Review: 3 Body Problem focuses on the little emotional moments in Episode 6

Characters like Will and Jin finally get some dimension in a quieter, more contemplative episode of 3 Body Problem. It can't all be about cutting ships into strips.
3 Body Problem. (L to R) Alex Sharp as Will Downing, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in episode 106 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023
3 Body Problem. (L to R) Alex Sharp as Will Downing, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in episode 106 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023 /

Warner: SPOILERS ahead!

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin is a book that cares a lot about ideas. It cares about science, and spends a lot of time explaining things about particle physics to its laymen audience. It cares about the existential angst we humans might feel upon coming into contact with the notion that we're not alone in the universe. It cares upon human suffering on a grand scale.

On a more granular level, the book is kind of flat. With a couple of exceptions, the characters don't really pop. They're ciphers meant to get us to the next plot twist, the next big idea. The TV show has tried to make up for this by taking the protagonist of the first book — a scientist named Wang Miao — and essentially splitting him into different people. So in the show, Auggie is the character who is working with nanofibers while Jin and Jack play the 3 Body game, whereas in the book Wang Miao did it all.

The producers did this, I assume, because Wang Miao is a little dull and they wanted this show to have more personality. Thus far, I don't think the experiment has quite worked, because there just doesn't seem to be room for the particularities of individual people when all of mankind is facing the existential threat of the San Ti. But Episode 6, "The Stars Our Destination," went a ways toward addressing this shortfall, mainly thanks to the character who has given me the most trouble so far: Will the cancer-ridden teacher.

3 Body Problem review, Episode 6, "The Stars Our Destination"

The most exciting scenes in "The Stars Our Destination" are, admittedly, the ones where the plot moves forward. Thomas Wade has recruited Jin to work with him on combatting the oncoming threat of the San Ti. She comes up with an ingenious way to accelerate the velocity of a reconnaissance probe Wade wants to send towards the San Ti fleet. It will require putting a thousand nuclear bombs in space and exploding each just as the probe passes so it will be launched into the depths at 1% the speed of light.

Is this scientifically plausible? I don't know, but the show convinced me it was, which is all that matters. And I like the "rah rah, we can do it" spirit of people coming together to face this unprecedented danger. Maybe the threat of an alien invasion will bring people together, like in Alan Moore's Watchmen when humanity enters a new golden age of peace and understanding after a mad supervillain stages an attack by a creature from another dimension.

But Watchmen was published in the 1980s and we've gotten more cynical since then. Since learning about the San Ti, people are freaking out. Some are worshipping the aliens. Others are drinking themselves into oblivion, setting stuff on fire, or symbolically buying stars in an attempt to raise money for the forthcoming war effort. This is a 21st century, post-President Trump take on how people would respond to adversity, not by coming together but splitting apart.

And I think that's why I found Will's arc in this episode to be touching. Will has seemed mostly extraneous to the plot so far. He found out he has pancreatic cancer, he inherited Jack's millions, and he wants to spend his final days hanging with his friends in a quaint little beach house. In this episode, Auggie and Saul encourage him to go tell Jin how he really feels about her, so he gets on a train and travels to London and sees Jin hugging Raj and then turns back. It felt weird, like a reel from Notting Hill got spliced into this sci-fi drama.

But I came around to it in the final stretch of the episode, an extended sequence where Will is inspired to get involved in the fight against the San Ti while he sits on the beach and watches a pair of paper boats Jin made earlier in the episode float back to shore as massive ships. He heads to the foundation where people can buy stars and ponies up. Before he puts down his deposit, he contemplates the shape of things in front of a massive screen showing colorful images of humanity from around the world while Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" plays on the soundtrack. Call it hacky all you want, but if you're thinking about the unbearable smallness of human existence you're listening to Lana Del Rey, and if you're not you should be.

The sequence has a poetic logic that's hard to explain but that works in context, and it all boils down to Will finding hope, finding a sense of purpose. He sounds a note of optimism in this cynical, war-torn world. It made his character feel human, which is what has too often gotten lost in this show so far. A good TV show has big crescendos and quieter, subtle trills. You need both to make a symphony. Episode 5 was a crescendo where a network of microfibers chopped up a ship and everyone on board in spectacular fashion. "The Stars Our Destination" is a quiet moment.

3 Body Bullet Points

  • Character actress CCH Pounder shows up at the very top of the episode as the Secretary General of U.N. advising people to remain hopeful even as the San Ti bear down on them. I love CCH Pounder, and if she has a recurring role on this show I will be very happy.
  • Raj gets a funny scene where he asks Thomas Wade to put him on the team that's going to make spaceships capable of resisting the San Ti, which is apparently happening on the moon. I liked the bit where he couldn't figure out how to open a window.
  • In addition to rediscovering his purpose, Will convinces Auggie to go help Jin by working for Wade, despite Auggie's misgivings about what happened in Panama. With the fate of the human race at stake, it's time for her to put on her game face.
  • Ye Wenjie is released from prison since they can't charge her with betraying the entire human race, unless English law is way further along than I thought. But she's still holding out hope that the San Ti can help humanity rather than destroy it. Best keep an eye on that one.

Episode Grade: B

3 Body Problem review: Episode 7, "Only Advance". dark. Next. ebp 7

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