The End of the World is not quite what I expected, because it doesn’t feel like the end of the world. But jTBC has been doing quite well as a cable channel with its high quality dramas, so that’s why I checked it out. Not to mention it started just after The Virus, and both deal with similar content. It’s safe to say however that both dramas take the idea of an outbreak in totally different ways tonally, but very similarly in execution and story.
We begin with an ominous sight of a single man floating at sea on a life raft. Captions explain that he’s the only survivor of the ship Munyangho, which fished pollack out on the Bering Sea. On the way back to Korea, there was a boiler failure and the ship sank, leaving 129 crew members missing and only one survivor.
Back on land, a patient heads to a clinic (belonging to a Dr. Son) and finds a sick fellow crouched nearby, coughing up blood. The sick guy coughs blood all over that patient; one can only imagine what happens next.
At the CDC, a new researcher arrives to join Kang Joo-Heon (Yoon Je Moon)’s team. The newbie, Lee Na-hyun (Jang Kyung Ah) is initiated into the fold by senior Park Do-kyung (Lee Hwa Ryong) and colleague Kim Dae-ik (Song Sam Dong). They tell her about Kang’s extraordinary observation skills that have earned him the nickname of Sherlock Holmes, and they take bets over whether he’d be able to figure out how she came to work and what she had for breakfast.
When Joo-heon arrives at the office, he seems to be a mellow sort of fellow who couldn’t care less what you ate or how you came to work. But through Dae-ik’s prodding, Joo-heon surmises that Na-hyun came to work via subway, and grabbed a cappuccino and a bagel at the station. Na-hyun is shocked at how he guessed it to a T, and in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, he notes that the mud on her shoes could only have come from the street near the subway exit that had the cafe. He guessed she had a cappuccino because milky coffees are the beverage of choice when nervous for the first day of work, and she had a slight residue on her mouth.
A meeting of heads occurs at a hospital, and the head of CDC, Park Joo-hee (Yoon Bok In) presents her findings regarding the mysterious virus. Her team could not find a match to this virus that causes bleeding in the lungs, fever, and an irregularly shaped rash. The victims have been moved to a quarantined area, and she brings the group so that they can observe the symptoms first hand. Of course, they are fully suited up in hazmats.
It’s a gruesome sight; just 24 hours prior, the victim was able to go to the hospital on his own two feet regarding a fever, but now he’s a bloody mess. I mean literally, blood pouring out of his pores, ulcers around his stomach, and smaller lesions everywhere. Joo-hee offers to take him to the CDC hospital for further observation.
Joo-heon’s team arrives at an apartment building to conduct a search on the victim’s, Choi Jeong-won’s, apartment. Joo-heon warns them that if any of them are infected, it’s every (wo)man for him/herself. They head inside to catalogue everything in the apartment, taking pictures of the current state, and taking samples of food or blood residue for testing. Joo-heon even takes a sample of blood to see if there’s a particular virus antigen in it that will match their database. (It comes back negative.) They even discover receipts and photos in the apartment and find that Choi Jeong-won went on a trip with his photography club.
As they conduct their investigation, Na-hyun also gets some background information on Joo-heon; he used to be a police officer, but didn’t want to stay in the CSI, so he ended up in CDC.
Do-kyung is sent to check the aquarium and fish food in the house for anything unusual. Na-hyun and Dae-ik are to conduct blood tests on all the people Choi Jeong-won came in contact with. They meet with the photography club to see if the infection originated from the trip. A lot of people are potential patients, but the clinic that he ended up outside of has the most number of likely victims. Jeong-won had gone there after his sickness began, and when we revisit that clinic, it’s been closed temporarily “due to internal matters.”
The investigations come up with nothing; the aquarium and most of his friends are clean, but the one guide in the photography club that was with him the most has shown symptoms of the virus. He’s currently under observation. The area where the photography club went on a trip to is clean as well. It becomes troublesome for the team when they don’t have an apparent source for the infection.
Do-kyung and Na-hyun then show Joo-heon all the items found in Choi Jeong-won’s apartment through a camera. Since the items might be contaminated, they handle it while wearing hazmats, and Joo-heon observes in the next room. They find a receipt for alcohol, which is strange considering Choi’s friends said he quit smoking and drinking. Joo-heon then has Dae-ik get a Choi’s cellphone history. Someone had called him through a pay phone on the same day extra underwear and alcohol were purchased.
With some more deduction that the virus isn’t spread through the air, they figure that someone must have been in close quarters with Choi Jeong-won to get it. The trash in the apartment also suggests that someone must have stayed over – someone who was a friend, but had no place to stay temporarily.
Joo-hee informs the team that there is a 100% mortality rate, as the companion to Jeong-won died with the same symptoms.
Joo-heon is determined to find additional evidence from Jeong-won’s apartment, as he’s sure he missed something. He has his team go through everything again, and they finally find discarded medicine packets in a plastic bag. Three medicine packets have been cut open neatly, and another three have been cut open sloppily. It’s proof that there were two different people in that house, and they might have been together for at least a couple of days.
No one’s reported the death of Choi Jeong-won’s friend/temporary roommate, so he might still be alive. He could be suffering now terribly, or the viral has remained dormant within him (which poses a greater risk on the general public).
Na-hyun and Joo-heon visit the pharmacy where Jeong-won bought the medicine; the pharmacist remembers him, and his prescription shows that he visited Dr. Son. But Dae-ik also found another medical record at an orthopedic clinic. A visit shows that Jeong-won had a serious leg inflammation, and that his being aboard Munyangho led to this injury.
Joo-heon shows the orthopedic doctor a picture of Jeong-won, but the doctor is positive it’s not the same person. It becomes likely that this temporary roommate must have been so close to Jeong-won that he borrowed the victim’s medical card.
The person with the real leg injury – Oh Ki-young (Kim Yong Min) – climbs out of the subway station and texts Jeong-won with his new cell number. Jeong-won’s phone has been left at a police station, and so no one picks up. But when Ki-young returns to Jeong-won’s apartment, he finds that it’s been blocked off. A policeman later calls Ki-young’s number and informs him of Jeong-won’s hospitalization. Freaked out, Ki-young pretends he has no relationship to Jeong-won and runs off to a PC cafe.
A quick search online reveals that his friend has suffered from a mysterious infection. Ki-young is understandably frightened, but it doesn’t seem like it’s because he’s afraid of being infected himself. A flashback reveals his last days on the Munyangho; all the sailors around him died, but he managed to survive. Some of the remaining people wanted to kill him because he was clearly the source of it, having broken a mysterious object that unleashed the virus.
Ki-young is the source of the infection – he knows it, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. Joo-heon reports the latest findings to Joo-hee, and it becomes imperative that they bring Ki-young in quickly. If he’s still alive after having infected so many others, he must have developed an antibody.
We cut to a college classroom where professor Yoon Kyu-jin (Jang Hyun-sung) lectures his students about Typhoid Mary. She was the asymptomatic carrier of the disease and infected thousands in New York. Kyu-jin notes that Typhoid Mary felt more like a victim than a criminal, and so, similarly, any asymptomatic carrier may become resentful and use their supposed innocence to help deal with their guilt (the classic “But I didn’t do anything!” on overdrive).
After class, Joo-hee visits Kyu-jin in the hopes that he can help her with their case. He’s an expert on diseases and has been trying to develop synthetic antibodies (and testing it on himself). Unfortunately, he’s leaving in a couple of days to the States to continue his research.
Joo-heon collects a bunch of data on sailors that could fit the profile the doctor described. They manage to narrow down their search to 93 sailors. Unfortunately the orthopedic doctor doesn’t recognize any of them. Joo-heon remembers that there was one survivor from the Munyangho and has Na-hyun check him out. Why did it take you so long to realize this? Didn’t the doctor tell you he was on the Munyangho?
Meanwhile, Ki-young heads to another apartment belonging to Park Chang-seok, another friend. No one answers the door, and when Ki-young calls, he hears the phone ringing inside but no one picking up. Growing worried, he convinces the landlord to open the door, saying that if someone dies, it’ll be the landlord’s fault.
When the door opens, they’re greeted by a rotting smell. Ki-young carefully searches through all the rooms, and finally ends up in the bathroom. He runs away, gagging from the sight. Chang-seok has already rotted, and the blood is all over the bathroom because of the disease. Ki-young is freaked out completely, knowing he’s the cause of his friend’s death. He finally musters up the courage to call the police station, but hangs up before he can say anything.
At that moment, Joo-heon’s team has verified that Ki-young is the guy they’re looking for, as he had stayed with Choi Jeong-won before his death. Na-hyun then gets a call from a payphone; because of his extensive knowledge on Chang-seok’s infected corpse, Na-hyun believes the caller is Ki-young.
Joo-heon takes over the call, and Ki-young slowly asks if he’s infected too. Joo-heon calmly tells him to give his location so that they can pick him up and run the necessary tests in the hospital, especially since Ki-young doesn’t display any of the symptoms. But Ki-young knows he infected some people, and he wants to know how many total were infected. Joo-heon tries to get him to reveal the location again, but Ki-young doesn’t respond.
Ki-young hangs up instead. The team has a ‘Typhoid Mary’ in their hands – someone who knows he’s contagious, but refuses to be quarantined for it.
It’s nearly impossible to review this drama without comparing it to The Virus. I’m not going to say definitively which is better than the other, because both dramas have their pros and cons.
In regards to tone, this drama is not particularly gripping. It doesn’t start off with a hook like The Virus, which had the main character bleeding from his eyes. It doesn’t have any of the urgency that The Virus has when it comes to dealing with the disease, and so it makes the virus less ominous. It’s certainly dangerous (the effects of it are quite gory), but it doesn’t feel dangerous. In fact, the tone of the episode throughout is as though a bunch of doctors discovered a disease, and decided to have a meeting about it. I prefer the urgency in The Virus, but I can see that The End of the World (henceforth TEOF) is going for a slower buildup of anticipation. I can’t say it’s working though; the actors are being too unbelievably understated considering what they’re facing. On the other hand, The Virus team is unbelievably over-the-top when reacting to what they’re facing, but in a way I feel more comforted that they’re desperately trying to save people.
The disease in these two dramas are both deadly, but behave differently too, which may account for why each drama’s CDC’s treatment of it is so different. In The Virus, the disease is airborne, and in just a little over a week it’s killed up to 500 people already, and counting. That’s a shockingly high number, and it’s understandable why the team is rushing to get the antibodies. On the other hand, the CDC in TEOF isn’t dealing with such a fast-killing disease; only about 3-5 people have died, give or take, because the disease requires close and prolonged contact with the carrier. The 129 sailors that died on the Munyangho don’t really count because they’re no longer able to spread the disease. (Unless their bodies infect the fish… and people eat the fish…)
While both dramas have to deal with one carrier for the disease, it’s very different in how they set up the antagonists for our heroes. TEOF allows for the disease carrier to be the main antagonist in the show; because Ki-young’s another ‘Typhoid Mary’ who finds it wholly unjust to be quarantined because he did “nothing wrong,” he’s the only one Joo-heon’s team needs to tackle and get rid of. On the other hand, The Virus has set up a large conspiracy with pharmaceutical companies and the government as Myung-hyun’s foes. Granted, in the beginning it looked like the carrier was the only enemy, but we also knew that he was being used in a hospital for experimentation. I doubt that in TEOF there will be a similar corporate conspiracy. Instead, the mystery that TEOF is setting up is surrounding a foreign substance that Ki-young came in contact with. (It feels like a mix of The Thing and Alien, though this drama might not go down the sci-fi route.)
One thing that’s similar with the two dramas is that I feel the acting is not delivering the drama to a point where I can enjoy the drama. The Virus has actors that are so over-the-top it drives me nuts, but it has a very compelling story to tell. TEOF has a less interesting story, but the actors are so calm and subtle that it also drives me nuts – why can’t you be more worried about this virus?! In fact, the way Yoon Je Moon acts is how I thought Uhm Ki Joon would be like – a cool, impassive leader who gets things done. Yoon Je Moon is far too aloof for me, but I do appreciate that he can tone down his acting too, as his role in King 2 Hearts was quite insane. I wish we saw more of his Holmes-ian abilities, or to make his observation skills more obvious with some special effects, or a mind palace, or a zoom in on certain evidence here and there. Am I asking too much for the first episode?
At the end of the day, I think I like The Virus better; I prefer the urgency in the drama. That in no means signifies that I think The Virus is the better drama because I’d have to watch more TEOF before I come to that conclusion. In fact, TEOF seems to be a solid drama (it’s also longer), and so I have to trust that they have a lot more to tell. I can’t promise more recaps, but I’ll see if I have time to keep checking back on this drama.