1. 1. It’s like so many things you already love.
If you combine The Hunger Games, Battlestar Galactica, and The 100, you get Netflix’s 3%: an absolutely gripping television series and the best piece of dystopian pop culture in ages.
The eight-episode Brazilian series is set in the not-too-distant future where an elite society called the Offshore, which represents the best 3% of the population, has been erected in the middle of the ocean. Upon turning 20, every citizen endures a grueling series of tests designed to gain entry to the mysterious utopia.
But not everyone is a fan of this system, called the Process. There’s a band of rebels — The Cause — who have spent years trying to dismantle the Process by getting double agents through the labyrinthine series of tests and into the Offshore.
2. 2. You’ll learn to empathize with the unsympathetic.
The entire first season takes place during a single Process and while there are hundreds of applicants, the show quickly focuses on six hopefuls who are paired up as a single team: Marco (Rafael Lozano), the son of a wealthy family famous for always making it to the Offshore; Michele (Bianca Comparato), a headstrong and driven orphan who quickly bonds with Fernando (Michel Gomes), the son of a preacher who uses a wheelchair and discovers the Offshore’s medical advancements could heal his legs; Agata (Luana Tanaka), a mysterious member of the group; Rafael (Rodolfo Valente), an aggressively cocky adversary willing to lie, cheat, and steal his way to the end of the Process; and Joana (Vaneza Oliveira), a prickly loner intensely focused on success.
Like Lost, 3% employs a flashback structure designed to illuminate their pre-Process lives and the factors that have brought them to this point. For many, it’s poverty, but for some, the reasons are much more nefarious. (Spoiler alert: Agents from the Cause have been successful this year.)
3%’s stars layer their performances with endless shades of duplicity, honesty, and a hypnotic fusion of the two that make their every move a riddle to be solved. Getting an audience to care about characters who are lying, cheating, and stealing for entirely selfish purposes is no easy task, but creator Pedro Aguilera expertly mines that gray area.
3. 3. The other characters are just as complex, manipulative, and broken.
The show spends as much time getting to know the administrators as it does the participants, particularly Ezequiel (João Miguel), the stern head of the Process, and Aline (Viviane Porto), a younger employee who has set her sights on overthrowing Ezequiel and taking his job.
The struggle for power is a well-worn dystopian trope, but it gets an extra, complicated layer here because while Michele, Fernando, Rafael, Marco, Joana, and Agata are literally fighting for survival, Ezequiel and Aline are fighting for control of how to place value on the participants’ lives. The role that the government plays in assigning worth to its citizens has obvious, real-world similarities and while 3% presents a worst-case scenario, it’s also one that may feel increasingly possible to its audience.
4. 4. No one is safe, including the central characters.
An interesting element of the Process is that unless a participant returns home, their families never actually know what happened to them, so everyone clings to the notion that their loved one succeeded. But oftentimes they died, or were murdered, as a result of the Process.
Death strikes early in the show’s run after a hopeful is eliminated in the first round and chooses to kill himself as opposed to returning to poverty. It quickly drives home the importance the Process holds in these people’s lives and what it must feel like when your dream is snatched away from you for a seemingly ineffable reason.
But the show’s most relentless outing is Episode 4, titled “Gateway.” Loosely inspired by the Stanford Prison Experiment, the participants are trapped in a mazelike series of dormitories and asked to execute a simple task that requires they all work together to achieve a common goal, an essential characteristic of someone who deserves to live on the Offshore. Frustrated with everyone’s ability to unite, Ezekiel cruelly changes the rules, resulting in a Lord of the Flies moment that leaves viewers shaken and several main characters dead.
5. 5. There are no easy answers.
The series of challenges presented to the participants test their mental acuity, sense of honor, physical well-being, deduction skills, and pure mettle. Watching the players triumph over these increasingly difficult tasks is exhilarating, and attempting to figure them out for yourself creates a similar sense of self-satisfaction.
But the questions posed by 3% are not limited to the Process’s tests. From its opening minutes, the show forces viewers to wade into morally and ethically murky waters alongside the characters to confront their own moral compass.
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