TV Review: Squid Game – A Parable of Capitalist Exploitation


Image Source: Showbiz Cheat Sheet

WARNING – This article contains heavy spoilers of the showand content surrounding murder, death, etc. Read at your own risk.

Squid Game is arguably one of the fastest-rising shows in Netflix history. The 9 episode series became one of Netflix’s most-watched programs in several regional markets on September 17th with its chilling plot. While I’m not big on watching new tv shows, Squid Game, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, had me completely engrossed in every episode. The show is a cautionary tale about the many terrible ways that money, even if you have too much or too little, can ruin lives. 

Image Source: IMDB. Game: Red Light, Green Light

The series centers around a contest in which 456 players, all deeply in debt, play a set of children’s games–with deadly consequences for those who lose–in a chance to win a ₩45.6 billion prize. Our main character, Seong Gi-hun, is a gambling addict who struggles to support his daughter (his ex-wife is moving countries with her), and his ailing mother who needs surgery. He finds himself accepting an invite from a mysterious organization he meets at the subway to partake in a series of high-stake games. Each player in the game is kept under strict watch at all times by masked guards in pink suits. The players soon discover that losing in these games will ultimately result in their death, and each death adds ₩100 million to the prize. 

Image Source: IMDB. Game: Ppogi

In the games, Gi-hun (Player 456) is perceived as a nice guy, which ultimately disadvantages him in the long run. His fellow participants are less sympathetic than Gi-hun. Kang Sae-Byok (Player 067) is a pickpocketer from North Korea who wants to bring her family across the border. Oh II-nam (Player 001) is an old man with a brain tumor who would rather play than wait for his inevitable death. Cho Sang-woo (Player 218) is a top student who found himself into high debt and is now on the run after investing in too much money. Jang Deok-Su (Player 101) desperately needs the money to pay back his boss that he stole from. Han Mi-nyeo (Player 212) is a mysterious woman who claims she’s a poor mother who needs to take care of her children. Lastly, Abdul Ali (Player 199) is an illegal immigrant from Pakistan who has a wife and kid who he needs to support after his boss refused to pay him for half a year.

Image Source: IMDB. Game: Tug of War

The first game they play is Red Light, Green Light, where a giant little girl robot turns to face a tree at the opposite end of the players and shouts “Green Light,” only to randomly turn her head around and shout “Red Light.” If she catches any players moving while Red Light is called, that player is gunned down on the spot by several turrets positioned high above the playing area. There’s a whole lot of people who get killed trying to escape before the remaining players finally wise up and start playing correctly in the 5 minutes they have to finish the game. The second game they play is called Ppogi, and each of the players is given a tin containing a candy stamped with one of four shapes they chose at random before the start of the game; a circle, a triangle, a star, or an umbrella. To survive, each player must remove the shape intact from the honeycomb tin within 10 minutes. If a player is unable to fulfill either of these requirements, they are shot on sight. 

The third game is a tug of war, and the goal of the game is to overpower the opposing team by pulling on the rope at the same time, dragging them across the dividing line drawn in the center between the two. Players are chained by a rope, standing several hundred feet above an open gap. If a team is overpowered and loses, they are dragged above-said gap right before a guillotine chops the rope in half, sending them plummeting to their imminent death. 

The fourth, and saddest round, is a game of Marbles. There are no concrete rules this round; you have to play any game you make up with your partner using 20 marbles and whoever has all the marbles at the end is the winner. However, Sang-woo almost loses. He tricks Ali into giving up his marbles and wins. Gi-hun, about to lose a betting game to Player 001, turns it around by using Player 001’s failing memory against him. Player 001 reveals that he knew that Gi-hun was tricking him the whole time despite his failing condition. Nonetheless, Gi-hun wins anyways. Before being killed, Player 001 tells Gi-hun he is his gganbu, a trusted friend, and says that his name is Oh Il-nam.

Image Source: Game: Marbles

The fifth round is Glass Stepping Stones, and only 16 players remain. The Glass Bridge game is more a matter of blind luck than skill. Each of the panels between the two bridges is made of one of two types of glass: tempered glass, which can withstand the weight of at least two players, and regular glass, which will shatter on impact and send the player plummeting to their death.

The last and final round is Squid Game. It’s between Gi-hun and Sang-woo. The two play on a field drawn in the sand, separating them. The goal is to cross the center of the field on one foot before attempting to reach the “home” square drawn at the opposite side of the field, while the defender’s objective is to stop them. 

Image Source: Screen Rant. Game: Glass Stepping Stones.

Squid Game alludes to the corrupt capitalist structure, and it’s clear throughout the entire series that Korea’s wealth gap is an ongoing problem. The participants’ objectification and dehumanization are extremely direct. The leader of the organization mentions in the final episode, “You like horse racing, don’t you? You are horses, horses on the track.” The squid game expresses the vast difference between classes produced by capitalist society. The competition that the players go through is an allegory for the cruel competition experienced by the lower-class people of the world. Squid Game has gone on for 32 years and was created to amuse the wealthy people, called VIPs in the show. A system of death is for the sake of mere entertainment. Equality is never absolute. 

Image Source: Netflix. Game: Squid Game


Now, you’re probably sitting here and wondering who was really behind all these games for the past 32 years. Well, you have to watch to find out about the jaw-dropping plot twist on the final episode that leaves us on a cliffhanger. Fortunately, Squid Game is rumored to have a season 2.