I knew from the second I saw those highly stylized stills from Netflix’s new South Korean survival thriller Squid Game that this would be a show that I could fall in love with, and I’m happy to say that based on Squid Game Episode 1, I seem to have been correct with that prediction.
This series promises a visceral, ultra-violent, downright chaotic, and magnetic thrill ride with exciting twists and turns. Combining elements from projects like Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, Alice in Borderland, and establishing a distinct tone and individual flair to set itself apart, Squid Game is the big Netflix show everyone is talking about right now. So let’s dive into the premiere episode.
The story begins with an introduction to the main character Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae). Gi-hun is a struggling chauffeur who lives with his mother because he cannot financially support himself or his daughter. As we learn quite fast, Gi-hun is a gambling addict who constantly pisses away his money on things like horse racing. It’s no wonder he’s seriously indebted to a vicious loan shark.
Within the first half-hour of the episode, we get a pretty good idea of who Gi-hun is and where his priorities lie. While he does win big by betting at the horse track, he quickly loses all of his money when he accidentally runs into a pickpocket. It’s regrettable timing since, of course, it’s at that exact moment his loan shark comes to visit. Gi-hun is given one month to find more than ₩4 million, or the shark will take his kidney and an eyeball for good measure.
He takes his daughter out for a lackluster birthday dinner, unable to fulfill any of the promises he made to her after he bragged about having tons of money right before losing it all. Based on her reaction, you can tell Gi-hun’s kid is accustomed to being disappointed by her dad.
Squid Game Episode 1 recap: Slap-slap-win?
On his way home, Gi-hun runs into a seemingly random man dressed business professional at the subway station. This man offers to play a game of ddakji with Gi-hun. If Gi-hun wins, he’ll receive 100,000 won, but if he loses then Gi-hun will owe the man the same amount, or he pay with his body by letting the man slap him.
That money would be a start on his debts, so Gi-hun accepts. After getting slapped around dozens of times, he finally manages to win and earns the 100,000. Before leaving, the man presents Gi-hun with an interesting proposition: play a game with higher stakes and win more money. Gi-hun is hesitant to accept, so the man gives him a card and warns him the spots are filling up fast.
When Gi-hun returns home, his mother tells him that soon his ex-wife and her new husband are planning to move to the states, taking Gi-hun’s daughter with them. As Gi-hun’s mom puts it, once she’s in America, they’ll become like strangers. The only way for Gi-hun to keep her in his life is if he is financially stable. It’s the final push he needs to reach out to the mysterious man he met at the subway station.
Squid Game Episode 1 recap: The stakes have never been higher
After accepting the offer, Gi-hun is abducted and taken to a mysterious location with more than 400 other players. There, they’ve all been dressed alike in green tracksuits as they try to figure what happened; they quickly discover that their phones and personal items have all been taken.
It’s here that we get to the central premise of Squid Game. These 455 players are all in similar financial distress to Gi-hun. By competing in a series of games over six days, they will have the opportunity to win a significant amount of money and potentially leave in much better circumstances than they entered. No one knows how much they’ll win yet as the game makers reveal a giant transparent piggy bank above them filled with cash. After each game, more money will be pooled inside.
Speaking of the game makers, they’re all dressed in vibrant pink suits and wearing masks to keep themselves anonymous. We also get a peek at the man who appears to be running the entire game. Based on our brief look at him (he’s wearing a darker, more insidious outfit and mask than everyone else and oversees the games from a comfy home theater room), he looks like an average white guy (he’s the only English speaker we’ve heard so far), maybe a bored billionaire or something. It’s too early to tell much about him.
Squid Game Episode 1 recap: Let the games begin
The first game is Red Light, Green Light. You might have played a version of it as a kid, although hopefully, it wasn’t like the one in this show. A giant animatronic girl stands at the precipice of a specially designed arena. When the robot girl isn’t looking at the group, she sings a Red Light, Green Light song, but when she turns her head to the contestants, all must stop instantly, or they will be gunned down and killed immediately. It doesn’t take long for the competitors to realize the extremely real stakes in this game.
Chaos breaks out once the first two men are shot and killed. Hundreds rush toward the doors to escape, but it’s too late. All of the people who try to escape are brutally murdered by fortified wall guns. By the end of the episode, the starting number of 455 has obviously gone down significantly, with a much smaller group of people remaining.
Among them is Gi-hun, his former classmate and businessman Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), the pickpocket from earlier in the episode Kang Sae-byeok (HoYeon Jung), an elderly man named Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su), a gangster Jang Deok-su (Heo Sung-tae) who we saw antagonizing Sae-byeok in the beginning and Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi), a competitor who risks his own life to save Gi-hun despite not knowing him. It’s because of Abdul that Gi-hun makes it across the finish line.
The final 20 minutes of Squid Game Episode 1 are exhilarating. If the show can keep that level of tension throughout its first season, then I look forward to seeing what comes next, and I will 100% agree with all of the rave reviews about this show. One episode in, and I’m hooked.
Squid Game Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix; add it to your watchlist right now.