Squid Game Meets Mad Max in the Coolest New Netflix Series
A whistle-stop tour of sci-fi tropes is wrapped in stellar worldbuilding.
It can be difficult to create a science fiction show without feeling derivative. Shadow and Bone introduced a magic system that gave a select few the power to control elements like fire, instantly garnering comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender. But while a new series on Netflix is essentially a greatest hits compilation of sci-fi tropes, none of them feel like they’re ripping off the work that inspired them. Instead, they form a gripping conspiracy thriller with all the sci-fi flair you can hope for.
Black Knight, based on a Korean webtoon of the same name, takes place in a future where a climate crisis has rendered the atmosphere unbreathable, forcing residents to stay indoors and buy oxygen. All of their supplies are provided by deliverymen who risk their lives to ferry goods. Secretly, some also help refugees, people who lack the QR code tattoo used to track legal residents.
But after the suspicious death of a colleague, renowned deliveryman 5-8 (Kim Woo-bin) takes young refugee Sa-wol (Kang You-seok) under his wing so he can compete in a brutal competition to claim the job opening. Meanwhile, Sa-wol’s adopted sister Seol-ah (Esom) investigates a personal tragedy, leading her to an evil scheme that goes all the way to the top.
There’s something in Black Knight for everyone: Mad Max-style car chases, a Squid Game-style competition, a rags-to-riches story, a class system, human experiments, murder, and even mutants. It could be accused of cherry-picking plot elements, but each facet works to create a story that’s much more than the sum of its parts. And if you’re not a fan of subtitles, don’t worry; the characters often have to wear respirators, making the English dub especially easy to follow because there’s no disconnect between words and lip movements.
The satirical and post-climate apocalypse elements can get a bit preachy, but they’re not what the story revolves around. Intriguingly, Seol-ah is working for the government to investigate a corporate crime. The environment may have rotted but, in their mind, that’s not an excuse to let people go without the resources they need in the present.
There are countless sci-fi stories that borrow elements from better narratives without truly understanding why they work. Black Knight knows how tropes tick, and it pieces them together into a plot that learns from the past instead of simply aping it. It’s genetically engineered to be jam-packed and, thanks to its carefully crafted script, that excitement feels real, not artificial.
Black Knight is streaming on Netflix.