Korean TV series Squid Game has taken the world by storm. The show follows a group of poverty-stricken, financially-challenged people as they are given the opportunity to compete against one another in simple playground games for 38 million dollars. However, the game comes with a price; if they should lose, they’re killed. The show has a captivating plot and premise that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat every minute, though many are critical of the show’s extreme exhibition of violence. Squid Game is on track to be the most watched show in Netflix history, beating out sensations like Bridgerton, Stranger Things, and Money Heist.
The show offers a horrifically dark portrayal of human nature, and the things people are willing to do to one another in order to win or succeed. In the span of nine episodes, we see morally righteous characters turn corrupt, innocents turn murderers, and endless deaths. However, what are arguably the most painful moments of the show come from the many betrayals, each of them shocking in their own way. A particularly poignant moment of the show results from destruction of the characters’ own making. After voting to get out of the game, the characters return to their lives outside. However, they are soon reminded of the hardships they endure on a day-to-day basis, and choose to return to the game.
It is groundbreaking to have a foreign show gain so much traction in the United States. The shows that are awarded the most praise, prestige, and popularity are generally exclusively American-made. Historically, Americans haven’t been very global in the kind of media they consume. It was just in 2019 that the Korean film Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. While it can’t be said for certain, Squid Game’s success could be representative of a cultural shift away from ethnocentrism in American popular culture.
Squid Game is fascinating in that it gets the audience deeply invested in the fates of the characters while having no hesitation in eliminating them. There is much emphasis placed on understanding the different characters’ situations and how that drives them to act how they do. The main criticism of the series is its employment of gratuitous violence; while violence remains central to the plot, each episode is rife with gruesome scenes.
For every life lost in the game, money is added to a giant piggy bank that is suspended on the ceiling above the players’ living quarters. This glowing golden idol serves as a promise of salvation and freedom from oppression but also as a motivator for horrific acts of harm and betrayal, committed in complete abandonment of any moral values. Squid Game explores the various ways in which desperation manifests in people and encourages them to step on others for personal gain. While the show is visually disturbing, it commands the viewer’s attention through complex character development and constant plot twists, making it difficult — if not impossible — to tear your eyes from the screen.