Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
456 players. 6 rounds. 6 deadly games. And 1 victor. Welcome to Squid Game, the latest deliciously dark K-drama on Netflix. With interesting characters, an artistic flair and plenty of tense segments, this 9 episode series squeezes absolutely everything it can out of its run-time.
The story here centers on Ji-Hun, a man down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet. He’s millions in debt, owed to both loan sharks and the bank, something that’s only made worse by a particularly nasty gambling addiction.
When a mysterious businessman offers Ji-Hun a way out from that life though, he takes it with both hands. The only trouble is, this offer is quite literally a matter of life and death.
Played out as a blend of Takeshi’s Castle and Alice in Borderland, Ji-Hun and the other 400+ contestants soon learn that they’re stuck in a deadly game that will cost them more than money.
As the episodes progress, more characters come to the foreground including the charming Player 001, mob boss Deok-Soo and Ji-Hun’s friend, Sang-Woo. Much like other high-stress shows of its kind, Squid Game excels through its use of character.
Over the course of 9 episodes, each and every one of these guys change and evolve. Sang-Woo takes a dark path, Deok-Soo becomes ever more desperate while Player 001 remains an enigma. There are also staff members trying to make a quick buck, instigating shady deals with players, while a detective has his own agenda for being on the island.
Ji-Hun though is the central character here, and through him we see all six of these deadly games play out – which end up as the focal point for much of the tension.
Without giving away any spoilers, there are some deaths along the way that are undoubtedly brutal. However, they never feel like distasteful torture porn like some of the later Saw films did. Instead, Squid Game simply uses its violence as a platform to tell a larger story about society and the dangerous effects of spiraling debt.
It also subtly highlights the growing gap between the rich and poor, whispered beautifully through a monologue during the final episode. This really helps to tie everything together, showing the big division between the masses caught in the rat-race of everyday life and the few living the high life at the top.
I’m being careful not to give away any spoilers here, but while the games have a definitive conclusion, the show’s larger storyline does not. The final scene of the show leaves everything on a tantalizing cliffhanger ready for a possible follow-up season.
Aesthetically, Squid Game looks absolutely fantastic. The bright colours and trippy visuals contrast so well against the gnarly and dark nature of the games. This feeds into the soundtrack as well, which uses a blend of ambient minor strings to heighten the tension during games and some unsettling tracks while each character is in isolation or reflecting their next choices in the dormitory.
There have been an abundance of excellent Korean dramas this year and Squid Game is no exception. While this does unashamedly borrow elements of Alice in Borderland and Liar Game, Squid Game arguably stands above those thanks to its bold aesthetic choices and twists – which both feel ripped right from the best Black Mirror episodes.
Squid Game is quite simply brilliant. It’s a mature, raw, edgy show that manages to depict life or death games in a realistic and brutal manner. And yet through it all, it also manages to tell a much larger story about the rich and poor, how the poor are forced to do everything they can to try and escape their debt-ridden lives while the rich live in luxury. This is one show you certainly shouldn’t miss this year and Squid Game is undoubtedly going to be a massive success for Netflix.
Verdict - 9/10