Have you finished watching “3%,” Netflix’s first original series from Brazil and one of the more intriguing dystopian thrillers we’ve seen in a while? Then keep reading. Our initial review of “3%” was deliberately kept spoiler-free, but people are discovering “3%” every day, and some of the biggest ideas presented by the series are worth discussing a bit more in depth… especially that final episode. Boy, did it make an impact.
[Editor’s note: spoilers for “3%,” through the finale, below.]
The first season, created by Pedro Aguilera and directed by Cesar Charlone, tracks a group of 20-year-olds who are attempting to complete a brutal selection ritual that will elevate them from the slums of a ruined world to the Offshore, a place of abundance and plenty. The whole time, we’d been noticing the prominently displayed vaccination scars of those select few who’d already succeeded in completing The Process, but it wasn’t until Episode 8, “Button,” that we found out what exactly it meant — and what the Purification Ritual was: voluntary sterilization. No one living in the Offshore is capable of having children, ensuring that anyone fortunate enough to experience that life has truly earned it. As Process Leader Ezequiel (João Miguel) says repeatedly, “You create your own merit.”
Purification doesn’t mean the end of sexual desire (Ezequiel and his wife clearly had a sexual relationship), but it does represent an incredible, irreversible commitment to the principles upon which this society is based. Watching Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) realize that he’d have to choose between pursuing his quest to help the resistance take down this society and his oft-spoken desire to have children was a striking moment that really worked, due to the layers of character that had been built over the course of the season; his decision to go through with it a bit heartbreaking in its finality.
The final twist makes an impression even if you haven’t watched the series. I know this at least on an anecdotal level, because I’ve explained it to a few friends and loved ones who didn’t mind being spoiled, and the nature of the choice presented to these characters definitely seemed to sit heavily.
Perhaps that’s because the idea of voluntary sterilization is one we haven’t seen presented all that often in fiction — and involuntary sterilization is often depicted as tragedy. Children have always been presented as a representation of hope for the future — it’s what makes Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” so chilling and bleak, as we see what becomes of an infertile world.
And that’s definitely a thread that runs through “3%,” as well. It’s notable that one of the pieces of advice given to candidates immediately upon elimination is “the joy of having children is one of the most efficient methods of dealing with frustration.” It makes sense for the people of the Offshore to encourage this; after all, this entire system is dependent on a steady stream of potential candidates to repopulate their numbers.
But in the eyes of this society, as presented by Ezequiel, to allow your genetic heritage to be considered as a part of your value was “the biggest injustice that sustained the outrageous world we lived in.” This new system brings with it a different sort of injustice, but once you see the full scope of it, a genre that’s normally very black-and-white becomes much more shaded with grey.
Both Raphael and Michele (Bianca Comparato) entered the Process as agents of the Cause, determined to bring down the system, yet at the end found themselves more drawn into it. So it’s perhaps Joana (the pretty extraordinary Vaneza Oliveira) who’s the closest thing to a winner of this competition. Playing by her own rules the entire time, Joana isn’t afraid to cheat when necessary (witness her stealing the coin that dooms Lucas, mere hours after they’d slept together). But while she’s a killer and a thief, it’s also clear that she only became so because of circumstance and/or necessity. And when pushed to kill again, she rebels, exiting the Process on her own terms and determined to bring it to an end.
If “3%” gets a second season, hopefully the show will compensate for one of its biggest weaknesses and reveal more of the history that led to the creation of the Process, building out the world to a new level. But the show does succeed at telling a story without any real victors, where everyone is forced to sacrifice.