The Hospital Ship finally had its maiden voyage this week, and it’s quite satisfying story-wise or rating-wise. Episode 1 focuses on Ha Ji-won’s role and introduces the major characters onboard. True to its nature as a human drama, the show excels at depicting emotions that really hits you. It’s hard not to cry or feel down when you hear a remorseful doctor saying that the only thing she did for her mother was to pronounce her dead.
1. The trio of male doctors join the hospital ship
Oriental medicine Doctor Kim Jae-gul (Lee Seo-won) and Dentist Cha Joon-young (Kim In-sik) have no choice but to spend their military service period aboard the hospital ship after they get unlucky enough to pick the dreaded location assignment even via drawing lots. Both agree that anywhere but the ship is fine and a few moments later they find themselves following the ship’s top crew officials (Kim Kwang-kyu and Lee Han-wi). Aside from their seemingly immature and funny behavior as young public health doctors, nothing of significance has been said about their characters yet.
In contrast, internal medicine doctor Kwak Hyun (Kang Min-hyuk) voluntarily boards the ship, going against her mom’s wishes and appearing to be following the footsteps of his Albert Schweitzer-like dad who’s done tons of volunteering himself. Jae-gul and Joon-young ask him if his father influenced his decision to volunteer but he says no and mentions “conceptual shift.” Just like his two peers, little is known yet about his family background.
2. Song Eun-jae “curses enough in one call to last five centuries”
The hyperbole above is used by her aunt Oh Mi-jung (Kim Sun-young), who calls her the ‘grim reaper,’ to describe her cold-hearted character. Song Eun-jae (Ha Ji-won) takes center stage in this episode and is described as a perfectionist, objective, and exceptional surgeon who dreams to become the youngest female Chief of Surgery at Seoul Daehan Hospital. Although she’s truly talented and determined to do her job properly of saving people’s lives, she doesn’t come close to being the approachable doctor who can go well along with her patients and colleagues. In the first surgery scene where she is operating on her junior’s father, her way of telling him to pull himself together is this: “It’s better if you don’t consider him [the patient] human.” I understand that she’s being fiercely competitive to meet her goal of becoming the surgery department’s head but I can’t grasp her no-nonsense and unsympathetic attitude. Did it come naturally to her as she grows up or did something happen in her past that forced her to develop such a character?
3. Song Eun-jae’s mother dies, and it’s partly her fault
This event is the climax of the premiere episodes (and is the most tear-jerking one), changing Song Eun-jae’s life in an instant and possibly leading her to the hospital ship. Her mom (Cha Hwa-yeon), who’s very proud of her and finds meaning in life just by hearing other people saying that she’s so lucky to have Eun-jae as her daughter, has some unknown complications in her heart that causes a symptom similar to indigestion. Upon the suggestion of Oh Mi-jung, she goes to the hospital ship for a consultation where Doctor Kwak Hyun recommends to her that she must have her heart checked up to make sure that everything is fine. She heeds his advice and travels to Seoul to meet Eun-jae but her busy daughter tells her over the phone some mean things about her sending patients to her daughter, so she’s not able to say that she came for a checkup. She eventually leaves for hometown without meeting Eun-jae after seeing her uncomfortably eating her snack during breaktime.
Later on, an unexpected tragic event in her life leaves her remorseful and without a caring mom. Eun-jae’s aunt calls her to say that her mom is dying, and although the coast guard manage to bring her mom to the nearest hospital and she arrives at the emergency room quickly due to the chopper service afforded to her by a VIP patient she saved, it’s too late. Her CPR was to no avail and she starts thinking right after her mom dies that she could have done something had she meet her the day before but what she did for her as a doctor was nothing but to pronounce her a dead person. That very scene is heartbreaking and I absolutely felt the sad emotion emanating from her character as she narrates how painful it is to lose her mother partly because of her inaction.
4. Kwak Hyun meets Song Eun-jae on the hospital ship
A child writhing in pain arrives at the hospital ship and has been diagnosed by Kwak Hyun to be suffering from acute appendicitis. Kwak Hyun’s not in the position to do the much-needed operation and the wind is too strong for a helicopter to take off and transfer the patient, so the child’s grandfather’s asking everyone if there’s really nothing that can be done, to which someone made a response, “The operation is possible.” Song Eun-jae has come to the boy’s rescue and introduces herself to Kwak Hyun as a recently assigned surgeon to the hospital ship.
The big question left in this episode is how did Eun-jae end up on the ship. Is it because of her mother and based on her own will? Most likely not, given how she’s carefully characterized in this episode as objective and not sentimental (and considering the character descriptions released prior to the drama’s premiere). Something must have happened right after her mother dies that leads her to board the ship.
Episode Trivia: Hospital ships exist in Korea and in other parts of the world. At present, there are five hospital ships operating in South Korea. The one used in the drama is not an actual hospital ship but an ordinary passenger ship that was renovated for 15 days to look like one. It departed for the first time on July 6, 2017, and has since then been used for the shooting of the drama. (Source: Hospital Ship Special Episode)