3 Body Problem Premiere Recap: A Deadly Numbers Game — Plus, Grade It!

When some of the world’s most promising scientists start dying in gruesome fashion, that’s not just a problem: That’s a 3 Body Problem.

Season 1 of Netflix’s series adaptation of Liu Cixin’s classic sci-fi novel dropped today on the streaming service; in a minute, we’re going to want to know what you thought of the premiere. But first, a recap of Episode 1, “Countdown.”

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IT STARTS WITH YE WENJIE | The episode toggles between two timelines; for simplicity’s sake, we’ll work our way through the story chronologically. We come into the action near the start of China’s Cultural Revolution, during a struggle session at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1966. During the public denunciation, a professor is hit, humiliated and even disavowed by his own wife for the crime of teaching scientific concepts with which the Maoist regime does not agree; in the crowd, his teenage daughter, Ye Wenjie, looks on in horror as the abuse escalates and he is beaten to death.

Wenjie (played by newcomer Zine Tseng) is taken to a Construction Corps work camp in inner Mongolia, where she is made to help crews cut down trees. There’s a satellite dish on top of a nearby hill, but a reporter at the camp named Bai Mulin tells Wenjie that weird phenomena take place up there. Then he quietly asks if she can read English (she can) and he slips her a copy of Rachel Carson’s eco-classic Silent Spring, telling her to keep the contraband book but warning her to be careful with it.

Eventually, Wenjie and Mulin wind up sleeping together… which is why it hurts so much when she is caught with the book, she protects him, and he says nothing. Wenjie is hauled away and subjected to more terrible treatment, but eventually she’s transported to the top of the hill — the place with the satellite dish, called Red Coast Base. The officers there have an academic paper she wrote about physics, and they tell her that she can rehabilitate herself by taking part in their highly classified research at the base. The caveat? She can never leave. Wenjie, sick and despondent, immediately agrees and enters the building.

3 body problem season 1 episode 1 recap premiere
3 body problem season 1 episode 1 recap premiere

IS THIS THING ON? | Wenjie has a lot of questions about the work performed at the base — for instance, hundreds of birds drop dead during a transmission from the dish, which is troubling — but she gets no answers. Eventually, though, she’s brought into the fold. The base’ true research is something called the Red Coast Project, which she correctly susses out is not a weapons program, mostly because the frequencies they send out are modulated. That means Red Coast Project is a communications endeavor… but with whom do they want to chat?

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON | Now let’s go to London 2024, where police are investigating the scene of a death where there are a lot of numbers written on the wall in blood, crazy-making-style. The corpse is on the ground with its eyes gouged out and a knife in its hand. “Just like the others,” one cop says to another.

Over at Oxford University’s particle accelerator, a research named Saul (Sorry for Your Loss’ Jovan Adepo) is bummed that his project is getting shut down. A fellow researcher named Vera comes by and wonders if he believes in God. When he replies he doesn’t, she sadly says, “What’s left?” Moments later, she steps into the accelerator and leaps to her death.

Saul eventually gets in touch with a bunch of his friends from Oxford to deliver the bad news about Vera. The group gathers at her funeral. They are: Auggie (Eiza González, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), a physicist with a burgeoning tech company; Jin, a theoretical physics researcher (Jess Hong, The Brokenwood Mysteries); Jack (John Bradley, Game of Thrones), who dropped out of Oxford to start a wildly successful snack-food company; and Will (Alex Sharp, The Good Lord Bird), a physics teacher.

Some fun facts about this group: Will likes Jin, but she’s dating a Royal Navy guy named Raj (Saamer Usmani, Inventing Anna). Auggie and Saul have a romantic past, but they’re decidedly off at the moment. And Auggie has been seeing weird, gold numbers flashing across her vision, and as she inwardly freaks out, the numbers solidify into a countdown.

When Auggie goes outside of a bar for a smoke, she’s approached by a smiling young woman who informs her that “The Lord has a better way” and who knows about the countdown. “Has the universe ever winked at you?” the woman wonders, informing her to a) completely shut down her lab, which is developing nanofibers; b) look up at the sky at midnight the next night and leaving a highly disturbed Auggie with a cigarette box containing a decoder. “You don’t want it to get to zero,” the woman says as she leaves. “Nothing good ever happens at zero.”

Augie asks Saul to look at the sky with her the next night, where they witness the stars seeming to blink on and off at midnight. Saul realizes that the blinks are a code — just numbers — and they coordinate with the countdown Auggie is seeing.

On a nearby roof, Shi and Wade also watch the celestial weirdness, which prompts Wade to say that the blinks are their enemy communicating.

3 body problem season 1 episode 1 recap premiere
3 body problem season 1 episode 1 recap premiere

GAME OVER | We learn a couple more things. A man (Jonathan Pryce, The Crown) attends Vera’s funeral and departs via helicopter; he’s followed by one of the cops from the murder scene at the top of the episode, and that cop is named Clarence Shi (Benedict Wong, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law). Da Shi works for the Strategic Intelligence Agency, and his boss there is Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones), who’s tasked him with investigating Saul & Co., aka The Oxford Five.

We also find out that Vera had been spending a lot of time playing a video game before her death. Her mother hands Jin a shiny, silver headpiece used to play the game — and when the camera pans to a photo on the mantel, we see that Vera’s mother is Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao, Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Jin puts on the helmet and suddenly finds herself wearing a feudal-style robe, standing in front of a pyramid. The sun rises, but it’s too big and too close to the ground. Wind kicks up. Sand starts to blow. She sees a desiccated corpse in the sand and rips the helmet off her head, asking a startled, “What the f—k?!”

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Grade it via the poll below,then hit the comments with your thoughts!

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