The task of introducing a phenomenon like ‘Squid Game’ for a review is as dreadful as the show itself. How do you try to condense the world’s hottest show without using words like ‘inescapable’ or without trying to sound pretentious and act like you didn’t watch it purely because of peer pressure? We all know what ‘Squid Game’ is, there are high chances you’ve seen it all, maybe even multiple times. There is no use in going back to the phase where every YouTuber titled their video ‘What is Squid Game and Why Is It So Popular?’ All of this is to say that I’ve obviously seen the show, loved it and wanted an excuse to talk about it without feeling like I’m using it for views. Bonus points for being late to the party!
major spoilers for season 1 of ‘Squid Game’ are featured in this review.
To say that ‘Squid Game’ works because of one particular factor is honestly selling the show short. The show’s themes are infused into every single character, set and game. One doesn’t work without the others. One of the multitudes of reasons why this show has caught the eye of so many is because the games aren’t just an empty ploy. There are deadly consequences not only literally because there is more death in a single scene than an entire episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ but also character consequences. These games require the sacrifice of morality, they often times manipulate it as they did so cruelly in the infamous sixth episode. The show doesn’t put these characters in such horrible situations just because. Our protagonists are all in a financial crisis, they are intensely desperate. The fact that they even accept going to such games with little to no information proves how little they have to lose. In fact, the first episode plays out how we expect it to. There is this preconceived notion that these characters are trapped which is why the voting scene in Episode 2 threw so many of us off. As harsh as this system is, the reality is that these contestants were never trapped. They’ve been free to leave, in fact, they actually did leave. It was their decision to join the games again, fully aware of what they’d be getting into. Despite rooting for these characters, they all knew that at some point, most likely, death awaited. Every character knew that they had to do everything in their entire being to stay alive and win the game. Unfortunately, as the games progressed, it ultimately meant that they had to sacrifice others to do so. The perfect example of ‘Squid Game’s moral manipulation is the third game, ‘Tug of War’.
Fully knowing that people had to be killed off every round, our protagonists watched in horror as two teams went head to head before them in a disturbing game of tug-of-war. As one team reigned victoriously, the other fell down a horrible death in agonizing dread. Knowing they have to win, our protagonists go up reluctantly not because they recognize the fact that they have to kill the other contestants but more so because of the fact that they felt like they were going to lose. Thanks to the wise advice of Player One and the instincts of Cho Sang-woo, the team won very much to their own surprise and relief. This was the first game in the show to challenge their instincts and morality as every team quite literally fought to get the other team killed. It is only when they return to the elevator to go back down that it hits them. Obviously, everyone processed it differently and that’s what makes this fascinating cast of characters so enticing to watch. Later on in the series, Sang-woo claims he fought for his place to be in the final game when in reality he manipulated his way to the top. He wasn’t particularly phased by the fact that he helped kill the other team unlike his childhood friend and our main protagonist, Seong Gi-hun. You could see the glimmer of innocence and optimism leave his eyes in this episode. Despite winning every game, he grew to look more defeated with every victory. By the end of the series, he is left completely uninspired and hopeless.
The message of money not being the answer to happiness has been overdone a million times but the way this show translates it is done so elegantly with such complex truths that it never fully decides against it or for it. Yes, money obviously won’t buy true happiness and enlightenment and despite playing to win it to get out of debt, there’s no doubt that they also dreamt up some nice scenarios for after the game. However, it did buy Sae-byeok’s brother Cheol a new home and family and the reality is that had Gi-hun from Episode 1 won the money, he wouldn’t have acted selfishly. Some people looked at his generous actions in the first episode as cockiness but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Gi-hun has a heart of gold, his character flaw is that he doesn’t really think scenarios through which sometimes leads him to selfishness. His introductory scene as well as his very final scene are actual proof of this. We meet him as a desperate son who gambles with his mother’s credit card and we end with him ignoring the flight to his daughter to go shut down the games. However, despite this character flaw, it’s important to notice that over time he did actually retain a fraction of his old self even if it meant dying his hair red. He retained that hope and quite literally regained that glimmer in his eye when he talks to Cheol about Sae-byeok. Ironically enough though, it’s unfortunate that Gi-hun’s flaw can also be applied to the show. The finale didn’t really add anything of substance to the show and the ending left it feeling unfulfilled. It doesn’t leave much room for an engaging second season if all we are following is Gi-hun and yet the show begs to continue due to the alarming number of unsolved questions left. I know damn well that cop ain’t dead.
All of this being said, ‘Squid Game’ is still an insane ride definitely worth taking. This is the type of show where every character and episode could be dissected and have more than enough to talk about. The cast is phenomenal, the writing is excellent for the most part and the overall creativity and genius of this show is enough to not make me resent it despite it being everywhere I go. My cinema is literally doing a combo partnership with our local radio, it is actually insane. Anyways, I cannot wait to maybe talk about this show some more, there are so many things to discuss but so little time. I would also like to take this review as an opportunity to tell you that just because something is insanely popular, it doesn’t mean that you’re above everyone else if you don’t interact with it! Form your own opinion after seeing it and if you don’t want to see it, don’t bother anyone who does!