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Here's What You Forgot From 'Alice in Borderland' Season 1

By James Field | TV | December 21, 2022 |

By James Field | TV | December 21, 2022 |


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Remember winter 2020? Man, that was a trip. Nearly everyone was sick so we all stayed home and gathered around the cold glow of our LCDs to find what joy we could in the virtual presence of family, friends, and television characters. One of my favorite escapes during December was Alice in Borderland, a live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. It was the hipster Squid Game; it came first and is arguably better, but most people never heard of it. More surreal than Squid Game with a greater focus on the mystery of their world rather than humanity’s greed, Alice in Borderland combined gruesome violence, simple logic puzzles, and constant betrayal into an addictive cocktail. The first season was a nail-biting exercise in mental exhaustion, as each hour-long episode tracked a few characters through deadly games associated with playing cards. No character was safe from death, whether by the actions of their fellow players, or the on-high attention of who or whatever controlled the game.

Now it’s winter 2022, and everyone is sick but we’re still going to work and school like there aren’t 3 different plagues working their way through the American populace, and it’s time once again for Alice in Borderland’s cruel machinations to play with our emotions. But the first season was 2 years ago; what exactly happened? Here’s a brief refresher, for those like me who share a gnat’s attention span.

Main protagonist Ryōhei Arisu (Kento Yamazaki, Kingdom, Death Note) is a 20-something living in Tokyo with no job and no prospects. Obsessed with video games and living a stress-free existence, Arisu hangs out with his BFFs Chōta (Yūki Morinaga) and Karube (Keita Machida) as much as possible. That’s all well and good until the 3 hide in a bathroom stall after accidentally causing a car accident, only to emerge once again into an empty Tokyo, stripped of more than 13 million inhabitants. The cars, food, and other signs of life remain, but the people are gone. Arisu and his friends find themselves drawn to a building with several strangers. Once they enter the building, there’s no turning back.

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They soon discover this strange new Tokyo revolves around deadly games built off a standard card deck. Each card suit corresponds to a different challenge. Spades are strength-based. Clubs are team battles. Diamonds are about intelligence and quick thinking. Hearts, the most difficult of all, revolve around themes of betrayal. The higher the card’s value, the more difficult the challenge. Winning a challenge grants players a reprieve equal to the value of the card. If you win a Five of Hearts game, you have 5 days to recover. Fail to make it into a game before your reprieve is over, refuse to play, or lose but somehow survive, and an orbital laser puts a hole through your skull. Chōta is badly burned in their first game, and the grim reality they find themselves soon sets in.

A grueling, running battle through an empty hotel sets the trio against a pair of armed murderers, and they’re introduced to several new characters; Chishiya (Nijirō Murakami), a clever blonde young man determined to pierce this city’s secrets, and Usagi (Tao Tsuchia), a mountain climber who found herself in the city after her father’s death. It’s not long before Arisu’s worst fears are realized when a simple game of hide-and-seek’s terrible twist is revealed; only one player can survive the game, and Chōta and Karube sacrifice their own lives to protect their friend.

Arisu and Usagi work together to find “the Beach,” a supposed safe haven where a Lord of the Flies community of sorts has formed around the “Hatter,” (Nobuaki Kaneko) whose group of executives are gathering all the cards players win. They believe — without much evidence — that whoever collects them all will gain their freedom. All that’s left is the Ten of Hearts and the face cards, which have never been seen in the game. Balancing Hatter’s power are the Militants, led by his former best friend Aguni (Sho Aoyagi), for whom any level of violence seems acceptable. Things escalate when Hatter is murdered during a game and Arisu teams up with Chishiya and a transgender young woman named Kuina to steal the nearly complete deck. Arisu is betrayed and left to die, but Chishiya and Kuina cannot escape; the Beach itself is the site of the next game.

A young woman named Momoka is found dead. The challenge; find her killer, and throw their body into a bonfire. The Militants decide to simplify matters by simply killing and burning everyone. Dozens die before Arisu learns the truth; Momoka killed herself, as did her friend Asahi, because they were “dealers,” forced by the gamemasters into organizing the games in exchange for their lives. Arisu, Usagi, Chishiya, and Kuina eventually find the gamemasters’ den. By the time they arrive, however, everyone is already dead, killed by the same lasers that take out losing players. As the 4 look around in confusion Mira, one of the Beach’s executives, appears on-screen. Turns out she’s one of the people manipulating things from behind the scenes. Around the city, blimps drop huge banners proclaiming the next stage of the game, the battle for the face cards, has begun.

Alice in Borderland has set up its pieces for an intense second season. Arisu, Usagi, Chishiya, Kuina, Aguni, and a few others remain to battle this next stage, and I for one can’t wait to see what horrors await them. All 8 episodes of season 2 release tomorrow, 12/22, only on Netflix. Check out the preview while you wait!