Need I even introduce this show? You’ve all heard the name: it’s Squid Game. Holding the title of most-watched series on Netflix for a long while, it’s taken the world by storm. I wasn’t sure I’d cover it here given how much has already been said… but having caved, I have too much to say to stay quiet.
It’s a simple premise: 456 contestants. Grand prize of 45.6 billion won (48.6 mil, in CAD). Whoever makes it through 6 children’s games wins it all.
As someone who grew up watching game shows like Wipeout and Splatalot!, I’ve developed a sort of fondness for this sort of premise. Who hasn’t dreamed of competing in a set of games for money? Squid Game takes this childhood dream of mine, and twists it into a deadly nightmare, in which the losers die.
I’m not up-to-date with Korean media, so some of the cultural nuances likely flew over my head… but from what I picked up on via the subtitles (I didn’t watch the dub, so I won’t comment on that), the acting was well-performed for the most part. You can believe they’re playing Red Light Green Light with a sniper rifle pointed at their heads. The English-speaking portions admittedly weren’t great, but the meaning was conveyed well enough, so I’ll let that slide.
On the casting front, it goes above and beyond in diversity: people from all walks of life are represented, including a North Korean runaway, a Pakistani migrant, an old man with dementia, a divorced father with a gambling problem, a Filipino gang member with mafia ties, and an acclaimed young investor.
In contrast to this, the iconic Pink Soldiers are all anonymous, identified only by their assigned numbers and the shapes on their masks.
While this rule’s in place to encourage fairness and equal opportunity, the enforced uniformity and public executions also bring to mind imagery of death camps, a comparison made even more striking by the constant surveillance, the black-cloaked Front Man, and the confined quarters.
By far, this show’s greatest quality is its use of imagery. Everything from the set designs (both dreary and vibrant) to the uniforms (from the contestants to the VIPs) is brilliant.
In the first episode alone, you’ve got a red pill/blue pill allusion with the square-throwing game ddakji, the exaggerated scale and bright colors of the playing field, and the juxtaposition of an old man blissfully playing Red Light Green Light with a cover of “Fly Me To The Moon” playing in the background… while all around him, a senseless massacre is happening, and people are fearing for their lives.
Some points (Episode 6 in particular) excel at getting you to empathize with characters who are doomed to die, and the soundtrack goes a long way in selling the unsettling atmosphere.
Then, of course, there’s the underlying commentary on capitalism, human nature, and the value of a human life. When this show shines, it really shines.
As brightly as it shines, however, Squid Game also has a crippling Achilles’ Heel. The thing that immediately comes to mind is the final plot twist… but I’m sure that’s already been covered extensively, so I won’t go into that. Besides, the finale’s only a symptom of the problem.
The root cause? Lack of continuity. Case in point: the loan sharks from Episode 1. They threatened to harvest Seong Gi-Hun’s blood unless he pays up posthaste… but Ep. 9 (the finale) never mentions them. What, did they just decide it’s not worth it? Funny, they don’t strike me as the forgiving type.
There’s also the dead-end side plot with the infiltrator, and the aforementioned twist damaging the impact of several prior episodes. Maybe these issues will be repaired in the future? The story clearly isn’t complete, and a sequel would not surprise me in the least, given Squid Game‘s insane popularity. As it stands, however, the end leaves a lot to be desired.
It kills me that I have to do this. Squid Game was on track for an easy I… but it failed to stick the landing. Not only that, but it also retroactively hurt itself in the process. No matter how good everything else was, I can’t just ignore such a fatal misstep. Without the promise of a follow-up, I must demote its rating to Stage III.
Note: My rating system is a measure of flaws, not necessarily of personal enjoyment. I prefer Squid Game over both Space Jams, for example, even though they’re higher-ranked.