to know if Dae Young came or her father sent him. Dae Young came because the most dangerous zone needs the best soldiers and Myung Joo doesn’t like that answer. Dae Young reminds her that her father is very worried about her. They stare at each other for a few beats until Myung Joo asks if he’s just going to stand there.
Dae Young pulls Myung Joo in for a tight hug and she tearfully embraces him back.
Nurse Ha is sterilizing surgical equipment outside when Dr. Song comes to take over. He wants her to repeat 1030 which is his password in case he dies, in which case he wants her to delete a file for him. Nuse Ha orders him to delete it now!
The doctors checked on the beam impaled patient who hasn’t regained consciousness yet. Mo Yeon does checks on all the patients to change their colored tags as they are improving. She notices that Chi Hoon is using his cell phone to play classical music for the pregnant patient whose leg he set.
Mo Yeon finds the man who gave her his boots and returns it to him with a sincere thanks.
The board lists 18 dead and 41 injured from the power plant collapse and Mo Yeon goes to light a candle for the victims. She walks off and we see Shi Jin staring at her.
Mo Yeon stands in the middle of the power plant as rescuers rush around her. She flashes back to seeing the victims and survivors working in the power plant before the earthquake including Team Leader Go greeting her with a smile. Mo Yeon starts sobbing as her head falls forward and Shi Jin stoically takes this scene in.
A soldier notices that Shi Jin’s shoulder is injured and he is shocked that Shi Jin has been bearing this injury this whole time. Mo Yeon pulls Shi Jin over to a medical tent to sew up the wound. She tells him that she will be fine despite him not asking her anything, and he wonders if she heard his internal question to her? Mo Yeon says she heard it loud and clear.
Shi Jin is very comforted that Mo Yeon is here with him, to fight alongside him. He apologizes for the poor attitude earlier but Mo Yeon has faced death way more than he has realized but the death she sees comes not from soldiers but from doctors holding scalpels. Shi Jin wonders if he should takes back his words of comfort even though he really wishes that she is fine.
Mo Yeon asks Shi Jin to do what he does best, tell her a joke to lighten the mood. Shi Jin brings up how pretty she is right now but she doesn’t think he can say so since he can’t see her. He saw her earlier and she really was so pretty. Mo Yeon smiles and finishes stitching Shi Jin up. He quietly admits that he misses her a lot and thinks of her all the time no matter what he’s doing. He tried to keep busy, work himself to exhaustion, even drink, but he still thinks of her all the time.
Shi Jin asks her to consider what he just said, even if this wasn’t what she expected to hear he wants to tell her because it’s this is all his sincere words.
Thoughts of Mine:
This was such a strong episode of storytelling even taking account all the conveniently established elements. I was genuinely moved by the rescue of the trapped construction workers and how the soldiers and doctors had to make hard decisions. It wasn’t rocket science that the story would place Mo Yeon in difficult positions as the leader of the medical team but this particular one resonated with me because of how deftly the trapped men were given moments of humanity. The Mo Yeon who spouted her doctor’s creed to Shi Jin in that café in Seoul certainly never envisioned she would be in a disaster zone asked to decide who would live or die. It’s the stuff that Shi Jin deals with but Mo Yeon didn’t consider when she wrote off his military career as one led by guns and surrounded by death. That’s but one side of the two sided coin and the other is to save lives, as Shi Jin told her back then. Now she can see for herself what it feels like to live in the gray zone, and perhaps being a doctor is not that different than being a soldier. Both hold power over life and death, and in Shi Jin’s mind, he is like a doctor in that he will choose life over death all the time if he could.
I really connected with all the major characters in this episode – Shi Jin’s calm controlled leadership, Dae Young’s execution tenacity, Myung Joo’s ability to do what is needed, and Mo Yeon’s balance of emotions with professionalism. The story is doing a great job of developing their trajectories alongside the narrative without stopping for exposition. I appreciated that the big rescue or medical treatment scenes weren’t milked for excess, a lot of times it’s cut away rather than the K-drama usual style to hammer it home. Surgeries in medical dramas are ten minutes of absurd blood spattered cavities open scalpel slicing dramatics, but here the viewers aren’t forced to sit through strung out scenes. It hit home hard when Mo Yeon made her choice and we didn’t see the rescue or the death of Team Leader Go, only seeing the rescued worker wheeled into the ER. That was enough to hit home and my throat was constricting from that moment one. Seeing Shi Jin sending off Team Leader Go with quiet sadness tipped me over and made me feel for the loss of a small character who felt like a person rather than just a caricature.
Kim Eun Sook really stepped up her game in this episode and there wasn’t a single moment of silliness just to showcase a specific element. It was nice to see Dae Young and Myung Joo do their jobs during the entire episode, and only when they had down time to reconnect on an emotional need level. Myung Joo not even paying attention to Dae Young during the ride back to base was one of the best scenes for them, making me see that her character is more than just Dae Young obsessed and still a military doctor first and foremost when duty calls. Just like Dae Young puts duty above all else, Myung Joo does as well and her rebellion towards her dad is because she understands that his meddling in her love life is not duty but a personal demand. I see all the major characters adding color to each other’s lives and world view, challenging and pushing one another to consider different perspectives. This happens even if there are feelings involved, and feels especially unique considering romance isn’t being treated as the end all be all by the participants involved. It’s an integral part of their lives and rears its head here and there, but in measured paces so that the emergency doesn’t come to a screeching talk so that two people can share a hug just for the heck of it.
I really love the directing in this drama, seven episodes in it’s clear that Kim Eun Sook found the right PD in PD Lee Eun Bok who direct Secret, School 2013, and Dream High. He balances the scene pace and cutaways so well, and makes the drama feel expansive even in small crawl spaces like the collapsed building, or intimate such as when the would be lovers are in close proximity even when outside. I loved how he filmed Mo Yeon’s juxtaposition of the current disaster zone with the earlier construction zone when people were alive and happily doing their jobs. It hit home as hard for me as it did for Mo Yeon, this overwhelming sadness at the tragedy of it all with no one to blame so the tears just need to flow. I’m sure she’s feeling so much right now and it’s unclear how she will react to Shi Jin’s confession that no matter what he does, he can’t get her out of his mind. It’s such a direct and sincere explanation of what he’s going through, there is no blame for why she’s always on his mind, nor is he making a big deal about it. To this soldier it simply is, a part of his world now, and he wants to tell her so that he is doing something about it. If she rejects him again so be it, I’m not going to get on her back for being wishy-washy because I can see now how strong she is when she is asked to be. If Shi Jin is her one weakness then I’m just glad she’s in safe hands, and hope that she will catch up to his realization soon enough.
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