Happiness: A Review

Posted by Stephanie on December 29, 2021


Funny story, I used to be terrified of zombies. I couldn’t even watch commercials for whatever the newest and goriest zombies movie was coming to a theater near you. The idea horrified me. Fast forward ten years and one of the highlights of my drama-watching year? The tvN horror drama, Happiness.

(Spoilers Ahead)

I was made aware of the series a few weeks ago, just a blip on my radar of “Oh, that sounds good, I should put it on the list.” Not only did I not put it on the list, but I also promptly forgot about the series. It wasn’t until just the other week when I was starting to do research for the show I should watch over the holiday that Happiness popped up on my Viki feed, I was all… what’s this, clicked on it and then was so excited by the premise, I couldn’t wait for the holiday and started it that night.

Now I’m a distractible drama watcher. I have trouble sitting still, focusing, putting the phone down. It’s something I’d say I’ll work on, but why bother? I know I’d just get distracted and move onto something else…so I was shocked to realize after starting Happiness that I didn’t pick my phone up ONCE during the first two episodes, I was hooked from the very first moment. It was like my old time drama-watching habit had come back to me. I finished 6 episodes in a weekend and then come Monday morning and all I wanted to do was to keep watching. I finished the show… and then I restarted it. I like I said… it was like old times.

The series is about two high friends (I’m going to call them friends) Yoon Sae Bom a special ops agent (I thought of it as SWAT) and Jung Yi Hyun a police detective who agree to have a contract marriage in order to allow to rent a fancy-schmancy apartment, get caught in the middle of a rising mysterious infection taking over Korea. They get quarantined in said apartment building while trying to fight class warfare, solve mysteries, and stay alive.

I now need to apologize to all the people who write synopsizes out there after I’ve casually tossed off “that was a terrible synopsis” as dude, writing these are not easy. This is what MyDramalist has:

A deadly new strain of a virus is spreading throughout the city. An apartment building that is home to people from different classes remains in quarantine. Its residents must survive in their new habitat fearing both the virus and the potential conflicts between disparate social groups.

Yoon Sae Bom has good judgment allowing for quick decision-making. She is self-righteous and unable to tolerate injustice. Not having grown up in a healthy environment, she’s determined to live comfortably in a complicated world.

Detective Jung Yi Hyun, primarily in charge of violent crimes, now struggles to keep the apartment residents safe. A former baseball player, a knee injury forced his early retirement.

Han Tae Seok was once a military information agent who became a pharmaceutical company executive. He is well-placed to deal with infectious diseases.

While admittedly better than mine, still doesn’t quite contain the awesome that is this show. Here is the trailer:

It starts off in the past, when the two meet. Yoon Sae Bom back at school after having been held back for two years due to an accident (that they never really talk about) and Jun Yi Hyun who is contemplating suicide at the top of a building after a broken leg wrecked his dreams of becoming a baseball player. Sae Bom in her Sae Bom way talks him down (before pushing him off the ledge) and Yi Hyun obviously falls for her.

Fast-forward like 12 years later and they are both civil servants, both extremely dedicated and good at what they do. Yi Hyun being called in to investigate a murder and Sae Bom at a training camp. From there the action takes off, both being linked to the unknown infection that is starting to pick up speed throughout the country, despite the attempts to contain/cure it by Han Tae Seok, the military man. After Sae Bom is scratched by an infected person, she’s the only person who hasn’t turned… which makes her a hot commodity. She uses that to get the points she needs to score an apartment in a high rise that is allowing a few apartments to be rented out by police. Deal is, if you rent there for 10 years, you get to buy the apartment at a discounted rate… which really cheeses off the people who purchased apartments in the high rise. She has almost all the points she needs to earn to be eligible for the apartment but needs a few more to seal the deal…which she can get with the newlywed credit. Step in Yi Hyun and a contract marriage.

That’s all the setup we need.

Sure this show is about zombies. In sections it’s scary as fuck. I screeched so loud a couple of times that I startled the dog and she actually got up and left the room, but what really keeps you interested are the other aspects of the show. The fact that even during a zombie apocalypse, people can clutch onto their need for social classes and keeping each class in its perceived place. Most buildings at a time like this would embrace having detectives with tactical experience around, but the people in the upper apartments are so worried about making sure that the lower floors don’t get too ahead of themselves that they continue to throw roadblocks, causing problems again and again. Sae Bom and Yi Hyun want nothing more than to keep everyone safe and yet they are possibly the most disliked and vilified people of the building.

Happiness is also a love story. How can you have a love story in the middle of a zombie apocalypse do you ask? Well, the love story between Yi Hyun and Sae Bom started years ago. Yi Hyun may have agreed to the contract marriage to help Sae Bom get the apartment, but really he does it because he is hopelessly devoted to her and has been for years. When I said he fell for her back in high school… he did so both figuratively and literally. Almost every move he makes is to help her and keep her safe, from the tiny little movements to the grand gestures, literally throwing himself between her and the zombies. The nice thing about this though is — it’s almost as if he doesn’t even know he’s doing it — the actions of being there for her are so instinctive after all this time. Plus there’s the added swooniness of the idea that he doesn’t do it because he thinks she can’t, she is his equal and he treats her as such, he just does it because he can’t do anything but throw himself in harms way for her.

The story is filled with love stories that push the story forward, giving so many characters their motivation. Sure the military man is doing bad things, but his attempts to find a cure are the only thing that’s going to save his wife and unborn child. The brother/sister duo, who you think is just a throwaway storyline, where the sister refuses to give up on her brother even after he was bitten and the brother realizing how he’s treated his sister over the years, wanting to be better for her and his children, love is what gets you thorough here, gives you the strength to go forward.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s only the characters who have a love storyline (not always romantic) are the ones who make it through to the end of this show. Sae Bom’s partner who, after he’s bitten throws himself into harm’s way in order to earn money for his family after his assured death. The police detective and Yi Hyun’s partner just wants to live so he can get to his wife who may or may not have cancer. The young girl who Sae Bom and Yi Hyun take under their wing after the building gets locked down with her parents on one side of the barricade and her on the other. The mom holds on long enough to be able to see her daughter again… and in part so does the young girl. Happiness comes in all forms and all the characters here, good and bad are driven by a need to find their own.

I guess all you need to survive a zombie attack is love?

The evildoers in this show aren’t so much the zombies. They are written in such a way that this is truly an infection, something that, no matter how hard they try, the infected person can’t control, and in doing so the writers made them sympathetic. (Scary as hell but sympathetic.) Its society the society around them that’s the real villain. The people of the apartment complex who just want to dominate and lord their position over others. It’s the wealthy and powerful who have the ability to first spread the disease and then try to hide the cure.

It’s these keys that make Happiness interesting… (well that and some kick-ass action sequences.)

I can’t say that Happiness is a perfect drama, because, even with the rose-colored glasses I’m currently wearing, to say this would be untrue. I think my main issue would be the timeline? How long have they been fighting these things? If the wife was already pregnant when she was bitten, how is she still pregnant? Military man worked for the military, then for the pharmaceutical company where they were making the Next pill, then that went wrong, the higher up bit his wife, he goes to court for assaulting the higher up, then he went back to the military to work the response… how is she still pregnant? Did the infection slow down the pregnancy?

Also, and probably the biggest question I have about this would be, if they thought that Sae Bom was truly the hope to end this ‘pandemic’, that she was the ONLY one who didn’t become infected after being bitten/scratched, that she was then the ONLY one who developed the antibodies against the disease, WHY DID THEY LEAVE HER IN THE APARTMENT BUILDING? Why didn’t they swoop in and get her? Sure she didn’t want to go but come on. You can’t tell me the military wouldn’t have just gone in and taken her. She wanted to make sure everyone was safe first? If she’s that much of a magical pony I’m sure she could have negotiated the release of everyone in the building. It just doesn’t make sense.

I also want to find fault with the fact that there are zombies, they might all die, they are locked in and the writers decided to throw in a serial killer for giggles? Come on. A Serial Killer? I decided to give it a pass though because all of these people are strangers, its a whole building full of strangers. Who knows you you’re going to end up living next to even in the best of times? Someone who is out there just killing people for fun, do you really think they are going to hold it in while under quarantine?

While I could have wished for an entire episode of epilogue, seeing just where the good guys and bad guys ended up. Seeing how Yi Hyun made it through. Being able to experience Yi Yun and Sae Bom as a couple for more than the last minute the show gave us, I guess we have to be thankful for what we had. A well-written show with great characters. Not to much political machinations. An adorable, strong couple. Some killer action sequences. And some honest to goodness scares. All this put together? Happiness was a great show and an awesome way to ring out the year.

Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to continue on with my rewatch.

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