Squid Game: Netflix’s Newest Sensation



The cover poster for Squid Game. The three main characters, Seong Gi-hun, Cho Sang-woo, and Kang Sae-byeok, stand in the center of the arena during the show’s most famous scene.

Madison Austin, Photojournalist

On September 17, 2021, a groundbreaking limited series premiered on Netflix. This smash-hit television show has transformed into the number one trending program on the streaming site for the past four weeks, and counting. Squid Game is a psychological thriller television show that is sweeping not only the United States but the entire world. It is currently the most streamed Netflix series in 94 countries, and it shows no signs of losing its place.

Accumulating over 111 million viewers, Squid Game is a survival drama about 456 indebted Korean men and women who have the opportunity to compete in a prolific competition to win money. While they each come from different walks of life, these characters must compete in a set of mentally, physically, and psychologically challenging games.

The main protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, is a recovering gambling addict, and he lives with his impoverished, elderly grandmother. He struggles to provide child support for his 6-year-old daughter, and he fears that his ex-wife will apply for full custody of her. To make matters worse, his mother is deeply sick and in need of critical medical attention. Participation in the games could provide the financial support that Seong Gi-hun and his mother so desperately need.

Cho Sang-woo, a tall and confident banker, is the second main character on Squid Game. A seemingly successful business school graduate, Cho Sang-woo faces federal charges in Korea on account of embezzlement. He is a family friend of Seong Gi-hun, and they have known each other since grade school. Sang-woo’s mother, the owner of a small-town Korean convenience store, is oblivious to his financial struggles and believes him to be a successful, big-city businessman.

The third and final protagonist is Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector in desperate need of money to retrieve her family members from across the border. She cares for her younger brother, and she innovatively strives to protect him. She is involved in some suspicious activity with Korean gang members, and she is a common pickpocket, who robbed Seong Gi-hun days before their official meeting.

All of these characters have one thing in common. They are, in one way or another, in massive debt. They each are struggling in the lowest economic class and are desperate for financial aid. One fateful day, they are each visited by an enigmatic man in an expensive suit. He invites them to participate in a round of the classic Korean childrens’ game, Milk Caps, in exchange for some petty cash. Unsurprisingly, there is a catch to the deal: if they lose the game, the well-dressed man is able to slap them square across the face. Unsurprisingly, each character participates.

Although facing initial failures, the characters each eventually beat the man and are awarded their cash prize. The man offers them something more, as well. He gives them a peculiar business card containing an image of ill-configured shapes on the front, and a date/time on the back. While they are notably hesitant and skeptical, their conditions encourage them to comply with the business card and travel to the unknown location.

Upon arriving, they are drugged and dragged into a sizable, gray van. They travel via automobile, boat, and train to an island off of the coast of South Korea. When they confusedly awaken, they find themselves in a novel warehouse with hundreds of other disoriented men and women. They are all dressed in turquoise, one-piece workers’ uniforms with different numbers in the top right corner. Seong Gi-hun has the number 456, Cho Sang-woo is number 218, and Kang Sae-byeok is number 067. An electronic sign on the wall says 456 attendees are within the warehouse walls, so Seong Gi-hun concludes that he was the last person brought.

All 456 people stand in confusion as they see hundreds of masked staff members dispersed throughout the room. Frighteningly silent and withdrawn, the masked men supply the participants with little to no information regarding their whereabouts or purpose. Seong Gi-hun confronts Kang Sae-byeok, who he remembers as a pickpocket he encountered a couple of days prior. Moments later, the Front Man, the assumed leader of the operation wearing a distinctive mask from the others, gives the people information.

He explains that they have each been granted a rare and exciting opportunity to participate in a series of 6 to 7 games for a substantial cash prize. For the next six days, he explains, they will be staying to participate in the games. The Front Man presents an abiding contract that all 456 players willingly sign. The agreement describes the three rules of the games: a player is not allowed to stop playing the games, a player will be eliminated if they refuse to play the game, and the games can be terminated if a majority desires such. All 456 men and women sign the form without an ounce of hesitancy.

The participants have a second of momentary peace before playing the first game. Much to the players’ surprise, the people who run the game take a more literal connotation to the word ‘eliminated’ than the players had in mind. When the seemingly innocent activity turns lethal, the players must choose to survive, fight, or die. As the games become more intense and the consequences grow more drastic, the characters are forced into dangerous situations where the majority fall short.

Squid Game, consisting of nine 50-60 minute episodes, tells the stories of each character in their natural elements, as well as during the Games. A riveting and constantly entertaining series, Squid Game has received universal critical acclaim. The film and television review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, gave the series a score of 91%, making it one of the highest-scoring television series of the year.

Despite the fact that it is a Korean-spoken television show, Squid Game is receiving mass acclaim around the globe. While most Netflix users do not understand Korean, the sheer gravity of Squid Game is able to secure its success. Scott Brenan, of BBC News, praised Squid Game because it is a “show that can generate such a buzz globally in literally a matter of days, even if the show is not in the English language” (BBC.com). Squid Game is the first non-English Netflix series to rank number one in American Netflix for over three weeks.

Brian Phillips, a writer for The Ringer, commented on the mysterious and psychologically thrilling aspects of the series. Squid Game, at its core, is horrifying. Its plot is so foreign and abstract to most audiences that every move is unpredictable. Phillips, while at times critical of the series, believes that Squid Game is “a chain of absurdist logic” to an extent where “you really might not want to see what comes next” (theringer.com). Some of its most riveting moments lie within its unpredictability, as the essence of Squid Game is its irregularity.

On the whole, critics loved Squid Game. One critic from Forbes went as far as to say that he “can’t recommend Squid Game enough” (forbes.com). Audiences expressed similar sentiments regarding the hit show. Sydney Safford (12), a sci-fi fan and AP Psychology student, believes that “Squid Game is one of the best shows that [she] has ever seen.” She went on to explain that “Squid Game isn’t just about the violence or the insane plot, it’s more about the subliminal messages and hidden details that make the show complete.”

Squid Game is a critically acclaimed Netflix original series, breaking limitations and gaining unprecedented success. Not only is it receiving mass critical acclaim and audience approval rates, but it is also the most-watched Netflix program, for four consecutive weeks. While Netflix executives have not yet confirmed the production of another season, hopeful fanatics await the production of a second season of Squid Game.