There comes a time in every drama’s life when it must decide; Will it follow the well-trod, trope-filled path of dramas before it? Or will it chart a course entirely its own?
For much of its first half, Doom at Your Service seemed destined to make the latter decision. Despite some familiar beats, the show continually surprised with its visual flair, intriguing character dynamics, and emotional power. Slowly but surely though, the unique aspects of Doom at Your Service have faded into the background, or slipped away entirely. With only four episodes left in its run, the drama has proven to be yet another entry into the melodramatic romance with a touch of illogical fantasy genre.
That may sound like a bad thing, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The choice of familiarity versus originality that all dramas face isn’t a decision between right and wrong. It is a matter of preferred storytelling approach, and either can work if executed well. Doom at Your Service does deserve criticism for waiting so long to pull the trigger on its choice to go with comfort over innovation. Because a more risk-taking show peaked its head out repeatedly during the drama’s early episodes, it is hard not to be disappointed as tropes take control later on. That being said, Doom at Your Service is still an enjoyable drama, if of the predictable variety.
One big change Doom at Your Service has made has to do with its use of fantasy. Initially, the show treated the genre with refreshing respect, carefully building a simple yet captivating mythology. Doom at Your Service also capitalized on the visual potential of fantasy in many breathtaking sequences, like the end of episode 1, or episode 4’s garden scene.
Unfortunately, Doom at Your Service has ultimately followed in the footsteps of many other romantic melodramas that use fantasy as a prop and plot device without truly committing to the genre. The lore that the show initially created has crumbled, punctured by the swords of a thousand plot holes. And it’s been a long while since Doom at Your Service treated viewers to a visually stunning fantasy scene. At the moment, fantasy is just there to cause excessively existential problems for star-crossed lovers Tak Dong-kyung (Park Bo-young) and Myul Mang (Seo In-guk).
As the show’s fantasy elements have wavered, its romantic storylines are stepping up to claim total dominance in terms of screen time and narrative focus. In its love lines, Doom at Your Service has always relied a bit heavily on tropes, and that’s only increased. Dong-kyung and Myul Mang’s relationship is at this point an incredibly prototypical drama case of fast, intense, poorly explained, yet literally world-changing romance. Because their romantic connection has become the central part of each character’s story, and is so poorly fleshed out, Dong-kyung and Myul Mang have both suffered in terms of individual character development.
That being said, there are some good parts to this trope-filled relationship. Park Bo-young and especially Seo In-guk continue to give excellent performances, and their shared chemistry is no joke.
Watching them play off each other, even if it is during yet another cheesy speech under the stars or by the ocean (or under the stars while by the ocean!), is a delight. In the most absurd twist yet, episode 12 sees Myul Mang and Dong-kyung both suffering from amnesia. Logic is hardly the priority now though, so this actually works as a great device to re-emphasize the effortless connection between Myul Mang and Dong-kyung. It also allows for an amusingly meta scene, with web novelist Park Young (Nam Da-reum) explaining to Dong-kyung how if he were writing a story about a woman who had to choose between saving her love and saving the world, he would include an amnesia plot twist.
In its later episodes, Doom at Your Service is at its best in moments like this, not taking itself too seriously, and just embracing the heart-warming silliness of its story. Another late-blooming part of the show is the love triangle between its secondary leads. It’s not a perfect storyline, suffering from some questionable gender dynamics, with the bold Na Ji-na (Shin Do-hyun) too frequently reduced to an object of competition for best friends Cha Joo-ik (Lee Soo-hyuk) and Lee Hyun-kyu (Kang Tae-oh) to argue about and brood over. On the other hand, the love triangle does something that the rest of the show increasingly fails to, which is to both capitalize on and subvert tropes.
When Ji-na is introduced, she is still hopelessly hung up on her first love Hyun-kyu, who cluelessly dumped her by text message a decade earlier. They eventually reconnect, but Ji-na is also engaged in a push and pull relationship with the icy Joo-ik who, of course, is Hyun-kyu’s best friend. The set up of this triangle is pretty interminable and filled with tedious communication failures, but once it kicks into high gear, it is quite engaging.
This is especially true because it quickly becomes clear that the storyline is a critique of the first love supremacy trope. Despite being mutually obsessed with their idealized memories of each other, Ji-na and Hyun-kyu just don’t click anymore. There is a poignantly painful scene in which they go on a date and one awkward sentence at a time, realize that they know nothing about each other anymore. It will be interesting to see how their lack of connection, alongside Ji-na’s growing interest in Joo-ik and Joo-ik and Hyun-kyu’s fractured friendship, develop as Doom at Your Service concludes.
It is also worth noting that Lee Soo-hyuk elevates the love triangle just by being there. He is Doom at Your Service’s best scene stealer, commanding every sequence he is in with a smoldering glower and wry sense of humor. There are also interesting but largely untapped parallels between him and Dong-kyung. Both suffer from an inability to go after what they truly want, which means that despite their considerable charms, they are in danger of living unfulfilled and lonely lives. If Doom at Your Service had turned out to be the thoughtful drama it initially presented itself as, this could have been an intriguing similarity to explore.
For better or worse though, Doom at Your Service is no longer the kind of show that spends much time worrying about character development or story continuity. Some things have definitely been lost because of that, but some things have also been gained. Doom at Your Service is a much sweeter, sillier, and arguably more fun drama now. For viewers who were hoping to see an ambitious and unique show, the disappointment will be great. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here, if not necessarily a ton to admire. All that’s left is to strap in for the final ride, and learn what this trope-filled train’s ultimate destination is.
(YouTube. Images via tvN, Viki)