Doom at Your Service got off to a great start, introducing a large cast of engaging characters and a dynamic magical realist world. As the show heads deeper into its run, it is showing more of its hand, for better and for worse.
Doom at Your Service is proving to be a character and relationship driven drama. That’s great, because the show’s ensemble gets more compelling every episode, especially as their interlinking relationships come into clearer view. Doom at Your Service takes full advantage of its fantastic cast and characterizations, presenting moment after moment of emotional triumph and catharsis. But structurally, Doom at Your Service is floundering.
The first issue is pacing. For the most part, Doom at Your Service has settled into a leisurely, some might even say unexciting, pace. While this choice of speed won’t be to every viewer’s taste, it suits the drama’s thoughtful approach. By meandering rather than sprinting forward, Doom at Your Service gives itself space to carefully explore the concepts it seems most interested in, like the push and pull between destiny and choice, and the interdependent relationship of joy and despair.
The real problem is that every once in a while, Doom at Your Service abruptly launches into high-speed plot developments, and then just as quickly hits the brakes. The central romance between Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young) and Myul Mang (Seo In-guk) provides many examples of the drama’s lurching issue.
In several episodes, Doom at Your Service alternates between slow-burn and full-throttle approaches to their relationship. One minute, Dong-kyung and Myul Mang will tentatively be getting to know each other through good old-fashioned conversation, and the next second one of them will literally disappear, leaving the other to wallow in their crisis-accelerated feelings while desperately searching for their lost love.
To be fair, the show does have an obligation to move things forward somehow. But by doing it in such an uneven manner, Doom at Your Service makes its narrative journey bumpy. The drama also opens the door for confusion and sloppiness to come in. That leads to the other, more major structural issue facing Doom at Your Service: the growing lack of logic.
Things are just starting to not make sense, and not because this is a fantasy show. For example, as satisfying as Dong-kyung and Myul Mang’s romantic progression is, the motivations behind each of their exponentially expanding levels of devotion to the other are blurry.
For Dong-kyung’s part, loving Myul Mang was initially about finding a loop hole in their divine contract, and then it seems to have transitioned into genuine sympathy for his predicament, perhaps with a dash of wanting to grab life by the horns thrown in. But which of these emotions motivate each of the specific actions that draw Dong-kyung closer to Myul Mang, especially several choices she makes that seem uncharacteristically self-sabotaging? That’s not clear. And Myul Mang’s evolution from detached god of doom to loving boyfriend is even less satisfactorily explained.
Myul Mang’s goddess boss and creator Sonyeoshin (Jung Ji-so) has also become Doom at Your Service’s resident deus ex machina. She’s a fascinating character, with her peaceful demeanor yet threatening aura. However, her current sole purpose is to say mysterious things that make Myul Mang and Dong-kyung feel stuff, and do strange divine things that make Myul Mang and Dong-kyung do stuff that then makes them feel stuff. Sonyeoshin’s behavior is a major and potentially fascinating force in the drama, but at the moment, she’s being used as a tool to allow Doom at Your Service’s writer to slack off from the hard work of actually building a properly structured story.
Poor pacing and faltering logic are not small issues to have. Even so, Doom at Your Service continues to be an overall enjoyable show, especially if viewers allow themselves to shift their focus from story structure to story tone. Doom at Your Service is a masterpiece of hopeful melancholy, and every character development, plot twist, music cue, camera angle, and set decoration serves this mood. The only wrench in this perfect tonal tapestry is occasional overly cheesy drama touches that feel out of place in Doom at Your Service’s achingly delicate atmosphere. But those are few and far between, and most of the show is made of simultaneously tragic and uplifting elements.
Myul Mang and Dong-kyung exchange countless loaded glances of mixed fear, excitement, and longing as they fall for each other. Soft light blankets even the most mundane or bleak of scenes. Every crisis is framed as an opportunity, much like the literal entrance of doom into Dong-kyung’s life proves to be her chance at love. The result of this carefully curated set of choices is a show that often abandons logic, yet never feels emotionally untrue.
It doesn’t make objective sense that a tormented god would suddenly want to spend his time creating a picture perfect amusement park date night, or that a terminally ill woman with more than her fair share of challenges would be filled with compassion for a cranky immortal. But there’s nothing emotionally nonsensical about two lonely people wanting to be less lonely together, and it feels true to life that fate would make it as hard as possible for them to claim that simple pleasure.
That’s why every moment Dong-kyung and Myul Mang get closer, no matter how silly the path they took to get there, is so satisfying to see. The emotional impact is even greater when other supporting characters are looped in, expanding the web of emotional resonance.
An especially strong sequence comes at the end of episode 7. Myul Mang has spent most of the episode consumed with guilt for the doom that has affected Dong-kyung throughout her life. He’s traveled into a dream-like version of the past to watch instance after instance of misfortune that she’s suffered. Despite this, he ultimately decides to not run away from Dong-kyung and his feelings for her.
As he returns to her, she flashes back to the tragic incidences he witnessed and viewers realize that from her perspective, she sees most of them as happy memories. This is because each time she was knocked down, someone she loved came to help her stand up. The scene weaves together all of the people she cares most for walking towards her in all those different moments of need: her sweetly silly brother Tak Sun-kyung (SF9’s Dawon), her supportive aunt Kang Soo-ja (Woo Hee-jin), her fiercely protective best friend Na Ji-na (Shin Do-hyun), and finally the most recent addition to her beloveds, Myul Mang himself.
The scene is a gorgeous representation of how one by one, people can become a source of incredible strength and joy to someone, in this case Dong-kyung. It also does a great job of reinforcing Doom at Your Service’s central theme of the need for dark before the dawn.
The drama is packed to the brim with sequences just like this, moments of phenomenal emotional power that additionally seem to carry a grander message about one or more of life’s fundamental truths. It’s rare for a show to have even one scene that reaches this level, so for Doom at Your Service to boast so many at only its halfway mark is an incredible feat. Credit for this accomplishment goes not just to the otherwise uneven writing, but also to the stellar acting from the drama’s entire ensemble, with Park Bo-young and Seo In-guk doing particularly amazing work.
Despite its many flaws, Doom at Your Service is a remarkably absorbing drama. The show’s failures simply pale in comparison to the impact of its strengths. Additionally, all hope isn’t lost that Doom at Your Service can fix at least some of its structural issues. There are still eight whole episodes left for the show to improve its pacing and rationality. But whether or not that specific upgrade happens, Doom at Your Service seems likely to remain an emotionally captivating show that serves up moments of brilliant intensity and touching warmth. That’s more than enough to keep at least this viewer coming back for more.
(YouTube. Images via tvN, Viki)