The Judgement Day ship from '3 Body Problem'

One Harrowing Scene From ‘3 Body Problem’ Will Haunt Me Forever

There I was, watching 3 Body Problem, a fun, occasionally graphic science fiction series on Netflix, just minding my own business, when suddenly … Judgment Day.

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Those of us who have not read The Three-Body Problem from Liu Cixin’s award-winning Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy were not prepared for what was in store for us in episode 5 of the new TV adaptation, and I personally still have not recovered!

The scene involves a massive ship and all of its inhabitants getting sliced to ribbons in excruciating detail. It only lasts a few minutes, yet I spent the rest of the episode thinking, “What did I just watch?” As I processed the trauma later, my brain shifted a bit to ponder, “How did they even pull that off?”

Season 1, episode 5: “Judgment Day”

3 Body Problem explores the concept of highly-advanced aliens from light years away who make contact with Earth. There’s a lot of complicated physics and mechanics involved in the plot, but even non-science types (like yours truly) can keep up, I promise. It’s a fully engaging show that’s easy to binge, but fair warning: episode 5 is a wild ride.

The sequence begins aboard oil magnate Mike Evans’ (Jonathan Pryce) oil tanker, unironically called Judgment Day, which has been redesigned as a floating city to house his Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO) and await the arrival of the San-Ti aliens. Earlier in the episode, Evans gets all of humanity into hot water by revealing humans’ ability (and tendency) to lie. Suddenly, the San-Ti no longer trust humans and go radio silent on Evans.

little boy looking scared through a chain link fence
(Netflix)

Stop here if you don’t want to read spoilers!

Intelligence agency head Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham) learns that the Judgment Day is booked to pass through the Panama Canal. Seeking a hard drive containing the ETO’s communication logs with the San-Ti, they decide to put materials physicist Auggie Salazar’s (Eiza González) nanomaterials to the test by setting a trap for the ship as it passes through the narrow channel.

Quite simply, they set up layers of wires that are both invisible and stronger than steel. These wires cut through everything they encounter like a hot knife through butter, reducing the vessel to strips of metal, blood, and bone. This situation might not be quite as horrific if it weren’t for the fact that the ship was home to a thousand people, many of whom were children.

While we don’t see kids getting sliced up like birthday cake, we see them running in fear, we see backpacks hanging on the wall get torn to strips, and we hear their screams. Adult characters are not so fortunate, and the showrunners did an incredible job making their slow-motion dismemberments look (and sound, ew) disturbingly real.

How did they do that?

It wasn’t easy to pull off a scene like this. Nanomaterials don’t really exist, so showrunners had to rely on imagination and a fair amount of science to make the action look so real. Series creators David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo consulted with University of Cambridge physics professor Matt Kenzie and partnered with Netflix-owned effects studio Scanline VFX to make the ship scene look as realistic as possible. Stefen Fangmeier, a supervisor of visual effects, explained to the New York Times that the scene is “basically an egg slicer going through this big tanker. You’ve never seen anything like that.”

The Judgment Day ship sliced to ribbons
(Netflix)

Show creators first attempted to go the realistic route, but the Panama Canal rejected their request to shoot there. Instead, the ship scenes were shot on a sound stage outside of London, England. All below-deck scenes were built on the lot, and the backgrounds are all CGI. Stunt actors were digitally scanned so they could be swapped out (and cut up) digitally in post-production.

Some of the sound effects were made using good old fashioned Foley practices; the sound of a body being torn asunder is actually the tearing of fabric and the shattering of watermelons, in case you were wondering. For the scenes that show rooms being cut up by the nanomaterials, crew members used real strings strung across the sets to move furniture and other items.

“We mixed special effects with visual effects, so that the eye was constantly tricked,” said episode director Minkie Spiro in a Netflix behind-the-scenes round table. “I think our imaginations are worse than reality,” she added.

The results are chilling and unforgettable. I literally felt afraid while watching the destruction of the Judgment Day, not to mention horrified by the ethical ramifications raised by such a powerful and dangerous weapon as nanomaterials. The implications of Auggie’s invention truly are horrific.

Morals and ethics aside, I’ll never look at a cruise ship, the Panama Canal, or any sort of trip wires the same way ever again. Thanks for the new phobia, Netflix!

All episodes of 3 Body Problem are now streaming on Netflix.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.