The Three-Body Problem Episode 6 Watered Down by Censorship: Review

The sixth episode of The Three-Body Problem slows down to spend most of it recapping what happened before, then censors a major story point.

Episode Six of The Three-Body Problem could be seen as the start of the second act, and it's the worst episode of the series when Episode Five might have been the best. How things turn around. The problem? Nothing happens. People just sit around talking. And a major piece of the story – and real history – got censored.

The Three-Body Problem Ep6 Review: Nothing Happens, Marred by Censorship
"The Three-Body Problem" still: Tencent

Wang Miao (Edward Zhang) and Shi Qiang (Yu He Wei) are now fully in synch as a team. Wang Miao is committed to helping Shi Qiang investigate what the Frontiers of Science is up to and its involvement in the deaths of scientists across the world. Shi Qiang is a hammer looking for nails: are the deaths homicide that he can arrest anyone for? Frontiers of Science spokesperson Shen Yu Fei (Li Xiao Ran) is still going around being all mysterious. General Chang (Li Yong Jian) gives Shi Qiang a single security officer to help with the investigative grunt work when Shi asks for a team, but Xu Bing Bing (Li Ze Hui) proves to be worth ten men when she singlehandedly cleans up their new office and digs up files on all the scientists, including recently declassified intel.

Most of the episode is people just talking to each other, telling, not showing, and summing up what was going on in the last five episodes, which is redundant when all the episodes are available for anyone to watch. Shi Qiang briefs General Chang on what happened with Wang Miao and the countdown code. Xu Bing Bing confirms the cosmic radiation anomaly Wang Miao witnessed at the observatory. It might as well be a recap episode, and a radio play, because nothing visual happens. There is no action, only talk.

The Three-Body Problem Ep6 Review: Nothing Happens, Marred by Censorship
"The Three-Body Problem" still: Tencent

The Censored Origin of Science Grandma

Shi Qiang wants Wang Miao to talk to Ye Wen Jie, or Science Grandma as we like to call her. She and Wang Miao are the only scientists the Frontiers of Science have talked to who haven't died, and Shi Qiang wants to know why. Ye Wen Jie tells Wang Miao about her tragic life during the Cultural Revolution, and this is where the whole episode falls down.

The Three-Body Problem was rumoured to have been completed up to two years ago but was held up by the censors, possibly over its scenes set in the Cultural Revolution. This episode implies that was true. The original novel opened with Ye Wen Jie witnessing her scientist father's show trial after her mother and sister denounced him, and he was beaten to death by teenagers from the Red Guard. She found her tutor dead from suicide in his study and had to wash her father's body alone.

None of that is in the show.

Instead, we're treated to Shi Qiang and Wang Miao looking at her file as Shi tells him that Ye's mother and sister denounced her father – telling, not showing. We get a flashback to Ye's father, alive, sitting in his study, a broken man, as she looks over him with some vague lines about disillusionment. That takes the teeth and dramatic impact out of Ye's story. There is none of the brutality of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guard to traumatize her and create the person she will become. We see none of that. We're treated to just talk. Did the production film the scene of her father's murder and then cut it out because of the censors? What we're left with is abstract and undramatic. Everyone who read the book was probably wondering if they would show that scene. Now we have our answer. It's disappointing but not surprising.

The Three-Body Problem Ep6 Review: Nothing Happens, Marred by Censorship
"The Three-Body Problem: still: Tencent

Censorship in The Three-Body Problem

Depictions of the Cultural Revolution era have always been a thorny subject since they know that the whole period was a mistake, and the government does not like to admit it made a mistake. This was an era that tore families apart, killed millions, and traumatized a whole generation of survivors. Ye embodies the traumas of that era in The Three-Body Problem, and her experiences inform her decisions throughout the story. Maybe the show will wait till episode ten or eleven to show Ye's story, including her father's death, but the fact that his death at the hands of the Red Guard in this episode is completely omitted suggests that's been settled. We'll see if we're wrong, and the show tells the full tragedy of her family before she has her own story.

Most of the episodes of The Three-Body Problem so far stretch out half an hour's worth of story over 45 minutes or so, and two episodes should have been combined into one for better pacing. This episode stops – it doesn't end – before things get interesting. It's not a cliffhanger, just a pause in the story rather than a satisfying endpoint for an episode. Guess that's how it hooks us into watching the next.

Only the first four episodes of The Three-Body Problem are free on Tencent's YouTube channel. The rest have to be unlocked with a paid subscription.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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