When everyone checked Netflix for the first time in October, they were all probably surprised when a Korean project titled “Squid Game” was the No. 1 show on the Trending tab. Out of curiosity, a lot of people clicked “Play,” and now no one can stop talking about it.
“Squid Game” has taken over the country and is on pace to become Netflix’s most watched show ever. So why has a Korean thriller about adults playing playground games to the death become the biggest show in the world? Regardless of the types of shows you normally watch, it has been hard to avoid the discourse about this show either on social media or with your friends.
“Squid Game” starts out relatively tame; from the beginning we are greeted by one of our protagonists, Gi-hun, a middle-aged man who still lives with his mother. Gi-hun isn’t the ideal child, as once his mother leaves the house, he steals her ATM card to bet a large sum of her money on a horse race. Gi-hun is at least 4 million Korean won (3,382 USD) in debt to some bad people and needs millions more to gain back custody of his daughter and to provide for his sick mother. This desperation leads Gi-hun to an encounter with a man on the subway offering him a 50,000 won wager to beat him in a quick game. Gi-hun loses over and over, and without a way to pay, the man allows Gi-hun to wager a slap to the face as payment. After getting his face bruised and battered all night, Gi-hun walks away winning big, but before the man leaves, he offers him a chance to join a contest where he can win an even greater, unimaginable sum of money. While Gi-hun initially declines, he decides he can’t pass up the opportunity and chooses to take part in the strange games that man was talking about.
After arriving at his designated pickup spot, Gi-hun is welcomed into a dimly lit car and is swiftly knocked out by sleeping gas just as he notices all the unconscious people in the car When Gi-hun wakes, he is dressed in an unfamiliar green uniform, and is told to sign a waiver before he can participate in the events to come. The first game is “Red Light, Green Light” and all the contestants quickly realize that their fate is in the hands of the gamemakers, as less than half of the contestants make it through that game alive. Now Gi-hun must face off against friend and foe to test his skills in these twisted games where only those who survive will be able to walk away with the money.
One of the biggest strengths of this show is its cast of characters. In “Squid Game,” Gi-hun reunites with one of his old childhood friends and they form an alliance with a few others they meet along the way. There are so many unique personalities among the contestants that clash with each other, but at the same time work well together.
The main protagonists of the show include Gi-hun and his old friend, Sang-woo, who reunite in the games. Both of these characters completely contrast each other, creating an interesting dynamic that develops throughout the entire season. Sang-woo is the small-town genius who went to one of South Korea’s most prestigious universities, while Gi-hun is looked down on by everyone because of his crippling gambling addiction and inability to keep a job. Sang-woo is a cold pragmatic strategist, while Gi-hun is more of the friendly, charismatic Everyman. Every single character, whether it be the protagonists or the villains, serves a purpose, and all contribute to the eventual conclusion to the story.
This story tackles many themes, but none more prevalent than the disparity between the rich and the poor. The games our protagonists take part in serve as entertainment for a select few elites around the world. The participants are forced to fight and kill one another, but the real enemies are not actually the contestants; they are the people that put them into that scenario.
The story also deals with many different perspectives of grief as each contestant in the games takes the death of their allies differently. Some brush it off, some carry on the wills of their fallen allies and some are unable to deal with their loss and completely shut down. It makes the stakes feel all the more real because every death has an immense emotional impact. There is also a degree of social commentary in this piece about South and North Korean relations. There is one character in particular who is a North Korean defector, and she is treated very coldly by some of those around her. There is much more to this story than just the horror of the games.
The most controversial part about this show has to be the ending. Personally, I believe the ending fell kind of flat. There were twists that did not work out that well and certain choices characters made that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The show is definitely set up for a solid sequel, but I would have preferred a more definitive ending rather than a cliffhanger.
After the success of “Squid Game,” there is likely to be more Korean or foreign shows hitting the international mainstream in the future, and that is something to be excited about. There is so much in this show that is new and unique, but it still fails to fully differentiate itself from others in the battle royale and death game genre. The characters and the atmosphere of this show are what make it special. While the ending may fall flat, and not everything is completely new and innovative, there is still much to like and it is definitely worth a watch.
I would give “Squid Game” 3.5/5 stars.