What are you willing to do to get out of debt? This is one of the questions posed by Hwang Dong-hyuk’s international phenomenon Squid Game which according to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is on its way to being the streaming platform’s greatest and most watched hit. The show follows a group of people who are living on the brink of financial ruin as they willingly participate in a series of deadly games the victor of which walks away with 45.6 billion won.
This is one of the things that makes this show so relatable; how many of us haven’t dreamed of getting rid of that student loan, mortgage, medical bill, or credit card bill?
As the show progresses, the games get more dangerous and the participants get increasingly on edge. Alliances form and deals are struck, as characters desperately try to survive not just the games but each other and claim the money for themselves. As the viewer, you can’t help but ask “what would I do in that situation?” and trust me when I say that the situations the show presents get intense; they force you to think about your moral compass and how misguided it might become in a life-or-death situation. This makes the viewing experience a very immersive and engaging one that is aided by the creator’s masterful ability to create tension.
Watching the show can be a very visceral experience if you allow it to be especially during the scenes where the games are unfolding; every episode is like a mini cerebral horror-thriller with plenty of gore and heart-racing moments. Episode four was particularly entertaining in this manner. The characters must participate in a game of Tug of War that ends on one of the greatest cliffhangers I’ve seen in a while, literally (you’ll see what I mean).
Trying to figure out what the games will be and how to play them effectively is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show. As mentioned, the games get increasingly deadlier, and by the time we reach episode four, the show begins setting up games in such a way that it is difficult to tell how the protagonist, which we assume by narrative convention will make it to the final episode, will make it through.
Tug of War is a perfect example of this. The participants must organize themselves into groups of ten, and when they find out that the game is Tug of War, the viewers are left wondering how the physically weaker groups that contain women and elderly individuals could win against the stronger groups composed of able-bodied men. Of course, our protagonist, Gi-Hun (Greg Chun), is in one of the “weaker groups,” and the fun begins when they go up against an all-male team.
It’s not just the tension that keeps us coming back, the show has impressive emotional depth. Every character’s story is compelling and significant, but, personally, it was Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su) and Ali’s (Anupam Tripathi) stories that left me feeling the most desolate.
While there’s no shortage of memorable characters, Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-Ryung) is at the top of the list. Initially, she is unlikeable and annoying, but as the show progresses, you gain an appreciation for her personality. She proves herself to be clever and fearless, and before long, you end up rooting for her. Lets just say she goes out with her boots on.
In addition to the relatability of the show and the astute use of tension, suspense, and characterization, the music and visual aspects of the show are also worth noting. The show is very much a visual masterpiece. Every still shot is a work of art, like a painting, akin to those presented in The Handmaid’s Tale and
Black Mirror. This has to do with how the set and actors are positioned as well as the purposeful use of color.
We can thank composer Jang Jae-il for the incredible and varied score. From the haunting “Pink Soldiers” theme to the folky, pseudo-western, infantile “Way Back Then,” which is the first thing we hear when episode one starts, the score guides our emotions and heightens the visual experience.
Squid Game is easily the best Netflix show I’ve seen since the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things debut in 2016. And although I’m forever a Stranger Things fan girl, Squid Game takes the cake when it comes to originality. It had the right number of twists many of which I did not foresee, and we all know impressive twists are rare these days. Additionally, the ending provided just the right amount of closure while leaving us thirsty for more. Squid Game gets an A+ in my book, and I can’t wait for season two.