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3 Body Problem For Beginners: What The Hell Is Going On?

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3 Body Problem For Beginners: What The Hell Is Going On?

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There’s a new sci-fi epic TV show in town, and contrary to what Netflix’s 3 Body Problem trailers would have you believe, you do not need a PhD in physics to understand what’s going on in it. If you’re curious about the new series, which drops on Netflix on March 21, but are nervous it will be too dense to get through, worry not: With some help from cast and creators, GameSpot is here to break it down for you so you can dive right in.

“You’ve never seen a show that has so much visual scope to it,” series star John Bradley promised to GameSpot at a recent press junket. “Part of it takes place in 1960s China. Part of the show takes place in the present day. And part of the show takes place in a virtual reality video game, which means that we can transport our characters to any point in history, to any point in the future. We can have them wear anything they want and show anything we want on screen. In terms of the normal logic that most TV dramas and movies are bound by, we’re not bound by any of that. We’ve got a complete blank canvas and we can show whatever we want. We can break any rules that we want and we’ve taken full advantage of that.”

That sounds like a lot, but let’s break it down.

What the hell is 3 Body Problem?

3 Body Problem is a new sci-fi show on Netflix from Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and The Terror: Infamy creator Alexander Woo. It is based on the Remember the Earth’s Past novel trilogy by Chinese author Liu Cixin. It examines how humans would react to and address the existential threat of an alien invasion centuries in the future.

Liu’s novels are highly regarded in the science fiction community, and early reviews have commended Weiss, Benioff and Woo for translating the thick text to television. It is a heavy series, but the creators have done a good job of making it digestible for even casual sci-fi fans.

What is 3 Body Problem About?

In the literal sense, 3 Body Problem is about what happens when the actions of a singular physicist in 1960s China invite a hostile alien population to Earth. The impending invasion is discovered in the modern day by a shadow international government agency when the world’s top scientists begin dying in horrific manners. The world’s top minds–known as the Oxford Five–are then tapped to help prepare Earth for the impending threat, but their opinions on the invasion, interpersonal drama, and their own life events serve as obstacles to addressing their incoming visitors.

The series bounces between 1960s China during the Cultural Revolution when the aliens, known as the San-Ti, make contact and the present day as the Oxford Five discover the San-Ti’s intentions through an ultra-realistic virtual reality game.

In a metaphorical sense, the show is about whether humanity can unite in a global crisis.

“What would you do if there was a threat to humanity? How would you feel about the rest of your life? Where do you think your life would be going? What if the threat was contradictory in that some people think it’s a good thing and some people think it is a bad thing? What would you do? How would you examine that?” Liam Cunningham said to GameSpot about the show’s central quandaries. “These are the questions that are asked in the show and are at the middle of it. You’ve got these five youngsters, the Oxford Five, who are enormously talented in the sciences. They are faced with the responsibility of not just examining their own existence, but how they are going to save humanity.”

Who is in 3 Body Problem?

3 Body Problem has a sprawling cast across the time periods in the show, but here is a breakdown of the major players in the story.

3 Body Problem
3 Body Problem

The Oxford Five

Jovan Adepo is Saul Durand. He is very gifted at physics but doesn’t love it. At the beginning of the series, he questions whether he’ll ever reach his full potential.

John Bradley is Jack Rooney. Jack left academia to use his physics prowess to found a multi-million-pound snack empire known as Jack Snacks.

Eiza Gonz├ílez is Auggie Salazar. Auggie is the inventor of cutting-edge nanotechnology but is more focused on how to solve the world’s current problems and inequalities rather than wanting to use her research to address the impending alien threat.

Jess Hong is Jin Cheng. Jin is a genius theoretical physicist who is determined to answer the biggest questions about the universe.

Alex Sharp is Will Downing. Will left Oxford because he felt it had become too difficult. He is a middle-school physics teacher when he’s first introduced in the series. He receives “life-changing news” that changes his, and his friends’, perspective on the invasion.

The Shadow Organization

Liam Cunningham is Thomas Wade. Wade is the leader of an international agency and the man in charge of coming up with a response to the San-Ti threat, as well as assembling the team to execute it. He embodies the idea that the ends justify the means as long as human technology is propelled to be ready to battle the San-Ti.

Benedict Wong is Da Shi. Da Shi is an intelligence officer assigned to keep tabs on the Oxford Five when the world’s top scientists start dying in horrific ways.

The Other Major Players

Rosalind Chao is Ye Wenjie in the present day. She is an astrophysics prodigy whose choices in the 1960s changed the course of humanity.

Zine Tseng is Young Ye Wenjie. Young Wenjie is caught up in the Cultural Revolution and finds herself struggling with the cruel world around her.

Jonathan Pryce is Mike Evans. Mike is a billionaire oil tycoon with the heart of an environmentalist.

Ben Schnetzer is Young Mike Evans. A passionate environmentalist who is conflicted when he inherits his family’s oil business.

Marlo Kelly is Tatiana. Tatiana was raised in Mike Evans’ organization from birth and has dedicated her life to welcoming the aliens–by any means necessary.

Saamer Usmani is Raj Varma. Raj is a naval officer and Jin’s boyfriend who is drafted to be part of a very dangerous mission.

Sea Shimooka is Sophon, an avatar in the VR game.

Eve Ridley is Follower, a young girl character whom Jin encounters in the VR game.

What did the 3 Body Problem series change from the books?

Liu’s novels are even more sprawling than this gigantic series, with anomalies and events happening to different people across time and space. The books are even more existential than the series, and the creative team realized they needed to centralize the story to keep viewers interested in the visual interpretation.

“From all of our collective experiences, we have a strong belief that the thing that propels you from episode to episode and then season to season is the characters. You can have as much whiz-bang as you want on the screen, but it is not going to mean anything unless you care about the people who are experiencing it,” executive producer Alexander Woo said in a roundtable interview attended by GameSpot. “That led to the decision to pull some of the main characters from books two and three into Season 1 and have them have relationships with one another, have them know each other, have them cross paths, have them be in conflict or be in love with each other. That was the origin of the Oxford Five.”

So many of the circumstances in the series come directly from the books, who is involved in those circumstances and the order those events happen have been changed to streamline the series.

When does 3 Body Problem premiere?

3 Body Problem will premiere with all eight episodes on Thursday, March 21 on Netflix.

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