TV review: Is Squid Game worth watching?

It seems that everyone loves Squid Game, the nine-part drama about a contest to win 38 million dollars (US). The South Korean Netflix show is popular with viewers across the globe. Why is that?

At first glance Squid Game looks like just another survival saga. Several hundred players compete in a series of schoolyard games. Losers are killed and winners go to the next round. It’s very dramatic and full of edge-of-your-seat tension. But it’s also more than that.

The show was created by Hwang Dong-hyuk as a fairytale about economic inequality in South Korea. Each episode contains elements that connect to issues such as meritocracy, competition, debt, trade unionism and strikes, cooperation between workers, exploitation of immigrants, colonialism, and discrimination against female and elderly workers. Although Hwang wrote with South Korea in mind, the economic themes in Squid Game are almost universal. I think that explains why the show has won global applause.

Squid Game is also excellent television. There’s a fabulous cast, I think it’s very well acted. The design is great too. Squid Game is a visual treat; I loved the costumes and the sets. The unpredictable plot kept me interested right to the end. And, most importantly of all, I cared about the characters — even ones that seemed unlikeable to start with.

Squid Game doesn’t lecture or hector the viewers. The reflections on inequality are lightly woven into the characters and their decision making. You can watch Squid Game as a simple survival drama or think about what else it’s saying. The decision is up to you.

I was struck by the scenes where men were reluctant to team up with women and the elderly, thinking they’d be weak links. Immigrant worker Ali from Pakistan also has a notable storyline. Students of decolonisation will note the presence of wealthy, white Americans in later episodes.

For me, the biggest message of the show is that money troubles put powerless people into competition with each other. To survive, they work against each other. Squid Game suggests that they could be working together instead.

The story highlights the players’ complicity with the game. They know they have two ways to escape, either by playing along or by walking away. The power is in their hands the whole time, but only if they unite and think of each other. I think Squid Game points out a lot of the problems and sadness in the world, but that it also leaves room for hope in people power.

Squid Game isn’t feel good. In fact it’s rather bittersweet. Some episodes even made me cry. K-drama is nothing like Hollywood, where characters usually live happily ever after! Instead, South Korean drama tends to mix the light and dark.

Some people on social media have been asking whether Squid Game is too violent to watch. The violence is all necessary for the story. So I’d say that Squid Game is definitely not gratuitously violent.

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