Breaking Down the Ending of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem Adaptation

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Warning: This post contains spoilers for 3 Body Problem.

The question of how humanity would react to the discovery of alien life is a pretty popular one in science fiction. From H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs to Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, a slew of the genre's biggest names have put their own spin on the so-called "first contact" trope, delving into how humans would handle extraterrestrial beings invading Earth.

But in Season 1 of 3 Body Problem, now streaming on Netflix, all of the action takes place while the story's aliens, known as the San-Ti, are still around 400 years away. Adapted from Chinese author Liu Cixin’s acclaimed Remembrance of Earth's Past book trilogy, the eight-episode narrative jumps back and forth through time to explore how a fateful decision in 1960s China echoes across the decades to impact a group of scientists—and humankind as a whole—in 2024.

What is 3 Body Problem about?

Created by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and True Blood's Alexander Woo, the first season of 3 Body Problem largely draws on the first book in Cixin's series, The Three-Body Problem (published as a novel in 2008 and translated into English by Ken Liu in 2014), while weaving in plot points and characters from the second and third books, The Dark Forest and Death's End, and changing some details.

Zine Tseng as young Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem.
Zine Tseng as young Ye Wenjie in episode 2 of 3 Body Problem.Ed Miller—Netflix

The show opens on the day astrophysics prodigy Ye Wenjie (played as a young woman by Zine Tseng and later in life by Rosalind Chao), is forced to watch as her professor father is beaten to death by a group of Red Guards during the first months of China's Cultural Revolution. From there, it leaps nearly 60 years into the future to modern-day England, where Detective Da Shi (Benedict Wong) has been tasked with investigating the apparent suicides of a number of renowned scientists. As the story unfolds, we learn that after being recruited to work at a secret military base where China was attempting to establish contact with extraterrestrials, a disillusioned Ye chose to alert an alien civilization to Earth's location despite being warned they were hostile.

In the present, with the technologically hyper-advanced San-Ti drawing ever closer to Earth, the lives of a tight-knit group of scientists known as the Oxford Five—Jin Cheng (Jess Hong), Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo), Auggie Salazar (Eiza González), Jack Rooney (John Bradley), and Will Downing (Alex Sharp)—become increasingly entwined with humanity's struggle to survive.

Read More: Netflix’s 3 Body Problem Transforms a Dense Sci-Fi Novel Into a Smart, Gripping Thriller

How does 3 Body Problem end?

After Ye seeks out Saul to tell him her cryptic, "Never play with God," joke prior to her death, the Season 1 finale of 3 Body Problem opens with an assassination attempt on Saul that sends him on a harrowing journey to the United Nations in New York. Once there, he learns that he has been unwillingly selected as one of three Wallfacers, the individuals chosen by the UN to formulate and direct defense strategies against the San-Ti. Due to the San-Ti's ability to intercept all forms of human communication via the proton-sized supercomputers known as Sophons they sent ahead to Earth, the Wallfacers are instructed to secretly develop these plans entirely within their own minds, sharing them with no one until the time is right to execute.

Saul repeatedly attempts to refuse the assignment, but his protests are treated as though he may simply be trying to mislead the San-Ti by throwing them off his scent. The UN Secretary-General tells Saul that there is only an indirect reason he was chosen, and that he will know what that was when the time is right.

Liam Cunningham as Wade and Jess Hong as Jin in episode 8 of 3 Body Problem.
(L-R): Liam Cunningham as Wade and Jess Hong as Jin in episode 8 of 3 Body Problem.Ed Miller—Netflix

Eventually, given the power to demand basically anything he wants, Saul insists that he be taken to Cape Canaveral to watch the spy probe carrying Will's cryogenically frozen brain be launched into space—an initiative of Jin's dubbed the Staircase Project. Unfortunately, the launch doesn't go as planned and Will's probe goes careening far off course from the path that would have led it to the San-Ti fleet.

Despite the seemingly dire straits humanity is up against, the season ends on a hopeful note, with Da Shi reminding Jin and Saul how resilient insects have been against humans' attempts to eradicate them in a callback to the San-Ti's, "You are bugs," message.

What's next for 3 Body Problem?

Benedict Wong as Da Shi in episode 8 of 3 Body Problem.
Benedict Wong as Da Shi in episode 8 of 3 Body Problem. Macall Polay—Netflix

Although Netflix has yet to officially renew 3 Body Problem, its showrunners have said they are already working on a second season that is set to pretty much follow the arc of Cixin's second book.

"The second book is far better than the first, and the third book just completely blew my mind," Benioff told the Hollywood Reporter. "So I feel if we survive to the second season, we’re going to be in a good place. Things wildly escalate and there’s one scene, if we get to it, we’re golden—like when we got to the Red Wedding on Thrones."

In total, the creators have said they are hoping the show will run for three to four seasons. "The third book is massive. It’s twice as long, I think, as the other two books," Benioff told Collider. "So maybe that’s one season, maybe it’s two. But I think we’d need at least three, maybe four seasons to tell the whole story."

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