Review: ‘3 Body Problem’

Benioff And Weiss' New Netflix Show Will Be Your Next Obsession Depending On Your Love Of Science

Depending on how you liked (or probably hated) the final season of Games of Thrones will probably dictate if you decide to give Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss (along with Alexander Woo of True Blood and The Terror fame) another try. After departing from “A Galaxy Far, Far Away,” D&D has returned to TV to adapt Hugo Award Winner Liu Cixin’s “unfilmable” “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” book trilogy in Netflix’s latest series 3 Body Problem (the title of the first book of the trilogy) about the planet coming to grips with a pending alien invasion.

With a title like “3 Body Problem,” the show is going to be confusing. After all, the term comes from mechanics and physics surrounding the notion of motion and Newton’s laws of motion (I had to Google it and you will too). In fact, the entire show is sciency as hell. When we come to think of alien invasions in pop culture, we don’t think of physics, human fallacy, VR science contests, molecular supercomputers, or anything like that, we just wanna see little green men and fight them off. Instead, 3 Body Problem takes the cerebral approach seen in such films as Interstellar and The Martian, and has the same amount of dialogue vs action from those films.

The series opens in China in 1966 during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where China purged itself of western/capitalist influences, and that also means science. We get to meet Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng) who just witnessed her astrophysicist father being beaten to death by Red Guards for teaching “counter-revolutionary” theories, which in turn radicalizes her against her own newly formed government. Ye is also brilliant and is quickly sent to a labor camp for reeducation. However, the Chinese government knows she’s brilliant and quickly recruits/forces her to take part in their version of SETI and she is working on sending signals into outer space with the hopes that someone or something is out there listening. And in fact, someone is listening. She receives a message from a “pacifist” from beyond the stars that tells her not to respond, or their people will come to earth and take over. Fed up with how humans have treated her, she does respond and in fact tells the aliens, “Come on here, it couldn’t be any worse.”

Fast forward to the present day, science is taking a nosedive. Particle accelerators aren’t working, and for some reason scientists are either abandoning their work or committing suicide in horrific ways. Investigating this phenomenon is Detective Clarence Da Shi (Benedict Wong) who is worried/frustrated by the suicides. The latest person to kill themselves is a mentor to a group of young scientists, who then are drawn into the soon to be planet-wide dilemma. In the “science crew” is Auggie (Eiza González) who is perfecting nanofibers, Will (Alex Sharp) who ended up becoming a teacher to help inspire the next generation of scientists, Saul (Jovan Adepo) a pot-smoking research assistant who is jaded with his career since it hasn’t taken off, Jin (Jess Hong) who works in particle accelerators, and Jack (John Bradley), who quit science and dropped out to instead become a multimillionaire with his own junk food empire.

After their mentor’s funeral, Jin meets their mentor’s mother, who happens to be Ye (now aged and played by Rosalind Chao) who gives Jin her daughter’s VR headset. However, this VR headset is decades if not hundreds of years in the future regarding technological enhancement, you might say it’s out of this world! This VR headset is unlike your Meta or Apple one, this one has no plug-in, no controllers, and when you wear it, it’s almost like you are transported into another world. The game is played in “levels” to try and save a planet that is having climate and gravity issues as a result of the gravity of three suns on the fictitious planets, hence the “3 Body Problem” title. At first, Jin is the only one who uses the headset, but then Jack receives one as a gift in the mail as well, and the two begin “playing” the game together and using their scientific ingenuity to try and “win” the game.

Turns out this game is really a recruitment tool to join a group of people who are preparing for an alien species to come to Earth in approximately 400 years because their planet has a 3 Body problem. Ye and her partner/lover Mike Evans (played by Ben Schnetzer in 1966 and Jonathan Pryce in the present day) have created their own secret organization that wants to recruit the brightest minds to help “Our Lord” (the title they have given the aliens) come to earth. At first, these aliens want to come to earth for cohabitation as they need a new planet, but once the see the flaw that is human nature, they determine that humans are “bugs” and they will come to the planet and do what they want with it, humanity be damned.

With a time clock for humanity started, our team of scientists as well as Detective Da Shi’s boss Wade (Liam Cunningham) try to find a way to prevent catastrophe. Sure, the aliens are coming in 400 years, but we need to start prepping for our survival against a technologically superior force. Like The Martian and Interstellar, the path to survival in 3 Body Problem isn’t through brute force, but through our scientific ingenuity. But Our Lord isn’t going to make it easy as the aliens can control our technology and even make humans see hallucinations, like a clock counting down. Armed with humans who are practically worshipping them as well as their own advanced technology that has infiltrated earth, our heroes have their work cut out for them.

3 Body Problem is an intriguing show because it’s so far removed from Game of Thrones. We deal with little politics, and almost zero action and spectacle. While Westeros had a mandate for sex and violence in almost every episode, it’s very tame in this show. OK there’s once scene where we see endless women naked in the VR simulation, but even then, it’s not for titillation purposes. Instead, the show is very heavy on science, human intelligence, and human flaws. The who has plenty of twists and turns throughout its 8-episode run to keep the viewer engaged, but that absolutely have to pay attention to all the details that happen episode by episode. The show will make you feel kinda smart while watching it, because you really have to pay attention to all the scientific terms. Like Game of Thrones, don’t get attached to everybody because we do get to see our fair share of surprise deaths that occur. Visually 3 Body Problem is amazing! There’s a reason your Netflix subscription will probably be $30+/month by this time next year, and it’s because the show’s graphics and cinematography are top notch. Speaking of top-notch, the actors on the show all are on their A-game, especially Benedict Wong, Jess Hong, Rosalind Chao, and Liam Cunningham!  At first it seemed like some of our characters were put into the background in the beginning, but then they emerge equally important, so D&D’s ensemble character juggling act continues.

As much as I’m praising the intellectual and science-driven nature of the show, I can easily see this turning people off from the show. As stated before, we kinda want to see humans and aliens going toe to toe and if that’s what you’re expecting from the show, you probably will be disappointed as 3 Body Problem is not interested in saying that type of story. In fact, we really don’t get to see Our Lord (which will be disappointing for some) in their real form, just an avatar (Sea Shimooka) in the VR world who is as beautiful as terrifying.

Of course, if Netflix is smart, they’ll have already greenlit season 2 before the end of the weekend. If so, we’ll probably get to see Our Lord in some form or fashion. Overall, 3 Body Problem is a methodical slow burn that rewards the viewer for their patience and understanding with some great visuals and even better acting.

3 Body Problem is currently available on Netflix.