In the penultimate episode, “Front Man,” Squid Game sets up its final round, packing tons of tension in the lead up to the end of the game. It begins with Gi-hun, Sang-woo, and Sae-byeok walking the dimly lit neon stair room and leaving a trail of blood behind them. In this episode, blood isn’t just on the playground, it’s everywhere: the neon stairs, the bathroom sink and floor, the rare steaks. The only place that’s free of blood seems to be the surface of the island, where Jun-ho is climbing a mountain, searching for cell service, with the Front Man and guards on his tail.
Detective Jun-ho has been giving us a behind-the-scenes look into the game’s massive operation since episode three. He’s also been the closest thing Squid Game has to a hero, and the only (if small) hope there is to bring the game to justice. I’ve never expected him to succeed, so I never really knew what to make of his character. So, of course, the reveal that the Front Man is his brother has me second-guessing what I thought was his role in the show.
After using the organ harvesters’ scuba gear to escape in the last episode, Jun-ho surfaces on the island’s beach and starts climbing a mountain to get cell service. Once his phone gets a signal, Jun-ho calls his chief and asks for backup. His phone starts to break up before he mentions the photo and video evidence, but he attempts to send it through text. The guards corner Jun-ho at the edge of a cliff, and the Front Man says that he doubts anything went through with the bad reception. (It does look like his pictures go through, though he has to re-send the videos.) The Front Man also has intimate knowledge of the Korean police, including that Jun-ho should only have one bullet left in his gun.
Jun-ho uses his last bullet to shoot the Front Man in the shoulder (rather than the head). The Front Man stays standing and tells Jun-ho, “Do as I say, and I might let you live,” in a whisper that almost sounds like a plea. Jun-ho recognizes the voice, lowers his gun, and asks, “Who are you?” The Front Man takes off his mask and reveals that he’s Jun-ho’s missing brother, In-ho, winner of 2015’s game. In-ho asks his little brother to surrender and offers his hand, but Jun-ho shakes his head (to the shock, the betrayal, just a general “no” to everything he’s seen the last few days). In-ho shoots him in the shoulder, and Jun-ho falls off the cliff into the water. We get a close-up of In-ho’s steely expression as he looks down into the water before putting his mask back on.
At the end of the episode, a maskless In-ho digs the bullet out of his shoulder and drops it in the sink. He looks in the mirror and replays the standoff in his mind. He sees a reflection of his brother right before he’s shot. “Hyung, why?” the vision of Jun-ho asks. In-ho visibly shakes as he sees the vision, and it’s the first and only insight into the brothers’ relationship that we see from the Front Man’s side. We don’t know enough about the Front Man to be sure of his motivations for shooting Jun-ho. It could either be to save him from being caught by the VIPs or protect the game. Either way, there is finally some emotion revealed behind the mask.
Gi-hun, Sang-woo, and Sae-byeok spend much of this episode getting groomed for the final round. But before that, Gi-hun and Sang-woo have a total blowout over Sang-woo murdering the glassmaker at the end of the glass stepping-stone bridge. Gi-hun believes the glassmaker was innocent, but Sang-woo won’t hear it. In his mind, Sang-woo is the reason that they’re still alive. In fact, Sang-woo thinks Gi-hun should be thankful he’s there to do the dirty work. He finally shows his feelings of superiority and calls Gi-hun a “nosy-ass idiot” who has to get into trouble to know it’s trouble.
Gi-hun owns up to it all, but he flips Sang-woo’s superiority complex back on him and asks why an SNU graduate ended up there, down in the muck, with a dimwit. Gi-hun finally doesn’t use Sang-woo’s past success to praise him but instead uses it to point out what a failure he’s become.
Meanwhile, Sae-byeok hides the pain from the large piece of glass stuck in her side after the glass bridge explosion. The bloody bathroom scene where she pulls out the glass is another cool Terminator moment that hints that she may not be down for the count quite yet. But she is human after all, and instead, she deteriorates as she slowly bleeds out.
The players are awarded a candle-lit steak dinner as a gift and “encouragement” to play well in the next round. The guards give them formal dress clothes and turn the dorm into an extravagant dining hall. A slowly dying Sae-byeok leaves half her steak uneaten as Sang-woo and Gi-hun all but lick their plates. After dinner, the guards take away their plates but leave each of them with a steak knife.
After the guards clear the room of the tables and leave, the trio, now armed with steak knives, prepare to defend themselves through the night. Sae-byeok begins to doze off. Sang-woo doesn’t seem to notice that Sae-byeok has gotten weaker; he’s been too busy glaring at Gi-hun. But Gi-hun notices.
Gi-hun offers to team up with Sae-byeok against Sang-woo. She tells him to worry about himself before she asks him what he would do with the prize money, just like she and Ji-yeong asked each other during the marbles game. Gi-hun says he finally wants to be a father to his daughter, who is the same age as Sae-byeok’s little brother. Gi-hun suggests they kill Sang-woo and split the money. But Sae-byeok knows she’s not going to make it. She gets Gi-hun to promise he will take care of her brother.
In an uncharacteristic moment, Gi-hun makes his move to kill Sang-woo, who has fallen asleep. There’s a conviction (and a suspenseful score) that suggests that he might do it, but Sae-byeok urges him to stop because he’s not that kind of person. She then starts to pass out from her wounds, and a frantic Gi-hun bangs on the doors and demands the guards to keep her alive. The doors do open, but it’s to let in a casket. Sae-byeok doesn’t succumb to her wounds because Sang-woo uses his knife to slit her throat.
Sae-byeok’s death is the last straw for Gi-hun and Sang-woo’s relationship. Gi-hun picks up a knife and goes for Sang-woo’s throat in pure rage, but a guard stops him, pinning down both of the two remaining players. With that, the game has its grand finale all set up, with two players ready to kill each other. It all could’ve ended in that room, but the guards break up a fight between players for the first and only time. After all, the VIPs are waiting to see a final round.
• Jun-ho had the magic never-ending TV battery on his phone.
• Lee Byung-hun, who plays the Front Man, was referenced before his big reveal here. When Ji-yeong gave Sae-byeok examples of ways to splurge during the marbles game, she quotes his 2015 film Inside Men. (“Go to mojito and have a glass of Maldives.”)
• In a recent interview, show creator Hwang Dong-hyuk confirmed that the Front Man is an ex-cop. Not only did Jun-ho receive a kidney from his older brother, but he may have also become a cop to follow his example.
• Is the steak dinner the first time we hear the end of the Blue Danube waltz that plays before every game?
• Would you survive this game? I would be in Gi-hun’s shoes, trying to find a partner and split the money. What’s the difference between 22.8 and 45.6 billion won at this point?