What is Netflix's 3 Body Problem about?

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
3 Body Problem follows two timelines, the first is during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and follows the experiences of Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng). (Netflix)

3 Body Problem has arrived on Netflix, bringing a new sci-fi adventure to the small screen based on Cixin Liu's iconic novel series of the same name.

The eight-part first season is complicated and full of intriguing, mind-boggling science that begins during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and extends to the modern day, and beyond. There is a lot to get ones head around with this series, which was co-created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss with Alexander Woo, so don't be alarmed if you need an explanation of what exactly is going on.

Here is everything you need to know about the series and its narrative, but be warned this article contains some spoilers.

What is 3 Body Problem about?

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
In the modern day, scientists are dying under mysterious circumstances which leads to an investigation into the strange phenomena plaguing Earth. (Netflix)

3 Body Problem begins in two time periods: The Chinese Cultural Revolution which took place from 1966-1976, and 2024 London.

The first time period focuses on Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng, and later Rosalind Chao), who watches as her astrophysicist father is beaten to death for daring to teach people about the Big Bang Theory. Ye Wenjie shortly becomes a target herself, with the story following as she is taken to a labour camp, put in prison and then recruited into a secret government programme.

Ye Wenjie's experiences working with this secret government programme, known as the Red Coast Base, are essential to understanding what is happening to the characters in the modern day. But before we explain why, let's dive into what is happening to the characters in London.

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
Da Shi (Benedict Wong, pictured) investigates the deaths and starts to keep a close eye on five scientists who will play a key role in the story. (Netflix)

Da Shi (Benedict Wong) is a detective investigating the mysterious deaths of various scientists, with the case bringing his attention to a group of five friends, and brilliant minds, who have an important role to play. There's Jin (Jess Hong), our plucky protagnist, Saul (Jovan Adepo), the lost cause, Auggie (Eiza González), whose work in nanotech is booming, Jack (John Bradley), who swapped science for a snack brand, and Will (Alex Sharp), a scientist whose lack of faith in his ability led him to becoming a teacher.

When Auggie starts seeing a terrifying doomsday countdown in front of her eyes, and one of their friends dies, the group try to make sense of the world. They also witness supernatural phenomena like the stars blinking off and on, and Jin and Jack are introduced to a VR game about a civilisation struggling to survive because of the titular three-body problem.

Sound confusing? Let's return to Ye Wenjie's story then. The character's work in the Red Coast Base is about communication, namely sending a message to an alien race.

Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem. (Netflix)
It becomes apparent that the supernatural things happening in 2024 are a result of Ye Wenjie's actions during the Cultural Revolution. (Netflix)

For good or for bad, Ye Wenjie is the first to decode a message from a member of the San-ti. They warn her not to send a message again because, though they are a pacifist, their cohorts are not and would conquer Earth if they learned where it is in the universe.

Frustrated with humanity after her experiences during the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie decides to ignore the warning and sends a message to the aliens. Come and get us, because we can't save ourselves. Thus setting into motion all the strange happenings in 2024.

Ye Wenjie is still alive, and lives in London, where she has established a group who worship the coming alien invaders like Gods. As our heroes start to learn of these truths it's up to them to figure out what they can do to prepare Earth for the San-ti, which proves difficult when they won't arrive for another 400 years.

Will Earth succeed in finding a way to defeat their enemies and their advanced technology in time? Only time will tell.

What is the Three-Body Problem, actually?

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
The show also explains the scientific phenomenon known as the Three-Body Problem. (Netflix)

The scientific phenomenon that the show is named after is an astrological problem where three celestial bodies move together through their mutual gravity. The motion of the three bodies quickly dives into chaos, as is explained in the series, and there is no one solution to the problem.

In the show, Jin and Jack examine the Three-Body Problem in great detail through the VR game they are playing, but realise that the answer is simple — the civilisation living on the planet impacted by the phenomenon have no option but to leave and find a new home. This is how they realise that the San-ti are on their way to Earth.

3 Body Problem is out now on Netflix.

Watch the trailer for 3 Body Problem: