OK, this show is really leaning into the idea that whoever is running these games thinks everything being done is “fair”.
That might depend on how you define “fair”.
Really, at this point, it’s coming down to who can be the most ruthless. After everything that has gone wrong, this is the episode where characters we may have come to care about finally die. It was bound to happen, but the way it happens says as much about the winners as it does anyone else.
After being shown the bodies of the doctor and the guards involved in the organ trafficking ring, the survivors are told to split into teams of two each. Thanks to the doctor’s death, there are an odd number of players, so someone won’t be playing and will instead be presumably killed. Sang-woo thinks the thing to do is find a strong person to go with his intelligence because combining smart with strong is bound to be a winning combination. He teams with Ali. Sae-byeok gets a likeminded girl she somewhat befriended before. Deok-su picks a crony. Mi-nyeo can’t find anyone and seems to be the odd one out. And Gi-hun opts for the Old Man rather than see the seemingly dementia-rattled old timer be the odd one out and presumably killed on the spot. Sure, the Old Man is neither smart nor strong, but Gi-hun clearly feels bad for the guy, even offering his own jacket to cover up the Old Man’s wet pants caused by some nocturnal incontinence.
Alright, we have our teams. What’s the game?
Players’ choice. Each player gets ten marbles. Whichever player gets all 20 marbles before the game is over wins.
Nice touch having the middle aged married couple playing together give each other a sad look.
It doesn’t really matter how the players get the marbles. They just can’t use violence. It goes without saying that Deok-su does manage to demand a different game when his crony turns out not to be a crony and won’t lay down and die for his “boss”. Plus, he only really wins thanks to blind luck, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a new villain among the players.
I mean, if the game represents cut-throat capitalism and what it forces ordinary people to do, then this episode does a good job of showing who is and isn’t ruthless.
Take Gi-hun for example. Though he almost loses, the Old Man seems to lapse into senility again, and Gi-hun does take advantage of that to stage a comeback. This comes after the Old Man wouldn’t even play a game for a little while. The playground reminded him of his old home too much. However, Gi-hun does know enough to feel shame when the Old Man reveals he was faking the dementia spell. Then he willingly hands the reluctant Gi-hun the last marble. The Old Man dies somewhere off-camera, mere seconds after finally remembering and sharing his own name.
Sae-byeok and her partner just talk to get to know each other for most of the 30 minutes before going to a one-toss-takes-all game, and it turns out Sae-byeok has more to live for with an actual family and all. Her partner, not so much, so she more or less sacrifices herself. Sae-byeok walks away tearfully, worth noting since she wasn’t really all that emotional before.
But then there’s Ali and Sang-woo. Sang-woo…straight up tricks Ali into giving up all his marbles by giving him a bag of pebbles. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Sang-woo play the odds for himself. He did that with the umbrella game when he had a rough idea what was coming next. This is the first time I’ve seen him do it to an ally, and Ali was a very sympathetic character, even mentioning he joined the game to protect his young family. That Sang-woo seems to do this without any regrets says a lot about him, and given what I know of his background as a man who prides himself on his own intelligence and a sense of superiority, something somewhat bred into him by people he’s known all his life, well…he might be more dangerous or ruthless than the obvious gangster.