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Decoding Netflix’s 'Squid Game' via 5 burning questions

Netflix’s Squid Game is a gory and terrifying K-Original that is no different than any other survival thrillers that we have seen. It sees a group of 456 strangers betting their lives against whooping prize money of 45.6 billion Korean Won, which amounts to nearly $40 million. They find themselves wandering through an open maze into a field from where the games begin. Those who defy the game’s rules are killed, as are the ones who fail to complete their assigned mission.

Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the series stars Lee Jung Jae, Park Hae Soo, Jung Ho Yeon and Wi Ha Jun. Forced into a confined space, with a flurry of shapes, including squares, circles and triangles, the participants are being watched closely by the panoptic gaze of unknown and sinister forces hidden under masks and overalls. The series is perhaps one of the greatest K-Dramas on Netflix and has already garnered a huge fan following since its premiere on 17th September, 2021. 

Vulnerability, anxiety and frustration run high as the participants, clad in green, fight it out till death over a course of nine episodes. With a riveting premise and a terrifying underlying commentary where the dystopian narrative takes place in modern-day Korea, the series raises various questions and has led to the rise of several conspiracy theories. With interesting characters and a gruesome and twisted take on childhood innocence, the series will most likely get a sequel owing to its massive popularity. 

If you have watched the series and are stumped by some of it, here is Best of Netflix’s take on the series wherein we raise five burning questions to understand the complex premise: 

What is the Squid Game?

The titular Squid Game is actually a children’s game played in South Korea. While the name of the game suggests innocence and childhood nostalgia, the series is far from being cheerful and fun. It is a perverse take on the same and naming the series after a childhood game shows how need and desperation corrupt innocence and lead one down the rabbit hole. 

The game is usually played by drawing two circles intersected by a triangle on one end and a square on the other. One of the main characters, Gi-hun, actually describes the game in its entirety. Interestingly, the voice-over at the beginning of the episode is repeated in the climax when Gi-hun has to face his childhood friend Sang-woo in a more dangerous and gory version of the game. 

 “Children are divided into two groups: the offence and the defence. Once the game starts, the defence can run around on two feet within bounds, while the offence outside the line is only allowed to hop on one foot,” Gi-hun explains. “But if an attacker cuts through the waist of the squid outpacing the defence, he or she is given the freedom to walk freely on two feet. After preparing for the final battle, the attackers gather at the entrance of the squid.”

He further adds, “In order to win, the attackers must tap the small closed-off space on the squid’s head with their foot. If the defender pushes you out of the squid’s line, you die.”

What are the various games being played? 

Throughout the series, the players are made to play a set of games, popularly played by children but with its own dark and twisted ending. The first game they have to play is the Red Light Green Light game that is quite well-known all over the world. The game involves the players running when the gigantic doll has her back turned on them and says green light. When she turns around, they have to stay rooted to the spot. The slightest movement will get them killed. This was the most shocking point in the series as the violence and bloodshed were completely unexpected. 

The second game involved the players cutting out the shape from a honeycomb without breaking the structure, using a pin needle. Breaking the structure would cost them their lives. The third game involved a deadly twist on the classic game of tug of war where the losing team would have to fall to their deaths. 

The fourth game required the players to play any game of marbles. The players who would be left with nothing would instantly be killed and eliminated. The fifth game was a classic stepping stones game where they would have to play the game on a glass bridge where some of the glass structures are not strong enough to hold their weight. 

The final game that was played between the two remaining contestants was the Squid Game at the end of which the winner would be handed the prize money while the loser would perhaps never see the light of day ever again. 

Why did the Squid Game commence?

Squid Game is one of the greatest K-Dramas on Netflix due to its brilliant and subtle critique of the human condition where the lust for power and money overwhelms one’s senses. While it shows how desperation brings to the fore one’s ugliest emotions, it also highlights, in a non-judgemental way, the extent of the depravity of humans. A scathing commentary on the class and economic conflict, throughout the nine episodes, the series constantly highlights how the ones in power have the capacity to influence the underprivileged to be their puppets. 

Amidst the paranoia and frenzy, at the very end, it is revealed that men like Oh Il-Nam, who are filthy rich and somewhat bored with life owing to their affluence and immense wealth. Although he initially poses as a defenceless player in the game, he later reveals that it was all an act to help him feel “alive” again. Under the bejewelled mask, he is the ruthless Host who, along with various other rich men, hosts such deadly survival games that toy with human lives to derive excitement and feel the pure surge of adrenaline, betting on them as if they were nothing but mere pawns. 

How did the Front Man come into being? 

The series saw the undercover cop Hwang Jun-ho desperately looking for his elder brother Hwang In-ho who mysteriously disappeared after having won the eponymous game in 2015. The entire game was conducted under the panoptic gaze of the Front Man who is later revealed to be Hwang In-ho. While it raises a lot of questions like how he went on to become the Front Man who oversaw all the operations and took care of all disruptions, it also showed how money blinds one. 

It did not take In-ho a moment to shoot his brother for being an infiltrator. Sadistic, brutal and unfeeling, he even ignores the latter’s beloved proclamation of “Hyung”, a Korean honorific used to refer to elder brothers and murdered him in cold blood. He seems to be much like a ruthless robot who will stop at nothing to prevent the sanctity of the games. 

Why did Gi-hun decide to return to the game? 

Seong Gi-hun is no hero. Driven by insecurities, raging poverty, staggering debts and concerning gambling addiction, this everyman character prevails in the game despite various obstacles with immense courage, wit, level-headedness and compassion even in the direst situations. In the end, he has to face his friend Sang-woo in the Squid Game when the latter commits suicide, entrusting 45.6 billion Korean won to his friend, knowing that Gi-hun would look after his family and make good use of the money. 

The series ends on a somewhat ambiguous note as we see a suit-clad Gi-hun with shocking red hair on his way to board the flight when he sees that the Squid Game is still at large. He calls the number and seems determined to play the game and get to the bottom of this. This raises truckloads of questions including whether Gi-hun will become the next Front Man and if he will finally manage to put a stop to the games or if he will be overpowered by greed and power to be a part of the system.