Marry My Husband: The catharsis of uncomplicated revenge

Sometimes you just want to see shitty people get %*@!ed

There are different shows for different purposes. Sometimes you want to watch something incisive and illuminating; a clever piece of writing that provokes thought as it pulls piercing social commentary into a tight plot. Other times, you want something softer and more soothing, like a coming-of-age show about friendship, when the world seems to still be full of promise or, at least, hope for better days. Or maybe you’re in the mood for some romance, with flowers and fingertips brushing before hands intertwine as the first snow falls. 

But then there are times when you just want to see shit happen to bad people. This is where a show like Marry My Husband comes in. 

A very sad Kang Ji-won in her first life.

Kang Ji-won (Park Min-young) cuts a sorry figure when the story opens: silent and pale, her body wrecked by cancer. Stuck in hospital, it’s clear that she’s slowly wasting away. Her husband, Park Min-hwan (Lee Yi-kyung), is absent and her only visitor is Jeong Su-min (Song Ha-yoon), a childhood bestie. The two women are so close that they refer to each other as their “other half”. One day, annoyed by her husband’s failure to pay her medical bills, Ji-won drags her ailing body back home, only to find her spouse in bed with her best friend, both of them gloating about her impending death and the insurance payout Min-hwan expects to get. An altercation ensues, during which Min-hwan shoves Ji-won into a glass coffee table, killing her instantly. 

That should have been the end for Ji-won, but the next time she opens her eyes, she’s stunned to find herself back at her old office cubicle, surrounded by familiar colleagues. She’s somehow gone back 10 years, to a time when she, her then-boyfriend Park Min-hwan and best friend Jeong Su-min all worked in the same company. 

Gayathrii: Jumping in here to say that I'm so tired of Park Min-young in workplace dramas and the only reason I ended up watching was really because it was REVENGE workplace DRAMAAAAAA. 

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and Ji-won’s major relationships come into sharp focus. She used to rely completely on Min-hwan and Su-min, believing them to be the only ones in her corner. Now she can see, clear as day, that Min-hwan is nothing more than a loud-mouthed fuckboy and that her “other half” has been undermining and gaslighting her all this time, keeping her isolated from others and therefore vulnerable to Su-min’s manipulation. 

Ji-won also quickly discovers the rules of time travel: what’s meant to happen will happen… but it’s possible to change who it happens to. And so our heroine, who has seen how this shit ends, decides to take things into her own hands and shift her suffering on to her asshole of a cheating (former/future) spouse and two-faced best friend.

It’s fucking payback time.

The worst best friend of all time.

I’m usually a fan of complex characters; people with backstories that show us how they became what they are. But once in a while it’s a relief not to have to engage with nuance and messiness, and to just enjoy the catharsis of hating on clear villains. I’m not interested in understanding them or empathising with them or redeeming them—they suck and I want to see them punished! I’m not even a little bit sorry. It’s the drama equivalent of cutting out a little paper figure and whacking it repeatedly with a clog. Take that, you shits!

G: Oh, yes, INDEED!

Capitalising on her in-depth knowledge of Min-hwan and Su-min’s characters, Ji-won shifts from manipulated to manipulator, nudging the terrible couple towards each other. She also begins to take charge of her own life in a way she’d not done before. With the help of colleagues that she’d previously shied away from—but who, now that she’s come out of her shell, turn out to be lovely, supportive people—Ji-won undergoes a She’s All That transformation (by which I mean that it was obvious from the beginning that she was gorgeous but we’re all supposed to pretend we didn’t know until she took off her glasses, cut her hair and put on some new clothes) and goes from a frumpy wallflower to a jaw-dropping bombshell. She exploits her knowledge of the future to invest in stocks and secure a decent nest egg. And, to her surprise, she finds another solid supporter in Yoo Ji-hyuk (Na In-woo), the manager of her department who seems to be taking extra interest in her—and has secrets of his own.

G: Okay, ngl, Su-Min makes for a formidable villain precisely because we're familiar with such narcissists in real life, right? But the thing with narcissists is that once they know you're onto them, they will shape-shift into their truest gross forms and bring you downnnn. So I was really interested in how Ji-Won was going to navigate that boundary with Su-Min. And I was thoroughly entertained, muahahaha. 

This is a Na In-woo appreciation caption.

There’s a romantic plot between Ji-won and Ji-hyuk that weaves itself through the story, which an OTP addict such as myself will always welcome, but the main satisfaction of Marry My Husband comes from watching good, sweet people triumph over those who would seek to control, belittle or take advantage of them. From cheating husbands to scheming best friends, sexist supervisors to morally bankrupt heiresses, nightmare in-laws to exploitative parents—this show is makjang in the best way—the villains of this drama all get their comeuppance eventually, defeated by a tight circle of friends and family (biological or chosen) who strengthen one another with support and solidarity. 

G: I actually really love how the Found Family thing happened in this show because it's actually so difficult to make friends as adults. And after watching shows like Hospital Playlist or the Reply series, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me—like why do I have so few friends from school? But there's something to be said about making friends when your self-esteem is at a real low and how some long-time friendships can turn out to be incredibly toxic—and I guess, Marry My Husband says it, lol. 

Unlike his other work, Lee Yi-kyung was not a gwenchana boy in this drama. I can’t over-emphasise how not-gwenchana he was in this show.

Marry My Husband, which aired its final episodes towards the end of February 2024, came at a time when the world feels especially shit. Civilians, including innocent, helpless children, are dying and too many world leaders are twiddling their thumbs, if not directly complicit in the violence. Fascism—or at least early warning signs of it—is rearing its head in different parts of the world, at the terrible expense of vulnerable and marginalised communities. Everywhere I look, powerful people making terrible, harmful choices don’t seem to be held accountable for their bullshit; it’s others who suffer the consequences instead.

Passivity and escapism aren’t answers to all this injustice in the world. But a show like Marry My Husband was, in its own way, kind of comforting amid the relentless stream of bad news. At least, in one universe, shit people are reaping the rotten fruits they have sown.

G: Damn straight.