3%: Future dystopia at its best

In the near future, most of the population lives in slums in the Inland. But every year, all registered twenty-year-olds get one chance to join the elite 3% who live in the well-appointed Offshore. In order to do so, they must make it through the Process, a gruelling set of challenges which will cost many participants their very lives.

Ever since The Hunger Games became such a hit, dystopian futures where young adults must compete with each other have been ten a penny. I’ve read and watched my fair share of them, and had largely found that they didn’t deliver on their promise. I wasn’t really looking to experience another, at least until I stumbled on 3%.

3% was made in Brazil, and was only the second ever non English language Netflix Original. There is an English dub if you’re not a fan of subtitles, although I found the Brazilian Portuguese dialogue and acting so good that I would recommend watching it in the original language if possible. Currently, only the first season of eight episodes is available, although apparently there will be a second season at some point. And indeed, the first season leaves enough threads open that you’ll want to come back for more.

The series focuses on the ‘Process’, the set of tests which choose the best 3% of twenty-year-olds to go and live on the Offshore. The tests begin with an intense interview to weed out the weakest candidates, before proceeding onto logic tests, group exercises and individual challenges. At each stage, candidates are eliminated – often fatally.

We know from the opening credits who is most likely to survive, but that doesn’t really detract from the drama. The Process is ruthless and intense at every stage, and candidates are tested to their limits. Meanwhile, each episode also reveals some back story, delving into the personal lives of the main characters and throwing out no shortage of intriguing plot twists. Even in the final episode, there are still big discoveries to be made, and as we wait for season two, there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered. What exactly does the much-vaunted Offshore even look like? Will the revolutionary group known as The Cause be able to upset the social order?

But the show isn’t just about the Process Candidates. We also get a look into the lives of the people running the Process, and the political machinations that surround them. Much of the plot here centres on Ezequiel, the man in charge of designing and running the Process. We start off by thinking of him as a monster – a slightly unbalanced and unpredictable man who is at best callously indifferent to the suffering of young people, and at worst takes active pleasure in their suffering. Of course, there is more to Ezequiel than that, and as the series progresses, he becomes a much deeper and more layered character. Given that many similar series have gotten away with a one-dimensional main villain who spends all his time watching the heroes on a magic CCTV, it’s nice to have a far more nuanced antagonist.

Another thing 3% has going for it is the sheer diversity it brings to the screen. There’s a good gender balance, a range of ethnicities, and even a main character in a wheelchair – his perceived fitness for the Process being one of the main plot strands. There are no openly LGBT characters as yet, but we can hold out hope for this being addressed in season two.

Final Thoughts

It’s always nice to find an underrated gem on Netflix, and 3% is just that. With its darkly intriguing story and excellent characters, this is just the kind of thing worth paying your subscription for.

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