REVIEW: Squid Game

[Please be advised, this review may contain spoilers.]

Squid Game is a brilliant achievement. It’s original in both its storytelling and its audacity. The lead actors all pulsate off the screen. It’s easy to overlook a foreign performance because of the dubbing or subtitles, but don’t underestimate how extraordinary this group of actors were. The vibrancy of the colors pops off the screen in a way that few other works can accomplish. I say this glowingly in spite of the finale, which we will get to. 

The first episode is quite the roller coaster ride. Like most people, I knew nothing about what the show was about, and frankly, that’s the optimal viewing experience. The less you know, the better. The strobe fight was the most visceral things I’ve seen on screen this year. The show makes you ponder things about yourself. What kind of player would you be? Would you have the guts to eat each other from within? How would you strategize with fellow players/forming alliances, etc? Would you have the gumption to cheat your way through a round? The themes the show tackles are ambitious almost to a fault, which rears its head in the finale. 

So let’s talk about the finale. Gganbu was in contention for the best single episode of television I’ve watched this year. So tense, so upsetting. When you start this show, everybody knew that 001 was never making it out of this game alive, but when he gets eliminated, it’s still a huge gut punch. All of that is taken away by having him be the big bad of the show. He is “eliminated” off camera in Gganbu, I thought that was to spare the audience from being upset. It turns out, it was because he didn’t actually die. 

Just with that decision with 001, it undermines the brilliance of Gganbu. There were no real emotional stakes and when you look back at it, it’s an emotional manipulation for the audience. You just undermined everything you built up over the course of eight episodes. For what? Why? To have a twist ending? What was the point of this decision? 

Now, let’s talk about the main character. He wins the money, does nothing with it for a year, doesn’t become a better person or a better father and instead wallows away in self pity (maybe survivor’s guilt?). What was the point of his character arc over the course of the show? He starts out as a selfish loser and you gradually see the decisions he makes is for the betterment of the team and his friends that he makes in the game. He tries to protect the ones that need protecting. But he doesn’t do that for his own daughter now that he’s rich? What? He’s literally going to see her and start his life in America and decides, nah, I’m going to bring these guys down. The ambitious nature of the first 8 episodes go away in exchange for cheap thrills to close the show. The last 30 minutes of the finale were quite infuriating. 

I don’t want to end the review on a downer, so let’s circle back to some more positives. The episode “Front Man,” while easily the shortest episode of the series, packed the weightiest punch of them all. It’s so revelatory and stunning. The cop’s brother is the captain?!?!?! I was absolutely floored. Now, I don’t think the cop is actually dead, so if they decide to do a Season 2, I’m assuming it will be the Cop/456 teaming up to go back and take them down. A nitpick: the cops phone has the most amazing charge of all time. He’s taking notes, shooting videos and trying to make calls over the course of 6 days and his phone didn’t die?

Through 8 episodes, this was a 5-star show for me. I’m not going to let the last 30 minutes of this series deter my review completely.

Squid Game (2021)
Cast: Lee Jung-jae. Park Hae-soo, Jung Ho-yeon, Wi Ha-joon
Episodes: 9
Review by Robert K.
[Click here to watch on Netflix.]



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