‘3 Body Problem’ review: A stellar sci-fi delight
(Credits: Netflix)


‘3 Body Problem’ review: A stellar sci-fi delight

3 Body Problem - David Benioff, D. B. Weiss and Alexander Woo

Humanity has proven time and again that in the face of a common enemy, we will break into infighting rather than unite. It is our common knack for deceit and suspicion of our fellow humans that unifies us better than our urge to pursue the greater good. But what if the common enemy is a vastly advanced race of alien refugees who have decided that humanity’s worst fears are valid: we really are the worst? David Benioff, D. B. Weiss and Alexander Woo’s 3 Body Problem, an adaptation of Liu Cixin’s seminal Chinese novel, ponder over just that. 

This Netflix series gives us one of the best sci-fi TV wonders since Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby’s The Expanse. James S. A. Corey’s first of nine novels came before Cixin’s massively popular trilogy, exploring themes of humanity’s interaction with advanced civilisations, the complexities of space exploration, and the implications of technological advancements. Both these stories are stellar choices for sci-fi aficionados with distinctly nerdier inclinations.

3 Body Problem begins in 1960s China, at the peak of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In a scene that harks back to Ned Stark’s public execution as his two daughters are forced to bear witness, we meet Ye Wenjie, a young astrophysicist who has to watch her father’s merciless murder at the hands of callous followers of a brutal regime. Wenjie’s journey unfolds against the backdrop of a world teetering on the brink of collapse, both environmentally and morally. But Wenjie’s rebellion could potentially cost more than an iron throne.

One of the series’ strengths lies in its visual storytelling. There is an element of spectacle and theatricality. Once believed to be unfilmable, 3 Body Problem demonstrates the power of well-utilised VFX. Every element is crafted well, from the breathtaking vistas of distant galaxies to the stark devastation of war-torn landscapes, dehydrating bodies, and advanced AI tech.

Despite being rooted in historical events, 3 Body Problem is a sci-fi reimagining of humanity’s future. Young Wenjie gets involved in covert space exploration work in communist China. Eventually, her absolute disillusionment with humanity and her belief in the potential benefits of contact with an extraterrestrial civilisation leads her to make the fateful decision to invite an alien race to Earth. 

Wenjie sets off a chain of events that reverberates across the universe. In the current time, the pieces are picked up by some of the brightest minds of our times who try to salvage the impending consequences of an alien race declaring war on the future of humanity. This directly mirrors the accusations of young generations levied against the Boomers and Silent Generation in socio-economic and environmentalist terms.

While Wenjie (played by a steely Rosalind Chao and a stoic Zine Tseng) is a character that is in the books, the Netflix adaptation introduces new characters inspired by their book counterparts. Benedict Wong’s Da Shi, Jess Hong’s Jin Cheng, Jovan Adepo’s Saul Durand, Eiza González’s Augustina ‘Auggie’ Salazar, John Bradley’s Jack Rooney, and Alex Sharp’s Will Downing do not appear in Liu Cixin novels. But the adaptations are done well.

The ensemble cast delivers solid and sincere performances, barring a few flat ones here and there. Wong’s portrayal of Da Shi stands out for his restrained and dry sense of humour, often providing much-needed levity. The series effortlessly passes the Bechdel test and has a rather seamlessly diverse cast. Despite being a Chinese story with a predominantly globalist British cast, the polish is distinctly American.

The series does a grand job with its world-building and finds itself in a strangely cosy spot of television history. It is nestled in a sweet spot between prestige and blockbuster TV, with many hallmarks. 3 Body Problem reminds you of the 22-episode TV shows you watched (think Lost) during the dawn of the Golden Age of television, right before the start of the streaming era. It is easy to binge without being a mindless meditation in mediocrity at that.

Much like the source material, the series confronts viewers with the uncomfortable notion of whether humanity deserves salvation. This existential question, simmering at the surface, is brought to the forefront as characters grapple with the possibility of welcoming a superior species, even at the cost of their own annihilation. The disturbing yet spectacular scene involving Auggie’s cutting-edge tech slicing through an entire ship carrying families is even more resonant with this theme. The devastating aftermath parallels Israel’s stupendously cruel treatment of Palestinian civilians we have been witnessing unfold before our eyes.

The first season of 3 Body Problem is merely the starting point of a story that Cixin completed in Remembrance of Earth’s Past in three parts. Along with Woo, Benioff and Weiss (still reeling from the insurmountable shame of ruining Game of Thrones with a rushed ending nobody deserved) actually do an impressive job of setting up such an epic sci-fi tale that spans centuries. It may not be enough to earn the forgiveness of genre TV fans yet, but it is a good start.

You can watch 3 Body Problem on Netflix from March 21st, 2024.