Squid Game: What Should [REDACTED] Do Next?

Stephen Lee
9 min readNov 1, 2021

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SPOILER WARNING

DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED WATCHING SQUID GAME

What does Player 456 do next?

We viewers will have to wait a long time before we get to know the official answer, but I have some thoughts on this, based on my experience as a lawyer, former prosecutor and former journalist. What Player 456 (Seong Gi-Hun) faces now is a very exaggerated version of a dilemma that law enforcement faces on a regular basis. I used to deal with versions of that dilemma, and I could not help but think about how I would advise him.

By the end of Squid Game, Player 456 has about 45.6 billion won, or about $38 million in U.S. currency, money that he probably views as tainted money but can use towards his two goals.

  • First, he wants to save people from the game. He has just learned that the game was not a one-time incident, but something that is about to happen again. We know that the game has actually been going since at least 1998, but 456 did not know that. He now knows that 456 people are going to go through what he did and that most of them are going to die.
  • Second, he wants justice for the hundreds of people who did not survive the game that he himself survived.

Protecting the public on one hand. Punishing those who break the law on the other.

Player 456 might be able to get one of these things, but he probably cannot get both.

Building a criminal case sometimes requires letting a crime unfold long enough so that you can get good evidence of the crime. The government often knows about a crime but does not stop it immediately in order to get more evidence, trading the short-term harm for what they hope is a good long-term benefit. The hard part is knowing when to intervene.

Inspector Hwang Jun-Ho — he stayed too long.

In Squid Game itself, Inspector Hwang Jun-Ho of the National Police Agency chose to let the game keep going so that he could gather more evidence. He could have pulled over the van that picked up player 456, or he could have called for someone to intercept the boat as it left Moojin Port, or he could have left the island earlier. But he let things unfold so that he could build more evidence.

And that choice did not work out well for him or for the public that he wanted to protect.

The inspector could have saved the lives of 186 people by calling on South Korea’s equivalent of the Coast Guard to stop the boat taking players back to the island for the second game. He could have gained a lot of evidence and probably could have gotten some of the drivers prosecuted, though the higher-ups such as the Front Man would have gotten away.

The inspector made a reasonable choice under the circumstances, perhaps the choice that most police and prosecutors would have made, but he made a bad choice overall. He shot for the king and he missed. He should have just taken out the pawns that were within reach.

Player 456 making a big choice.

Now, Player 456 has to make the same decision that faced the inspector. Player 456 has to decide which goal he prioritizes more — saving people or building evidence against the mysterious people running the game.

Building evidence into a case that could be prosecuted would face three difficult problems.

The first problem is that information is spread out among people who do not know each other. Player 456 knows that there actually are many potential witnesses, even if he does not know their names.

  • The 14 people who survived the first game but did not come back for the 2nd game.
  • The masked staff who ran the game.
  • Friends and family members of the players who are presumed missing and actually dead.
  • And Player 456 now knows that there probably are other people like him who survived previous games.
  • (We the viewers know that there are even more people out there who know about the games, such as the people who were buying body parts from some masked staff members.)

Player 456 knows from experience that he, as an individual, would not be credible to authorities, given the lack of detailed information that he has and the power of the organization he’s going up against. One witness is easy to dismiss. Multiple witnesses can corroborate each other if he can just bring them together.

But the second problem is that key evidence can be destroyed faster than an investigation could unfold. The key records for the game are collected in one room, and the Front Man can probably destroy that room with the push of a button.

This problem comes up in many government investigations. There is only so much that you can investigate without possibly tipping off your targets, which can lead to them trying to thwart the investigation. Destroying evidence, altering records, tampering with witnesses. Maybe even killing them.

And the third problem is that investigations take time. Player 456 wants to save people, and he does not know when the game is starting again. Was that man he took the business card from going to be player 1, or was he going to be the next player 456? Even a visit to his daughter might cost lives that he could save.

In the face of these problems, I would recommend that Player 456 prioritize saving people over bringing the Front Man and the masked staff to justice. Give up the risky best-case outcome for one that would be more viable and would be good enough.

Here is what I would advise Player 456 to do as soon as possible:

Step one: Gather up everything that can corroborate his story. Whistleblowers often skip this step, but some planning and forethought can go a long way. Player 456 needs to think about how reporters or police could corroborate his story and build upon that to get additional information. Here are some details that he can work with:

  • Player 456 went from being massively in debt to suddenly having 45.6 billion won in a new bank account. These financial records corroborate the basics of his story.
  • 456 people went missing all at the same time, and all of their phones were shut off around the same time and in the same location (shortly after leaving Moojin Port in the city of Busan). Cell phone records might corroborate Player 456’s account.
  • The police captain whom Player 456 spoke with could corroborate Player 456 in significant ways. He can confirm what Player 456 said after the first game, and he can confirm that his inspector disappeared shortly afterwards, around the same time and location that the players’ phones went off the grid.
  • Player 456 also knows some things about Player 1 that could be useful, far more than an unemployed chauffeur would be expected to know. He knows that Player 1 was off the grid during the game, that Player 1 had a brain tumor, how and when Player 1 died, and that Player 1 created the games and thus must have put a lot of money into the games.

It’s not enough, but it’s not a bad starting point.

Lots of cell phones being turned off at the same time and in the same place…

Step two: Get out of South Korea. Player 456 does not know how powerful Player 1’s organization is, but it will have less power and fewer contacts in another country. Go to the United States or Canada or somewhere else. Move the money out of the bank account that the game set up for him and into accounts at other, non-Korean banks. And hire locals for bodyguards.

Step three: Donate lots of the money to groups that assist people facing massive debt (or start one himself) and do it very visibly. This would have two effects.

First, it would help alleviate the temptation for some people to participate in the game. For example, in the United States, you can help alleviate crippling medical debt by donating to RIP Medical Debt, which states that every $100 donated can relieve $10,000 in medical debt. Player 456 could help lots of people with the prize money, people who might reject the game with that help.

Second, it would draw public attention to Player 456. The more visible he is, the more protection he has against the Front Man, and the more credibility he will build up before revealing how he got all that money. Money talks, and money can be armor.

Step four: Share his story with the media and the police in a coordinated way. The media will be interested in this generous benefactor who came out of nowhere, and they can spread his warning to the public. The police are already looking for Player 218 (Cho Sang-Woo) as a fugitive and they probably have many open missing-person cases that Player 456 can help solve.

Player 456 should use the donations and the corroborating evidence to back up what he is saying. And he should acknowledge his baggage upfront to build up his credibility in the long term. Admit that he survived one game by trying to fool what seemed to be an addled old man who was actually a wealthy businessman. Maybe even “confess” to tax fraud by not reporting the “income” he failed to report and name Player 1 as a co-conspirator.

The first try did not go well, but the second try could go better.

Step five: Offer large rewards to anyone who can provide information about the games. This would draw even more attention to his story and it would draw out other players who survived the games. Not previous winners, who probably committed crimes themselves in order to win (or joined Player 1’s organization like the Front Man did), but other people who dropped out after votes in earlier games.

Big awards might even draw out some of the masked staff. They will be difficult to “flip” as they cannot give useful evidence without admitting their own involvement. At the same time, they are not paid as much as they probably should be (otherwise no one would have been harvesting organs on the side). If nothing else, offering a big reward may force the Front Man to pay his staff much better. This would raise his costs and make it more expensive to run the games in the future. Maybe too expensive.

Player 456 now has the money to push back against the Front Man, money that he probably views as tainted and that he would like to put to good use. If he plays this game well enough, he can help prevent the next game from happening.

Will any of this happen in the sequel? I hope that the sequel would pick up after Player 456 has done the things that I’ve discussed above. He’s followed through on the decision that he made in the final scene, and he’s made it very difficult for the game to continue as it had for so many years.

And maybe the Front Man decides to stage one final game by blackmailing the winners of the previous games, including Player 456…

For background purposes, I was a federal prosecutor in Chicago for 11 years and am now in private practice. I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in the 1990s and have created several websites, including a website collecting more of my work. And you might have heard me talk on This American Life about my family’s “coincidence bombshell,” which sounds like a very different kind of Korean drama.

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Stephen Lee

Lawyer, former federal prosecutor in Chicago (2008–January 2019), former newspaper reporter. Work site at stephenleelaw.com