The Brazilian science fiction series 3% may lack subtlety and world-building rigor, but there’s an impressive power to its political metaphor, which continues into its third and penultimate season. The series takes place in a stark, post-collapse future in which societal inequality and injustice is rendered explicit in the form of a state-controlled caste system. The Process submits an annual population of 20-year-olds to a series of tests, ultimately welcoming just a small percentage of the population into a privileged elite. The first season focused on the reality-show like tests of one particular Process, while the second ventured to the Offshore to reveal how the other half lives, while also exploring the world’s backstory.
Season three has a new backdrop: “the Shell,” a new middle ground that the resourceful Michele (Bianca Comparato) has managed to extort from the leaders of the Offshore, after penetrating their number on behalf of the Cause, a revolutionary group in the previous season. The Shell is an experiment in social democracy, led by Michele but technically a collective, established on the dusty desert cliffs overlooking the Inland slums, and powered by Offshore-supplied technology that enables a better existence for its citizens. This includes a number of holdovers from Michele’s Process year, like Rafael (Rodolfo Valente), Marco (Rafael Lozano), and eventually Joana (Vaneza Oliveira), who joins the Shell but is secretly still loyal to the Cause, with plans to overthrow this Offshore-controlled systemic injustice.
The Shell does indeed look like a better, fairer world at first. But when a massive sandstorm strikes, damaging the Shell’s life-sustaining infrastructure, Michele is forced to make a difficult decision. She can either accept the Offshore’s help to repair the damage, essentially ceding control of the new realm to their pernicious influence, or she can reduce the Shell’s population to a sustainable level while it is rebuilt. She opts for the latter, initiating a Process-like selection to determine who will stay in the Shell. Her decision, however, leads to all manner of strife and chaos, as the Offshore’s devious manipulations turn it into a new battleground for class warfare.
At first, season three looks like a retread, resurrecting the elimination challenge structure that gave the first season its momentum. Michele’s selection, however, is just one aspect of an otherwise well structured and bracing continuation of 3%’s uniquely designed political allegory. With the Shell, the show introduces a new element to the discussion: the middle class, and the way that group sits uncomfortably between the wealthy elite and the impoverished masses. As Michele’s idealism is challenged by the desperation of the poor and the conniving greed of the rich and powerful, a season that initially looks like it might be a one-trick pony’s repeat performance eventually contributes some new nuance to the show’s mission. Realism has never been the show’s strong suit, neither in terms of plot logistics or world design, but there’s an effective storybook vibe to the show’s tense conflict, and ultimately the third season is quite satisfying, delivering the series neatly to the cusp of well timed final round.