Happiness -- Epsiodes 1 - 4: When the Past Keeps Repeating Itself
I knew I would like Happiness, even before I watched the trailer, it could be because of the subject matter it handles, or simply my love for zombie-like genres. All I read was the synopsis of a deadly virus spreading throughout the city, and an apartment building where people from different classes reside. And with serious and legitimate fear, the residents must strive and survive, not only the disease, but also classism conflicts. Besides the virus, what got me interested in this drama was the social class conflicts and the choices people make when faced with such adversities. The opening of the drama surprised me, for the first few minutes, I wasn't sure I was watching the right drama. But then the time jump happened, and boom, I found myself right in the middle of it, and I was instantly fascinated. Happiness to me feels more like a political statement than simply one more horror drama, and I love it.
I think what struck me most about Happiness' story is the similarities between the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and this madman rabies disease outbreak. In both these cases and many others before it, denialism and an initial slow response proved deadly, albeit understandable: humans don’t tend to quickly embrace changes to their circumstances, no matter where they are in the world. Defiance of social-distancing and home-isolation imperatives is common. The wealthy now knew the feeling of having to break home quarantine to find food or care for sick loved ones. Unexpected, though, is that, despite having been through a comparable outbreak, the government failed to rapidly organize themselves and recall the drug Next from the market and stop its circulation, but what's worse, failed to protect the public by its inaction. It's so true when they say those who don't learn from their past are doomed to repeat it. It's something Lt. Han Tae Seok (Jo Woo Jin) and the government should've known.
I love everyone in this drama, even the unsavory characters, for doing such an impeccable job each in their respective role. Everyone from feisty terrorist unit fighter Yoon Sae Bom (Han Hyo Joo) to clever police officer Jung Yi Hyun (Park Hyung Shik) and his supervisor Kim Jeong Gook (Lee Joon Hyuk) to unscrupulous government official Han Tae Seok to little miss know it all Park Seo Yoon (Song Ji Woo) to the intolerable Oh Joo Hyung (Baek Hyun Jin) and the classist Oh Yeon Ok (Bae Hae-Seon), who believes her and those like her own their apartment, it makes them far superior than those who rent. But the one I didn't expect, but thoroughly enjoyed, was Lee Kyu Hyung in his cameo role as Lee Seung Yeong Sae Bom's colleague in the terrorist unit. It wasn't ideal what Lee Seung Yeong did, leaking the news about the disease to the reporter, after finding out he was infected. He wanted to secure his family's future, understandable. I wish he'd trusted Sae Bom sooner.
I think it is smart of the writer to combine seemingly different yet very much related themes in one drama -- classism and infectious disease outbreaks. It seemed like they were sending a loud message that a virus or infectious disease outbreak doesn't discriminate between societal classicism, that we as human beings can face whatever epidemic comes our way if we deal with the nonsense of inequality head on. As long as injustice and gross inequality persist, none of us will truly be happy, and that's why the premise of Happiness works. Alongside the premise, what works beautifully is Sae Bom and Yi Hyun's relationship. I loved that Sae Bom didn't have a problem asking Yi Hyun to get married for an apartment, but more that Yi Hyun said yes, he didn't even need to think about it. It wasn't the apartment that got him, but his need to be with Sae Bom. They make for an idealistic, both investigative and romantic couple. But the most ironic part of this drama is that the apartment that Sae Bom did all kinds for may actually be the place that seals her fate.
They say crisis brings out the best and worst in people, and that is so true. Somehow I was not surprised to find out that one man was responsible for the chaos -- Chairman Choi. He literally unleashed a virus-like pandemic to speed up the treatment process for his own benefit. And that’s for a drug his own company produced. Talk about a self-entitled monster, now that is the worst in action. But then we got to see the best in Lt. Han Tae Seok and the military working tirelessly to contain the virus despite the immediate danger to them. The same goes to first responders and law enforcement such as Sae Bom, Yi Hyun, and Kim Jeong Gook. But at the same time, there is no escaping the worst in a few cowardly acts with the rich apartment residents and Oh Joo Hyung. I would like to believe the best far outweighs the worst, and that in varying moments of darkness there are countless moments of light — small gestures of compassion and connection that allow people to show who they are, how they want to live, and what matters the most. Watch Happiness here.