“Squid Game” takes Netflix by storm

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  • Player 456, also known as Seong Gi-hun, is played by Lee Jung-jae and is seen on the floor frozen during the early games.

  • “Squid Game” currently is Netflix’s most popular show and is the biggest series ever launched.

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Screenwriter/director Hwang Dong-hyuk has been in the process of getting his show, “Squid Game,” produced for almost 10 years. In his process, he became so penniless and broke, that he sold his laptop for $700 so he could continue to eat. Now, his show was not only produced and released, but “Squid Game” is the number one show in 90 countries and is currently on track to be the most viewed show in the history of Netflix. 

“Squid Game” is a show which, at this point, needs no introduction, but I’ll give it one anyway. In this show, a group of financially ruined people get brought to an island to participate in six seemingly harmless children’s games with the promise of money for winning. This seems like the ultimate opportunity, until they realize that failure in these games also means death. 

This show has become an international phenomenon and it’s clear to see why. The story is simple, the premise is exciting and the characters are immediately relatable. While this is what brings most people in when they hear about the show, it’s what holds it back from being truly great, in my opinion. This show lacks the real teeth to keep me guessing anything about that is going to happen during each episode’s runtime. While there are surprises that come, especially towards the later half of the season, everything in this feels very by-the-book. 

Before I start saying anything I dislike about “Squid Game,” I want to talk about everything I think it achieves because this show achieves a lot. 

The set design is absolutely gorgeous. Every environment in the game is so big and simple and perfectly juxtaposes the danger that they’re about to face. Something I love is that the beds in the home room are all bunk beds, as it just adds to the innocence of the whole game. The costumes are also great, albeit very, very simple. Having every character homogenized in a single outfit and being reduced to a number plays obviously into the anticapitalist themes. Even the guards all share a look with one another.

The camera work is all insane. Everything from the production side of this show is really good (minus some really bad CGI in some of the games). As cameras get cheaper and more accessible and streaming services get bigger, TV shows have the ability to look and sound like movies. The vision of director Hwang Dong-hyuk comes through perfectly with his visual language. Vibrant colors work against the dreariness of their situation, which completely goes against how drained and empty the colors are in scenes of the streets of Seoul. 

All of the characters were pretty fun to watch outside of two, somehow completely flanderized characters in Han Mi-nyeo and Jang Deok-su. The absolute crowd favorites, for good reason, are Abdul and Kang Sae-byeok, AKA Player 067. Both of these characters are really just doing their absolute best in the situation they were given and have gotten roped into this game from problems that seem to be completely out of their control. Not to spoil any background of the characters, but the hurdles Sae-byeok overcame to even be in South Korea made her coldness and slyness so much more endearing. The characters are the most important to talk about because I think they’re what turns this pretty good premise into a very good show. 

The other two obvious characters to talk about are the protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, and my personal favorite character, Oh Il-nam, AKA Player 001. Seong Gi-Hun gets caught in this game for the debt he owes for his addiction to gambling. We see how much this has taken over his life, as he uses the little money he has to get a gift for his daughter’s birthday as gambling money on horses. 

He definitely isn’t my favorite character, nor do I think he’s written to be the favorite. I think we follow him because he’s just the easiest to understand. Now Player 001 is hard to talk about, so I won’t say anything except how much of a joy he is to watch. The actor is absolutely having the most fun out of everyone in the show.

Now to get into some of the things I didn’t really like. Like previously stated, basically everything plays out exactly how you think it will, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it gets to it in an interesting way, but I can’t say I always love how it got to these endings. Episode six is filled with the exact opposite of this critique. Everything you would expect to happen does, but the way the characters work within the framework of the game is what makes that episode so incredibly exciting to watch. 

There is an entire subplot of this show I do not like. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge knock on a show, but it’s only nine episodes and the whole thing feels like filler. A cop is searching for his brother. This subplot takes up a significant portion of several episodes. It does almost nothing to advance the overall plot of what’s happening, and I don’t think the payoff is at all worth the build up of the story. There is an important thing this subplot reveals that has many implications for the future of the show, but it takes up so much time and doesn’t justify it at all. The police officer is separated from the action of all of the games. While I see the value of this as a narrative tool, I don’t think that this perspective is worth the screen time. 

As I said earlier, there are two characters I really don’t like. There’s the stereotypical mob boss like character that comes into everything even remotely in this genre. He’s just too cartoony of a villain to mesh with how grounded all of the violence and other characters are. The other character is a woman looking for safety in any group she can find. She knows she can’t handle the games alone, so she’s looking for a group to carry her. I think she is unbelievably annoying and makes me want to turn off the show every time she’s on screen. The end of her arc, however, is absolutely awesome and almost justifies all of her annoyances. 

This show can waste time. It isn’t so major that it takes away from the overall impact of the experience, but it does make me wish that they would have just hired a better editor. 

A sequence where people are being handed food will last several minutes, when it only needs to be 30 seconds.  This repetitiveness really took me out of the experience, and I think this will not likely be a major problem in future seasons as they get a writer’s room and more funding. This isn’t a major knock on the show and doesn’t change my overall thoughts and rating, but it is something that I wish would’ve been handled with a bit more of an iron fist. 

“Squid Game” is a show with a lot of potential in its future. It handles its anti-capitalist themes pretty bluntly, while also not bogging it down with pandering commentary. The characters are exciting and interesting, and it has a premise so good that it became the biggest show in Netflix’s history. Despite some of its shortcomings, it will absolutely have the ability to form a continuing, interesting narrative, though I hope that they don’t try and drag this on for more than two or three more seasons. I don’t think this show has the ability to carry that, as much as the Netflix executives will want to fill its piggy bank with endless cash. I think this show is pretty good and its potential to be great lies in its next season. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend a watch, if for nothing else than to be in on all of the upcoming Halloween costumes. 

I’d give “Squid Game” a solid three out of five.