Conner’s Critiques: “Squid Game” showcases the horrific wonders of a present-day “Hunger Games” (SPOILERS)


Credit: cyeldraws

Fan-art of a scene in episode 6 made by artist cyeldraws on the platform Deviantart.

Conner McBride, Staff Writer

“Squid Game” is a modern-day “Hunger Games” that showcases the lengths people will go to get out of debt. 

A majority of the scenes in this show are very gorey, but over time when you become desensitised to the violence,  you see how good of a show it is.  “Squid Game” touches on the number of struggles people face when it comes to money, debt, and divorce, it also reveals problematic issues in capitalistic societies. 

The popular Korean drama-thriller series released back in September and has quickly become one of my favourite shows. 

In the first episode, the show opens in the apartment of Seong Gi-Hun played by the actor Lee Jung-jae. He’s a lazy deadbeat dad who lives with his mother in a small two- room apartment in one of the many alleys of the city Ssangmun-dong. Gi-Hun complains to his mother that she did not give him enough money to give his daughter a birthday present, only for him to steal her credit card once she leaves and use it to bet on horses.

Gi-Hun wins one of the jackpots that would’ve been used to pay off the debt he owes to the loan-sharks, only to bump into a pick-pocket named Kang Sae-byeok, played by Jung Ho-yeon, who steals his winnings while he is discombobulated. 

Gi-Hun trudges out of the betting facility to the subway where he plans to take a train home, only to meet a man in a business-suit holding a briefcase. The man propositions him, offering to play a game called ‘“ddakji.” Every time Gi-Hun wins he will earn 10,000 won, but if he loses he’ll get slapped. They play for a while before Seong gives up, his face black and blue. He is then given a brown card with a number on the back which gives him a time and place to meet.

Upon meeting Gi-Hun enters a van filled with other players, all of whom are passed out. He thinks they’re asleep. Once he enters the van, he is also knocked out and then he wakes up in a dorm room where he and the other players of the game sleep. The room is sparsely decorated with all 456 mattresses stacked in rows on scaffolding, hiding the walls. Later on the walls are shown to have images of all the games played throughout the show painted on them. 

Once all of the characters who have volunteered to play in the games wake up, they are herded into the centre of the dorm where they are addressed by someone in a pink jumpsuit and a black mask with a square on it. The man explains what has happened to them and what they will do while they stay at the facility. 

With that the players are led to a M.C. escher-esque stairway filled with bright colours and random stairs, doors, and windows. The players get photos taken of them which fill up a stage in a control room where multiple other people in the pink jumpsuits stay. All of the guards have a mask on, hiding all features. It’s in this room that we also meet one of the main characters in the show, the “Front-man.”

The players are funnelled into a large outdoor area where a large robotic girl stands on the end opposite them. Once all players enter the area, the doors abruptly shut behind them, and they are now trapped until the game is finished. A woman’s voice comes over the speakers introducing the rules of the game, explaining that they will be playing a popular children’s game: “Red light, green light.” 

The players at this point have calmed down, only for that panic to surge back after they discover the punishment for losing the game: death. The area quickly becomes a blood-bath with dead bodies littering the sandy floor as only a couple hundred out of the original 456 make it to the other side of the sand-lot alive. 

At this point we also see more of the personalities behind more of our main characters: Ali Abdul, played by Anupam Tripathi, Cho Sang-woo played by Park Hae-soo and Oh Il-nam played by Oh Yeong-su.

Players are pitted against each other throughout the show and even though alliances form, it’s clear that they’re only out of necessity. 

Through the next episodes players are forced to go through more popular childhood games all with high-stakes, like the ppopgi game, where players are forced to carve a shape out of a brittle honeycomb candy, tug-of-war, marbles, a stepping-stone game where players have to cross a bridge made of glass steps, some of which can withstand the weight of a human, others cannot. Additionally, there is a special unofficial game where once the lights turn off in the dorm, it becomes a free for all. Finally, there is the game the show is named after, the Squid Game.

In Episode 1, after Gi-Hun wakes up in the dorms, he wanders down the stairs bordering the side of his bunks and begins talking with Il-nam, an old man who is playing the game because he has a brain tumour and has nothing to lose. This conversation sparks the beginning of the allyship of Gi-Hun, Ali, Sang-woo, Sae-Byeok, and Il-nam. The audience believes that Gi-hun never should have spoken to Il-nam in the beginning and should’ve left him to fend for himself. The perception is that Il-nam is only a hindrance to the team due to his dementia and age, so he will not be able to look out and fend for himself, leaving his partners to protect him.

On social media platforms people were posting about Episode 6 of the show and how sad it is. In this episode, the contestants play the old-fashioned game marbles. The players split themselves into groups of 2 and are made to play until one player has all 20 marbles, making them the winner. 

The episode is not sad. The players know at this point that losing the game means death and should have expected that they would have to play against each other at some point. If they had picked other people, like for example Gi-Hun is offered to team up with a mathematician at one point, then all of the “heartbreak” could have been avoided. However, because everyone is already wary of others they decide to pick someone they are comfortable with. The only ‘smart’ person from this episode is Sae-byeok. 

Sae-byeok teams up with another teenager Ji-yeong, a player that she has only teamed up with one other time in the tug-of-war episode, so no super-close emotional connections have been formed. This, of course, does not last throughout the game. Ji-yeong and Sae-byeok have decided to not play the game until the very end, leaving it to a winner-takes-all round. 

While the two are waiting for the round to end, they ask each other questions such as what they will do with the money if they win and how they ended up playing the game in the first place. In the end, Ji-yeong threw the round, allowing Sae-byeok to win the game so that Sae-byeok can adopt her brother and pay for her mothers escape from North Korea. 

In episode 7, the remaining characters cross a bridge made of panels of glass. The glass varies between being tempered and untempered. If the players step on tempered glass then they live and now try and guess which one of the next panels is tempered. Once all of the players cross the bridge, the glass bridge shatters into thousands of pieces. 

In episode 7 the shattering of the glass bridge that contributes to Sae-byeok’s death at the end of the round is also wholly unnecessary. Sure, it created a cool scene but the amount of damage it caused is ridiculous. 

At the end of the show, in the final episode, the revelation of Il-nam, the old man who has been expected to lose all of the games, being the creator of the show is an ending that is not expected and unappreciated. Il-nam is incredibly selfish in the reasons for why he creates and wants to play the game. He explains that the games were created so he can feel young again, but if that is the goal he is after then he could have done something else like play video games or go to a club.

Gi-Hun also makes a stupid decision again at the end to sign up for the Squid Games for a second time. He finds the original man who gave him the card to join the game in the first place recruiting another player to the competition. Gi-Hun takes the card from the man and calls the number on the back of it right as he’s about to leave for America to see his daughter. He decides to not get on the flight and the show cuts off as he walks back through the terminal into the airport. 

Because of that, it leads the audience to believe that there will be a second season of the show even if the original creator of the game, Il-nam, died, which makes me wonder if they will add new games or if the previous games will be recycled. If new games are added, will they be childhood games like they were in this season or will they be new games, seen as the only reason the childhood games are there in the first place is because they make Il-nam feel young again.