The ‘3 Body Problem’ Exit Survey

Time to discuss Sophons, wallfacers, and whether the creators of ‘Game of Thrones’ have made another hit

Netflix / Ringer Illustration

It’s been several days since the release of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, and the Ringer staff is ready to dig into all the quantum physics, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and more that make up this mind-boggling series. Like a proper wallfacer should, we’ve kept our thoughts contained to ourselves, but now we’re ready to share our findings. So without further ado, let’s discuss.

1. What is your tweet-length review of 3 Body Problem Season 1?

Zach Kram:

Justin Charity: Look, I love this show, but Eiza González as an elite and indispensable nanotech physicist—but with big Nickelodeon energy—is a human Starbucks cup. She is Mark Wahlberg in The Happening levels of “Get out of here!”

Claire McNear: A frequently beautiful series that does a great job of juggling the novels’ complicated science and confounding timelines but still fails to give its characters a spark of life.

Miles Surrey: A real case of “it gets good after [insert number here] episodes,” which, in the age of streaming, hopefully won’t be a death sentence.

Aric Jenkins: A surprisingly addictive binge drop considering how dense the source material is and how distant the primary conflict is.

2. What was the best moment of the season?

Charity: I want to say the scene at the Panama Canal, but really it’s Newton flipping off Copernicus and Sir Francis Bacon in Level Three.

McNear: A lot of the plot was radically changed from the original books, but I’m so glad that Da Shi (Benedict Wong) remained the surly, über-competent investigator that he was in the source material.

Kram: There’s a whole question about the nanofiber ship scene below, so I’ll pick something else here and say that the universe’s flicker at the end of the first episode made the hairs on my arms stand on end. It was the same feeling I had at so many points while reading the books. That was the moment I knew David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo had something special here.

Jenkins: Weirdly, it was the exposition dump Thomas Wade and Jin Cheng received inside the VR game at the end of Episode 5. I just found it really interesting to hear the contrast between humanity’s and the San-Ti’s scientific progress, how that has shaped their respective civilizations over the millennia, and what lies ahead with the deployment of the Sophons. Big ideas paired with spectacular visuals.

Surrey: When everyone aboard The Judgment Day is ripped apart by what amounts to a futuristic industrial bread slicer. As Game of Thrones already proved, Benioff and Weiss are never better than when they embrace their inner sickos.

3. What was your least favorite part?

Jenkins: Sorry, I could just not get down with Auggie Salazar’s character. Sometimes a few cult members have to die to save the entire human race—stop whining all the time!

McNear: So much of the acting felt flat. I wanted to care about the Oxford Five—a savvy plot addition!—but I just couldn’t.

Charity: I actually didn’t love Level Three overall, if only because I think the human computer is a much more engrossing concept in the book. But my very least favorite parts of the first season are any and every scene involving Salazar and her stupid countdown and her stupid computer and her stupid nanotech.

Surrey: For a show in which one of the biggest selling points is the existential threat of an extraterrestrial invasion, I would’ve liked more scenes similar to the one in which humanity is called “bugs.” Since the aliens are centuries away from arriving on Earth, which somewhat lessens the dramatic impact of events in the present, why not go all in on the interspecies shit talking?

Kram: Say what you will about Liu Cixin’s workmanlike prose and flat characters—the man knows how to construct a clever scientific analogy. But the show didn’t include some of the best examples from the book (the billiard table experiment, the shooter and farmer parables, the crossbow comparison), which would have simultaneously shown off some poetic flair and made the science easier for viewers to understand.

4. So the wallfacers are responsible for saving Earth. If you were a wallfacer, what would be your first course of action?

McNear: If I tell you, the Sophons will hear.

Kram: Are you secretly a traitor to humanity? How dare you ask that question! I can’t tell you my plans or else the Sophons will find out and ruin them.

Charity: This is a long game we’re playing. You have to cultivate many different paths to victory. I would start by commissioning the production of either a game show or a podcast called What Do YOU Think We Should Do About the Aliens? in which I’d ask guests or contestants from an extremely diverse—random, even—variety of backgrounds, you know, “What do you think we should do about the aliens?” This would confuse the aliens.

Surrey: Find a way to create a nanofiber shield that covers the entire planet without the aliens finding out about it. When it comes to an alien invasion, the best offense is a good defense.

Jenkins: I mean, we’ve got 400 years until the San-Ti are showing up, so the very first thing I’m doing is taking a luxurious vacation on the U.N.’s dollar. For mental preparation, of course. Y’all said I could do anything without questioning, right??

5. We simply must discuss that nanofiber ship scene.

Surrey: Here’s a painstaking reenactment of how I reacted from my living room:

Charity: The most iconic slaughtering of younglings since Revenge of the Sith, obviously.

Kram: Serious question: How high up would this set piece rank compared to the best action scenes from Game of Thrones? It’s not at the same level as Hardhome, the Red Wedding, the Sept of Baelor explosion, or the loot train attack. But I’m not sure anything else from Thrones—even sequences I loved, like the Battle of the Blackwater, the defense of Castle Black, and the Mountain vs. Viper duel—made my jaw drop so low.

Jenkins: I know I just sorta dismissed Salazar’s hesitation to use this technology, but honestly, that was brutal. What an imaginative and horrifying set piece to watch unfold.

McNear: Rereading this section of the book this week, I was struck by how differently the “What about civilian casualties?” question is handled. It comes up in the book, and, as in the Netflix series, the nanofiber’s scientist creator is horrified by the prospect. But the book gives us details about only one of the innocents aboard: the pilot required to board the ship for the entirety of the journey through the Panama Canal. Netflix’s version is significantly more harrowing. In the book, we don’t learn what it was like for the people on the ship, with the sequence described only from the point of view of the group that built the nanofiber web. It was masterful of the show to take us inside as the sheer horror unfolds.

6. Who was the MVP of Season 1 of 3 Body Problem?

McNear: Jack, hands down.

Kram: The visual effects department. From the star flicker to the ship attack to all the VR scenes, the series looks best when it’s going for its biggest visual swings. That reported $20 million per episode budget went to good use.

Surrey: Liam Cunningham and Benedict Wong are the bickering buddy cop duo I never knew I needed in my life.

Jenkins: Yeah, has to be Wade and Da Shi. I still don’t fully understand who exactly they are, but I’m having a blast watching them nonetheless.

Charity: Three words—Benedict Wong ASMR.


7. Finish this sentence: With 3 Body Problem, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have …

Surrey: … once again demonstrated that they’re capable of adapting dense source material … as long as the story is already completed. No shade to George R.R. Martin—what journalist can’t relate to the stress of hitting their deadlines?—but Liu has already done his part. This time around, I have faith that Benioff and Weiss can stick the landing.

McNear: … failed, unfortunately, to fix the novels’ biggest problem: a lack of depth or warmth in the vast majority of characters.

Kram: … proved they weren’t merely a one-hit wonder, even if that one previous hit will forever be the main driver of their reputation. Benioff and Weiss haven’t just successfully adapted one seemingly unadaptable piece of sprawling fiction. Now they’ve done it twice.

Jenkins: … shown they have a fundamental understanding of what makes good TV. Now let’s just hope they have since gained an understanding of what makes a good ending.

Charity: … finally gotten me to watch a show of theirs? I don’t know, I hate medieval fantasy and for this reason was never going to get into Thrones. They’ve done a great job with this, though.

8. What is the biggest lingering question you have after finishing the season?

Surrey: WHAT DO THE ALIENS LOOK LIKE?!

McNear: Are we ever going to see the San-Ti? I suspect it’ll be tough to do it in a way that doesn’t look absurd, but the Three Body game sequences were impressive enough that I’m hopeful.

Charity: Do they really intend to have the Sophon woman speak in that stupid stock supercomputer voice for the entire series? Come on, now—it’s 2024; surely our understanding of AI has advanced beyond the overreliance on this particular trope.

Jenkins: Has there ever been a relationship on TV with as little chemistry as Jin and Raj’s? No, seriously, this continues to haunt me—they were supposed to be a couple?

Kram: If the show gets renewed for Season 2, how long will the wait between seasons be? Because the story should only get more expansive and effects heavy from here.


9. Season 2 will surely be green-lit. What would you like to see more of—or less of—in the next installment?

Charity: Up with Jin Cheng and Saul Durand! Down with Salazar!

Jenkins: More discussion about the evolution and technological progress of intelligent species and the nature of human history. I think the show is strongest when it explores these ideas.

McNear: Get some humor back in the show! John Bradley as Jack was delightful and a great way to break up all the doom, gloom, and science lessons, but once he left the picture, the show suffered. Let Da Shi grumble more! Better yet: Bring in someone else to help offset the inherent heaviness of the plot! The story is, on some level, basically absurd—it’s worth it to have a character who will say so every once in a while.

Kram: I will refer you to a quote Benioff gave The Hollywood Reporter in January: “I feel if we survive to the second season, we’re going to be in a good place. Things wildly escalate and there’s one scene, if we get to it, we’re golden—like when we got to the Red Wedding on Thrones.”

The showrunners also say that they hope Rian Johnson can direct an episode in Season 2. I saw the visual spectacle he pulled off with the Holdo maneuver in The Last Jedi—give him this Red Wedding–esque moment, and we’re more than golden.

Surrey: As a non–book reader, I’m just going along for the ride, but assuming the series jumps forward in time, I’m curious to see how humanity evolves—for better or worse.

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