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.
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.