By definition, anything of exceptional quality is rare. There are, thus, very few TV shows of exceptional quality. One of the few, however, is “Alice in Borderland.” It has all the prerequisites to be good: an intriguing and well-developed plot and superb acting. But what makes it exceptional – unique, even – is how it, through fiction, lays reality bare.
Laying Reality Bare
Prior to 1933, maps of the London Underground were essentially indecipherable. They were accurate, to a fault: they were the map of London with the train lines drawn in. Where’s the fault in that? Imagine the utter chaos of minuscule lines of a train terminal map drawn to scale on the streets above it. Good luck finding your connection.
Henry Charles Beck, however, realized that to see the London Underground clearly, we needed to strip away everything else. Scale, too, was unimportant. He designed color-coded maps zoomed in at train terminals and connections that showed only what train riders needed to know. All good maps, in essence, do this: they strip away the superfluous and let you focus on the substance.
In this way, Seasons 1 and 2 of “Alice in Borderland” strips away the superfluity of reality so you can see its substance.
Those transported to Borderland are issued limited visas. The only way to extend these visas is to survive games of life and death.
The games are far from fair: survival depends upon luck, strength, friends, guile, and/or intelligence.
This too is reality thrown into sharpest relief. We all have temporary visas for this world. It takes hard work to extend them – and success is never guaranteed.
So many are killed or die before they get a chance to really live. So many squander what they have. So many rise to the occasion, fight valiantly, and defy the odds.
Imagine if you had not been born on Earth and grown up here. Imagine instead that you and everyone else simply appeared here as fully cognizant adults. You would have so many questions: How did you get here? Why are you here? What are the rules to this world?
By transporting its characters to a dystopian (i.e. hyper-realistic) version of the world, “Alice in Borderland” brings up questions that we have typically long since pushed down or stopped asking.
Some of us on our quest to survive also search for truth.
The characters in Borderland have to figure out what the rules to the world are — just as we do. We were not handed a guidebook. We are still figuring out biology, chemistry, and physics, not to mention people. My favorite? Economics, which reveals so much about why the world and people operate as they do.
Playing the Game
Faced with death, people have different responses. Some will betray even those closest to them in order to survive. Some will die for those they love. How we play reveals how we really live.
Given that we all face the same fate and the only question is when we will reach it, it’s curious at least to me that anyone would choose a life of betrayal in order to prolong it. Isn’t it better to live a life so filled with love that you would die for others and them for you than to slightly prolong a life turned so inward that you would sacrifice those you love and who love you?
And yet, such is life. People live it differently, and we see that evidently on display in the characters’ responses.
Without giving away the ending, I would submit that the following video holds the key both to understanding the end of the show and is also the key to a possible way the world will (and I hope does) ultimately end.
In short, if there is a game, then it has a designer. No one knows for sure what the rules of this game are. But nature is both beautiful and brutal. Yet almost anything in it can be tamed. What is it that does so and why?
For me, and I hope for you too, “Alice in Borderland” gives a lens through which we can better see reality, think about how we operate in it, and contemplate why we are here.
Life really is a game with the highest stakes – maybe eternal ones — and I think viewing it as a game is both quite accurate and helpful. When life feels insurmountable, view it as the next challenge. What do you have to lose by going all in to rise to meet it? Yes, you are scared. Yes, you might not make it. Yes, you might fail. But you show who you are through your struggles. Live a life worth living.