The New Netflix Sci-Fi Series That Brings Communist Horrors To The Modern World

Exploring that horrific human past of madness, violence, and cowardly compliance is the best part of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem.

By Joshua Tyler | Updated

3 Body Problem review

3 Body Problem begins in the 1960s, in the midst of China’s communist revolution. A bruised and shackled scientist stands on stage in the midst of a struggle session. 

A struggle session is what happens when a crowd of believers forces a non-believer to stand in front of them and then demands the non-believer denounce his beliefs at risk of dire punishment. During communist revolutions, they’re used as a way to purge dissenters while at the same time firming up the faith of followers in the rabid, brainwashed crowd.

Struggle sessions still happen, only in less obvious and milder forms. You’ve probably seen them online when someone says something outside the accepted norm. In our current world, punishment for dissenters often ends up being things like cancelation or boycotting. In China, at this time and in this place, the punishment to be meted out is almost always a brutal and horrible death in front of a cheering mob. 

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Yet this scientist is not fighting for his life. From the look on his face, it’s clear this is a man who has already accepted he’s dead. He’s not fighting because there’s nothing left to fight for. His way of thinking has already lost. No one in this crowd of radicalized college students is interested in thinking. That doesn’t stop him from telling the truth.

If you’ve read the Cixin Liu books on which Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is based, you know this event kicks off everything that happens in the series. Without it, this story wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t read it, you’ll have to be patient enough to wait a few episodes to see how it actually connects. 

Exploring that horrific human past of madness, violence, and cowardly compliance is the best part of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem. The series frequently goes there, following the train of events incited by this one man’s struggle session and exploring the journey of his daughter Ye Winjie (Zine Seng) as she tries to survive in the madness of still new Chinese communism. 

Jess Hong as Jin in 3 Body Problem
Jess Hong as Jin in 3 Body Problem

The rest of the series takes place in the present, and there, the show sometimes loses its footing. At first, many of the early present-day scenes come off as wasted filler. Did we really need to spend 30 seconds watching someone walk through a hallway to get somewhere when 3 Body Problem could have easily cut to them already being at their destination? That happens a lot, especially in the show’s first episode.

Once the mystery of the present gets going, things get better. Scientists have begun committing suicide. Others are seeing mysterious numbers. And there’s a futuristic golden helmet being given to a select few mathematicians and physicists, which, once put on, takes them inside a full-immersion VR video game with a puzzle to be solved. 

Eiza González leads the 3 Body Problem cast in the present day, and when she’s on screen, the present-day material works. When it shifts to other actors, things slow down.

Eiza on Netflix

As the show goes on, the pacing gets better and more interesting minor players like John Bradley, as snack entrepreneur Jack Rooney, get more involved. But 3 Body Problem takes its time in getting there.

If you’ve read the book, you know where all this is going, and you know it’s worth the wait. I worry, though, that anyone who hasn’t read the book might not have the patience necessary to sit through watching Eiza González slow walk down the aisle of a funeral hall. 

3 Body Problem has potential it hasn’t realized yet. For now, it’s off to an acceptable but uneven start.


3 Body Problem is currently available to stream for Netflix subscribers.