“Hell” forces the players to confront their own realities outside of the games, and all are reminded of what they have to play for.
This recap of Squid Game season 1, episode 2, “Hell”, contains spoilers.
Just in case you might have forgotten what happened towards the end of the premiere episode, “Hell” opens with a grim reminder. The staff of the game quietly process the coffins, each adorned with a red bow, of all the players who were eliminated from the first game. As the lid of one of them is pushed open by the questing fingers of its obviously still-alive occupant, a staffer pushes the coffin lid closed and nails it shut.
Squid Game season 1, episode 2 recap
Understandably, the revelation that “elimination” from these children’s games actually means “death” has sent the participants into a frenzy. Most want to leave, and almost nobody wants to play. However, the consent form everyone signed guaranteed elimination for refusal to participate. The third clause, though, as pointed out by Sang-woo, states that if a majority of players refuse to play, the games will be canceled. The decision is made to hold a vote. But the staffers of the Squid Game know what they’re doing. They fill up the piggy bank with the first round of money, making clear that the total prize pot will be 45.6 billion won.
Gi-hun is the first to vote — he votes not to continue. So do many others. The vote remains neck-and-neck all throughout, but eventually, Sang-woo and a few others push the positive votes into the lead. The counter-argument to leaving is that their lives outside of the game aren’t going to be any better. At least here, they have a chance to make something of themselves. It’s player 001, the old man with the brain tumour, who gets to cast the deciding vote, breaking a 100-100 tie. He selects to not continue.
With that, everyone is deposited back to their lives, with the caveat that if a majority of people want to continue the games, then they will be restarted. Gi-hun is dumped with the pickpocket who stole his money, which hardly seems like a coincidence. Sang-woo, who is with 199, the player who saved Gi-hun in the first game, charges his phone to discover a torrent of messages from the authorities that crack a very narrow window into his personal issues. But he’s still willing to pay for 199’s food and bus travel home.
Di-hun, perhaps unwisely, goes to the police. They all think he’s ridiculous. When Gi-hun presents the business card the salesman gave him, the number goes through to a random woman who claims to have no knowledge of any games. Back in Ssangmun-dong, Gi-hun hooks back up with Sang-woo, who gives him a brief overview of his financial dire straits. He used his mother’s house and shop as financial collateral. Nobody in Ssangmun-dong seems to have much respect for their mothers. Gi-hun didn’t even realize his own was diabetic and in danger of losing her feet until the hospital called to let him know. Of course, the overriding theme of “Hell” is that, for these people, the games are the only opportunity they have to free themselves from their circumstances. The “Hell” of the title is personal and of their own making.
This theme persists with everyone — the pickpocket, 199. Everyone is ruined and out of options, and their attempts to fix their predicaments only makes things worse. But it’s also not a complex theme, and at just over an hour, which is a longer runtime than the premiere, “Hell” starts to sag around the midpoint, feeling as if it’s reiterating things that were already self-evident. Things begin to turn in the inevitable direction of returning to the games when Gi-hun encounters 001, who basically vocalizes the episode’s themes just for good measure. The old man wants to return, and so does 101, the gangster who’s in considerable debts to his higher-ups, who wants to heist the piggy bank. He’s thrown for a bit of a loop, though, when his own goon betrays him, leading to a bloody moment on a bridge where he’s forced to flee from henchmen who want his organs.
We get a little more backstory when Gi-hun goes to ask Ga-yeong’s mother for a loan. It turns out she’s broke and her new husband is giving her a living allowance; we also learn that he witnessed a coworker die, which has evidently left a mark on him. Ga-yeong’s step-father tries to pay Gi-hun off in exchange for him not visiting anymore, so Gi-hun rightly socks him in the mouth, and shortly afterward he’s approached by Hwang Jun-ho, a police officer who has been following Gi-hun’s case since their chance encounter at the police station because Jun-ho’s brother received a similar business card and is presently missing. When Gi-hun returns home, he finds another of those business cards wedged in his door. Unsurprisingly, he and all of the show’s other main characters all wait to be picked up, to once again be taken back to the games.