Should be obvious but I guess I’m obligated to give a spoiler warning cause this is the internet and that’s just what you do?
SPOILERS FOR THE END OF SQUID GAME AHEAD
Listen. I’m just some dude with a WordPress login. So if you liked the end of Squid Game and you don’t care what I think that’s great. But our Apollo Media overlords gave me this WordPress login because they want me to live my truth and that’s what I’m going to do. No, I’m not just here to give a contrarian hot take about a popular thing for attention. Just vibe with me for a little while and hopefully you’ll see where I’m coming from.
With all that said, let’s get into it.
Squid Game Ending Recap
For those of you who need a refresher, in the final episode of Squid Game the main character we’ve been following (Seong Gi-Hun) defeats his cold-hearted childhood friend (Cho Sang-Woo) in the final round but offers Sang-Woo a way out. Sang-Woo kills himself instead so Gi-Hun wins all the money. Gi-Hun goes home and finds his mom dead. He falls into depression. A year later it’s revealed that what we thought was a kind old man who died in the game was actually, SURPRISE, an evil kazillionaire who got bored and started killing people for sport. Old man dies peacefully after being proven wrong about human kindness, Gi-Hun starts wearing less and going out more, gets a haircut, and is about to fly to America to see his daughter. Then he finds out Squid Game is still going on so he turns around to go stop it. Or something.
Total Netflix move, commission a mini series but leave open the possibility of a season 2 in case you get a hit. And they got a hit.
Why the ending STINKS.
I think the final episode of Squid Game is awful. I felt like the time and energy I had put into reading subtitles and seeing people get shot in the face had been completely disrespected once the credits rolled. It infuriated me in ways only the final season of Game of Thrones and Rise of Skywalker have ever managed to infuriate me before. And both of those took years of buildup and investment to do it. Squid Game only took like 9 hours to build that level of rage. An incredible feat we’ll probably never see again. For me the final episode single-handedly took the show from “holy shit this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen” to “it was okay.”
“But why, Dex? What’s so bad about it?”
I’m glad you asked, dear reader. I have 3 problems with the ending and we’ll explore each of them separately.
1) A bad twist 2) Unearned character moments and 3) Thrown away plot lines.
The Bad Twist
This is going to take a minute so bear with me. But to me, there are 3 fundamental things a plot twist needs to do in order to be good. It has to do all 3.
- Surprise – The twist needs to at least somewhat surprise the audience. It can be foreshadowed, but it can’t be too predictable (relative to the intended audience. Kids movies can be more obvious than adult movies for example). A shocking twist isn’t enough to be good on its own, but if the twist is too obvious it can’t achieve the next necessary condition.
- Re-contextualize – The twist needs to re-contextualize what we’ve already seen. What that means is you have to look at the plot, characters, and message of the story differently as a result of finding out the big reveal. New information makes you realize new conclusions. You were thinking about it one way, but now you have to think about it another way and you see something you didn’t see before. A surprising moment that changes nothing overall is not a “good twist.”
- Preserve – The plot has to get twisted, but not broken. The story has to remain in tact. If the twist makes you go “wait…that doesn’t even make sense! Why would he do that?” or it minimizes the impact of previous scenes, then it’s a dud.
Example of a good twist: The Prestige (2006)
If you’ve never seen this movie, fix that. The twist in that movie is perfect because most people will never see it coming, it makes you think about several scenes/relationships entirely differently, adds depth to the characters/story and it still makes complete sense given what we already know.
Example of a bad twist: Fight Club (1999)
Controversial take, I know. It so perfectly meets the first 2 conditions that it has become iconic. But, the big reveal in Fight Club is bad and the movie is bad as a result because it fails to meet the 3rd condition: preserve. It breaks the story entirely. Key moments you’ve previously seen and overall messages don’t make sense anymore when you consider the new information.
Squid Game’s Twist
The plot twist for Squid Game gets just a little sloppy with the 1st test, then utterly fails the last 2. In the grand scheme of the show, it’s very surprising that the old man is the mastermind behind the whole game. In episode 6, the best of the show, we’re led to think the character has died. While some people have a hard and fast rule that if you don’t see a death happen on screen then the character isn’t dead, there’s enough compounding factors and emotions to distract from the camera trick they pull and to ultimately uphold the ruse.
The sloppiness comes into play with the delivery of the reveal. The audience and Gi-Hun both learn the old man’s behind it all by reading a postcard on a quiet beach. The twist is dramatic in a way that the scene is just not. The show attempts to up the drama when Gi-Hun goes to meet the old man face-to-face, but it feels like a penalty has already been called on the play to make it just a first down instead of a touchdown. A good surprise, but not as great as it could’ve been.
The twist falls apart during the clunky conversation between Gi-Hun and our new Big Bad. The show had already established itself as an obvious allegory for the destructive forces of capitalism and greed. But the show stops to make sure that you didn’t miss the point. In case you forgot the last 8 hours where we showed you hundreds of people risking their lives and brutally killing each other, please know that money makes people do messed up stuff. Finding out the old man is the mastermind behind Squid Game reveals the answer to the show’s biggest mystery, but not in a way that adds intrigue or context. They make sure to strip away all intrigue, making him spell out for viewers that none of it meant anything. Him and his friends were just bored. It’s still a story about greed, but now it’s a different person’s greed.
What the twist does end up changing, it changes for the worst. Looking back you see it fails the third test: preserve. Knowing that 001 is behind the game retroactively strips the emotion and tension from every moment that he’s been in. Him and Gi-Hun’s marble game doesn’t matter now. His struggle during the cookie shape game doesn’t matter now. The only danger he was ever in was during Tug of War. So if you ever cared about him, you were wasting your time. If we were being taught a lesson we wouldn’t have otherwise known then maybe this would all be worth it. But there is no lesson, just a bored old man.
Unearned Character Moments
In the final round of Squid Game where they play the actual squid game, it’s a dramatic final showdown between Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo. Childhood friends who have been through a lot together both in the outside world and in the game. Sang-Woo just straight up murdered Gi-Hun’s homegirl the night before, so now they’ve got beef. Gi-Hun wants to get it back in blood.
The final round of the game basically turns into a WWE “I Quit” Match where Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo are beating the hell out of each other and trying to kill each other instead of playing the actual game. Gi-Hun eventually wins the fight and has the chance to kill Sang-Woo himself, or to just go step on the head of the squid and win the game so that the guards kill Sang-Woo. But he decides to do neither. He offers a truce so that they both can go home with their lives, but no money. Sang-Woo decides to stab himself instead and let’s Gi-Hun win the game. Just two nice guys doing the right thing.
The problem is neither one of these men have been established as people who would do nice guy things. Sang-Woo has spent the entire tournament doing whatever it takes to win. He was a scammer on the outside which is how he ended up in the games, and then inside he was scamming people into their deaths and withholding valuable information from his crew. He’s been the villain to this point. And now he just…doesn’t want to live that badly?
Gi-Hun has definitely had some nice guy moments throughout the show, but we had just recently seen him straight up con (what we thought at the time was) a kind old man into his death. And the night before the final game his plan was to kill Sang-Woo until his homegirl talked him out of it. Then Sang-Woo killed homegirl IMMEDIATELY. So you’ve been willing to get your hands dirty for a while, but not now? At the very end of the game where you’ve seen 400 people die and played a direct part in killing like 12 of them you say “no harm, no foul. Let’s just go home”??? No! I will not have it. That does not make sense.
Thrown Away Plot Lines
There were 3 plot lines that felt like they were a waste of time when we got to the end of the season/series. Some of this is subject to change if there’s a season 2, but I wish they would have just answered some of these questions in the 9 hours they had. And some of this there’s no way to retroactively wrap up that makes sense.
- Gi-Hun’s daughter – The whole reason you went through this game was to be able to be a better father. Then at the end after you win you spend a year growing out your hair in silence and choose not to go visit your kid at all??? I get it that you were depressed after your mom died, but that shouldn’t mean you abandon your daughter entirely. Especially after you decide to get a mid-life crisis haircut. And it’s not like you can take down Squid Game yourself. You ain’t bulletproof. Very whack. All-Deadbeat 1st Team.
- The Doctor and the Organ Salesmen – I guess they just wanted to show us some gross moments and that the PlayStation Mask guys need some extra cash? All the characters get killed pretty unceremoniously and then are never mentioned again. We learned basically nothing from this storyline but the front man got to give a little hollow speech about “equality” so that’s…something.
- The Cop – There’s a whole subplot where a cop infiltrates the PlayStation Mask people that facilitate Squid Game and it teaches us pretty much nothing other than that the games have been going on since 1999, his brother won them once and now the brother is the game’s front man. Why? We don’t know. What’s so special about his brother? We don’t know. How do they pick the rest of the PlayStation Mask people? We don’t know. Are the PlayStation Mask people here by choice? We don’t know. What did the cop think was happening when his brother disappeared annually? We don’t know. The cop confirms the front man is his brother, they see each other, they shoot each other, then the cop falls off a cliff and we move on like none of it ever happened. Maybe the cop comes back in a season 2 but honestly who even cares at this point?
What was the point of any of this? Please tweet at me and enlighten me if you feel like you know. Maybe I’m just a dumb American who can’t pick up on the magic of television nuance or something.
Like I said, they could explore these things in a season 2. But honestly if I sit down for Season 2 of Squid Game and we see the cop waking up and stumbling to his feet on a remote island after he got shot and fell off a cliff that’d be really stupid.
That’s my rant on the end of Squid Game. I really enjoyed the show up until that last episode but the plot twist, changing the character motivations in the final round of the game, and completely abandoning several plot lines tainted the series a bit for me in the end. Overall I’d give it a B.
That ended up being way longer than I expected it to be so I appreciate you if you’ve made it this far. You can follow me on Twitter to see more of my movie/tv show thoughts (and other things). To hear an awesome conversation about all of Squid Game including what made the first 8 episodes so incredible, check out the latest episode of One Take Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. We took a hilarious deep dive into our favorite characters, games, moments, etc.
Follow the show on Twitter @1TakePod. so you don’t miss what movie/tv show we review next.