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3 Body Problem has a big plot hole nobody is talking about

Published Mar 29th, 2024 6:50AM EDT
3 Body Problem on Netflix
Image: Ed Miller/Netflix

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I started watching 3 Body Problem on Netflix a few days ago with tempered excitement, considering the show comes from the destroyers of Game of Thrones. That’s probably something that will always remain with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, no matter how good anything they do after Game of Thrones is. But I have to say I loved 3 Body Problem more than I thought I would. 

With each episode, I’d immerse myself more in the story, trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. I didn’t binge 3 Body Problem, as I hardly do that with any show. I watched for the better part of the week however, progressing through it at my own rhythm. 

I can’t wait for the second season, as I’m curious to see how the story ends. I will note that I haven’t read the books the show is based on, so I don’t know what’s about to happen. 

It’s only after I finished 3 Body Problem that I realized it has a major plot hole that nobody is talking about. It’s so significant that it can hurt the entire show. But, again, I have not read the books. And I suspect there might be a way to fix it.

Absolutely massive 3 Body Problem spoilers follow below, so make sure you watch all episodes before you proceed with this text.

Our Lord can’t lie

We learn in episode 4, Our Lord that the San-Ti are not familiar with the concept of lying. This important detail, and a clear weakness for the alien species that’s en route to Earth, comes up while Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce) reads the Lord the Little Red Riding Hood.

It’s surprising that the San-Ti learned that humans can lie, and often do, after nearly five decades of communication. After all, they’ve been observing humanity for quite a while, and they’ve listened to Evans reading them other stories. The concept of lying would have come up somehow.

Equally surprising is that Evans learns so late in his communication with the San-Ti that they can’t lie. “What is known is communicated as soon as communication takes place,” the Lord tells Evans when the latter asks the aliens if they can ever say anything they know to be false. 

3 Body Problem on Netflix
Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in Netflix’s 3 Body Problem. Image source: Ed Miller/Netflix

That’s also when Evans concludes that the aliens communicate via thought while we, humans, are still “squawking at each other,” like “barnyard animals.” Again, I’m surprised he learned about the aliens’ telepathic hive-like minds this late. 

The San-Ti never confirmed that’s how they communicate. But considering the short time they take to discuss the discovery of lying and decide that humans must be squashed like bugs, that’s what must happen. When communication takes place, it’s almost immediate and it’s truthful. 

How is this a big plot hole for 3 Body Problem? Well, let’s remember how humanity’s big San-Ti predicament starts. 

Who is the pacifist?

In 1977, young Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng) was the right person at the right time to pick up the first San-Ti message. This comes from a self-identified pacifist San-Ti member, who warns humanity not to contact them again. For if they do, the San-Ti would come over and conquer Earth. 

The implication here is that the aliens would want to take over the planet. That’s why the mysterious pacifist is concerned. 

This initial chat that ends with Ye instructing the aliens to come and help humanity save itself is what kickstarted everything. 

But given all that I’ve covered so far, the plot hole must be clear: How would an alien being from a race that can’t lie actually lie? Why would this pacifist do it? 

3 Body Problem on Netflix
Yang Hewen as Bai Mulin and Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Image source: Netflix

The plot hole

A race that communicates through telepathy potentially sharing a hive mind, can’t possibly keep secrets. If you can’t lie, and “what is known is communicated as soon as communication takes place,” then the pacifist’s initial warning is futile. He or she couldn’t have kept the secret. The others would have discovered it, and Earth would be doomed regardless of whether Ye responded. 

How would one even lie in a society that doesn’t understand the concept of hiding one’s intentions or thoughts? Would this pacifist destroy records of the communication? Would they shut a part of their mind so the others can’t read it? 

The reason this is such a big deal for 3 Body Problem concerns Ye’s actions. She is responsible for this invasion exactly because she actively pursued the communication. First, she got into contact with the aliens by going against regulations to use the sun as a signal amplifier. Then, she responded to the pacifist’s warning. 

3 Body Problem on Netflix
Zine Tseng as Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem. Image source: Ed Miller/Netflix

Ye’s initiative sets everything we see in 3 Body Problem in motion. Without her message welcoming the alien invasion, we wouldn’t have an alien invasion. But for that to happen, we first need the pacifist to warn her that the San-Ti would come to Earth if humans continued communication. We need an alien being to think it can lie to its peers about alien (from their point of view) contact.

The attempted lie would be known to the San-Ti when Ye replies, inviting them to Earth. What are the chances that the same pacifist would operate their satellite-like controls? Even if that were the case, they would have to explain their past actions. In which case, the San-Ti would be aware of the concept of lying decades before Evans tells that story.

The easy fix

Like I said before, I have not read the books, so I’ve discovered 3 Body Problem like most people, by progressing with the show. There might be a valid explanation for all of this in the books. Or the upcoming season might deliver it. 

Maybe this pacifist is an anomaly of sorts. The ability to manipulate the truth and communication records to avoid sharing with the other aliens the existence of humans could result from a genetic mutation that allowed this San-Ti to develop an individuality that stands out from the hive-like group. Maybe this pacifist is what the humans need to actually prevail over the San-Ti. Inside, help from the only alien who can lie. 

Put differently, this 3 Body Problem plot hole doesn’t ruin the show. If anything, it makes me want to see season 2 even more.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.