Take a successful and popular actress, add a splash of jealous rival, and don’t forget a couple shakes of mentally unstable. Shake well. Garnish with a slice of crime-solving psychologist.
The first episode of OCN’s “Dr. Frost” had all the ingredients of a strong premiere. And with the previews that were so well done, I was really looking forward to this drama as it seemed like a show that would be right up my alley. I felt confident that the story for “Dr. Frost” would be gripping, the characters complex, the story intriguing, and the drama generally entertaining.
Maybe I was expecting too much, but as I reached the end of the episode, I sat back in my chair trying to cleanse my palate of the bitter taste of disappointment.
The Set Up
“Dr. Frost” is actually Dr. Baek (Song Chang Eui) who is called a genius for being able to read situations based off of people’s mannerisms. That sounds awesome except that it leaves him unable to feel emotions himself. Moreover, a event occurred when he was teaching at a university years ago (a death/murder) that led to his dismissal. He spends his time bartending, where he often analyzes patrons’ interactions, when he’s asked back to the university to head up the counseling office. And his first patient? Famous actress Yoo Anna, whose paranoia, anxiety, and fear have reached the point where she is not able to sleep at night, and more importantly, she is letting it affect her work. Anna says that someone is out to kill her, and when questioned further, she reveals that the person after her is “herself.”
Dr. Baek and his assistant, Sung Ah (Jung Eun Chae), form a reluctant partnership to help solve the source of Anna’s anxiety and paranoia, which is more than just in her own mind.
Just because I was disappointed with the first episode doesn’t mean there weren’t aspects of the show that I enjoyed and appreciated. Part of what made me excited for the drama when I first watched the previews was the use of graphics to convey this mechanical, clinical, robotic way that Dr. Baek sees and understands the world around him, which I am happy to report makes its way into the actual show.
It makes him impressive to see how he calculates every movement, but it also makes him such a sympathetic character. My favorite part of the episode came at the end where, still tending bar, he looks over at the patrons and is able to systematically break down their mannerisms to recognize the appearance of happiness, of grief, of expectation, of love, but is unable to feel them himself. For all of his astute observation, he is unable to marry the appearance of happiness with the feeling of it.
And that is why I am still really intrigued by Dr. Baek and this show. His past and his unique ability give him all the makings of a character whose journey we can get behind. I find his relationships with others to be curious as people seem to like him, but he himself is rather cold. And yet he knows how to be warm and inviting, or at least give the appearance of it, even if the emotions don’t transfer quite genuinely. It’s not that Dr. Baek doesn’t want to feel emotions, as we’re lead to believe in the last scene, but he’s also caught in a place where he thinks it’s impossible for him and so he won’t even bring himself to give the appearance of them.
The Less Good
Yoon Sung Ah is a hard-working, ambitious, smart university student who eventually becomes Dr. Frost’s sidekick and assistant. I wanted to like this character. And it’s not really that I dislike Sung Ah, but she just seems like a compilation of all the “quirky and pure” stereotypes for women: she’s a little frazzled and rushing about because she’s always doing something enriching and a little off-beat, yet she’s not too busy to be a shoulder for a friend in need. Don’t let her sunny disposition fool you, she’s also trained in martial arts and will have no problem taking you down. She’s smart and well-liked by her professors, is tenacious when she has to be, and the best combination of pretty and cute. Oh, and I’m fairly sure at one point in the drama she actually helps an older woman cross a road carry something heavy down some stairs.
And all of that is fine and well, but it’s incredibly difficult to sympathize with perfection. All those qualities put Sung Ah in a class all of her own, where she’s not only un-relatable, she’s also kind of boring. The first episode gave us a lot of aspects to admire in her character, but not a single flaw. That does Sung Ah such a disservice because that limits the kinds of developmental arcs that are available for her character. But more importantly, the lack of her own personal demon, flaw, or life question makes her the perfect tool/assistant to support Dr. Baek as he goes through his character arc and development.
I understand that since Dr. Baek is the main character for this drama, and this first episode needed to establish his story, but I would hate to see Sung Ah be so wasted especially when Dr. Baek’s character already has several intriguing aspects to his personality. Hopefully we’ll get more from her and for her in the future.
The lack of complexity found in the writing of Sung Ah’s character was also found in the shallowness of the story and use of symbols. The show attempted to give insight into complicated mental issues, but used overtly simplistic symbols to represent them in the episode, which just rendered the whole effect rather weak and elementary. The use of mirrors to show that Anna is literally afraid of her own reflection? Come on, drama, give us a little more credit.
I really can’t tell if I was mislead by the previews, if I created my own expectations for this show, or if I never understood the concept of the drama in the first place, but “Dr. Frost” was different from what I thought and expected. That doesn’t mean it was awful by any means, because if I didn’t go into watching the drama with this set of expectations, I wouldn’t feel so disappointed.
Trying to put those feelings aside, the episode did what it was supposed to do: it gave us a glimpse of the characters, set up the premise of the show, and a direction to go in. Nothing particularly stood out for me, but then again, nothing was particularly offensive or awful. I’m going to give the show a few more episodes, because I still have hope for it, and because it just has so much potential to be great.
What did you all think about the first episode of “Dr. Frost?” Am I in the minority opinion here? Let me know in the comments below!