3%: Cubes

"You deserve it."

3% is a Brazilian sci-fi series produced by Netflix. Set in a distant future, it follows the story of young adults that live in the Continent (or "Our Side"), a very poor place with some very unfortunate fashion choices. They have a once in a lifetime chance to cross to Offshore (or "Their Side"), where there are richness, good food, better clothes, cable television and Netflix.

Originally, 3% was a web series launched on Youtube back in 2011. Three mini episodes that functioned as a pilot were released in the hopes that a network would like the story enough to pick it up and take it to series. The problem is that Brazilian networks are all about telenovelas and very little space is given to TV series, much less to one with sci-fi elements. Enter Netflix, who announces the production of 3% four years later and releases the full first season on November 2016.

Of course, between 2011 and 2016, The Hunger Games turned into a worldwide phenomenon, followed by Maze Runner, Divergence, Repentance and Similarity. 3% comes in a little late as the formula of dystopian stories featuring young people seems to be running out of steam.

3% has enough creativity on its bones to justify its existence, though. The first few minutes do resemble The Hunger Games a lot, when we see many young adults leave their homes and march to a gathering where their fates will be decided. The difference here is that they go willingly (or do they?), as they only have one chance, at the age of 20, to pass through a selection process that will choose 3% of them to cross to Offshore, hence the series' name. If chosen, they can never go back to the loved ones they left behind.

The episode quickly presents the universe in which the characters live and wastes no time getting them through the Process. We first meet Michele, who is somewhat shy, but resourceful and a quick thinker. There is Fernando, a wheelchair user who is willing to prove he can go through the tests with no special treatment (they wouldn't give it to him anyway). Rafael is the resident douchebag who alters his ID to get into the process, cheats in one of the tests, and immediately gets a bad rap for the latter. Joana, my favorite candidate so far, is daring, won't take anyone's garbage and sides with Rafael of all people. She realizes he altered his ID and, through some classic blackmail, gets to keep an eye on him and make sure he won't undermine her path to Offshore. Finally, there is Marco, whom I'm calling Pretty Face because that's all there is to him: a superficial guy who thinks his looks and charm are going to cut it.

Their first trial is an interview, and the interviewers go deep. It's my favorite part of the episode. The analogy is a little obvious, but on point. What the characters go through mirrors the often dehumanized selection processes of big corporations. This test is also a chance for the script to reveal a lot about the characters. Fernando tries to show that he wants to be approved for more than just a cure for his physical condition, but his interviewer makes mashed potatoes out of him until he admits he wants to pass because he doesn't want to lead the same type of life his father does. It's a cruel confession, and it's the frustrating honesty of his answer that sends him to the next phase. On the other hand, a too cheerful candidate gets eliminated right away, doesn't handle it very well and kills himself. I was surprised that the interviewer, Denise, cared enough to be shaken by his death. She and her colleagues all seemed so cold.


The second trial is what names the episode: the candidates must construct at least nine cubes out of a pile of pieces in only three minutes. Michele helps Fernando by placing some of the pieces within his reach, which earns her major character points. He helps her back when she is almost out of time by constructing her ninth cube with the eight cubes she had already assembled. "A cube of cubes." It's a nice retribution, as well as a very clever idea, and they immediately bond. Joana assembles eleven cubes, because she rocks. And that's the test in which Rafael cheats, by stealing the ninth cube of the guy next to him, which gets the guy eliminated.

A man called Ezequiel, in a role that is reminiscent of The Hunger Games' Game Keeper, is the leader of the selection process. He is the most interesting and layered character in the episode. I wasn't crazy about his self-drowning ritual when we first saw it; it seemed like an easy "oh, look, here is an interesting character trait". But when he used his mini tank of water to drown / give a lecture to Denise, I was shocked. And she thanked him for the lesson!

Ezequiel is under review himself because one of the candidates he approved in a previous process committed murder, the first ever in Offshore. I liked his reviewer, Aline, and I liked that she questioned why he kept Rafael in the Process even though Rafael cheated. I asked that question myself. My boyfriend, who didn't like the episode, theorized that Rafael is actually a plant, a deliberate bad influence, and anyone that follows his footsteps won’t be approved.

The unfairness of the tests and of the Continent/Offshore division doesn't go unnoticed. A rebellious group called "The Cause" stands against the status quo. It's not clear how the Cause operates, but the runners of the Process learn there is an infiltrater of the Cause among the candidates, and they narrow the suspects down to Michele and her friend Bruna. It's no surprise that Michele turns out to be the infiltrater, as she is the POV character (for this episode, anyway).

It all comes down to Michele very smartly setting Bruna up, which results in Bruna's death and this is a burden Michele now has to carry. The confrontation between the Process' head of security, Michele and Bruna would've been better if there was more to Bruna as a character, but I liked how the reveal and the setup were handled. It was a smart writing choice to have Michele make a sacrifice right away. There is no cause without sacrifice, and on a world like the one of 3% everybody is bound to get their hands dirty eventually, no matter how good their intentions are.

The episode does have flaws. Some of the dialogue was cringeworthy, including two poorly done exposition dumps and Rafael's big speech to everyone that was judging him. I know some people do that, but it is cringey both in real life and in a script. The fashion design and makeup for the people of the Continent is awfully amateurish, and I have no idea how Netflix let that pass. The acting is mostly adequate, but there are a couple of actors who, unfortunately, don't deliver.

So, there are flaws, but I thought this was a solid introduction to the world of 3%, and it made me want to go back and see what happens next.

Bits and Pieces

- The story takes place in future Subequatorial Amazon, which definitely looks different.

- The ID is a chip located in the back of the right ear.

- People in Offshore are also under evaluation. Is there anyone in this universe that isn't?

- Ezequiel has a wife and something "painful" happened to either her or both of them.

- Michele had an older brother and she blames Ezequiel for his death. Her parents are also dead.

- I like the simplicity of the names. Our Side. Their Side. The Cause. The Process.

- On the web series, there is no rebellious group and the main character follows a completely different path.

- The web series only had white actors. The Netflix version has a very beautiful and diverse cast. A lot of evolving from 2011 to 2016. I can’t stress enough how much I love this.

Quotes

Interviewer: "You are one of the worst candidates I have ever interviewed."
Joana: "Maybe you are the worst interviewer there is."

Not perfect, but a good start to the saga. Two and a half out of four drowning tanks.
---
Lamounier

8 comments:

sunbunny said...

I'm not a big reader of YA lit or the films based on it so the premise reminded me more of an extended episode of Black Mirror than anything else. I really liked the concept. The idea that there is this elite paradise but they allow a tiny percentage of regular people to join them just to give the regular people hope/a reason not to rebel. Although honestly, if I was in charge of The Process I'd focus more on morality and personality than spatial reasoning.

This is the first thing I've ever watched dubbed in my life. I didn't like the dubbing. But, on the other hand, I do not have the patience for eight hours worth of subtitles. So that made it hard to tell what was good acting and what was bad.

I remember liking Joana initially, too, but Fernando and Michele were my big faves. Ezequiel seemed very wooden to me at first.

I didn't know it started out as a web series! That's really interesting.

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Lamounier! Terrific review -- you made me laugh several times.

I've only seen this episode so far. It's an interesting pilot and I'm definitely going to keep going. I liked Michele and Joana in particular, and I like the diversity of the cast, especially after you said that the original features had a cast that wasn't diverse at all. Good for Netflix. :)

Lamounier said...

Thanks, Billie. :)

This is the first thing I've ever watched dubbed in my life. I didn't like the dubbing. But, on the other hand, I do not have the patience for eight hours worth of subtitles.

Sunbunny, I actually encourage you and anyone else to try and watch it with subtitles. It's okay after you get used to it and, quality wise, a lot is lost with the dubbing. If you have already watched the entire season, there is going to be a second season so you can try then. :)

A Buffy side note (because all things go back to Buffy), on the Brazilian dubbing of the series, they pronounced "Giles" just like the Buffybot.

Billie Doux said...

Re: dubbing versus subtitles: It's an interesting issue. There are pros and cons. Of course, the pro is that you get the actor's performance as it was intended, and that's a big pro.

I went through an extended obsession with Quebecois actor Roy Dupuis, who has done a lot of movies and TV work in English as well as his native French. Even though Dupuis did his own English dubbing in French-language movies so it was his own voice coming out of his mouth, I realized that I did prefer subtitles to dubbing -- especially after I watched one of his movies twice, once in dubbed English and once in French with English subtitles. (That was Being at Home with Claude.)
http://www.douxreviews.com/2008/02/being-at-home-with-claude.html

But the thing is, I have some French, so I can partially follow French dialogue. Some of his older and rarer movies were only available in French with French subtitles and I could actually follow most of what was going on without any English. I have no Portuguese at all, so that might make a difference.

But I'll try it.

sunbunny said...

I can do a film in subtitles, like you say Billie, it especially helps if you know some of the language they're speaking. But, for me, subtitles on TV series...it's just too long, especially with a language you have no familiarity with (like Portuguese) because you have to be so vigilant and stare at the screen the whole time whereas I'm much more of a do a sudoku puzzle, play a game on my phone, fold laundry while I watch kind of person.

Impatience for subtitles is a flaw of mine. It's why I haven't watched any of the European crime dramas Mark has recommended to me. I know I should try harder. Maybe I will for season 2. :)

Lamounier said...

Billie and Sunbunny, I understand. :) I just listened to the dubbed version to check some quotes, though, and dear lord, it sounds more like a commentary over the episode's audio than the characters talking.

On another topic, I finally found the link to the web series. It seems they closed the video, and you can only watch it if you have the link. Here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_rvS7nX7pM&t=38s

The interview part is actually better on the web version. If feels more like a dystopia.

Sera said...

Trust douxreviews to have all the best shows! :)
I wasn't terribly on board at first, but as the season progresses, the storylines get stronger and stronger. Just finished ep 5 and wow is all I can say.
Looking forward to the reviews, thanks so much for this! :)

Rob W said...

I watched the dub with the subtitles on, and I was interested to note where the phrasing differed between the dub and the subtitles.