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‘3 Body Problem’ Takes The Science Out Of Science Fiction

3 Body Problem scientist sitting at control board.
Image Credit Netflix / YouTube

‘3 Body Problem’ has its moments, but from the sixth episode onward, the series falls off a cliff and becomes almost unwatchable.

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There are a few reasons the series “3 Body Problem” had so much buzz when it came out. First, it was Netflix’s most expensive premiere season of any show to date at $20 million an episode. Second, its showrunners were David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the men behind “Game of Thrones.”

Third, the show is based on a popular, critically acclaimed novel with a large fan base. Fourth and finally, the show’s first episode drew people’s attention with its shocking scene of China’s cultural revolution, in which a professor is beaten to death in front of a crowd for refusing to recant his beliefs in Western science.

For people looking for the next great science fiction series, “3 Body Problem” seemed primed to deliver. It had the necessary money, talent, source material, and seriousness to tell a thought-provoking story in a compelling way.

And for the first half of the season, the show definitely had its moments, competently building up the suspense and establishing the premises. Sure, the acting was often atrocious, the writing was clunky, and the leftist signaling became tedious with the unnaturally diverse cast and multiple girlboss characters. But there was an intriguing mystery that hooked viewers and kept them watching.

Additionally, Benioff and Weiss use the same storytelling technique as they do in “Game of Thrones,” where they juxtapose multiple plot lines, leaving it to viewers to consider how each character and major event connects with the others.

Unfortunately, from the sixth episode onward, the series falls off a cliff and becomes almost unwatchable. The story shifts from following an advanced alien race (known as the San-Ti) making its way to Earth to exploring the dull interior lives of the main human characters. Thus, we go from watching the San-Ti interact with a select group of people on Earth and how this affects mankind at large to scenes of one man-child encouraging his fellow man-child friend to tell another character how he feels about her. Needless to say, this makes for slow progression and little suspense.

Around this point in the show, some of the other flaws in the story start to rear their ugly heads. For instance, the San-Ti are an advanced race of aliens with unfathomable technological capabilities, but somehow they can’t understand the human capacity for falsehood and deception.

They also like to engage in childish name-calling, hacking into every digital device and projection screen just to harass the user with the message, “YOU ARE BUGS.” For unexplained reasons, the director of the U.K.’s national security is put in charge of a global project to build a spaceship to meet the San-Ti on their voyage to Earth. As for the rest of the world, they seem to carry on mindlessly while a handful of arbitrarily selected scientists do their thing.

That said, even with better-looking actors putting in better performances with a better script, it’s doubtful the show could be saved at this point. Beyond the plot holes and flaws in execution, the story of “3 Body Problem” rests on a weak logical foundation. And no, this isn’t necessarily an issue with adapting the novel to the screen (a common challenge with science fiction), but mostly with the show’s creators making dumb choices that reflect a shallow worldview.

The series obviously tries to speak to the importance of science, scientists, and humanity understanding itself in a larger context. However, the show’s depiction of scientists and their work is laughably inaccurate. Instead of doing actual science (i.e., performing experiments, processing and interpreting data, debating theories, etc.), the scientists in the show mainly hang out at the bar, sleep around, tease one another over brunch, get drunk or high regularly, and play video games to solve difficult scientific puzzles.

And instead of working collectively on projects that would easily require hundreds of competent professionals, the handful of scientists featured seem to come to their conclusions on their own and unilaterally make decisions on humanity’s behalf. At no point do the characters really consider the ethical, cultural, and political implications of their discoveries; whereas in the real world, there are several institutions devoted to addressing these questions.

Contrast this flawed depiction of scientists with a film like “Oppenheimer,” which went to great lengths to get the details right. Developing the first nuclear bomb was a colossal undertaking that required the expertise and efforts of innumerable scientists. As President Truman himself explained in a speech given right after dropping the first atomic bomb, “The greatest marvel is not the size of the enterprise, its secrecy, nor its cost, but the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men in different fields of science into a workable plan.” Christopher Nolan deserves enormous credit for successfully capturing this reality and making a believable drama out of it.

Benioff and Weiss, on the other hand, deserve enormous criticism for completely neglecting this essential component of their story. It’s clear they did little homework about the workings of modern science, the people involved, or the way this affects society at large. These details would have been fascinating narrative avenues to explore, but Benioff and Weiss seem more inclined to give screen time to pointless conversations between whiny Millennials and a few misanthropic Boomers muttering cliché monologues about the evil of humanity.

Consequently, it’s difficult to see how “3 Body Problem” maintains interest in future seasons, particularly with its weirdly anticlimactic finale. The show had such promise, but the directors and writers ultimately squandered all of it in the first season.


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