How Squid Game Should Have Ended
This is about how a show ended: it contains spoilers.
Davood Gozli recently recorded a great review on Squid Game, which I couldn’t watch until I saw the series, so guess what happened? Yup, sleep-deprivation — Squid Game was brilliant up to the very end. Unfortunately, by that, I don’t mean “until the final credits” — I mean until the very end. And then the show stabbed itself in the throat like Cho. Talk about a tragedy…
I was worried when the VIPs appeared that the ending would bomb, but there was still hope until the very second before Seong Gi-hun, the protagonist, met his elder teammate again (you know, Oh Il-nam…the character we did love…). At that moment, by the hospital bed, the show was as finished as half the recruits were after “Red Light, Green Light.” Instead of undermining its most emotionally impactful episode (“Gganbu”) with a lazy twist, the show should have made a point about the necessity for revolutionary change in a world where revolution rarely succeeds. But yea, go on Squid Game, ruin Oh Il-nam…
Now, before I’m harsh and critical, I want to take a moment to note how incredibly difficult it is to create anything in this world: to generate the plot, audition the right actors, construct the stages, design the costumers, land the dialogue — a show like Squid Game is an insanely difficult project to finish. I attempt to write fiction myself, and when people critique it, it hurts, so I don’t critique the show lightly. And I do want to emphasize that the show really was brilliant until the end. For example, I think Episode 2 was extraordinary, for it really did convince viewers that the world outside the game was more “hellish” than the games itself. By making the games chosen and something characters chose to return to, the morality of the games was completely transformed. Additionally, we ourselves could wonder if joining “The Competition” would be so bad…
Why do I feel compelled to write this piece? Because the show ruined my memory of Oh Il-nam: that elderly man was about to go down in history as one of my favorite characters of all time, but no longer. The way he sacrificed himself in one of the most memorable and beautiful scenes I’d ever seen (especially if next season he turns out to be Seong’s father), only to have it turn out that he didn’t actually die and was ultimately the evil mastermind behind the whole affair — why, Squid Game, why? Now I can’t remember Oh Il-nam without knowing he was a monster. The writers prioritized “a twist” over the memory and power of Episode 6 (“Gganbu”), and now Episode 6 is dead to me. I don’t want future writers to make this mistake, so here I am. Never sacrifice an amazing scene or episode with a twist: it doesn’t matter if the episode was amazing if I can’t remember it like I experienced it. An episode worthy of ten stars suddenly ends up forgettable. Forever, the awe felt during the episode is replaced by a feeling of betrayal.
Worse yet, Oh Il-nam being the “evil mastermind” doesn’t make much sense. If he wasn’t actually shot in Episode 6, was his life ever in jeopardy at all? Was he really playing the games, or would the robot in Episode 1 (for example) not have shot him if he moved during a “red light” (as suggested by the fact that he wasn’t highlighted “green” by the robot’s sensors)? If Il-name would have been about to fall to his death in “tug of war,” would the Front Man have ordered for the rope to be cut? Perhaps not, but these are possibilities we can as the audience now wonder, which draws into question the main philosophical point of the show: that the ultra-rich can get bored and seek meaning just like the poor “on the same level.” That sounds nice, but it’s possible Il-name never had “real skin in the game” like the desperate and poor who join the game by choice, and so they’re not on equal footing at all. I mean, if they faked Oh Il-nam’s death in Episode 6, then why should we think he would have really died in any of the games? Everything Oh Il-nam did is suddenly drawn into question, and we are left doubting and wondering, damaging the emotional impact of the show even more. Davood Gozli also points out the Il-nam refuses to watch the games after he exits them, telling the Front Man that he didn’t want to remember how much he enjoyed “The Competition,” but maybe the truth is Il-nam didn’t want to risk losing his belief that he was a genuine player? If that’s the case, Il-nam is also engaging in complex games of self-deception, and my emotional attachment to him is destroyed once and for all.
Alright, but how would I have ended the show differently? I’ll explain, and I’ll even give the writers material for a Season 2. Sure, I would prefer for Squid Games to end after one season, because they we could tighten the ending by having the VIPs totally removed from the show, but I understand the needs of producers and studios to keep things going. More importantly, I would like the show to ultimately be about something more interesting than nihilistic efforts to avoid boredom.
First, in preparation for my new ending, a few changes need to be made during the season:
1. All the scenes where the Front Man is on the phone with someone, it is not with Il-nam. (How did Il-name make these calls anyway?) Instead, the Front Man is speaking with the VIPs.
2. All scenes showing “the fox costume” that Il-name is unveiled to own are removed, because when Il-nam died in Episode 6, he really sacrificed himself.
3. During one call, the Front Man mentions on the phone how this year it will be an honor to host “the mammal group.” All the masks the VIPs wear also change to be of mammals (deer, bears, etc.).
4. Whenever the face of “a pink guard” is unmasked (I don’t know what else to call them), the guard is no older than twenty-five. (Also, they’re pink dang it, not red.)
5. When the Front Man looks in the mirror and remembers shooting his brother (Hwang Jun-ho), he says, “Just one more year,” and then the Front Man cries.
Now, let’s begin. We will start with the scene when the Front Man sits in the limo with the main protagonist. The Front Man isn’t drinking wine, and he doesn’t say anything about how “The Competition” was basically just for rich people to bet on people like horses. Instead, the Front Man tells Seon, “It’s a problem to have too much money and too little: you just don’t know what to do with yourself.” Seon asks the Front Man to tell him why they do this, and the Front Man answers, “It took six years, but we have what we need. Thank you.” Seon demands for the Front Man to explain, but the Front Man steps out of the car before Seon is gassed. The limo drives away.
The Front Man returns to the room where the VIPs are gathered overlooking Game 6, and they applaud the Front Man, telling him it was the best Competition yet. “Higher-up pink guards” stand to the sides, and the Front Man thanks the VIPs “for their contributions.” The VIPs regret that next year “the lizard group” can “come back and watch the games live” and wish that “the mammals” didn’t have to “wait around for ages” before having so much fun again. The Front Man then pulls out his pistol and shoots a VIP in the head; the gold bear mask falls to the floor, red. The other VIPs scream, and the pink guards raise their machine guns and shoot them down. The Front Man leaves the room; the guards follow him out.
The Front Man returns to main “control room” (with all the monitors, the floor with the faces of the contestants on the ground, etc.), There, “low rank” pink guards are lined up in formation, waiting. The Front Man looks across the room. “I know you have questions,” he says and grants them permission to speak. One of the pink guards finally does, “Why did we kill the VIPs?” The Front Man is silent, and then asks the pink guard, “Why haven’t you shot me yet?” The pink guard doesn’t answer, and the Front Man nods. “You hated them too,” the Front Man says. “We all did. We’re here because of them. They’re why we don’t have futures.” Silence. The Front Man starts pacing. “We never take off our masks because we’re all equal here,” he says. “But there’s another reason: it’s because we’re not here for ourselves. We’re here as representatives. You’re all younger than twenty-five. I know: I picked you myself. You all agreed to take this job because you had no prospects and needed the money. It’s on behalf of your generation that you’re here.”
Another “pink guard” asks about why they weren’t offered a chance to be part of “The Competition,” and the Front Man says it was because they weren’t in debt yet: they knew the future didn’t have anything in store for them, but they also weren’t utterly desperate. But watching the participates of the game, the guards saw where their lives were headed. “You saw something has to change,” the Front Man says. “You’ll help with what comes next. The higher-ups already know, but now it’s time for everyone to choose. We’ll take a vote.” The “pink guards” shuffle nervously; one of them blurts out, “Is this a game?” The scene cuts.
We return to Seong, the protagonist.
Seong stands at the ATM machine, staring at his account size. The prize money is there; he is rich.
A year passes.
Seong sits by a river, drunk. He refuses to spend much of the money at all; an elder woman shuffles up selling flowers. Seog buys one; there is no black card with the rose. He returns to town and sits in a bar. The TV is on, but Seong doesn’t look at it. And suddenly he hears an announcer say, “squid game.” Seong looks up.
He sees himself and friends playing tug-of-war; he sees them send strangers falling to their death. He asks the bartender to turn up the volume, and the bartender says it’s a rerun: Season 1 ended last month. Seong says he had never seen it, and the bartender asks Seong if he lived under a rock: it was the most popular show in the world. It was like professional wrestling — everyone knew it was fake: people trapped in debt and horrible life circumstances were forced to play for money at the risk of their lives. Everyone was there by choice (further evidence that the show was fake), and — spoiler alert — the winner was Player 456. Seong watches himself pat Oh Il-nam on the back and asks the bartender why anyone would watch this bloodbath. “It’s like magic,” the bartender answers. “Everyone knows it’s fake, but we still want to be amazed. Life’s hard, you know? Nice to root for people like us for once. Hell, I’d play. Why not?”
Seong says it would be a nightmare and the bartender agrees that it would be a dream. Seong runs out of the bar and finds a library with access to a computer. He logs onto “5GFlix” and sees a show called Squid Games listed. He starts Season 1. He watches himself. He watches Cho slit Kang’s throat, then Cho kill himself. The show is critically acclaimed and listed under the “Documentary” section, which people in the comments think is “so meta.” Someone also says it’s funny how all the most popular programing lately is about “games” — Game of Thrones, Hunger Games. Resonates.
Seong empties his pockets and barren wallet for the original card from the organizers of “The Competition” and finds it. He races outside the library and calls them on his cellphone. The number isn’t in service. He tries again. Headlights. A van door opens. The Front Man tells Seong to get in before the world changes.
The road is mostly empty other than a few trucks; a pink guard drives while Seong and the Front Man sit in the back. Seong demands answers, and the Front Man removes his mask. He tells Seong that his name is Hwang In-ho and that he was the 2015 Contest winner. Seong is speechless. “Why did you join them?” Seong asks. “Don’t you have 50 billion?” Hwang nods. “Haven’t you thought about going back?” Hwang asks, and Seong doesn’t answer. Hwang sits back. “I killed my brother so that you didn’t end up like me,” Hwang finally says. “The Front Man during my Contest was the 2012 winner. They always came back.”
Seong doesn’t understand, and Hwang says that his men have gathered up all the records and films. “It’s over decades,” Hwang says. “The VIPs have been doing this forever.” The van stops, and Hwang puts his mask back on before opening the van door. “Are you coming?” Seong asks why he should trust a bloodthirsty murderer, and Hwang asks Seong if he ever forced anyone to join “The Competition.” “Didn’t you want to be there?” Hwang asks. “Like Il-nam?” “He’s dead, Seong answers. “He is,” Hwang answers, “but it doesn’t have to be for nothing.”
They’re at a news-station; pink guards stand outside. Hwang and Seong walk inside, and all the people working there have been gathered up by the pink guards at gunpoint. “Will you shoot them?” Seong asks off-handedly, and Hwang answers. “How do you think the VIPs keep power?” The answer is left vague. “Why now?” Seong asks, and Hwang says it took time to weed out the older pink guards until they were all young; Hwang also needed people who had the skills to pitch screenplays to studios, and that took time. Lastly, it was because Seong, the 2021 winner, was willing to forfeit the game versus take the prize money. “People will trust you,” Hwang answers. “We don’t have to be animals.”
Seong and Hwang walk into a studio where a chair is waiting with a television camera. Hwang tells Seong to sit; Seong asks why, and Hwang says that they’re going to tell the world about “The Competition.” “Revolts never work,” Hwang says. “The VIPs always make sure the people botch it or lose hope in the end, but we’re going to make people feel like they don’t have a choice but to do something.” Seong doesn’t understand, and Hwang says that if people realize that society has gotten so bad that people are willing to join “The Competition” and vote to stay, the citizenship will demand change. “The fact the show is the most popular in the world,” Hwang says, “means people connect with you: they’re hoping for a chance to lock themselves in hell.” Seong asks Hwang if he really thinks this is going to work. “It isn’t a revolution,” Hwang answers. “It’s a TV show.”
Hwang starts to walk away as the pink guards prepare the broadcast, but Seong shouts after him. “Is this just another game?” Seong asks. Hwang stops; the camera focuses on his black mask. Expressionless. Scene cuts.
On screens across South Korea, Seong’s face appears. Everyone looks at him, and Seong hesitates to speak. In a dark room full of wine bottles and designer furniture, a television screen casts a dim glow on a glass table and three golden lizard masks. Three men watch Seong, smoking. One of the men is blonde, cubby, and American; the camera focuses on his face. He smiles and unveils his yellow teeth. “Fun.”
Cut to credits.
And there you go! Il-name goes down in history as one of the best characters ever, and we have reason to think Season 2 won’t just be a rehash of Season 1 with new games and characters. By adding a “meta-dimension,” Season 1 has also inspired us to ask questions about ourselves: What kind of people are we to like Squid Game? What must society be like for us to enjoy it?
Possible Directions for Season 2
1. Seong tells the world about “The Competition,” and nobody believes him. Everyone assumes it is “fake news.” Thus, Season 2 will explore themes about how it’s not enough to just “tell people the truth”: we also must convince them, which is proving harder and harder by the day.
2. The VIPs pay the media to tell everyone about “deep fake technology,” suggesting “The Competition” programs are just creations.
3. Seong and Hwang try to convince everyone the truth by getting the families of the deceased from Season 1 onboard, but many families don’t believe them (and even act glad that the deceased are gone), and those who do believe have been paid off by the VIPs. But one family does join Seong and Hwang, forfeiting the money they desperately need, only to find that nobody believes them. “You’re on the marketing team,” people claim, and the family, having lost everything, bitterly turn on Seong and Hwang. (This family could be treated like the parents of Sandy Hook victims who Alex Jones claimed was part of a conspiracy; the graphic novel Sabrina could also be relevant.)
4. Seong and Hwang find out around midseason that a new “Competition” has begun, because a new season of the popular TV show begins on 5GFlix. This means that the VIPs have replaced Hwang with a new headmaster and carried on with business as usual: Seong and Hwang weren’t able top stop it even by telling people the truth. This makes Seong and Hwang wonder if telling the world the truth was actually the right thing to do, because people are still entering “The Competition” by choice. “Have we really helped anyone?” Seong asks. Some “pink guards” return to the island and their old jobs. “It’s our only hope,” a guard says, to which Hwang reminds the guard that he can’t speak unless his superior talks first. “I know,” the guard answers.
5. Season 2 ends suggesting that Seong and Hwang carried out this “revolution” because they wanted “a game to play” too, that they aren’t really any better than the VIPs. Is that true? Seong and Hwang deny it, and then they decide they could prove “The Competition” was real by returning to the island and stopping it. This suggests that Season 3 will explore if Seong and Hwang genuinely want to change society or are just looking for a new game to play themselves, like the VIPs. “Deep fake technology” could also play a critical role.
Cut for Season 3
In conclusion, Squid Game was a masterpiece up until the very end, and then it ruined its best episode. I don’t know what Season 2 might hold, but I’m still willing to give it a chance. After all, the writers are geniuses.