If you’re a Netflix subscriber or a general pop culture follower, you’ve probably heard of Squid Game – a Korean Netflix show that’s been breaking records worldwide. To give you a general feel of the show, it’s a mix of Takeshi’s Castle (remember that?), with a cup of Hunger Games mixed with a sprinkle of Black Mirror. That’s right. Squid Game is the survival show of the decade and you need to watch it ASAP.
You can start by watching the trailer here.
Set in 2020 South Korea, the show follows the story of Seong Gi-Hun, a chauffeur and chronic gambler who’s drowning in debt and lives with his mother. He’s shown as a pathetic character; divorced, a not-so-good father, and a constant failure who has a good heart. A pretty run-of-the-mill story, right?
But it isn’t just it.
Gi-Hun’s life changes when he joins the deadly Squid Games – a competition of children’s games between over 400 people – games, that if you lose, can result in your death.
That turns the tables pretty soon and Gi-Hun, along with an ensemble of similarly flawed characters, finds themselves amid the most horrific events that change their lives.
But why should you watch the show and is it even interesting? If my synopsis hasn’t convinced you, here are a few plot points that can.
The main character of the show is the story itself. Outwardly, it’s a story of people in debt trying one last time to get to the top of the social food chain. But the nuances in the story and the character arcs draw you in. Whether it’s Gi-Hun’s almost pathetic life, Sae-Byeok’s resilience, Cho Sang-woo’s condescendence, Ali’s humility, Oh Il-Nam’s childlike curiosity for the games, or Deok-Su’s darkness, they’re all written and portrayed to fit into the context of the show. The people need these games even though they’re repelled by it, and they need each other, even though only one can keep living as the winner. It’s the story of each character that overlaps with each other that plays a huge role in making this show a success.
The characters and their evolution
I’ve already mentioned the characters, but there’s more to them than just the facade. Each character has an aura around them that becomes stronger as the show progresses. Sang-woo is shown as the superior one from the beginning – the graduate from Seol University but a financial fraud, he enforces his privilege on people who are revered by him, and that includes Ali, a Pakistani immigrant who is humble, grateful, and has a helping hand for everyone.
Then there’s Deok-Su, the villain and the thug who is physically the strongest and bullies people to give him what he wants. There’s Sae-Byeok – the rebel and the pickpocket, Il-nam – the old man with dementia who’s only here because he has nowhere else to be, and our main character, Gi-Hun, whose character development from a nonentity with a good heart but a pitiful life, to a fiery fighter is all very interesting to watch.
Squid Game sets are a whole mood. From the Green Light, Red Light playground to the pink and yellow stairwells, the main participant dormitory, and the marble game set, the visual direction of the show is remarkable. And it’s even more interesting to know that they built these sets from scratch and aren’t all green screen. Watch this behind-the-scenes video where its creators talk about the set and the aesthetics of the show, and if you are as big of a content nerd as I am, you’ll love it.
The nihilism and social commentary
The nihilistic storylines in the show are hard to miss. From Sang-woo’s constant betrayals – first with his mother, then with Ali and Sae-Byeok – to Mi-Nyeo’s insecurities and tactics, the game is set to show the dark and destructive nature of humankind. Of course, the story is set among people who are, for a lack of better words, done with their lives and considering it’s a survival show, every person is on their own when it comes to saving their lives. But it’s that darkness that helps the creators of Squid Game – in and out of real life – create a world where people can easily go behind each other’s backs to win.
The other aspect of the show is a portrayal of the capitalistic nature of the society. How the powerful exploit the weak for their own entertainment and gain, how the weak are ranked and bet against in terms of their ability to win and give back to the society, and how their very basic instinct of living a semi-liveable life can be used against their very own well being and life. The show’s last twist and the conversation that takes place after it is a very clear, very nuanced way of showing how people at the top of the human food chain maintain their position by exploiting the people at the bottom. And if you’re a fan of such discourse along with dark fiction, Squid Game is for you.
Interested? Watch Squid Game on Netflix and witness for yourself how the game takes you through a crazy ride of desperation and survival in 9 episodes.