Squid Game, The Most Dominant Streaming Show

Netflix's Squid Game was undoubtedly this year's most dominant streaming show. What made it so special?
Squid Game Guards
Image Source: Fandom

The most successful show of 2021, in terms of streaming, that is, is Netflix’s Squid Game. The hyper-violent crime show invites us to imagine the world’s super-rich weirdos placing obscene bets on humans who act as chess pieces in various brutal games.

Squid Game is a South Korean survival drama series that was released exclusively by Netflix in America. It premiered on September 17, 2021.

Squid Game Poster
Image Source: Deseret News

The Squid Game Contagion

Squid Game has entrenched itself as one of the single most well-known shows of all time. Netflix reported that the show entered 142 million member households in its first 28 days of release, surpassing the previous record-holder, Bridgerton, by over 60 million more viewers. 

Soon, it spread like a scourge, with everyone on social media speaking about it. The water coolers at work were infested with the inner workings of the Squid Game as employees debated the intensity of the show’s first violent episode. 

From word of mouth to social media, the show gained popularity. It is notorious for its violent scenes, which shocked and captivated many.

The Characters from Squid Game
Image Source: Bloomberg

The Characters

The show itself sets up the characters well. We are given insight into most characters' lives before the games. Many of them suffer from poverty, debt and are disillusioned with the world’s current state.

For example, our primary character, Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae, is the star of the first episode, which shows just how desperate times have gotten for him. He is estranged from his young daughter and has a terrible gambling addiction.

As such, he sees the games as an opportunity to win money and prevent his daughter from moving to America with her mother and her stepfather. This motivation eventually gets twisted, but it is the impetus for his entry into the games.

The second most important character is arguably a childhood friend of Gi-hun's. Cho Sang-woo, played by Park Hae-soo, is an overachiever and seemingly successful accountant who graduated from Seoul National University. 

However, it is soon revealed that Sang-woo, who has made some questionable business decisions, is actually in more debt than any other player due to the high stakes of his occupation. Sang-woo and Gi-hun gravitate towards each other, as both are smart and possess leadership abilities. This eventually positions them to face off against each other in the vicious last-man-standing type of competition they find themselves in.

Doll from Squid Game
Image Source: The Verge

The Premise

Given the hardships of the contestants, they are specifically susceptible, to say, a scheme designed to leave only one man standing, and then give that one person millions of dollars for victory. 

When the contestants arrive at the games, having been led there with the promise of easy money, they are surprised to see the first game is a larger-than-life representation of the common childhood game "Red Light, Green Light".

A large robotic girl, who uses her motion-sensor to make sure no contestants move throughout the red-light time, first appears humorous to the onlookers. It is soon revealed, however, that anyone who moves after the red light will be killed by one of many hidden snipers who are above the game field. 

This first game eliminates many players in a brutal fashion, and the show never lets up on the graphic violence. The action is good though, and the contestants are forced to bond with one another in order to avoid getting killed along the way.

Prize Money
Image Source: Screen Rant

But there can be only one winner, and soon the teams break down into groups of friends, who then turn on each other. These dramatic payoffs build on previous moments when these teammates survived life and death circumstances together.

Even colder then, is when they turn on each other out of self-preservation. One of the more interesting scenes in the show is when the contestants decide to take a vote to cancel the games. Per the bylaws of the game, the majority rules and can end the exhibition at any time. 

They ultimately do cancel the games and return to the real world. They find their old lives infinitely more depressing than the slaughterhouse they have lived in for the last couple of days, and most return the next day to reinstate the games.

Squid Game speaks on the desperation of those in impoverished circumstances. It shows us that at the end of the day, we really are all just animals striving to preserve ourselves. It speaks on hope too, inviting us to imagine the severe optimism it might take in order to put yourself in a dangerous position, hoping and praying for that final payoff. 

Iconic Squid Game
Image Source: Wired

What Makes Squid Game Iconic?

Squid Game has some really recognizable images that make it a universally known show. The guards that protect the island compound where the games take place are a perfect example of this aesthetic. They wear shiny pink jumpsuits, armed with sleek black submachine guns. They wear these dark, full-coverage masks that have a pink shape on them, which signifies their role in the facility.

The guards are broken down into a hierarchy, not unlike the division of labor in an ant colony. The ones with a circle on their masks are workers, the triangles signify soldiers and the square is a manager or a leader of some kind. 

These three shapes are repeated in the logo for the show and are also the main three shapes featured in the actual squid game, a childhood neighborhood game commonly played in Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. This game, similar to Hopscotch, with an added physical contact portion, is what director Hwang Dong-hyuk used as the basis for his show.

Guards Remove Body
Image Source: NME

The Themes

Although the violence in Squid Game stands out the most, there is a deeply human quality to the plight and the struggle of the characters. The come-up and financial redemption are things that everyone strives for in 2021.

Similar to the way Parasite explored capitalism in 2019, Squid Game announced its opinion on the matter with an unforgettable piece of art. The teamwork, the character interactions, and the backstabbing all hit a little too close to home for those familiar with the hallmarks of modern capitalism. 

The narrative is multifaceted, as we see an undercover cop infiltrate the island, looking for his lost brother. We also see people who were criminals and villains on the outside come together for the common goal of winning the game. 

We have our hero characters too. There are men and women here who deserve to win the money. That’s the thing about competition though, we all have a reason why we should win.

As we move into this new year and await the next big show to take over streaming like a contagion, we should take a moment to recognize Squid Game for what it is. It captured a moment in our history and society, much the same way Tiger King did in 2020. For all who were a part of it, I’m sure it is not a memory that will fade easily.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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