3 Body Problem episode 4-5 review | So that’s where the VFX budget went

A still from the trailer for '3 Body Problem'
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Jin gets stressed, Auggie goes back in the lab and Will and Saul have a very depressing beach holiday as the Netflix sci-fi enters its second act. Here’s our 3 Body Problem episodes 4-5 review.

Spoilers ahead for 3 Body Problem episodes 1-3.

Five episodes in, I’m still a little annoyed by this show’s title.

Note that’s five episodes, not 5. If we’re paying close attention to every worthy English language style guide on the planet (and, frankly, who isn’t), numbers ten and under should always be written out longhand (unless, of course, you’re writing episode reviews for a TV series and don’t have enough room in the headline, but I’ll admit that’s a niche scenario). It’s neater, you see. Look, I’ll show you:

The Three-Body Problem.

Doesn’t that look better? Doesn’t it just trip off the, er, eyes? Liu Cixin, the sci-fi novel’s original author, certainly thought so – that’s how the book writes the famous mathematical quandary, after all. 3 Body Problem just looks ugly. Don’t even get me started on dropping the definitive article (though I suppose, since the show’s all about a real-world application of a universal theory, it might actually be more accurate. I find both physics and grammar very confusing, so I couldn’t tell you).

Read more: 3 Body Problem episode 1-3 review | Game Of Thrones creators tackle chunky sci-fi

Anyway, on the positive side, 3 Body Problem (where did the hyphen go?) does seem to be finding its feet a little in episode four. In the aftermath of the previous episode’s unhappy incident, “the Oxford Five” are in mourning. Will and Saul, while searching a room for anal beads and handcuffs, instead find a box full of Pokémon cards and childhood photographs. What a touching invasion of privacy.

Meanwhile, Jin’s been recruited by Liam Cunningham’s shadowy agency director to do some top-secret business, and Jonathan Pryce is having some problems with his smart speaker. Exciting!

If that sounds like a bit less stuff to pack in than the previous three episodes, you’d be right. At 44 minutes including a lengthy credits sequence, episode four is the season’s shortest by some margin. There’s less ponderous world-building going on, and the plot clips along at a noticeably faster pace. The scene in Pryce’s still weirdly unfurnished office goes somewhere really quite creepy, and the final sequence with Jin feels genuinely tense for perhaps the first time in this series.

Episode five, though, feels more like a return to the status quo. Back to an indulgent 58 minutes, the pacing drops even as the characters move with whiplash-inducing speed to tackle the incoming extraterrestrial threat. Most of these people only discovered the existence of aliens a couple of hours ago, but none of them seem particularly shaken by the reveal we’re not alone in the universe. They’d be a good group to have in a crisis.

In the interests of anti-alien machinations, Auggie is asked to restart her nanofiber research, Jin is still a bit stressed, and Will and Saul continue to exist completely independently of the plot. I imagine they’ll become relevant again at some point, but they’re really taking their time to get there – I don’t think either’s done anything consequential since episode one.

The show does ramp the stakes up in one sense, even as it feels like the problems the first few episodes set up are being solved rather quickly. A certain scene in the latter half of the episode uses a hefty chunk of Netflix’s special effects budget in a way which is entertainingly novel, even if it doesn’t make a lick of practical sense. At the same time, Benioff and Weiss’ Thrones­-esque predilection for what I’ll euphemistically call “chunky” violence still doesn’t feel like a good fit for a show which should be more about cosmic, unfathomable horror.

Speaking of unfathomable, it’s nice that the aliens have taken the time to explain their nefarious scheme – I was worried they were going to make us work it out for ourselves. If it felt like 3 Body Problem had an exposition problem before now, episode five kicks that into overdrive.

Based on some other reviews that have sprung up since the embargo lifted last week, Netflix’s new show has proved a bit divisive – which means it should still be able to pick up an audience somewhere. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to triple-check every number in this article is written out longhand. Please don’t shout at me if I’ve done it wrong.

3 Body Problem is streaming on Netflix from 21st March.

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