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3 Body Problem: Countdown

"Do you believe in God?"

First off, I have not read the book trilogy by Cixin Liu, and if producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss get more seasons, I'll postpone reading them until the television series is complete. I'm doing that because I've been hearing that book readers can't help seeing this series differently. I was so impressed with this series that I want to review it entirely as its own self.

Plus, An Honest Fangirl wrote an excellent season review that includes the book reader's perspective. I’m not trying to replace what she wrote; I’m just supplementing it. 3 Body Problem has more than enough content for lots of review and discussion.

China

"Countdown" begins with flashbacks to the Cultural Revolution in Beijing, 1966. Those opening scenes of a mob putting Ye Wenjie's father, a physics professor, to death as young Wenjie watched from the crowd were so upsetting that I nearly stopped watching the show right then. Not for the last time, by the way.


Later, the flashbacks continued in Mongolia of 1967, where the "Conservation Corps" wasn't conserving – they were destroying an entire forest. When Ye Wenjie was betrayed by her lover and imprisoned for having a copy of Silent Spring, she refused to lie about her father's associates in exchange for her freedom. The heartlessness of being dunked with freezing water for not cooperating felt worse to me somehow than watching her getting beaten or shot.

Instead of dying from pneumonia, Wenjie ended up working for the Red Coast Project under the shadow of a huge, ominous satellite dish (that's some effective symbolism there). During one of their tests, dying birds fell to the ground, a direct callback to Silent Spring. Wenjie learned that the Red Coast Project wasn't about weapons – it was about communication with whatever is out there.

I have to praise Zine Tseng, who gave a terrific performance as Ye Wenjie during some of the worst experiences of her life. It's impossible not to empathize with her. As we transitioned to the present day part of the story, I was so pleased that the older Wenjie was portrayed by Rosalind Chao, who played a long-running Star Trek character in Next Gen and Deep Space Nine. That was like a subtle geek acknowledgement. Cool.

The Oxford Five

Most of the action in this episode took place in present day UK, where science appeared to be "broken." Results of particle accelerator experiments made no sense and alarmingly, top level physicists were killing themselves without explanation. It's an interesting (okay, horrifying) parallel to what happened to scientists in the flashback to China in the sixties.

The spectacular suicide of physicist Vera Ye, Wenjie's daughter, brought together five of Vera's associates and former students to Oxford for her funeral. (Very Big Chill.)

Auggie, Jin, Jin's boyfriend Raj, Saul, Will, Jack

Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo), who worked for Vera, is brilliant and only 32 but seems to be lost professionally. And we don't learn much yet about Will Downing (Alex Sharp), who loves Jin, and Jack Rooney (John Bradley), who is a snack food czar. This episode was mostly about the two female members of the five, Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) and Auggie Salazar (Eiza González). I loved both of them immediately because of the way they introduced themselves to a guy in the bar who was trying to pick them up.

While at the bar, Auggie started seeing a golden countdown in the center of her field of vision. It was alarmingly similar to something another suicidal physicist wrote on the wall in blood before gouging out his own eyes. What happens when it gets down to zero? Are Auggie's days literally numbered? And how can anyone actually, physically, cause something like this to happen to another person?

To make it even crazier, when Auggie went outside for a cigarette (don't you know those things will kill you Auggie), a mysterious young woman sat down next to her and said that the Lord had a better way. The woman knew about the countdown Auggie was seeing, and told her to stop her scientific work, and to look at the sky at midnight the next night. The following evening, when Auggie and Saul did exactly that, the stars blinked at them as if someone was flipping a light switch. And everyone else in the world saw it, too.

Again, how could that be possible? What could affect the vision of every human being in the world, or change the look of the universe? And yet it seemed obvious to me that even after several mentions of God, even though the last thing Vera said to Saul was, "Do you believe in God?", this series is not about religion. Or science versus religion.

Of course, I could be wrong.

The Game

Jin visited Wenjie, who didn't seem all that broken up about her daughter's death. Wenjie told Jin that Vera had been playing a VR video game, and gave the game helmet to Jin. I have to give the show props for how simple and freaky that game helmet looked, like you could look directly at it and still not quite see it.

Jin tried the game and was transported to "Level One," a landscape with a road leading to a castle. Jin was almost immediately burned up by the setting sun, right after seeing a desiccated body in the sand open its eyes. And I'm going, okay. What the hell could this possibly be?


The Detective

Benedict Wong from the Marvel Cinematic Universe plays Clarence Shi, a hard-boiled-ish detective investigating the suicides for the Strategic Intelligence Agency. Shi is a badass, and Wong has such presence; his scenes all made me smile. He and his mysterious boss Thomas Wade seem to have some knowledge that the physicists they're investigating do not.

Bits:

— Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is a famous scientific work, one of the most important in the past century.

— There is a brief scene where Wenjie is surreptitiously dropping seeds on the ground as she walks. It was so surreptitious that I didn't realize what she was doing the first time through this episode.

— The producers are apparently Game of Thrones guys. I'm not going to notice anything Game of Thrones-ish in these reviews because I never watched the series. Feel free to point out anything I missed in a comment.

— Even the title of the series is intriguing. What's a three body problem?

The mysteries we were presented with here in the first episode are huge; it's difficult to see how these plots are related. The filming, especially of the sixties flashbacks, was exceptional. And I liked all of the actors they cast, especially the women, who were the focus.

I'd be interested in what you all think of this episode,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

4 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you're doing episode reviews!

    Zine Tsen was just fantastic, huh? According to IMDb, this is her first major role. She was absolutely mesmerizing. I couldn't take my eyes off her. We have a the same favorite characters. Auggie was my immediate fav, although that may also be due to my massive crush on Eiza González.

    Beyond that, the game is so cool. I love the headset and how has the same shape of an Oculus headset, but is all shiny and smooth on the exterior. Both unnerving, and yet grounded enough so that it felt like it could be real.

    I also never watched GoT, but I recognize a lot of the actors from it, specifically the guys who play Jack and Wade.

    Also, the 3 Body Problem is an actual physics problem. The exact details of which would be a massive spoiler, but it is a genuine, legitimate thing.

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    1. Fangirl, thanks so much. I'm totally not a scientist. I'm just an ageing geek who loves hard sci-fi. :)

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  2. I read the first book some time ago and I found it interesting but very difficult too read. I enjoyed the series a lot more. Loved Benedict Wong in this. I could just feel his exasperation with the situation coming from the screen.

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  3. I really liked the first episode (which is all I have watched so far), and I'm not a book reader. I am very curious about what is happening, but this already feels like a show I'm gonna have to watch at least twice. While I was able to follow along easily enough, I got the very distinct impression that I was missing half of the context. Thank you so much for starting episode reviews.

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