Never let it be said I am someone who is perpetually late to the party when it comes to trendy new stuff. I say that mostly because I don’t think anyone has to state the blatantly obvious.
Case in point: I am only now covering Squid Game.
To be honest, and I always shoot for honesty, I already know a lot about Squid Game before I even got a chance to see it. Now, personally, I don’t mind that too much. I am not as spoiler-adverse as some people are, and popular stuff like Squid Game or Succession are difficult to avoid spoilers for at all, so I don’t see the harm in learning a little bit about stuff before I sit down to watch them. I mean, I know it’s unlikely Batman is going to be killed off in a movie anytime, but I still go to see him in stuff anyway.
Regardless, here’s Squid Game, a show about what desperate people will do to get out of otherwise crippling debt in a society where income inequality is a huge thing and the system isn’t set up to make things easier for anybody except people who already have a lot to begin with. What little I know about South Korean filmmakers suggests that’s a common theme over there, but I don’t know much about South Korean TV and cinema, so take that with a grain of salt.
But I did know about the deadly Red Light, Green Light game that appears in the first episode, so instead, I figure it may be worth my time to see how well this first episode goes to set up the main characters for the rest of the series because they sure as hell can’t follow all nearly 500 contestants. Besides, that tracking robot was downright goofy-lookin’ even as it was killing people.
Most of this episode is spent following Seong Gi-hun, a down-on-his-luck divorced dad living with his elderly mother. He’s got lots of debts and a gambling problem, but there’s enough evidence out there to show he’s basically a decent guy. He tries to treat his daughter well, and he does seem to dote on her. When a sudden windfall by the game’s recruiter has him flush with cash, he gives some fish to a stray cat. He seems more unlucky than anything else, but from what little we’ve seen so far of the other contestants, he isn’t any different from any of the others with the possible exception of the Old Man, the one character who seems to be enjoying the whole thing.
Beyond Gi-hun, there’s his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo. Sang-woo was a lot more promising than Gi-hun from the sounds of things, but he also fell on hard times, and he seems to operate on a more logical basis. His survival strategy for Red Light, Green Light was to stay behind someone else and let them potentially get shot.
North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok may have picked Gi-hun’s pocket earlier in the episode, but she has her own tormentors in the game in the form of gangster Jang Deok-su, and she has no problem using him as her human shield and letting him know she is at the same time.
And then there’s one man, named Abdul Ali according to Wikipedia, who is both clearly not a native Korean and still is the only one who seems to help someone else as he catches Gi-hun during the final “red light” to prevent the man from hitting the ground and getting shot, then making sure they were the last two across the finish line.
Everyone else either panicked when the first person was shot and tried to escape or didn’t get across the line in the five minute time span.
That’s a rather sobering moment considering how the episode was playing out until then as more weird and maybe a little bit funny. As soon as a body hits the ground when someone doesn’t respect the game enough, it’s pretty clear that, wherever all these people are, this game is not one they may want to play but that circumstances more or less force them to.