3 Body Problem Episodes 2-4 Recap: Instructions and Intentions

Da Shi tries to figure out how to learn more about the 3 Body game
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

The following recap contains spoilers for 3 Body Problem S1E2, “Red Coast” (written by Rose Cartwright and directed by Derek Tsang). S1E3, “Destroyer of Worlds” (written by Alexander Woo and directed by Andrew Stanton), and S1E4, “Our Lord” (written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Minkie Spiro). Portions of the novel The Three-Body Problem are also referenced.

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.

The Three-Body Problem

On several levels, both the show 3 Body Problem and the novel The Three-Body Problem try to answer a fundamental question. At its most basic level, the question is, “What are the limits of what we will do when it seems all is lost and all reasons to have hope are gone?”

In Episode 1 of 3 Body Problem, Auggie shuts down her life’s work when she is warned about a mysterious countdown happening in her head. Ye Vera commits suicide when her funding is pulled after years of research. A scientist’s wife saves her own life rather than prevent her husband from being beaten to death by revolutionary youths.

Jack and Will talk about what is happening with their friends and the game
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Episodes 2-4 of 3 Body Problem take that question to even darker levels, as it explores the nature of humanity and who we are in the face of adversity and challenge. The decisions these characters make will have monumental consequences, with none of them more impactful than a decision made by one lonely scientist in 1977.

1969 – 1977: Inner Mongolia

I may have sent some emails and texts in my life that I immediately regretted, but boy howdy, mine never had the consequences of sending a conquering alien race to Earth or turning a significant portion of the global intellectual community into raging zealots.

Years after discovering that the Red Coast base located on Radar Peak was actually a station meant to try and communicate with extraterrestrial life, Ye Wenjie is transfixed with the idea of what might be out in the universe. Years later, she is still confined to the base, and while she is allowed to conduct experiments, work on math problems, and live better than the frozen prison from which she came, she is still regularly reminded of the inhumane reality of her world.

Ye Wenjie is introduced to her superiors at Red Coast
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

When Wenjie comes up with the idea to use the sun as a super antenna to amplify their signal to send it farther into space, her immediate supervisor, Comrade Yang, passes it off as his own to Commander Lei. Lei does not buy the idea, but the fact that someone Wenjie trusted stole her idea prompts her to use the sun to send an outgoing message anyway.

She then runs into the young woman who killed her father back in the 1966 struggle session depicted in Episode 1. The woman has been imprisoned and sent to a field to cut wheat for the rest of her life. Her living conditions are deplorable, and she lost an arm to gangrene, but she still will not repent or apologize to Wenjie for murdering her father. She knows she did the right thing.

When Wenjie meets a young Mike Evans (Ben Schentzer), who is in China to try and save one species of bird (and also happens to be reading Silent Spring), he convinces her of the horrific nature of humankind, and that “10,000 species will go extinct every year thanks to the greed of one.”

All of this history (including what she saw happen to her father and mother) lives in her head, orbiting her thoughts without end. Humanity is truly lost, and the events in China over the last 10 years have her questioning what might be better outside this world.

This is Wenjie’s world when eight years after sending her original message to the sun, she receives a harrowing reply:

“Do not answer! Do not answer! Do not answer!

You are lucky I received your message. I am a pacifist from this world.

If you respond, we will come. Your world will be conquered.”

And with this message received, the real game of chess within 3 Body Problem begins. The one person who wants humanity to end sent a message that was received by the one person from another species who will not make the move to conquer humanity. Wenjie types a response and considers what she is about to do if she transmits.

“Come. We cannot save ourselves. I will help you conquer this world.”

The 1977 electronic transmission computer did not have the Microsoft update installed that allows a message to be recalled quite yet, so Wenjie carefully considers what to do next. One of most tense parts of the season involves watching Wenjie’s trembling finger hover over the Send button for what seems like a full minute while the background score crescendos. She eventually makes her decision. She has had enough of this world.

Send message.

2024: 3 Body Problem Virtual Game

When Ye Vera’s mother is going through her things with Jin Cheng after Vera’s death, one of the items that intrigues Cheng is a helmet of sorts that contains a game Vera’s mother says she was playing constantly before she killed herself (at the particle accelerator in Episode 1). Jin wants to keep it to investigate what the game is all about and to see if it can provide any insights into Vera’s death.

Jin is introduced to the Count of the West in the 3 Body game
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Eventually, she convinces Jack to try the game and, after having his throat cut inside a few times because he was “not invited,” Jack is officially adopted into gameplay, leaving Jin and Jack playing for hours at a time to try and determine not only how the game works, but what the ultimate goal of the game truly is.

The two eventually realize that the game is played in a simulated world with three suns (3 Bodies) that cause different eras within the confines of the game’s universe. Stable Eras are when the planet is safely and consistently orbiting one of the celestial bodies, the inhabitants are happy, the weather is pleasant, and there is generally a period of peace. Chaotic Eras are when the world within the game gets too much or too little sun, causing wild swings in weather, loss of gravity, and everyone on the planet loses their lives.

After Jin and Jack are asked to pick better names for themselves within the game (Jin picks Copernicus, Jack picks Sir Francis Bacon), they understand their goal is to devise the solution to predicting when Stable Eras will arrive and how the planet can make them more sustainable. Each significant discovery within the game allows them to move to the next level of play, where more is uncovered about how the world works (for example, moving from Level 1 to Level 2 occurs because Jin and Jack were able to determine and convince inhabitants of the land that science has superiority over mysticism).

Jin and Jack become infatuated with the game, much to the dismay of Auggie, Saul, and Will, the other three members of the Oxford Five. Even after convincing their friends they will not play after learning many of the 32 dead scientists around the world played this game before their suicides, they still fall deeper and deeper into the game.

As Jin and Jack make their way through the 3 Body world, they encounter other players like Aristotle, Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Alan Turing. Each other player on their journey through the game believes they have the answer to solving the 3 Body Problem that will lead to eternal Stable Eras and win them the game. All fail and Jin and Jack realize by Episode 4 (and Level 4 of the game) that the problem is impossible to solve, and their true goal all along has been to figure out how to save humanity from horrors that can not be avoided. An interesting contrast from Wenjie who wants to purge humanity from the horrors that can’t seem to be avoided.

Jin and Jack make it to level 3 of the 3 body game
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Reaching this level of enlightenment, Jack and Jin are invited to a secret gathering of others who have reached this level around the world. Jin reluctantly accepts, but Jack declines, which will have serious consequences when he returns to London.

Jin attends the gathering, but allows Da Shi and Wade to monitor what is happening at the Summit. Jin soon learns that these other players are being recruited to be a part of a movement that follows a new “Lord,” the race of the San-Ti, who are coming to destroy humanity and save our planet. The leaders of this movement are introduced and brought to speak before the attendees. All along, the driving forces behind the 3 Body game and the zealous following of the San-Ti are Ye Wenjie and Mike Evans (older version played by Jonathan Pryce).

2024: London

Each of the modern-day characters in 3 Body Problem is dealing with their own challenges outside of the virtual game. It’s probably best to go through each one of them individually or as part of their narrative group.

Da Shi and Wade – With seemingly endless resources (Wade is backed by “all of the” governments, by the way), Da Shi (Benedict Wong) continues to monitor and track the Oxford Five, in hopes that it will give him answers about the game, about the dead scientists around the world, and about the sinister intentions of the group behind 3 Body.

Wade and Da Shi convince Jin to attend the summit as a mole for them so they can learn more about the group’s intentions and also finally locate and capture those who are in charge. When that turns out to be Mike Evans and Ye Wenjie, they are able to capture Wenjie and bring her before some kind of judgment panel represented by the world’s governments.

Auggie and Da Shi try to figure out what her countdown means
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Wenjie is neither fazed nor intimidated by Wade’s questions and believes all that happened to this point was because the Lord allowed it and it was part of their plan. She says to them as Episode 4 ends, “You have no idea what they can do. You think you do, but you don’t. They are coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop them, and when they arrive, you will be so grateful.”

Auggie Salazar – After stopping her work on nanofibers completely so that the countdown she was seeing would stop, Auggie’s career sits on a razor’s edge. Her board is furious that she has developed one of the most important scientific discoveries of the century, but she won’t take it to market. Her co-workers are perplexed and threaten to oust her so they can continue the work.

Briefly relenting, Auggie turns the machines back on, but the countdown immediately returns, so she U-turns again, shutting it all down. She is the one, after all, who warned Jin and Jack about playing the game, remembering the words of the stranger she met, “nothing good happens when it gets to zero.”

Saul is on her side and is beginning to put all the pieces together. “The stars, Auggie’s countdown, this video game: They’re all virtual realities, indistinguishable from actual reality,” he says. “It’s controlling all sensory inputs and outputs, everything that goes into your brain, everything that goes out.”

He is right, that it is all connected in some way, and how these friends from Oxford work to solve this mystery should be one of the more compelling pieces of the remainder of the season.

Jack Rooney – After not agreeing to attend the summit of 3 Body players who made it to Level 4, Rooney returns to his home in London (complete with the largest collection of 1980s and 1990s toys one can find). Unfortunately, the promise made to Jack and Jin that they “can leave anytime” was more of a Hotel California situation, and Jack is killed when he returns home. Now just the Oxford Four, the remaining friends will surely have to deal with the fallout of this death in the episodes to come, and will have to look for Jin for answers, since they know how deep they were into the game.

Jin and Jack play the 3 Body game.
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Mike Evans and Ye Wenjie – One thing Mike Evans said when they first met back in 1977 resonates with Wenjie as she meets Mike again in London in 1982. She is now a professor and in town for an astrophysics conference. She can’t stop thinking about when Mike said “In nature, nothing exists alone.” His reference was originally intended to mean that humans must take care of their planet and the species they share it with, but Wenjie expands that worldview to a universe-view.

She tells Evans, “Back on that hilltop, I did something.” And “something” sure is doing a lot of work in that sentence, since she means “I invited aliens to come to destroy Earth.” She wants Evans’s help. He is wealthy. They share a similar ethos. And Evans believes, “sometimes in order to fight power, you have to embrace power.”

Mike Evans communicates with the San-Ti
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Over the next 40 years, they will embrace that power together as they turn one of the Evans Energy oil tankers into a mobile headquarters for their movement that embraces the San-Ti as Lord. They recruit individuals and families from all over the world to their cause, primarily through the 3 Body game, and Evans has also found a way to communicate with the San-Ti in real time (a wild deviation from the first book where messages take eight years to transmit from one planet to the other).

But this regular communication they have established backfires. Evans, Wenjie, and their followers want to be the interlocutors when the San-Ti arrive; the ground zero for the establishment of a new, more perfect human race. Evans reads them Little Red Riding Hood to help the San-Ti understand human intentions and emotions, but the San-Ti can’t comprehend the concepts of lying and deception. They equate those actions with people who should be feared, who cannot be trusted, and who should be destroyed. Evans admits his following has also lied to keep their intentions hidden.

The San-Ti now fear the humans are the wolf and their race is Little Red Riding Hood. Ironically, Evans should have lied about being a liar. Now the San-Ti have changed their tune, and ostensibly, their purpose:

“A liar cannot be trusted. We cannot coexist with liars. We are afraid of you.”

We’ll explore the fallout from that revelation in Episodes 5-7 in the next piece.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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