Time and time again, Korean dramas that are exclusive to Netflix have pushed boundaries in terms of the theme and content of dramas, with the most famous example being last year’s global hit Squid Game. Somebody, one of their newest offerings, is no different. The drama is a “bizarre love story”, according to the director Jung Ji-woo himself, presented as a violent, racy thriller. Though its slow pacing and subject matter may not be palatable for everyone, Somebody does engage with intriguing ideas on how to defeat and overcome privileged villains.

This review contains spoilers.

Somebody is an unsettling romance between dating app developer Kim Sum (Kang Hae-lim) and serial killer Seong Yun-o (Kim Young-kwang), who uses the app to find his victims. The two find themselves drawn together despite the increasingly precarious situations they find themselves in. Sum’s friends, police officer Yeong Gi-eun (Kim Su-yeon) and shaman Im Mok-won (Kim Yong-ji), have their own dangerous encounters with Yun-o as they try to stop his murders and keep him away from Sum.

Sum and her friends have contrasting personalities and abilities that complement each other as a team. Sum is shown from the very beginning to be an incredibly talented developer. As a high school student she can rig slot machines, and she develops an AI chatting program that is responsible for her talent being discovered by her eventual boss, Samantha Jung (Choi Yu-ha). In the present day, Sum still works with Samantha as an immensely successful developer of the dating app Somebody.

Her name, Sum, means “island” in Korean, and it seems to suggest that she is very alone. Indeed, she is the only one to form an intimate, romantic relationship with Yun-o, and later on in the drama, she alone is the one that takes his life. Her solitude also comes through in other parts of her life. In the beginning of the drama, Sum has no one to talk to except her AI chatting program because she had a falling out with Gi-eun, who was her only friend. Gi-eun was someone that helped Sum communicate with others, which Sum sometimes struggles with because she has Asperger syndrome. In one flashback, Gi-eun demonstrates to Sum what kind of expressions and sounds she can make during sex to demonstrate to her partner she is enjoying it.

Sum’s Asperger syndrome means that in some ways, she is a marginalized member of society. Gi-eun and Mok-won are also such individuals, though for different reasons than Sum. Gi-eun is a wheelchair user and has been since she lost the ability to walk after an undisclosed accident. Mok-won is attracted to and dates women. Like Sum, however, both Gi-eun and Mok-won are characters fleshed out beyond these traits to demonstrate how they complement Sum and cement them as a team. For example, in the audience’s introduction to Gi-eun, we first see her well-decorated apartment and then her job as a police officer before we see her in a wheelchair. As a police officer, Gi-eun is a character representing law and order. It is her duty to catch and arrest serial killers, beyond her personal plans for revenge, and get the process started for getting Yun-o behind bars. However, time and time again Yun-o evades Gi-eun and her colleagues, as they are also the group most constrained by law and bureaucracy. Indeed, much of Gi-eun’s independent investigation into Yun-o is done illegally. Even during the final manhunt for Yun-o, which is a coordinated effort between different parties, Gi-eun and her team are unable to get to Yun-o before Sum. Indeed, institutions, such as the police, alone are not enough to protect from and stop villains.

Mok-won, on the other hand, adds a spiritual dimension as a shaman to the friend group. Throughout the drama, she is the first to pick up on others’ emotions and thoughts; Mok-won is the one that realizes that Sum’s boyfriend and the man that stranded Gi-eun after they met on Somebody are the same man: Yun-o. In the final episode, Mok-won comes to pick Sum up after Sum kills Yun-o, even though Sum never explicitly shared her plan with anyone. Her instincts also extend beyond her friends. In her confrontation with Yun-o, the only source of light illuminates her face while he is shrouded in darkness for the duration of their conversation. The lighting indicates good versus evil, but it also suggests that Mok-won, unlike Sum and Gi-eun, saw right through him from the very beginning. Though her friends met him through the app and found him romantically or physically attractive, Mok-won only sees the evil in him.

However, the three friends, separately, cannot defeat Yun-o. He is the epitome of privilege. He is a smart, fit, conventionally attractive man that has a respectable career as an architect, and he uses these traits to his advantage. When he first installs Somebody and sets up a profile with his photo, he is instantly flooded with matches. Though Gi-eun speculates that a lonely childhood may be at the root of his serial killing, the drama seems to refute this idea. A flashback to his first murder shows Yun-o accidentally strangling a woman that he is having sex with to death. It is quickly followed by the death of a witness, and Yun-o’s key takeaway from this events is that murder is easy to get away with, at least for him, for him. He has never had to face the consequences of his actions, until he meets Sum and her friends.

However, the trio’s takedown of Yun-o does not happen with just the three of them. Of course, the police, aside from Gi-eun, get involved, but ultimately, Yun-o is killed because Samantha, Sum’s boss, wants him stopped. Though Samantha plays a key role in stopping Yun-o, her character is mostly defined through her relationship with her company, Spectrum, and the app, Somebody. As the successful CEO of Spectrum, she is fiercely protective of Sum, but for selfish reasons. Samantha acts only in the best interest of her company; she refuses to provide data about Somebody users to the police in fear that it will bring down the reputation of her company, and her eventual cooperation with the police and her torment of Yun-o is fueled by her desire to keep Sum with her at all costs. Samantha’s eventual involvement in stopping Yun-o suggests how justice is successful when it aligns with capitalist gains and interests.

Sum, Gi-eun, Mok-won, and Samantha all contribute to stopping Yun-o, and without each other could he have ever been stopped? Without Sum’s connection with Yun-o, without Gi-eun and the police, without Mok-won’s insight, and most importantly, without the cooperation of Samantha and the app Somebody, it seems unlikely that Yun-o could have been stopped and had the truth about him be revealed.

Somebody offers an intriguing take on what justice is and how it can be achieved, despite all of the forces that seem to work against it. For such themes the drama is unsettling in multiple ways, and though it may not be a rewarding watch it is certainly a thought-provoking one.

(Yonhap News Agency, images via Netflix Korea)