*Minor spoilers ahead*
Squid Game is one of the most talked-about shows at the moment. It’s cultivated an army of stans, sparked discussions about fan theories and spawned so many memes.
According to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, it’s the most popular show on the platform, no small feat for a non-English language program.
For all the excitement surrounding the show, Squid Game emphatically delivers.
The show follows a group of desperate people who are deeply in debt. As a final chance to escape their plight, they’re invited to play children’s games with life-or-death consequences for a chance to win a life-changing amount of money.
While this story may remind people of other death-game stories, like The Hunger Games and SAW, Squid Game’s detail sets it apart.
One of the most in-your-face elements of the show is the design and overall aesthetic. Almost everything in the arena is brightly coloured, from the shape-face guards and the contestants (victims?) to the interweaving stairs.
It creates a dystopian Willy Wonka vibe, with the show’s playful visuals creating a sharp contrast to the hyper-violent nature of the challenges.
The fact contestants are also playing children’s games makes watching them “play” for their lives that much more jarring.
This interplay of horrific and playful is a continuing theme throughout the show. The show’s premise has an air of dark humour, evident by the large piggybank of prize money suspended above the dormitory that fills with cash after every round.
While many death-game stories force the contestant to compete, Squid Game gives the contestants the opportunity to walk away after the first round – after they are become fully aware of the consequences of taking part.
The fact that most voluntarily return to the game is crushing. It is a harsh realisation that the outside world offers fewer prospects and less hope than a life-or-death contest.
Squid Game acts as an indictment of the brutal aspects of capitalism, with show writer Hwang Dong-hyuk saying it was the show’s original intention.
The show’s protagonist Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae) feels momentarily relieved when he leaves the arena behind, but later recognises that his life is falling apart so badly, only winning the game will enable him to put it back together.
Squid Games does a good job of sprinkling the contestants’ backstories in between the bloodshed – Seong’s hopeless situation is a common theme among the contestants.
Creating these emotional stakes keeps the audience invested and positions contestants as more than just disposable pawn pieces for the game.
One of the only drawbacks of the show is the VIP characters—a group of wealthy men who watch the game and place bets on the contestants.
The idea of rich sociopaths watching the game for fun is interestingly perverse but their dialogue and behaviours turn them into caricatures that feel out of place in the show. I mean, how often can you make “69” jokes before they fall flat?
The tension of the game creates moments that allow some characters’ humanity to shine through.
Despite the game’s cruel incentives, Gi-Hun’s tenderness and morality quickly position him as a fan favourite, though this is true for many of the other main characters. Their humanity creates deep emotions in viewers when the relentless nature of the game eventually catches up with them.
Squid Game is filled with both moving and devastating moments as characters are forced to choose between their morals and survival.
It’s this highwire act that makes Squid Game one of the most enthralling shows in years.