Nerdgasm, Television

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem – A Frustrating Show that I Loved

Okay, I finally finished watching all eight episodes of 3 Body Problem on Netflix. I’d read the novel by Cixon Liu, or at least the first book of the trilogy, a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I remembered very little of it so I essentially went into the television series blind.

Spoilers for the television show ahead.

Yup. Spoilers.

You’ve been warned.

Anyway, on the whole, I really enjoyed the series. And, as I posted on Facebook, it pretty much broke my brain. I’d predicted that it would, since my brain was still mending from having read the book (even though I barely remember it).

Sure, there were some things that annoyed me. Like the characters. Like the plot. And the whole premise. So why did I enjoy it at all? Why did I persevere?

I’m still not sure.

The characters were frustrating. I didn’t feel invested in any of them, because they were all kind of whiny and self-centered (with the exception of the Manchester-born police officer Clarence). Well, all of the actors were great (especially Jonathan Pryce, who is always a treat — pity his character, Mike Evans, was killed in episode 5, “Judgement Day”). Even though I found the characters basically unsympathetic, the actors still pulled them off.

The only character I did not find all that annoying was Will Downing. He was quiet and subdued throughout the show, probably because he knew he was dying of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Even so, I did not like the way he expressed his deep and unrequited love for the character Jin Cheng. Maybe he was conflicted because Jin already had a boyfriend that she disliked; but I just wanted to strangle Will and shout, “Do something!”, even though Saul and Auggie had already half-heartedly done so.

Auggie I found guilt-ridden for her role in the ambush of the ship Judgement Day, and I guess that was appropriate, but I was baffled at her reluctance to take part in the planetary defense plan that had been dreamed up.

And so on.

As far as the essential premise goes, I’m generally fine with aliens who evolved in a triple-sun system wanting to find a stable environment to live. And when Yeung Le initially contacted the San-Ti, the fact that it took eight years for her message to get a response (which was basically “Don’t contact us again! You’re putting yourselves in danger! For the love of all that’s holy, SHUT UP!”) was appropriate. That’s fine for me.

The San-Ti, as I understand it, decided to invade Earth because we live in a stable solar system with only one star. Fine with me. Initially their plan was to co-exist with us humans until Mike Evans told them all about how humans tell falsehoods, at which point the aliens decided that they cannot co-exist with us, and should invade instead.

The San-Ti have the technology to create subatomic computers called “sophons”, and they have four of them, which are all quantum-entangled. Thus, they can send two of them to Earth at light speed, and retain two of them on their invasion fleet. The sophons are essentially all-powerful, and can be everywhere all at once, spying on us for the San-Ti, and reporting all our movements back to them instantly (although there is a small part of me that understands quantum mechanics at a layman’s level, if that, who wants to cry, “But that’s not how quantum entanglement works!”). They decide that an essential part of their invasion is to cripple human scientific endeavors by, say, sabotaging high energy particle accelerators to give false results, upsetting every physicist on the planet. In fact, one of the earliest scenes in the series is a scientist reporting on this. BUT! The sophons were engaged in sabotaging human science and technology BEFORE the San-Ti had discovered that the humans were not worth co-existing with. So why were they engaged in that in the first place?

The aliens feel compelled to do all this to humanity in order to cripple us before their fleet arrives in 400 years.

Maybe I’m missing something basic or obvious, but if anyone knows, please share with me.

So the plot is basically these annoying characters coming to terms with the fact of an alien invasion due to arrive in four hundred years. Along the way they encounter human beings who are working with the aliens by killing people essential to planetary defense, and these quislings do so happily. I’m fine with that. Given the infinite power of the sophons they can communicate with the San-Ti instantly. Or at the speed of light. There’s some confusion on this point. For me at least.

An intriguing premise, to be sure, with a fundamentally flawed premise and an annoying case of characters.




Anyway. 3 Body Problem has received very high praise, and, well, despite its flaws, I strongly recommend it.

And in some ways, this is the sort of fiction I will hopefully someday write: epic in scope, from space to history to various parts of the globe. I hope I get a chance to do that.

Anyway. Back to work I go.