K-drama review: Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist – medical drama loses episodic groove, looks forward to season 2jessie tan
Following a shaky start, period medical drama Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist blossomed into a surprisingly convivial episodic drama about an unusual family tackling people’s intimate medical and mental problems in a Korean village.
In its final couple of weeks, though, the story returns to its roots Hanyang – as the South Korean capital was called under the historical Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) – and puts paid to the pleasant groove the series had only just found for itself.
Yoo Se-poong (Kim Min-jae) is banished from the royal court after a botched acupuncture procedure kills the reigning King Hyun (Ahn Nae-sang), but something was clearly awry.
Poong’s father finds evidence of foul play, but pays for it with his life.
Poong’s life is spared, but only because the newly installed King, Oh Kyung-joo, also smelled something fishy in his predecessor’s death.
Poong finds his way to Gyesu village, where, although he has lost his healing powers, he begins working at a clinic with the grumpy Gye Ji-han (Kim Sang-kyung), and later the aspiring medical practitioner Seo Eun-woo (Kim Hyang-gi).
By episode 10, all the threads that have been connecting Hanyang and Gyesu start to come together, at which point Gyesu Clinic ceases to be a focal point of the story, sadly sidelining most of the series’ colourful characters from there on out.
Even Ji-han, ostensibly one of the three leads, falls by the wayside.
He was initially a cipher without much substance, but his character had evolved in some interesting ways before being unceremoniously benched.
This turning point abandons the episodic stories about patients and their treatments in favour of the season-long arc of palace treason, with the appearances of the king and the royal court maid Wol (Park Se-hyun).
The king arrives in a disguise at Gyesu Clinic and Ji-han tries to swindle some extra cash out of him before Poong tells him of who he’s trying to con.
It turns out that the maid, meanwhile, witnessed royal court physician Shin Gwi-sook (Lee Seo-hwan) tampering with the former king’s food before his death.
This immediately makes her a target for Second State Councillor Jo Tae-hak (Yu Seong-ju), the mastermind behind the dastardly plot.
Tae-hak also has a man in Gyesu, the local official Im Soon-man (Kim Hyung-mook), who has been giving the physicians at Gyesu Clinic a hard time for several weeks.
The Gyesu Clinic doctors attempt to keep Wol safe, but their efforts are in vain when the court maid winds up dead.
Poong soon discovers that the killer in their midst is none other than Jo Shin-woo (Jung Won-chang), a royal inspector who has been a rival for Eun-woo’s affections.
Shin-woo is the son of Tae-hak and has been secretly doing his bidding.
Poong is rocked by this betrayal, as the pair had been forming a cautious alliance.
Tae-hak is accused of poisoning the late king as things come to a head in Hanyang, and Shin-woo arrives at the trial with Wol Yi, whose death they had faked.
Since Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist is already greenlit for a second season, the first season ends on a rather uncertain note, wrapping up quickly and not quite satisfactorily, with Poong vindicated and the bad guys dead or behind bars.
Poong then opts to go back to Hanyang and his work as a royal court physician rather than stay in Gyesu.
He leaves the clinic after a round of tearful farewells, only for the story to pick up once more three months later when he returns to the village.
He seems to be back in Gyesu for good this time, and asks Eun-woo to meet him under a tree the next day in order to tell her something important.
We never get to find out what that something is (a romantic confession perhaps?), as Eun-woo’s county magistrate father (Kim Hak-sun) arrives with a retinue of soldiers and carts Poong back to Hanyang for a mysterious reason.
We’ll have to tune in once more in January next year, when Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist returns for its second season.
Poong appears set to regain his acupuncture powers at the end of the season, but surprisingly his hands still shake when he holds a needle.
This is a refreshing outcome, as it allows Eun-woo to remain the essential person administering medical care by his side. Poong can’t save anyone without her help.
After accepting his fate, Poong decides to start a diary, in which he refers to himself as a “physician of the mind”.
Finally, he has become “Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist”.
Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist is streaming on Viu.