Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is Bringing Back One Classic TV Trope
Netflix’s sci-fi epic goes full mystery box.
In March, a massive sci-fi epic from David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo is coming to Netflix. Scientists are cracking up, there’s a ticking clock, a mysterious otherworldly VR headset, and aliens knocking at our door. This is 3 Body Problem, a series poised to be the next big thing in sci-fi TV in 2024. After dropping a tantalizing teaser last June, which featured narration from the late Carl Sagan, Netflix has finally revealed the first full-length trailer for the series.
And, with this big trailer, 3 Body Problem is taking the acclaimed books from Cixin Liu and pushing those texts firmly into the prestige TV mystery box. Will it work?
Spoilers ahead for the book version of The Three-Body Problem.
3 Body Problem Trailer
If you saw the teaser, and the clip that was released previously, you’d be forgiven if you thought this was an entirely different series. The new trailer, eerily set to a trailercore cover of Radiohead’s 24-year-old song “Everything in its Right Place,” shows a lot of people pretty stressed out about the apparent suicides of various scientists who are being targeted by... someone. Plus, the slick VR helmets hint at another world, even more mysterious. Plus, people are seeing weird numbers and equations in their heads.
In short, there is almost nothing about this trailer that is easy to understand, and for a sci-fi series based on dense books, the trailer is almost pathologically determined not to reveal any proper nouns, including the names of the aliens. In short, the trailer is going full mystery box. This isn’t a complete departure from the 2008 novel The Three-Body Problem, but it does suggest that the series could withhold basic information from the audience for as long as possible.
In a statement about the scope of the series, co-creator Alexander Woo said: “What we are hoping to do is to convey the experience — if not necessarily the exact details — of the novel onto the screen. What stayed, we hope, is the sense of wonderment and the sense of scope, of scale, where the problems are no longer just the problems of an individual or even a nation, but of an entire species.”
So, yes, the exact details may differ, but the scope of the novels will remain. Probably.
3 Body Problem mystery, explained (sort of)
While seemingly taking big liberties with the first book, this trailer for 3 Body Problem presents two linked mysteries: Why are there a bunch of scientists committing suicide and what’s the deal with the weird VR headsets? Presumably learning the answer to these questions will serve as the motivation to keep watching the series. That said, if one has read the first book, or does a quick Google, the answers to those mysteries can be solved — at least in a reductive sense.
The scientists are committing suicide partially because of hallucinations placed in their minds, which is part of an alien plot to get people to distrust scientists. The VR headsets are linked to a game created to simulate the planet of Trisolarans (aliens) for some humans to help solve “the three-body problem,” which is all about solving chaotic environmental problems in a gravitationally unstable star system. (Right now the trailer suggests the game itself may be created by aliens.) So, in a sense, even the title of 3 Body Problem is a mystery box that can be solved by reading both the novel and articles in science magazines.
The question that exists now is simple. As a TV show, how much homework will 3 Body Problem give the audience? The trailer creates a compelling, and frightening visual landscape. It should! Part of the overall plot of the book involves the fact that some humans want the Trisolarans to invade our planet, and wipe out most of humanity. This isn’t to say the books are “dark,” because, again, that would be reductive. But the books do have an abundance of context. With its first trailer 3 Body Problem is holding back on that context, avoiding saying words like “Trisolarans,” or “quantum entanglement” or “sophons.” But if the series aims to honor the books and be comprehensible, at some point it will have to ditch some of the mystery box and get really deep into the nerdy, extraterrestrial weeds. But how deep will it dare to go?