At times, Sacred Games feels as obsessed with violence as Gaitonde. That isn’t to say that the show is all blood and no plot. It’s a visually arresting series with fantastic, ambitious direction, and the spectacle of violence certainly functions as a part of the ever-twisting storyline. Even though Sacred Games is a big swing for Netflix, it seems stuck in the idea that prestige drama must be steeped in macho ruthlessness. It paints a world bereft of romance and full of sexual violence and murder, its sex scenes as disturbing as its torture scenes. With very few exceptions, most of the women in Sacred Games are sex workers who seem to function as props more than as fully realized characters, following a disturbing habit of rushing to flesh out its female characters just before killing them off.
A trans woman named Cuckoo, played by Kubra Sait, has a significant role in the story but doesn’t seem to exist outside of Gaitonde’s objectification, and the writing around her is rife with stereotypes. Radhika Apte plays Anjali Mathur, a desk agent with India’s foreign intelligence committee who pushes back against her male colleagues, and even Singh, when they suggest she’s better suited for the desk than the field. She ends up being integral to cracking the case… for a bit. Despite how fantastic Apte is, Anjali is never granted much space to ever feel like a fully fledged character. She sounds more like a mouthpiece for workplace feminism, a way for Sacred Games to front like it's considering these dynamics more than it actually is.
In that sense, Sacred Games isn’t rewriting the script so much as staging it somewhere new for American viewers. Aspects of the production are striking, and its grandness works in its favor most of the time, crafting an ambitious cops-and-mobsters drama steeped in religion, politics, and history. A close adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel of the same name, the series possesses a mostly cogent and thrilling, if familiar, story structure. Interstitial news footage root the show in India’s complicated political history, serving a crash course of sorts and giving deeper context to the drama.