hunger binge

‘Squid Game’ Episode 1 Recap: Game On

[ad_1]

It’s the television sensation of the season! At least, that’s how Netflix has positioned Squid Game, the dystopian thriller from writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk that has become the most-watched Netflix Original series of all-time. The streaming behemoth only shares its data on a voluntary basis, and at any rate has the power to push any show it wants onto the landing pages of its millions of subscribers; if a regular TV network had that kind of power, we’d have gotten a lot more seasons of Cop Rock. But, fittingly enough, Squid Game‘s opening episode is all about blind trust (not that this kind of trust does anyone any good). Does it reward our trust with a show worth binge watching?

Squid Game stars Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun, a 47-year-old divorced dad, failed restaurateur, degenerate gambler, and all-around sad sack. After an opening flashback in which he plays the titular game of tag with his friends as a kid, we learn all his details—including the fact that he lives with his aging mother, whose ATM card he steals in order to withdraw money for wagers at an off-track betting parlor. His horse comes in, but his winnings get pick-pocketed while he’s on the run from the loan sharks to whom he owes money. (They make him sign an IOU with his own bloody fingerprint.) Since it’s his daughter’s birthday, he uses what little cash he has left to buy her some greasy fast food and a boxed toy from an arcade crane machine, which turns out to be a cigarette lighter in the shape of a gun. So yeah, it’s a bad day all around.

Then it goes from bad to weird. A mysterious man in a suit approaches him in a subway station—Gi-hun is at first convinced he’s gonna try to tell him about Jesus—with an offer. If he can defeat the man in a little game of skill and chance, he’ll win 100,000 won; if he loses, the mystery man will slap him in the face. Countless slaps later, Gi-hun finally wins the game and pockets the money, along with the man’s business card and an offer: He can make more, much more, if he calls the man up and plays games like this one for a few days.

SQUID GAME 101 PLAY A GAME

When he finally returns home to his mom’s, she informs him what his kid balked at telling him herself: His daughter, her mother, and her stepdad will all be moving to the United States next year. It’s the icing on a really shitty cake. So he does what any desperate man might: He calls the mystery money man and takes him up on his offer.

That’s when the real weirdness starts. He’s picked up by a van full of sleeping people, and promptly gets hit with a knockout dose of sleeping gas himself. He wakes up in a massive dormitory wearing a numbered green tracksuit labeling him contestant number 456 out of 456 contestants total. As he and his fellow players wake up and try to suss out their surroundings, they’re approached by a phalanx of masked people in pink jumpsuits, who run the show under the guidance of a guy in a black mask and hood called the Front Man.

SQUID GAME 101 PINK MASKS

The leading pink guy, who sports a square logo on his face mask (everyone else’s is a circle), gives them the rundown. Everyone there, he says, suffers from crippling debt. Here, they have a chance to win enough money—how much is unspecified, but apparently it’ll be enough to fill up a giant glowing piggy-bank they lower from the ceiling—to pay off their debts and start fresh, provided they sign a simple consent form.

SQUID GAME 101 STAIRS

So after dutifully signing, everyone makes their way through a set of staircases that look like Sesame Street designed by M.C. Escher. They emerge into a faux-outdoor set, facing a gigantic robotic doll. The first game, they’re told, is Red Light, Green Light. If thy make it to the finish line without being eliminated for continuing to move after the doll finishes reciting the little sing-song poem from the game, they win.

It takes everyone by surprise when the method of elimination is revealed: When you lose, you get shot to death.

Seemingly more than half of the group turns to flee in a blind panic and gets mowed down. The others frantically scramble for the finish line, fervently hoping that they freeze enough not to set off the doll’s motion detector after each round stops. The survivors include our hero, Gi-hun, number 456; his old friend Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), number 218, whose successful exterior hides millions in debt; 067 (Jung Ho-yeon), a North Korean defector who, coincidentally or not, is the woman who picked Gi-hun’s pocket; 001 (O Yeong-su), who has a brain tumor that threatens to bring on dementia; 101 (Heo Sung-tae), a gangster who served as 067’s mentor before she allegedly betrayed him; and 199 (Anupam Tripathi), a South Asian man and seemingly the only non-Korean in the game, who saves Gi-hun’s life by holding him up by the jacket when he nearly trips after he’s supposed to have stopped moving.

SQUID GAME 101 DOLL

When the game finally ends and the survivors have all crossed the finish line, a massive artificial roof made up to look like the surrounding forest closes over the game field, sealing everyone inside. All this happens under the watchful eye of the Front Man, who listens to a relaxing rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” played by a miniature automaton jazz band toy thing while watching people get gunned down. (Villains and their ironic taste in music, man.)

By the time the episode wraps, its antecedents in the “lethal game show competition” genre are obvious. The Hunger Games‘ use of the underclass to entertain the rich springs to mind, as does Battle Royale‘s exploration of the violence that undergirds a society that’s placid on the surface. But I think the film version of The Running Man is the closest thing to what we’ve got here, since it’s not a matter of the contestants killing each other—not yet, anyway—so much as it’s the architect of the game picking the players off.

So far, at least, the show’s real selling point is not the originality of the plot, but the aesthetics of the game. The brightly colored uniforms and face-obscuring masks recall that other global sensation of recent times, Among Us, while that multi-colored staircase is a killer visual. (There’s more than a little Daft Punk mixed into all of this, I think.) When it comes, the violence is presented in a blasé manner meant to convey the callousness of the game’s masters, but which could also read as glib and exploitative if the show doesn’t play its cards right.

And that’s where we’re at after the first episode: intriguing if unoriginal premise, a likable down-on-his-luck protagonist, compelling visuals. To see if Squid Game is more than the sum of its parts, we’ll have to play again.

SQUID GAME 101 ISLAND

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.

Watch Squid Game Episode 1 on Netflix

(function(d, s, id) {
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&appId=823934954307605&version=v2.8”;
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

[ad_2]

Read More:‘Squid Game’ Episode 1 Recap: Game On