Squid Game’s Ending Could Have Been Better
There are probably thousands of Squid Game “Ending Explained” articles on the internet by now. Most of the broader themes, like the lie of meritocracy and reflection on the predatory nature of capitalism, have already been covered. Truly, I have come to the table of Squid Game discourse far too late.
However, there is one moment in the series which I have a personal beef with that I have not seen properly addressed. That is the final game between Seong Gi-hun and Oh Il-nam. This article may come off as more of a gripe than an analysis to some, which is understandable. However, I think there is something intrinsic to the series which this scene lacked in such a glaringly obvious and easily fixable way.
And if it wasn’t clear from my previous article on Attack On Titan, I am the only one with the skills, knowledge, and wherewithal to fix every and all widely popular, beloved tv series. Clearly.
Spoilers, by the way, for any who haven’t seen the massively popular South Korean Netflix series from 2021.
One Last Game
As a quick recap, the series follows Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae) as he takes part in a series of deadly kids games where the last one standing wins a massive prize of 45.6 billion won.
The attachment between the prize money and the number of dead contestants is given special attention many times as money plunks into a huge plastic piggybank with each death. In order to survive, Gi-hun and the main cast of characters, including Gi-hun’s childhood friend, Cho Sang-woo (played by Park Hae-Soo) and an old man called Oh Il-nam (played by O Yeong-su), work together to survive each round of games, growing closer and coming to understand each other. At nearly every turning point, Gi-hun makes decisions based not on what will grant him the most likely chance of victory, but what will help keep the most vulnerable from dying.
Yet, only one person can win the prize money.
The last game is essentially a battle to the death between Gi-hun and Sang-woo, who has only made it so far by betraying and even murdering other main characters. When Gi-hun offers to forfeit the money and save both of their lives, Sang-woo takes his own, granting Gi-hun the prize, following a moment of childlike innocence and desperation. It is heart wrenching and agonizing, especially as the rich sponsors who this game was organized for watch gleefully from above. After the final Squid Game, Gi-hun refuses to touch the fortune he’s “won” through the deaths of his friends.
The games aren’t over, however, as he receives a cryptic note from a random flower seller. At the meeting place described on it, Gi-hun finds Il-nam suffering from cancer in a hospital bed and realizes the old man was behind the death games all along. When Gi-hun tries to get answers as to why he would do such a thing, Il-nam says he wants to play one last game. They place a bet on whether anyone will stop to help a homeless man freezing to death before the night is over. If anyone does, Il-nam will give Gi-hun all of the answers he wants.
As they chat, watching a man literally freeze to death from an office window across the street, they chat and discuss the games, what it means to make money, etc. It highlights how Il-nam is also a victim of the capitalist system he finds himself in, if in a different way. How he had to make money, got bored making too much money, and just wanted to be a kid again by playing the death games one last time. Finally, at stroke of midnight a police car comes to help the homeless man. Yet, as Gi-hun turns back to the old man, Il-nam is already dead, offering no more answers.
I Don’t Want To Play Anymore
So, recap out of the way, let’s get into why this scene left me feeling so dissatisfied.
Why didn’t Gi-hun himself go down to help the homeless man? It was all I could think while watching this scene. Why did Gi-hun stand there for hours talking with the person responsible for 455 deaths instead of preventing one more?
Squid Game is a phenomenal show. It’s a dark, gripping reflection of the struggle for life in late-stage capitalism which forces people into dangerous, risky gambits in order to survive. Through all of it, Gi-hun stands out as someone who cares about those around him and will refuse to play the sick games of the wealthy sponsors.
Yet here, when he is the one standing in a glass box watching someone in a dire situation fight for survival, he plays the game. The insistence on working together, helping those more vulnerable, and compassion aren’t present.
Arguably, it was on purpose. Squid Game can be a pessimistic show, so it might have intentionally kept Gi-hun playing to show how difficult it truly is to escape the systems those games represent. As someone who has finally escaped their hard situations, whether he used the billions in his bank account or not, Gi-hun is a viewer, not a participator, in these sick games. It is much easier to accept the current world and all of its systemic issues once they no longer affect you directly.
By saving the homeless man too, the show obviously wants to imply a sense of hope for humanity. There is still good to be found even in a world which rewards cold-heartedness and self-interest. As Il-nam dies, another man is saved and his view of the world is proven wrong. But I would argue Gi-hun doing the saving is a much stronger display of kindheartedness and rejection of Il-nam’s goals.
Hopefully if there is a season two of the show, which seems likely around 2024, it will take a more in-depth look at the option of quitting the games instead of playing them.