If genre television’s recent track record is any indication, endings are difficult to nail. Certainly Battlestar Galactica and Lost dropped the ball at the goal line, and I’ve heard the same is true for Game of Thrones (which I abandoned) and The 100 (which I fell behind on). Fortunately, 3% doesn’t befall that fate, bringing its ambitious, colorful epic to a satisfying and nicely timed finale.
In 3%’s dystopian future, most people endure an impoverished life in the Inland, an urban slum in a dry, dusty canyon. The privileged elite, however, live in the Offshore, an island enclave where advanced technology and vast resources are available. Even while controlling and supplying the Inland, the Offshore sustains this unfair status quo by running a tournament-like “Process” every year, which provides a new wave of twenty-year-old contestants an opportunity to prove themselves and join the Offshore. Despite the injustice of this system, many in the Inland worship the Offshore with a misguided religious fervor. Others, naturally, do not; these are the members of the Cause, a revolutionary group seeking to destroy the Process.
As a four-season journey, 3% possesses an elegant, nicely planned structure. The show’s first season introduces the world by depicting the experience of a group of Process contestants, including an undercover cause agent named Michele (Bianca Comparato), as they attempt to win their place in the Offshore. Season two follows the successful contestants to the Offshore while the eliminated are sent back to the slums. Season three posits the formation of a new “middle-class” caste known as “the Shell,” and how the Offshore leverages it in a proxy war to further their systemic dominance. This culminates in a renewed conviction among disparate Shell citizens — a mixed bag including diehard revolutionaries Michele, Joana (Vaneza Oliveira), and Natália (Amanda Magalhães), conflicted opportunists like Rafael (Rodolfo Valente), Glória (Cynthia Senek), and Xavier (Fernando Rubro), and fallen Offshore believers like Marco (Rafael Lozano) and Elisa (Thais Lago) — to subvert a monumentally unfair system once and for all.
3% paints in broad strokes in its symbolic approach to class warfare. The entire series is basically a metaphor for contemporary economic injustice, using an exaggerated speculative backdrop to discuss the brutal unfairness of late-stage capitalism. The critique is often unsubtle, and at times the show’s modest production values and hand-wavey world design give it a clumsy, quaint feel. But there’s also an impressive confidence and style to the series, which more often than not converts these drawbacks into strengths. It’s also refreshingly diverse and representational, approaching its weighty subject matter with empathetic conviction. The final season presents its heroes with an impossible situation to resolve, but the writers admirably maneuver the chess pieces in just the right ways to provide a satisfying finale that fittingly includes a clash of arms, a contest of ideologically opposed contestants, and a message of collective hope. 3% is by no means a perfect series, but on the whole it’s a deftly executed one that achieves its goals without overstaying its welcome. Not all series deliver in their final episodes, but 3% ends exactly as it should, and at just the right time.