3 Body Problem: Wallfacer   Books Included 
March 30, 2024 10:23 PM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

I feel like this was partially my fault. As the nuclear bombs were exploding in sequence I said, "of course it's going to work, this is a major plot point, they're just building drama." Then the bolt immediately failed. To be fair, they never said that the probe was built by Boeing.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:29 PM on March 30 [4 favorites]

It was kind of weird how Saul kept asking why he was picked when they already told him that he was the last person known to have spoken with Ye Wenjie. Like, you spoke with her, then she was killed and attempts started being made on your life. That's the qualification right there.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:26 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]

Later calculations revealed that the probe was 18 grams too heavy.

Also, Saul's PDC daily liaison (I can't remember his name, which I think would please the character, but he looks like an 80% repro of Stephen Colbert) may be my new favorite character.
posted by Mogur at 3:51 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]

"Saul's PDC daily liaison" - as soon as I saw him I said "Looks like Nelson Bighetti failed upwards again!"

posted by alchemist at 7:09 AM on March 31 [10 favorites]

As the nuclear bombs were exploding in sequence I said, "of course it's going to work, this is a major plot point, they're just building drama."

I thought the same, but now I’m thinking “They’re still building drama, there’s no way that after all that, Will’s brain is just exiting stage left.” He’ll be back somehow!

I’m only a little ways into the second book of the trilogy, but I am looking forward to seeing how Projects Staircase and Wallfacer will be handled in it. Reverse engineering how much personal stakes Benioff and Weiss added into the events of the first book, I predict Cixin Liu’s version is one government functionary saying to another “We found the perfect candiate. His name is Xiao Ming, he is an astrophysicist and is dying of cancer. He has already signed the loyalty oath to humanity.” And then in the next scene he gets launched.

Which is a back-handed way of saying that I very much like how the show wove the personal stories of the characters into a star-spanning epic. And not just the Oxford Five—Ye Wentjie felt much more human, and though I’ve said I didn’t like how Da Shi’s coarseness was blunted, I thought his scenes with his son were great. And poor Raj, he’ll never be able to compete with a £19.5 million gift. I’m very intrigued for season 2, and the roles the remaining Oxford crew will have, especially Saul’s absurd adventures as a Wallfacer.

And now some complaining:

One of the changes from the book that I don’t like is how the Sophons now have powers that are inconsistent with being a superintelligent proton. Being able to control people’s perceptions is cool for the show, but one of the great things about the book was the Trisolarians’ limited power to effect things on Earth, necessitating human agents. The Sophons could mess with particle detectors and film and your retina but that was it. Now apparently they can crash Wade’s plane if they felt like it? Can someone with more than my one year of university physics explain how a proton could take control of an autonomous car? Or how two protons could block every photon reaching the Earth from the stars?

Another absurdity: The San-Ti sent the Sophons as a “lock” to prevent any further scientific progress. And then they started handing out super-high-tech VR headsets like candy?? It made more sense in the book that the 3 Body Problem game was browser-based and ran on run-of-the-mill VR equipment, but then you wouldn’t get that cool mirror-finish visual.

But all in all, I’m glad this adaptation was made. I am now going to check out the earlier Chinese version to see if it hewed closer to the book, for better or for worse!
posted by ejs at 10:36 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]

I liked the conceit that this is a current-events things, with cameos of Biden and various newscasters. I wonder how this will age.

Did felt relieved that Benedict Wong was cast as Da Shi. At least.

Can someone with more than my one year of university physics explain how a proton could take control of an autonomous car? Or how two protons could block every photon reaching the Earth from the stars?

This is really more fantasy than actual physics ;)

There is a *TON* of spoiler so maybe memail me or something. But the gist - as I've gotten from the translation - is that each sophon is a "pocket universe" that could be almost-infinitely vast that could house tremendous processing power.

Where 'processing power' is to us today as what might be the similar for the tri shi/ trisolarians. As to the mechanisms, lol <shrug>.

iirc, there's a whole lot more specific apologia in the translated novel, but I can't conjure them from my memory.
posted by porpoise at 10:24 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

I didn't make it very far in the first book, so maybe this is explained better there, but if the aliens see everything that's happening on Earth and they can prevent scientists from completing experiments and thus advancing science, why don't they just start putting the countdown thing on every character we see in the show who is making plans to resist the invasion? I don't get why they focus on humankind's theoretical advances when it's really advances in engineering they should be wary of, like the nuclear staircase thing or the nanowire attack.
posted by whir at 4:39 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Can someone with more than my one year of university physics explain how a proton could take control of an autonomous car?

The same way a proton can be superintelligent. Or that a proton can mess with the whole of a particle acclerator, or make you see stuff.

It can't. The trisolarans are using the dark side of the force to mess with us, or casting a Space Hex upon us.

(not a criticism, unless Liu or D&D are pretending that it's supposed to be hard sf)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:50 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Has Netflix Murdered the Age of Event TV?

No, that would be HBO Max and its astounding inability to stream above, like, 180p.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:12 AM on April 1

I appreciated this review of the series. (Besides the Netflix series, she has read the books including the original Chinese text, and also watched the Tencent TV adaptation plus the animated adaptation - that as well as her background as a mainland Chinese person help inform her opinions.)
posted by aielen at 12:58 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]

I liked the conceit that this is a current-events things

The final shot of the cicada swarm is a current-events thing, too.
posted by SPrintF at 2:27 PM on April 1

as well as her background as a mainland Chinese person help inform her opinions

It's reminding me the socmed shares I'm getting from a mutual who basically hangs out in sinophone internet (my only source of threads posts simply because the Taiwanese are there, forex). The mutual enjoyed the books for what they are but found them misogynistic and... let me recall the description... "Uncle at a Chinese wedding dinner telling people what's wrong with them" flavour of mainland nationalism (especially by the third book). So their socmed shares gave me the perspective that there's at least a significant (but small) section of mainlanders who enjoyed this adaptation enough and thought a lot of the domestic backlash is driven by nationalist offendedness and how it's dialed back on the misogyny and Chinese exceptionalism by default of the western choices. This doesn't excuse anything - it's just one majoritarian grouping reacting to another, imo.
posted by cendawanita at 3:45 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

That said, the way the Netflix!Wade acts is now more in line with The Expanse's Chrisjen Avasarala, so I'm now firmly putting on my comfortable socks that I use to get in the mood of laughing uncontrollably at how western pop culture treats the UN (or Secret World Govt ie the PDC) because their frame of real world reference is the US and its unilateralism.
posted by cendawanita at 3:52 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

I've only read the first book so I was wrongfooted a little by the decisions of this show. They really gutted the first novel, and if their idea was to put more character drama into the center, I think they really flattened Ye Wenjie and especially Da Shi, and of course Wang Miao is chopped in half. So, especially just after watching the 30-episode Tencent version, the story I was expecting felt not just rushed through, but like 70% discarded.

What WAS there did not really win me over. I didn't really buy into the friendship group. I think just.. not very good dialogue or acting, plus moving too fast. Probably a good decision on how to present the trilogy as one story, but the execution wasn't great.

Overall I liked this show more than I thought I would, but I guess I wanna say something like, it doesn't have a soul.
posted by fleacircus at 4:53 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

I appreciated this review of the series.

I did not watch this before I made my comment so I guess I'm gratified that that reviewer also says it's lacking a soul.

(Minor disagreement.. She says the construction of the sophon on Trisolaris is not really shown in the Tencent version contra the Netflix version, but well ackshually I think the Tencent version goes into it enough to make a good little story out of it, and the Netflix treatment is more perfunctory.)
posted by fleacircus at 5:16 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Is-there/ Will-there-ever-be an English dub of the Tencent adaptation?
posted by porpoise at 12:03 AM on April 2

Just finished, and still thinking it over - but I do want to note that if the showrunners had ever watched this Tom Scott explainer, they would have understood that choosing to have the final shot of the finale be a swarm of bugs would make the picture quality look like shit for literally everyone streaming.

Now I might go read the books before having any further opinions.
posted by ourobouros at 5:55 AM on April 2

I guess I wanna say something like, it doesn't have a soul.

This, exactly. It felt so carefully curated to tick all the boxes that would make it appeal to modern English-speaking streaming audiences that it failed utterly. Like it was generated by AI. I kept asking myself, why do I hate it so much?

Instead I decided to watch re-reruns of Unforgotten to cleanse my viewing palate and remember how it feels to really care about characters and a well-crafted story.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:12 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

This show has some good stuff going for it, but in the end, it's not my flavor of sci fi. Frankly the story seems pretty batshit. The San-ti are basically gods, from what I can deduce. Zeus toying with mere mortals, and all. Bugs indeed. Reminds me of the opening sequence of The Wild Bunch. Playthings of the gods? Or Food? I'm not sure we're pests to be eradicated, as they seem more interested in keeping us around than not.

There are way too many coincidences, and I'm giving the benefit of the doubt that the story isn't that poorly thought out. I would like to. But the stuff that happens on Earth is just ridiculous. And I'm not even talking about the cultists yet. One of our main characters develops nanofiber tech that San-ti have special interest in. Why? Because humans can whip up a silly weapon in, what, maybe a couple weeks, to slice a ship apart? And maybe a few months to organize a good (and wacko) interstellar spaceship program, even if it does fail. This harkens back to Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers level of global coordination and determination.

Everything about the giant ship mandoline scheme seemed ridiculous, and moreso as I continue to think about it.

Ye Wenjie is interesting in that she becomes a zealot/quasi Red Guard for the San-ti. I might have been interested in how she and Evans manage to form their death cult, but personally, I've become far less tolerant of zealots over the last several years to care about such characters. Ye Wenjie does seem to be a little surprised to hear the San-ti refer to humans as bugs. Was she surprised? I'd been under the impression she and Evans were far more nihilistic than they seemed to be as they came closer to their deaths.

Yup, as far as I'm concerned, the good storytelling ended with the close of episode two. The rest is opera. Which is fine for some people, but I lose patience with that stuff. The story itself seems wanting to flesh out details, which isn't working for me. I've found sci fi storytelling tends to go off the rails as it tries to explain the sciency stuff, and loses credibility as sci fi.

One small point: all the young characters are good looking to impossibly good looking. So that's what Jonathan Pryce was supposed to look like as a young man!
posted by 2N2222 at 8:48 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed watching this. I read the books years ago and loved them. A lot of pleasure of the books comes from Liu spending a lot of time convincing the reader that things like sophons and giant nanowire mandolins are actually extremely reasonable and logical. The show doesn’t do this as well, which is kind of disappointing but also not too surprising given the format.
posted by TurnKey at 10:54 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]

2N2222, I hear you on the impossibly good looking angle. I actually laughed out loud when I saw Eiza Gonzales in the cast!

That said, young Jonathan Pryce is best remembered as Mr. Dark.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:07 PM on April 4

Honestly, given the magical neutron superpowers, I'm not even sure we can trust that Will's spacecraft was lost off course, blah blah. On the one hand, sure, it's been done before - see Contact: Big emotional buildup before a kick in the teeth. So we get a few episodes' worth of Will and Jin and Auggie's big emotional decision only to throw it all away? eccch. (And yeah yeah I know it's an adaptation, readers know what happened here, I think?)

Orrrrr the Sophons just made the humans _think_ it failed, so they can intercept Will's brain at their leisure.

And if you think this version was rushed, the Tencent version looks like it covers the same material over 30 episodes. All 30 episodes look like they're on Amazon Prime now, so you don't even have to hoist the jolly roger to see 'em.

Anywho, it was fine, I'll gladly watch the next season. It feels like a weird place for this season to end, but I guess it's not unusual either.
posted by Kyol at 6:51 AM on April 5

it covers the same material

It somehow covers less material, but much more deeply. Also the portrayal of Westerners is kind of a hoot (in a gross nationalist way).
posted by fleacircus at 11:54 AM on April 6

Ok, so I've now read the books, and I have opinions.

The series was good enough to get me to read the trilogy -- I'll give it that. However, it does seem to have drained out a lot of the specificity -- scientific, cultural, and political -- that made the books interesting. In its place, they added a lot of interpersonal DRAMA! and true-crime-style DRAMA!, a lot of which doesn't even make sense and sets them up for plot problems later on. The jump scare horror tropes feel especially out of place.

I'm concerned that they're making tweaks that will fundamentally unbalance the strategic game that powers the plot. For instance...
...they've radically powered up the sophons, who now seem to have near-telepathic powers. They've also given the assassin Tatiana some kind of superpowers (I mean, how did she pick up Jack by the neck and shove him against the window so hard it broke?). As the series develops, is this going to change the balance of power as the humans try to evade and outwit the sophons? Or are we just going to kind of forget about these things when it's convenient?

A few good things: Benedict Wong (Da Shi) and Liam Cunningham (Wade) were perfect. I also like the way they've brought five of the main book characters together to form a friend group. This was smart, and a good move for a TV adaptation (though I thought the characters were poorly written at times -- especially Auggie).
Wang Miao = Auggie
Luo Ji = Saul
Yun Tianming = Will
Zhang Beihai = Raj
Cheng Xin = Jin

Jack, however, is based on an extremely minor character from the books who absolutely should have been cut from the show -- they clearly just included him to have someone to kill off and establish stakes (which was totally unnecessary). I adore John Bradley on screen, but the extensive time spent on him could much better have been spent on other things. For instance, I see folks in this thread complaining about the poorly explained science in the show -- but there were such excellent visual metaphors in book that could have been carried over to great effect! For instance, a scientist explains how the particle accelerators stopped working over a game of pool -- it's as though when you hit a pool ball, sometimes it goes into the hole, sometimes it jumps off the table into your coat pocket, and sometimes it flies off the table and floats around the ceiling like a bird. That's good and clear and visually compelling, right?

Finally, I feel like the books are intensely concerned with human politics and the limitations thereof. It seems like the show is just not engaging with this meaningfully (despite beginning the series with a scene from the Cultural Revolution, which in the book is there not only to set up Ye Wenjie's disillusionment with humanity, but also humanity's fundamental inability to make rational choices). Turning the politics into dumb interpersonal drama (e.g. Auggie getting foot-stompingly mad at Wade for slicing up civilians when she just knowingly participated in it) makes the story shallower now, and will hamstring it in future seasons. It's going to take some time for me to fully absorb the books' political messages and cultural context, but I can tell you the show ain't got the depth. (On the topic of the books' politics, I found this essay extremely interesting. Beware -- there are heavy spoilers for all three books.)

I can imagine some studio execs saying to themselves, "Weiss & Benioff did fine when they were adapting material -- they only lost the thread when they had to write from scratch. They'll be fine adapting a completed, fully written IP." Unfortunately, though, given what I've seen so far, I don't think W&B have what it takes to adapt this well, and I'm not optimistic about how they'll handle the series going forward.
posted by ourobouros at 11:43 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]

In case you missed the cameo, that was Babak Ferdowsi (you may remember him as the Mohawk Guy from the Curiosity Rover landing) calling out the launch sequence.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:29 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]

yeah my takeaway from this, having recently read the trilogy, is that it is in many ways a very impressive adaptation of bits and pieces of material by a team of writers and creators who either do not understand or do not care about the larger philosophical and structural concerns of the source material

the books are pretty much nonstop logistics and conference rooms, and so a straight adaptation always felt near-impossible to me (I haven't seen the tencent version), but this swings so hard in the other direction of condensing and re-structuring around emotional throughlines that it saps the original ideas of most of their animating energy. what's there can sometimes still be lively, but it's so much shallower.

a shame, but I'll watch future season(s) if only to see how drastically they keep chopping away at what's left to fit it into the tiny container of interpersonal individualistic stories they've built up. (at least it won't have the weird misogynistic bits probably!)
posted by Kybard at 10:34 AM on April 20

Well, I did it. I watched all 30 episodes of the Tencent adaptation. I think it would have been faster to just read the first book, and I had some trouble staying awake watching it late at night, because it mostly consists of various characters talking to each other in calm tones.

There are several marked differences from the Netflix adaptation, which I won't spoil, but it goes into a lot more detail about the inner workings of the ETO in a way that the Netflix adaptation could have used, and the characterization of detective Shi Qiang (Benedict Wong's Da Shi in the Netflix version) is pretty different.
posted by whir at 8:27 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]

Season 2 confirmed! (Archive link)
posted by ellieBOA at 4:43 AM on June 2

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