Squid Game Review
December 1, 2021 | CJ Logue
Illustration by CJ Logue
The hit Netflix series Squid Game seemed to become an instant sensation overnight. During the following week of the show’s debut, social media platforms were swarmed with memes, clips, and spoilers. I was able to keep the show's premise a mystery until I saw for myself what all the fuss was about. The few reviews I heard about the show primarily focused on its predictability. What I discovered was a rather complex and thought-provoking show. The series offsets predictability with striking plot twists and enhances the story through the development of character relationships.
During the first five episodes, the story is set up. We meet our main character, the ever-optimistic Seong Gi-hun, and learn that he struggles with immense debt which constantly threatens his well-being. Looking for any way to reverse the consequences of his past mistakes, he accepts an opportunity to play “games” for cash. During the first round of the game, we discover that there’s a catch. When a player loses a game, they are killed onsight—and as each player is removed from the game, the prize money increases. With all the mystery and eerie clues provided about the game, it was not surprising that there would be extremely high stakes. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for the sheer goriness—blood spillage and carnage are not something the creators of the show shy away from.
Although it may be hard for some viewers to swallow (myself included), this element of the show worked to intensify the greater themes throughout the series. Squid Game aims to send a message about social systems and morality. First, we learn that all the players in the game are burdened with colossal debt, which many have incurred from attempts to better their unpropitious life circumstances. When the players are offered an opportunity to leave, most realize that the unrelenting game of life on the outside is, in many ways, analogous to the harrowing game on the inside. Once the game begins, any and all actions taken by the players to further their self-interests are no longer morally questioned. Relationships cease to matter, and this is where I believe most viewers become enthralled with the dynamics at play.
It wasn’t until the latter part of the show that I felt fully invested in the series. Up to this point, we’ve followed a small ensemble of characters that rely on one another to survive, displaying acts of solidarity. The characters are a combination of charming, endearing, and mysterious players. In the sixth episode, the group breaks into pairs to play the next round of games. I was speechless when I learned that they would play against each other for their lives. This was something I never considered the show would do, yet it was probably the most ingenious plot twist within the entire series. Not only was each dynamic unique and stressful, but every character arc became mangled and contorted as the players’ truest selves were revealed—an entire 50 minutes filled with complete desperation.
Illustration by CJ Logue
The most interesting character dynamic within the show was easily that of Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo’s. Early on, we discover that Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo were childhood friends who grew up together playing games similar to the ones played in the tournament. It slowly becomes clear that Cho Sang-woo will do anything to win the game—self-preservation taking the forefront of his every move. The tension between the two players becomes fierce during the last few episodes and even brings out a side of Seong Gi-hun I did not think he possessed. As the show progressed, I had expected to see these two former friends play in the final match. This is foreshadowed in the show’s intro sequence where two young boys battle it out on the playground. Although this prediction came to fruition, I was impressed with how the events diverged from my expectations. I was convinced that player 218 would win in the end to emphasize the message about morality and, at the same time, attempt to incorporate another plot twist. In the end, the battle scene between the two characters was surprising because the concept of morality was not lost on Seong Gi-hun. I believe the show teeters on the edge of predictable, but the overall concept is extremely unique and keeps viewers on their toes. The core aspect of the show that makes it so entertaining revolves around a combination of suspense, character dynamics, as well as the moral and social issues it grapples with.