Breaking Down the Ending of Netflix’s Korean Survival Drama The 8 Show
Things don't go as planned.
May 20, 2024 7:00 AM EDT

Warning: This post contains spoilers for The 8 Show.

Nearly three years after Squid Game took the world by storm, Netflix is hoping to fill the dystopian thriller-shaped hole in your heart with a new Korean survival drama. The 8 Show, now streaming, follows eight debt-burdened individuals—all on the verge of committing suicide to escape their financial troubles—who agree to participate in a mysterious reality competition show in hopes of winning a life-changing amount of money. The premise seems simple enough: The participants will be paid to live alongside one another in a bizarre apartment complex until the show comes to an end.

But, of course, the rules are actually a bit more complicated—and cruel. After selecting a numbered card, each player is assigned to a completely unfurnished room on that corresponding floor. We learn through the series' narrator, known within the game as 3rd Floor (played by Ryu Jun-yeol), that the players earn money by the minute and have the ability to use those funds to buy anything they want via an intercom, but it will cost them 1,000 times what it would in the outside world. The eight players are confined to their rooms from midnight to 8 a.m., but can gather together during the day in a courtyard containing a giant clock counting down the amount of time they have left in the game.

They eventually come to learn that the higher the floor they picked, the bigger their room is and the more money they earn per minute—a factor that immediately creates tension between the higher and lower floors. They also figure out that more time is added to the clock, allowing them to make more money, whenever they do something that those who are watching via surveillance cameras placed throughout the complex find entertaining. For those who watched the recent Hulu documentary The Contestant, the set-up may call to mind what happened to aspiring Japanese comedian Nasubi when he agreed to participate in a 1998 reality TV competition that involved living alone and unclothed in a tiny apartment while surviving off magazine sweepstakes winnings.

Although The 8 Show players, each referred to by their floor number, initially try to work together to earn time and money, the competition quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and disturbing power struggle, with 8th Floor (Chun Woo-hee) eventually assuming dictator-like control of the group and subjecting several of her fellow players to extreme physical and psychological torture. Based on Bae Jin-soo’s webtoons series "Money Game" and "Pie Game," The 8 Show—like Squid Game—is a thinly veiled critique of the brutal realities of capitalism, emphasizing how the system destroys from the top down. According to director Han Jae-rim (The Face Reader, The King), the eight-episode season is intended to explore the depths of human nature.

"Instead of portraying a simple dichotomy of good and evil, the series is more about the formation of power dynamics that arise when a small society is created," Han said during a May 10 press conference in Seoul.

The 8 Show
The 8 ShowLee Jae-hyu—Netflix.

After the majority of the lower-floor players work together to overthrow 8th Floor's tyrannical reign, they move to enact 1st Floor's (Bae Sung-woo) plan to use the $1 billion won (around $740,000) he's earned to pay to take over a higher-level room. Unfortunately, it turns out that money has only bought him the instructions on changing rooms and the game-makers never had any intention of making it that easy to switch floors.

With 8th Floor and 6th Floor (Park Hae-joon) tied up, the rest of the group decides to leave the game. But a desperate 1st Floor pulls a gun on them and forces them to restrain one another so he can earn more money. In order to put additional time on the clock, 1st Floor attempts a high-wire circus performance inspired by his real-life job as a clown, but ends up crashing into the projector that serves as the complex's artificial sun, falling to the ground, and being engulfed in flames. The others manage to escape their bonds and put the fire out, but 1st Floor is clearly in bad shape. After realizing the game-makers won't set them free to save 1st Floor, 3rd Floor begins taking out every camera in the complex to put an end to their entertainment. The doors to the outside finally open, but it's too late for 1st Floor.

Some time later, 3rd Floor, bereft and languishing now that he's out of the apartment complex, decides to use some of his winnings to organize a funeral for 1st Floor. He pays for a massive billboard in Seoul to read, "You're invited to the funeral of 1st Floor," with a date and time, which persuades 2nd (Lee Joo-young), 4th (Lee Yul-em), and 5th (Moon Jeong-Hee) Floor to attend. A flower wreath sent by 6th Floor arrives and 5th Floor shows the group an article about 8th Floor going to prison for a performance art stunt. But the biggest mystery is 7th Floor (Rich Ting), who went to visit 1st Floor's family, told his wife he was a colleague of her husband's, and gave her a lifetime's worth of money, but doesn't show up to the funeral.

In a mid-credits scene, we learn that 7th Floor, a previously floundering filmmaker, has written a new screenplay titled The 8 Show that's based on his and his fellow players' experience. The executive he presents the script to jokes that he also took part in the show before laughing and teasing 7th Floor for acting like it was real. But after offering his full support for the project, the executive seems to hint at what could be ahead for the Netflix series.

"Let's make something great. Okay?" he says. "And hey, it could even lead to a sequel..."
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