3 Body Problem Episode 8 Recap: “Wallfacer” (Season 1 Finale)

Wade and Jin watch the launch of Staircase Project
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

The following recap contains spoilers for 3 Body Problem S1E8, “Wallfacer” (written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss and directed by Jeremy Podeswa). Portions of the novels The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest are also referenced.

Everyone is afraid of something. The enemy must be, too. The more powerful they are, the more they have to lose to their fears.

– Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem

For as popular as the trilogy of The Three-Body Problem books has been, the one criticism they generally receive is that the characters in the book are relatively flat. Not two-dimensional flat, like they could fit within a Sophon or something, but rather many of the stories and backgrounds in the book, apart from Dr. Ye Wenjie, have no depth.

It’s entirely explainable, as author Cixin Liu writes in his author’s note epilogue to the first book. He is a computer engineer by training and spent many years working in a power plant before striking gold as a science-fiction author. The tradeoff, however, is that Liu knows the science and theory behind the science so well, that he is perhaps one of the best in the world at creating literary metaphors around deeply complex scientific problems.

Raj and Wade prepare to leave for Staircase Project
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

One in particular that stands out from the first book (and was not included in the first season of 3 Body Problem) is the billiards illustration. When the main character Wang Miao visits the apartment of fellow physicist Ding Yi, they play billiards and reflect on the predictable nature of the collision of the billiard balls. If they turn the table 180 degrees, if they move the table to the other side of the room, if they take the billiards table to another floor, if they ship it halfway around the world, the collision of the balls will remain stable as long as the variables such as number of balls, angles, and force remain the same.

What these two begin to understand, as they begin to ponder why the science in their world is no longer working, is that if the rules changed, the billiards game would be unpredictable. Take the billiards game outside of the known constraints of Earth, and we have no idea how the game would go. We think we know how things work because we have been shackled by the same rules for our entire existence. But our rules exist only on a speck of dust compared to the entire universe.

These metaphors woven together to help readers understand the technical story behind The Three-Body Problem are the most beautifully written parts of the books, whereas the licenses taken with the show allow Benioff, Weiss, and Woo to focus more on the characters, their humanity, and their responses to their reality crumbling.

Episode 8, “Wallfacer,” focuses on the depth of the remaining characters brilliantly. The first half of the season set up the problem and established the rules well. Episodes 5-7 spent time explaining the science behind the incoming alien race and the technical aspects of humanity’s plan to stop them. Episode 8, however, spends time deep within two characters, and allows the audience to feel more empathy towards a situation that has certainly made us think through the first seven hours of this show: “What would I do in this situation?”

Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) and Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo) are the standouts in this episode, as both are burdened with an immeasurable weight of trying to protect their species.

The Wallfacers

If we’re being honest, after we saw Saul Durand leave his job at a particle accelerator in Episode 1, he’s been a bit of a wallflower. He has comforted Will Downing in his last days, he loves to “smoke a J” and sit near the beach, and he is a fan of one-night stands. He didn’t seem to be hit as hard as Jin was over Ye Vera’s death even though they worked together for years, and since that time he is just sort of drifting through his life with no purpose or direction.

Da Shi and Saul travel to the United Nations
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

In Episode 8, that purpose finds him. At the end of a one-night stand, while he takes his new friend Nora out to an Uber, an attack is made on his life. A last-second move by Saul spares his life but kills Nora as three autonomous cars converge where they are standing and make impact with her instead of their intended target, Saul. Sensing the unlikelihood that three self-driving cars would all lose control at the same location simultaneously, Mr. Wade dispatches Da Shi to intercept Saul.

While Saul is under Da Shi’s protection, Da Shi and Wade are informed Saul has been asked to come directly to the United Nations. Unsure why that is the case, Da Shi dresses Saul in a bulletproof tracksuit (which just looks an awful lot like an everyday tracksuit) and gets him onto a private plane that is escorted to New York under the guard of multiple military fighter jets.

What comes next is a part of the second book in the series, but also a bit unclear as to the sequence of events. My interpretation of what happens is the United Nations learns (from Wade, presumably) that the San-Ti and their Sophons likely tried to kill Saul with the cars. Why would they do that? Because something about him is special and they want him dead. And because something about him is special, Saul is selected to be one of three Wallfacers.

The United Nations selected three humans to be Wallfacers, named after the Buddhist philosophy of meditating facing a wall which is said to achieve a state of enlightenment that can not come from dealing with the outside world. These Wallfacers will each come up with an ambitious plan to defeat the San-Ti, but will keep the plan only in their minds because that is the one place the aliens can not monitor. Only at the last possible moment will they unveil their plan, and they will have as much access to the world’s resources and money as they need.

Another reading of this scene is that the United Nations had already decided Saul was a viable candidate to be a Wallfacer, and he was targeted because the UN deliberations identified him. I don’t buy into this one because Saul had not yet distinguished himself as someone who would be on par with the other selections. The other two Wallfacers were a military historian with expertise in strategy and battle and a war hero who fought ISIS. Saul’s frequent dances with Mary Jane don’t really make him seem up to that level.

Jin and Saul watch their friend Will loaded into the probe.
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Saul refuses the assignment even though it comes with a lifetime of personal liaisons, security, and never having to worry about taking care of another thing for the rest of his life. He makes his decision known to the UN Secretary-General (CCH Pounder) and walks out of the building. He doesn’t make it 50 feet outside before he is shot in the chest by a sniper. Fortunately, he still had on his bulletproof pajamas and only suffers a broken rib and some bleeding.

In the hospital, Saul demands to see the man who shot him because we should all “know our enemy.” The man, whom the police arrested, arrives in Saul’s room with only a comment that, “I’m sorry I didn’t aim for your head. Then my mission would be complete, and you’d be free of yours.” Even with Mike Evans and Ye Wenjie out of the picture, there is apparently still a Lord’s army out there following the designs of the San-Ti.

Saul reconsiders the role, although as the season ends he still does not understand why he might be one who was picked for the job. The Secretary-General says there is an “indirect reason” he was selected that will revealed to him in time. He can refuse the job all he wants, but the San-Ti know he was chosen. The world knows he was chosen, and Saul confronts the reality that he will have to play the role of reluctant savior no matter what he does.

His first demand of Da Shi and his UN personal liaison? He wants to go visit his friend Jin and watch his other friend Will get launched into space during the Staircase Project.

The Staircase Project

Somehow, in the few days all of this has been going on, the various space agencies around the world have already deposited the 300 nuclear bombs in space along the proper trajectory, because the Staircase Project is ready to launch from Cape Canaveral. As Wade and Jin prepare the last calculations and Will’s brain is deposited into the probe, Saul arrives just in time to watch the launch next to one of his few remaining friends.

Jin stops to think about why Staircase Project failed
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

Everything is going according to the plan as the launch begins and heads off on its determined trajectory. The capsule speeds away from Earth, the radiation nano-sail that Auggie built opens, and it approaches the first nuclear bomb meant to begin its acceleration to 1% of light speed.

The bomb detonates and sends the ship to the next bomb, and it works successfully five times in a row. But as Jin said, “It’s like trying to thread a speeding needle through a thread 300 times in a row.” The problems begin soon after passing the fifth bomb. A cable from the probe to the sail becomes disconnected, and the probe flies off course, sure to end up millions of miles away from its goal. And just like that, the mission is over, humans won’t intercept the San-Ti and Will is lost forever.

In many ways, this is what Wade and Jin expected. So many people told them it wouldn’t work, and the likelihood was miniscule anyway. But that mission not only represented humanity’s best effort but also a way for their friend Will to be connected to them in some exoteric, cosmic way. Now he is lost forever, as is the world’s chance to stop the San-Ti.

Da Shi, however, will have none of that kind of talk when there is still 400 years to plan for invasion. He allows Jin and Saul a few hours to grieve and drown their sorrows in cheap, Florida rum. He then tells “the two saddest-looking bastards” he’s ever seen to get up and get back to work. They don’t want to, and understandably so. As Saul says, “We’re bugs. We’re slow, we’re dumb, and we die easy.”

Jin and Saul watch bugs in the Florida swamp.
Photo Courtesy Ed Miller/Netflix

The end of the first season echoes the end of the first book in The Three-Body Problem. Hope is lost and human lives are meaningless, and each passing generation will become increasingly more meaningless. Despite all of that, Da Shi takes Jin and Saul on a drive deep into the Florida swamp where there is a swarm of cicadas; ugly, noisy, pestering bugs. What good will this do?

“People hate bugs. Been trying to get rid of them forever. Spray pesticides from planes, put poison in the ground. We try and sterilize ‘em, swat ‘em, zap ‘em, step on ‘em. But look around. They’re not going anywhere.”

The bugs still have work to do.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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