456 players, 45.6 billion dollars.
Dalgona candy, red light green light.
Sounds familiar, I’m sure! You’re absolutely right. These are none other than the iconic games in the highly grossed Netflix series, Squid Game.
With more than 142 million views on Netflix, it is no surprise that Squid Game has gained massive traction. It’s gained such large acclaim and following that the TV show has transcended mere leisure status: from Squid Game-themed surgical masks to entire cafes, the impact of this dark and grotesque drama has been large.
Truth be told, I was initially hesitant to invest time into a new drama during the academic semester. I recall brushing off the idea of jumping onto the bandwagon. Yet, the constant hype around the show intrigued me. I caught myself wondering: is the show really that spectacular? How different would it be from other survival shows like Liar Game and Alice In Borderland (AiB)? Determined to answer these questions, I embarked on a weekend drama marathon. Now, I’m here, two months after the show, to share my thoughts about it.
I know, I know, you must be thinking—it’s too late for you to be talking about this two months after the hype has somewhat died down. I’ll be honest here: this is partially because of the hectic semester. Notwithstanding that, in my defence, the show was a lot to take in. It took a really long time for me to be able to look beyond the hype (especially when it was constantly bombarding my vision) and form my own views about the show. That being said, I hope that I’m being as objective as I can in this article!
The Morality of Main Characters
I loved how the show portrayed morality among the main characters. We were introduced to Gi-Hun and Sae-Byeok from the get-go as ‘less than cookie-cutter perfect characters.’ In the first episode, we see Gi-Hun gambling with money he stole from his mother and Sae-Byeok stealing the cash prize Gi-Hun won. Subsequently, Sang-Woo, a smart Seoul National University graduate who committed fraud was introduced.
As the show proceeded with each round of games, the topic of morality was intertwined with the aforementioned characters. Due to the life-threatening nature of the games, the characters were forced into instances that made them commit actions that went against their moral bottom-line. For instance, we witnessed Gi-Hun’s moral dilemma when he needed to trick Il-Nam in the game of marbles to keep his life. We see him struggling to lie to Il-Nam in an attempt to steal his marbles. The show elucidated this well with Lee Jung Jae’s superb acting—his desperation to win, accompanied by his internal struggle when he played with Il-Nam’s recollection. Despite feeling guilty and shedding tears, at the end of the day, he still proceeded with lying to survive. In stark contrast, Sang-Woo tricked Ali into handing him all his marbles without, apparently, batting an eye.
While we’re on the topic of Gi-Hun, I found him to be a particularly interesting character. I recollect not knowing how to feel about Gi-Hun for the majority of the show. He made me slightly disoriented and confused—on one hand, I was angered by the way he treated his mother. I was perturbed by his hypocrisy too. The show underlines Gi-Hun berating Sang-Woo for his immoral actions. Yet, when put to the test, we see that Gi-Hun tricks Il-Nam in the game of marbles, exactly like Sang-Woo did to Ali. On the other hand, ironically, I found it inspiring that his moral compass was somewhat strong. This may perhaps be a result of the comparison to the rest of the cast of characters. Nevertheless, Gi-Hun’s strength of character did shine through in the show. Upon emerging as the winner of the games, he honoured his words to Sae-Byeok, and attempted to make it up to Sang-Woo’s mother. Gi-Hun’s moral compass made him one of the most realistic protagonists in the TV show land—one who is not unfalteringly good and who is just as susceptible to the failings of human nature as everyone else. Eventually, I found myself rooting for Gi-Hun, though he wasn’t of a personality I’d typically root for.
Squid Game as a Social Commentary
Undoubtedly, Squid Game has received immense praise for accurately reflecting our capitalist society. The show highlights how characters are willing to betray one another to set a foot forward for the grand prize. Similarly in the real world (both at school and in the workplace), we see how our ‘friends’ or ‘peers’ can turn against us for their self-interest—known as the infamous snakes. Arguably, this micro-level relatability is enough for most viewers to be hooked onto this show.
Beyond just that, the topic of meritocracy and equality was greatly dissected in the show. Throughout it, the idea of an ‘equal playing field’ was stressed. The life-or-death games were supposedly equal and fair chances for all players to compete to emerge as winners of the cash prize. Despite that, upon reflection, I realised that the games weren’t as ‘fair’ as they seemed. For example, ‘Tug-of-War’ favoured the strong, while ‘Red Light Green Light’ favoured players with quick reaction times. In fact, the ‘Glass Stepping Stones’ game was largely based on luck (apart from the brief moment where one of the characters used his job knowledge to differentiate the glasses); the games were certainly a far cry from equal! This is not to mention the inclusion of Il-Nam in the games! Being the mastermind, it was clear that his chances of being eliminated were zero. While everyone was on the chopping board, Il-Nam was guaranteed to survive despite being one of the weaker players. It is evident that nothing about the game is truly fair, just like the society we live in. As much as we’d like to think an opportunity seems ‘levelled,’ it really isn’t.
The unfinished storyline of Jun-Ho, the policeman, also reflects how most societies work. Should we be curious to uncover something that goes against those in power, more likely than not, we would be silenced. Throughout the show, Jun-Ho actively searches for his brother and attempts to learn more about the people behind the brutal games. Unfortunately, as we all know, he was shot to death eventually. There wasn’t even any proper closure provided for the storyline regarding his brother and the questions Jun-Ho had, leaving the audience in suspense indefinitely (or at least until season 2!). Drawing parallels to our lives, we might have been in situations where we’re vocal and strong about unpopular opinions, only to be shot down or silenced by those with power or in positions of authority. Sometimes, we don’t even get the dignity of a reason or response. Frankly, this was a hard-hitting realisation for me after sitting on the show for two months.
Now that that’s been said, let’s move on to the reason why you clicked on this article.
Is Squid Game an overhyped show that is mediocre at best?
What I’m going to say next might shock people, given that all I’ve been doing is singing praises about the show. Here’s my take on the show: Squid Game is overrated.
Wait… Did I just say that Squid Game is overrated?
Yes, that’s absolutely right. In my (humble) opinion, Squid Game is overrated. But first, let me preface this by saying that I don’t think Squid Game is a bad show. In fact, I found Squid Game to be a pretty good watch.
Would I recommend it to people? Yeah, maybe—if they’re into survival shows, or if they’re interested in learning more about Korean traditional games. But otherwise…? I deem this neither a masterpiece nor a flop.
But before you get outraged, let me tell you why.
Image Credit: Netflix
The underdeveloped storyline was a large part of what made Squid Game mediocre at best. I felt that there was a lack of development in the recruitment of the game staff. There was so much potential for that to be a solid subplot, wherein the backgrounds of the staff and Jun-Ho’s brother could have been discussed. This is not to mention the subplot of the organ harvesting storyline. I simply could not wrap my head around how the scriptwriters introduced the doctor (who was a game contestant) and the organ harvesting staff, only to hastily finish it a few episodes later by killing all of them. I was expecting so much more from these subplots, only to be disappointed. It felt like wasted potential.
Unnecessarily Draggy Parts
Despite the show only amounting to nine episodes, I found it to be unnecessarily draggy at some points. From my memory, the first two episodes were relatively slow. I know, I know: the first two episodes were needed to set the context to highlight the desperation of the characters. In fact, I appreciated how the scriptwriters attempted to include background stories for the main characters. However, perhaps it may have been better incorporated as flashbacks at pivotal moments to ramp up the tension and keep a tight pace.
I also felt that, having had the context established, there was little need for the unnecessary ‘tension’ in the game where characters had to vote to determine the continuation of the game.
Unsatisfying Ending And Loose Ends
In my opinion, the ending was exceptionally underwhelming—I simply couldn’t believe how Gi-Hun wanted to participate in the games yet again, given that he barely made it out alive the first time! I wasn’t entirely content with the ending. It felt as though the scriptwriters forced that part in just to ensure that a second season would be in sight.
And what about Jun-Ho? As rambled multiple times previously—perhaps you’ve noticed that this is a sore spot for me—Jun-Ho’s unsatisfying subplot greatly messed with me. I felt that the show could have developed it more extensively. To be honest, I’ve got a feeling that the scriptwriters left us hanging because they’re keeping it for Season Two. Not going to lie, this irked me—why wait it out another season when it could have been fully fleshed out in Season One? It seemed to me that they were lazily leaving content for the (redundant) next season…
‘Non-Mental’ Shallow Games
Image Credit: Netflix
And lastly, the games. Yes, you heard me right! Games like ‘Red Light Green Light,’ ‘Lick-it-Off Dalgona challenge,’ ‘Tug-of-War,’ and ‘Marbles’ come to mind when we think of Squid Game. The games played were fairly interesting to me, especially since they featured many Korean childhood games. However, I felt that they were mainly based on luck and physique. For instance, the ‘Glass Stepping Stone’ game was generally based on luck—should players pick the real glass that shatters (mind you, it’s a 50-50 chance), they’d be eliminated. This is not to mention the many games that required a fit body like ‘Squid Game’, ‘Red Light Green Light’, and ‘Tug-of-War’ (though I will relent that tug-of-war required some strategic planning).
As such, I found them to be relatively ‘non-mental’ shallow games with no real solution around them. While Squid Game did introduce different traditional Korean games that non-natives would not have known to the world, as someone who prefers more problem-solving games, the games in Squid Game didn’t awe me. Though something to note is that this is entirely my opinion! I do know a couple of friends who loved Squid Game precisely for the games they played.
On the whole, there were some aspects of Squid Game that I appreciated. As mentioned previously, I loved how there was a highly motivating reason—crippling financial debt—for all players to join the game. This element could be said to be lacking in some survival shows.
Additionally, I loved the episode where contestants played the game of marbles. It was fascinating to watch the turn of events where everyone fought to pair up with their favourite person, only to be told that they would be competing with each other.
It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions when we witnessed Sae-Byeok and Jin-Yeong bonding over personal stories and establishing a friendship before Jin-Yeong sacrificed herself. The scene where Gi-Hun felt compelled to trick Il-Nam made me queasy too. It was discomfiting to know that he lied through his teeth despite constantly condemning Sang-Woo for lying. Last but certainly not least, Sang-Woo. Oh my, where do I begin? The scene where Ali trusted Sang-Woo wholeheartedly, only to be betrayed by him, ripped my heart out.
I also loved that Sang-Woo was a highly realistic character that portrayed the typical person in every life-threatening situation. It is no doubt that his betrayal of Ali aroused anger in us. Everyone was bashing Sang-Woo and hurling insults at him, and I too, was angered by him. Yet, when we take a step back to truly reflect, if we were in that position, wouldn’t some of us do the same as Sang-Woo?
At the end of the day, I’d give Squid Game a 6 to 7 out of 10. It acted as a fairly good social commentary piece, where the capitalist system and inequality were consistently underscored. Furthermore, it showcased the ugly sides of human nature fairly well. However, I don’t think it deserves this level of hype and I’d dare say that it’s overrated. The lack of wit games, combined with the underdeveloped subplot of Jun-Ho was simply not a vibe for me. Overall, Squid Game was nothing more than a mediocre but overhyped show (though I have to give props to the marketing team for all the attention it’s been receiving). And there you have it, this is my take on Squid Game—the latest Netflix hit (though I’d advise you to view this with a grain of salt)!