In the first frame of the first episode of K-drama Doom At Your Service, the protagonist Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young) learns she has just three months to live because of a brain tumour. Bemused by this revelation, Dong-kyung turns down a potentially life-saving surgery because she can’t take any more days off work. A series of unfortunate events makes her day worse and worse, until she drunkenly wishes doom on the entire world in a fit of exasperation. A few minutes later, there’s a knock on her door. Meet Doom, aka Myul-mang (Seo In-guk), and guess what? He’s come armed with a contract for Dong-kyung.
Myul-mang is the literal word for ‘doom’ or ‘destruction’ in Korean. He is tied to an immortal existence and his every movement leads to some kind of mayhem. A click of his lighter, and two cars crash. The turn of his car key, and a sinkhole opens up. We are told very little about his past. All we know is that the one time he tried to keep himself completely still, the world perished. Myul-mang is responsible for maintaining the balance of the universe, but it is not a role he enjoys. There's a certain self-loathing there, as he is shown to resent the deity that created him and the humans who control him. Just when he’s feeling particularly listless, he comes across the one person who verbalises exactly what is on his mind — "I wish doom on the entire world!"
Myul-mang’s contract guarantees that Dong-Kyung will not be in any pain in the final days of her life. He also offers to fulfil any wish she may have. However, if she does not explicitly wish doom on the world before her time is up, the person she loves most will die in her place. Keen on finding a loophole, Dong-kyung vows to fall in love with Myul-Mang, thus dooming him in her stead. What follows is a masterful exploration of both characters as we get to witness the gradual development of their relationship. We are also introduced to a lively cast of supporting characters, including Dong-Kyung’s best friend and colleagues, who have compelling sub-plots of their own.
Despite the medical diagnosis in its opening, Doom At Your Service isn't very depressing. It maintains a fairly upbeat tone, and through the show’s light-hearted, cosy feeling is a satisfying sense of self-awareness. Dong-kyung works at a publishing agency and as a result, the characters in Doom At Your Service are constantly thinking in literary terms, which lends a meta quality to the storytelling. For example, when Dong-kyung asks her colleagues what they’d wish for if they were going to die in 100 days, they immediately assume it's for a story she's editing. Humour and levity shine through in the most unexpected moments of the show, such as Dong-kyung grumpily wondering if Myul-mang is American because he didn't take off his shoes and trailed dirty footprints into her house at their first meeting.
The biggest strength of Doom At Your Service lies in the way the characters and relationships are drawn out. Dong-kyung is given a rich backstory, which makes you feel almost protective of her. Despite everything she goes through over the course of the show, Dong-kyung never loses her strength, grace and kindness. Her tendency to joke around and make light of grim situations is an automatic defence mechanism to protect herself and others from pain. As the show progresses, we see Dong-kyung slowly begin to open up her heart and let love in. Park Bo-young’s acting has an effortless charm to it, and she is as eminently likeable here as in her previous roles (Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, Abyss). With her wide-eyed shock, her little quips and lovely smile, she is a joy to behold.
Just as compelling (if not more) is Seo In-guk’s striking personification of Doom as someone who is winter, darkness and the end of everything. The actor has a penchant for playing the brooding lead with a secret soft side (see: Reply 1997 and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes), but his performance in Doom At Your Service feels like a breath of fresh air. From his intense eyes and cold smirks to his rare tears and mischievous smiles, his Myul-mang is self-assured, nuanced and sympathetic. What’s more, his chemistry with Park Bo-young is seriously electric.
Myul-mang begins as a man who feels chained to humans and deeply resents them, yet finds himself falling in love with one. Dong-kyung helps bring out the goodness that is inherent in him. His relationship with her makes him see himself in a different light. After all, she likes winter, darkness and endings, because those things lead to beautiful new beginnings.
Although he depicts himself as an agent of darkness, Myul-mang is never truly evil. He has a strong sense of justice, even when he's violently punishing and killing people. He keeps insisting he isn’t human — after all, he doesn’t eat, sleep or cry — even while the show underscores through his behaviour that these mechanical details aren’t what make us human, but our ability to love and feel compassion. When he finally comes back as a human, he seems softer and happier somehow, which is highlighted by the change in his hair style, his light-coloured outfits, and tender demeanour. Myul-mang’s humanisation is a work in progress for the entire show. Through Dong-kyung and him, we’re assured that even if we don't realise it, we will all have our happy ending.
The show has dreamy cinematography and a gorgeous original soundtrack featuring some of the biggest names in Korean music (Ailee, Baekhyun, Davichi, TXT), including a song by Seo In-guk himself. The dialogues, written by Im Mea-ri, have a poetic, old-world charm to them (so much so that the actors reportedly had difficulty memorising their lines). The show’s measured pacing allows the creators to focus on the characters and the little, important, human moments in their lives.
Doom At Your Service engages with intriguing philosophical ideas about life and death, light and darkness, gain and loss — and how a balance between them is necessary. Interestingly, Myul-mang was not just in charge of human death and destruction, but also the decline of inanimate objects, cultural traditions and language. The show serves as a reminder to live in the moment, cherish what we have and not take things for granted, lest it be too late.