Review: 3 Body Problem rebounds big time in Episode 5, "Judgment Day"

A couple of ludicrous set pieces give 3 Body Problem a jolt of energy going into the back half of the season.
3 Body Problem. (L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Benedict Wong as Da Shi in episode 105 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024
3 Body Problem. (L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Benedict Wong as Da Shi in episode 105 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024 /

Warner: SPOILERS ahead!

3 Body Problem needed an episode like this right about now. For the past couple of episodes, things have felt a bit clumsy as the show tries to balance character development, flashbacks to the '80s, scenes set in a virtual reality created by extraterrestrial conquerors, and a dawning existential dread that settles over our characters as they realize they're fighting not only an oncoming alien invasion, but a group of people here on Earth who worship the aliens and who are trying to help them take over the planet.

A lot of it felt jumbled, but by the end of "Judgement Day," we have a clear enemy and a direction for the show. Plus, the big scene in the middle of the episode, where Thomas Wade and the British government take down the alien worshippers with the help of Auggie Salazar, is a spectacularly creative set piece that had me on the edge of my seat in horror and wonder. That alone gave the series a big shot in the arm.

I've read the first book in Liu Cixin's Three-Body Problem series, so I I knew this set piece was coming, but that wouldn't have mattered if the producers couldn't execute on it, which they did. Let's get into it.

3 Body Problem review: Episode 5, "Judgment Day"

So the group of alien worshippers led by Mike Evans live on a massive boat, practicing their weird religion on international waters while they recruit people from the mainland. It's definitely got a Scientology vibe, except that L. Ron Hubbard was never shut in his cabin for hours on end talking directly to god. MIke Evans, on the other hand, has a direct line to the San Ti aliens, although they've cut off communications recently. Wade recruits Jin's boyfriend Raj to head a mission to capture whatever data the Evans and his followers have recorded about the San Ti over the years. That means capturing the ship without giving the people on board enough time to destroy those records.

And here's where some of the plot threads of the season start to come together. Wade and Clarence (who i still find it very odd isn't named Da Shi like in the books) convince Auggie to once again start up production of her nano-fibers, long filaments of wire so fine they can't be seen by the naked eye. This time, the countdown doesn't resume in front of her eyes when she flips the on switch, a huge load off her mind.

Although she still has regrets when she realizes what Wade and the government want to do with her nano-fibers. They string lengths of her nano-fiber between two towers in the Panama Canal just as the ship full of alien worshippers, called the Judgment Day, passes through. The nano-fibers are so thin and sharp that they slice through flesh and steel without a noise, so we see people split into heads, torsos and legs and fall to the ground without ever realizing what's happened to them.

This sequence is fantastic. These are the nominal bad guys of the story, but the scene is structured such that we're still terrified for them, because wouldn't you be scared if you watched someone get sliced into three bloody pieces right in front of you without any explanation? The episode takes its following the dawning horror, even putting us into the point of view of the nano fibers, so to speak. My favorite shot is a slow crawl down a hallway as little paper dolls made by the children on board and hung on the walls get bisected one by one by one. The director was imaginative in shooting this sequence as Liu Cixin's was in coming up with it.

And yes, there are children on board, the kids of families who are in the cult. We don't see any of them get cut up, but the show acknowledges that they're there, which adds to the terror. Mike Evans also perishes in the massacre, and Wade gets ahold of a hard drive containing the data he was after.

3 Body Problem. (L to R) Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Alex Sharp as Will Downing in episode 105 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024 /

You are bugs

The episode has one more big set piece left in it. In the data from the hard drive, Wade and Jin find a file that can be played in the 3 Body game. They enter the virtual reality world where the San Ti lay out their master plan: not only are they coming to Earth, but they're going to use a microscopic, multi-dimensional living computer called a sophon to halt all scientific progress on on the planet; that's why the particle accelerators around the world started giving nonsensical results, and why scientists like Auggie started seeing strange countdowns in front of their eyes which only went away when they shut down their projects. And now the San Ti are stepping things up and using the sophons to write the same message on every TV, computer and phone screen in the world — "You are bugs" — as part of their plan to terrify us into submission.

This is all streamlined and simplified from the book, which spends a lot of more time on the particularities of how the sophons are created. Also, the "we are bugs" message is only written on the retinas of a select few people rather than simulcast to the entire world. The Judgement Day sequence kept more or less everything from the book but expanded it for TV, which was satisfying. After that, I was a little disappointed that the "You are bugs" moment felt reduced, but it still inspired the kind of terrified awe that 3 Body Problem has conjured in its best moments. Because to a species as technologically advanced as the San Ti, that's what we are.

This may have been the best episode of 3 Body Problem so far. The show's biggest weakness is that as imaginative and exciting as the twists and turns of the plot are, the characters still feel pretty flat on the whole, which to be fair is more or less in keeping with the first book in Cixin's series. Characters like Will and Saul feel all but completely disconnected from the main storyline. And while it was nice to see some continuity between the young Ye Wenjie we meet in the flashbacks and the older version who believes the San Ti will be the savior of humanity, I still feel there's something missing in the years between. Perhaps we'll see what it is in the final three episodes of the season, which I'm looking forward to now more than I was before.

Episode Grade: A

dark. Next. 3bp 6. 3 Body Problem focuses on the little emotional moments in Episode 6

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