Root NationArticlesMovies and seriesEverything About the Series 'The Three-Body Problem' (Spoiler-Free)

Everything About the Series ‘The Three-Body Problem’ (Spoiler-Free)


“The Three-Body Problem,” Netflix’s new high-budget adaptation of Liu Cixin’s book series, helmed by the creators of “Game of Thrones,” ventures to bring science into science fiction. The series delves into the world of scientists attempting to unravel a mystery spanning decades, continents, and even galaxies. “The Three-Body Problem” introduces viewers to complex concepts of quantum mechanics and astrophysics, sometimes quite literally attempting to ground these ideas.

Reactions to Netflix’s new science fiction epic, if any exist, are controversial. Reviews from leading critics vary widely: from lavish praise to disappointment and everything in between. Audiences are similarly divided: some fans of Liu Cixin’s novel criticize the series for its bold adaptation, while many others say that “The Three-Body Problem” is one of the best genre shows they’ve ever seen. However, among fans who have watched the series thus far, there seems to be one consistent reaction: “The ending of the series leaves you eagerly awaiting what comes next.”

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So, what’s wrong with “The Three-Body Problem,” and why did the adaptation cause such a resonance in China? Find out all about it in my new review.

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What exactly is the problem of three bodies?

The problem of the three-body system lies in its unpredictability. Jonathan Blazek, an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Northeastern University, explains that systems with two objects exerting gravitational force on each other, whether particles, stars, or planets, are predictable. Scientists have been able to solve this two-body problem and predict the orbits of objects since the time of Isaac Newton. However, once a third body is introduced, the entire system descends into chaos.

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“The three-body problem is the statement that if you have three bodies attracting each other according to Newton’s law of gravitation, then there is no general closed solution for this situation,” says Blazek. “Small differences amplify and can lead to wildly unpredictable behavior in the future.”

Серіал Проблема трьох тілIn “The Three-Body Problem,” as in Liu Cixin’s book, this is a reality for extraterrestrials living in a solar system with three suns. Since all three stars exert gravitational force on each other, they constantly throw the solar system into chaos and back. For the Trisolarans, as these extraterrestrials are called, this means that when the sun is far away, their planet freezes, and when the sun is very close to their planet, it burns. And it is precisely because of the three-body problem that these movements are absolutely unpredictable.

For centuries, scientists have pondered how to determine a stable starting point for three gravitational bodies that would lead to predictable orbits. So far, there is no generalized solution that could be taken from theory and modeled in reality, although recently, scientists have begun to find some potentially creative solutions, including using models based on the movements of intoxicated individuals.

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What is the series about?

Renowned showrunners David Benioff, Dan Weiss, and Alexander Woo tackled the adaptation of one of the challenging science fiction tomes – “The Three-Body Problem” (the first in a trilogy titled “Remembrance of Earth’s Past,” with the second and third books titled “The Dark Forest” and “Death’s End” respectively) on Netflix. Their adaptation is more compact and diverse than the book, making it a completely different story. Most often, it serves as a good, and sometimes excellent crash course that acts as an accelerated introduction to the core ideas, a key to understanding the larger concepts that shape Liu’s later books. By the way, “The Three-Body Problem” is the most expensive scripted series on Netflix to date, with a cost of $20 million per episode. The deal between Weiss, Benioff, and Netflix alone is valued at least $200 million.


The eight-part series opens with a truly horrific scene of Maoist struggle, in which a prominent physics professor, who fell afoul of the Chinese cultural revolutionaries for teaching principles of Western science, is beaten to death on stage in front of his wife, who denounces him as he is killed, while his shocked daughter and protege Ye Wenjie (played by Qin Zhen) watch from the crowd. One of the timelines follows her as she is first sent to a labor camp in Inner Mongolia, and then, when her astrophysics skills are needed, to a mysterious scientific project on its outskirts.

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Later, scientists worldwide begin to commit suicide, and these “suicides” are investigated by former police officer Da Shi (played by Benedict Wong). He reports to Thomas Wade (played by Liam Cunningham), a shadowy figure working for an even more shadowy secret organization that seeks to preserve humanity (or perhaps leads it). Or not.

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Let it be. One of the mysterious deaths once again brings together a group of five former students of the deceased teacher – the “Oxford Five.” This includes the brilliant nihilistic genius Sol (played by Jovan Adepo), the supreme engineer Augustina “Aggie” Salazar (played by Eiza González), on the verge of a global breakthrough in nanofiber technology, the brilliant theoretical physicist Jin (played by Jess Hong), as well as the relative failure Will (played by Alex Sharp), who now teaches natural sciences to high school students but is still in love with Jin as he was in their university years, and Jack (played by John Bradley), who sold out to make a fortune on snacks, his wealth proving useful later on.


And who was their deceased mentor? It was Vera Ye (played by Vedette Lim), the daughter of the woman who witnessed her father being killed in Beijing in 1966. This marks the first of many connections that promise to loop back, twist around, and entangle themselves again.

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The series takes us forward through the relentless yet never overstated suffering and hardening of Ye Wenjie as she endures her literal imprisonment within the project’s confines – and the theft of her work by others – as well as through the central mystery. Soon joining the fray is Jonathan Pryce as Mike Evans, an eco-activist turned reclusive oil tycoon and billionaire, and answers to questions about who (and what) these extraordinary forces are, what they want, and who summoned them emerge at a fairly brisk pace.

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Forcing the characters to navigate in the dark on the path to unraveling the Three-Body Problem, Liu mirrors on a microscopic level the core ideas of the book about the power of collective efforts against control stemming from individual decision-making. However, since in the series “The Oxford Five” are friends (and in some cases former lovers) who quickly start working together, relationships drive the plot forward more than its existential puzzle. These changes introduce a new level of interpersonal drama into the Netflix show that isn’t present in the book, especially for Oggi, haunted by visions of light-speed reversal seemingly etched onto her retinas. The division into five distinct characters underscores the idea that complex problems can be approached from various unique perspectives.

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Will there be a sequel?

The producers of “The Three-Body Problem” say that ideally the series should last for four seasons (with a significant time jump in the second season). Although no one knows if all four seasons will be possible – with the yet unknown ratings of the series being a key factor – “The Problem” has several factors that suggest a continuation is likely. On their part, the showrunners behave as if a continuation will indeed happen, so they are ready to quickly return to production.

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“This is what we talked about with the guys at Netflix. Liu Cixin created this unforgettable trilogy, and with each book, it gets better and better for me. The second book is much better than the first, and the third just blew my mind. The story becomes more and more ambitious, and in the second book, it takes a huge leap. So I feel like if we make it to the second season, everything will be fine. We don’t have a second season yet, but we have to keep moving forward at full throttle as if it exists,” Benioff recently said in an interview with Games Radar.

Серіал Netflix

“Because if we get a second season, we’ll have to start from scratch in terms of preparation and production to get it to people within a reasonable timeframe.” Well, Benioff, Weiss, and Alexander Woo have undoubtedly proven once again that there is no such thing as an unadaptable novel.

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Why did ‘The Three-Body Problem’ become a problem for the Chinese?

The high-budget Netflix adaptation has divided opinions on Chinese social media. Even before the series aired last week, Chinese nationalists were upset by the adaptation of a Chinese science fiction novel and its international popularity.

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On social media platforms in China, where Netflix is blocked, some criticized the cast and changes to the plot, while others accused the platform of deliberately using a tragic moment in the country’s past to belittle the world’s second-largest economy. Additionally, the Netflix version made significant changes to the novel, relocating the story’s setting from China to London and erasing the Chinese origins of many characters.

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In a recent interview, Liu stated, “The Netflix series ‘The Three-Body Problem’ is aimed at a global audience. Most of its characters may no longer be Chinese, which may be difficult for the Chinese audience to accept. But I still trust them completely.” However, some Chinese users disagree. Even before the series aired, some posted videos and comments online, criticizing the series and accusing it of stereotyping. Others mocked the series by editing clips from the show and posting them in video comments.

Кадри з серіалуSome viewers accused Netflix of deliberately portraying China in a negative light by removing the backstory of some Chinese characters and making them purely villainous, or simplifying certain plotlines of Chinese characters who remained to make them insignificant, and making the protagonists of the series characters portrayed by actors of other ethnic groups. Giovanni Adepo, a dark-skinned actor in the series, plays one of the characters who critics actively criticize.

The actress playing Ye Wenjie also became the target of criticism. In a popular article on WeChat, American actress of Chinese descent Jing Tian was criticized for “shining with her fierce eyes and evil facial expression, creating the impression that she is a typical Asian female killer often seen in Hollywood.” Other critics of the series focused on the portrayal of scenes from the Cultural Revolution in China.

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There was also a lot of criticism directed at the scene at the beginning of the first episode, where, as in the novel, a young Ye helplessly watches as her father, a physics professor, is beaten to death by Red Guards – communist fanatics who played a key role in the chaos of that turbulent period. During the Cultural Revolution in China, tens of millions of people were persecuted, and according to historians’ estimates, between 1 and 2 million people were killed. Many nationalist-minded users of the internet accused Netflix of producing the entire series just to showcase this scene.

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In a review of the film on the Chinese website Douban, which is a rating site for books and movies, it is mentioned that the West does not want to accept today’s developed China. “In the eyes of foreigners, China still remains that repressive, backward, and insane stereotype. All disasters stem from this. The Chinese are not worthy of saving the world and can only wait for the West to save it,” the article states.

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Instead, Liu has repeatedly stated that he does not attempt to express any political views through his novels. In an interview with The New Yorker in 2019, he said, “I am a writer. I don’t start writing with any arrogance in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.”

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However, there are some viewers who are glad that the story has been brought to a wider audience. The Chinese film review site Mtszimu stated that the adaptation became “not only a new interpretation of Liu Cixin’s original work but also an important contribution to the world of science fiction literature.

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Well, “The Three-Body Problem” clearly contains a complex tapestry of narratives spanning several decades and generations. But at its core, the series is an engaging thriller about how humanity’s past sins shape its future.

As a result, the story that emerges certainly appears more conventional for television, but fundamentally, it shies away from one of the book’s most intriguing themes: the loneliness and terror that can accompany the pursuit of knowledge and progress.

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“The realization that we are not alone in the Universe should not inspire. It should instill fear.”

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Julia Alexandrova
Julia Alexandrova
Coffee lover. Photographer. I am writing about science and space. I think it's too early for us to meet aliens. I follow the development of robotics, just in case ...
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