3% – S1 Recap and 201 Review: Showing Both Sides in “Mirror”

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Netflix released Season 2 of their original series 3% on April 27 and if you aren’t watching this Brazilian export – you do not know what you are missing! Created by Pedro Aguilera, 3% tells the story of a “future where the elite inhabit an island paradise far from the crowded slums” and “you get one chance to join the 3% saved from squalor.”

3% – Season 1 recap

When I watched the first season early last year, the episodes were in Portuguese with English subtitles (the first Portuguese-language Netflix original series). When I re-watched last week, all of Season 1 and Season 2 had been dubbed into English. Originally, I hesitated watching the first season because I thought the subtitles would be distracting…they weren’t. And the English dubbing has been very well done and does not disrupt the flow of the storytelling. Five minutes in and you won’t even notice.

The first season begins with 20-year old residents of the Inland (the crowded slums mentioned above) competing to live in the Offshore – an island utopia. The residents are brought to the Processing Center where they undergo a series of interviews and tests to determine if they deserve to join the 3%. The testing portions are hugely entertaining and ingenious. The candidates are evaluated on things like spatial logic, geometric reasoning, motor skills and intrinsic values that the candidates possess. While many in the Inland support the Process, a faction called the Cause is dedicated to the overthrow of the Process and the unfairness of a system that only rewards 3% of the population.

3% S1, Episode 1: “Cubes.” Ezequiel (João Miguel) prepares to speak to the candidates. (Photo by: Netflix)

The cast of characters we get to know over the first season include the candidates and the Processing Center staff: Michele, a young woman with a complicated history and secrets; Fernando, a gentle and moral young man in a decrepit wheelchair; Joana, an intelligent, crafty warrior; Marco, the pretty boy who is the latest in a line of 3%’ers; Rafael, a candidate who is not what he appears to be; Ezequiel, the Process leader who embodies the phrase ‘still waters run deep;’ and Aline, a representative sent from the Offshore’s governing Council to observe/spy on Ezequiel,

The first season focuses heavily on the theme of merit and worth. Ezequiel begins every new Processing with a speech to the candidates and a reminder that “You create your own merit.” He also discloses later in the season that “there are no heroes or villains…” but “there are two kind of people – those who have merit and those who don’t” and “there’s only one true path to a society that is superior, it’s merit.” What’s interesting is that each individual has a very different sense of what qualities and attributes are worthy. This leads to some wonderful conflict within the groups of candidates and between the Processing Center staff and the candidates.

3% S1, Episode 2: “Coins.” The candidates work to come to a consensus with huge consequences. (Photo by: Netflix)

I really enjoyed how the first season left the Offshore as an unknowable destination. We do not really see what the candidates are so desperately trying to reach. And every character over the course of the first season changed to some extent from who you thought they were – the kind become cruel, the weak become strong, the despicable become heroic, but the reverse also happens. We see a character who had been a beacon of leadership and kindness stripped down to a being who functions solely to further his own ends, at great expense to others.

The actors on the series include João Miguel (Ezequiel), Bianca Comparato (Michele) and Michel Gomes (Fernando). I really enjoyed the performance by João Miguel. He is an impressive actor and conveyed Ezequiel as paternalistic, inscrutable and unflappable. He also showed a man tightly controlled and controlling, while giving glimpses of the cracks beneath the surface. I also enjoyed Rodolfo Valente’s portrayal of Rafael. He was able to show us the many sides of the character – charming, devious, and humorous. Initially, Rafael is a fairly unlikable character and yet I found myself rooting for him because of Valente’s abilities. My absolute favorite actress/character on the show is Joana, played by Vaneza Oliveira. She is a force of nature and entirely natural and fierce in her choices. Oliveira showed Joana’s intelligence and strength while also letting her vulnerability shine through. She’s a real badass. I thought one of the best scenes of the first season came in Episode 8: “Button” when Joana and Ezequiel are facing off during Joana’s final test. The scene revealed both of their true nature and was thrilling to watch.

Season 1 ended with the chosen candidates readying themselves to head to the Offshore, while the rejected headed back to the Inland. I have left my recap sufficiently vague so that you can enjoy all the twists and surprises that are revealed over the course of the first season while watching. Please watch! You won’t regret it. Once you’re caught up and have watched the first episode of Season 2, “Mirror” – come back and check out my review below.

3% – showing both sides in “Mirror” – 201 Review

Season 2 opens and finally gives us our first, intriguing view of the Offshore. Aloha anyone? Beautiful, tropical, pristine beaches. Turns out we are seeing the Offshore from 109 years before when it was first founded. Also turns out it wasn’t founded by a couple but by a trio in a polyamorous relationship. Oh and don’t blink but this relationship also appears to have ended in a violent fashion. I guess three really is a crowd. I loved this twist. Good example of how the history we think we know, is often very different from the actual truth around an event.

The next scenes open in the present, 7 days before Process 105, and show us our first instance of “Mirror”-ing. We get Michele’s day on the Offshore juxtaposed with Joana’s experience in the Inland. Michele starts her day awakened with music and sunshine, which she promptly and grumpily shuts down. Joana’s day begins with rats and deception, and a wry energy that’s a perfect contrast to Michele’s bored, I hate my life attitude. As Michele starts her day with decision-making around bath salts and aramotherapy, Joana is tearing down wanted posters showing her as a murderer. The two then move on to breakfast where Michele chooses from a banquet of fresh fruits and Joana scavenges some type of mystery meat from the street (literally from off the street it had been dumped on). I love the dichotomy between the two worlds and how the person in the cushy surroundings seems more miserable than the person who appears to have nothing. Material comforts really can’t buy happiness. I was psyched to see Joana again and loved how she seemed to be embracing her life in the Inland and working to make something more of herself. When she told Fernando, “I’ve lived a shitty life for 20 years and it’s time to do something,” it got me pumped. After seeing Joana’s ingenuity, integrity and intelligence during the Process, I can’t wait to see what she’ll do working with the Cause.

I think my favorite scene of the episode is where Cause leader Silas (Samuel de Assis) allows Joana to attempt to pass a test to join the Cause. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen two women face off in a frog-wrangling, mucus-collecting, poison-making showdown. For some reason while watching this scene all I could think about was Jason Statham’s character in Spy talking about being part of a poison-ingesting ring. It made me chuckle even more.

Rick Ford (Jason Statham) in Spy (2015)

Later when Joana leads Silas to the location of a letter left by the founder of the Cause, she cracked me up again when she did the finger-snap and point. I literally LOL’ed. Love how the show has injected in these moments of levity. Also, wish I spoke Portuguese because I’m pretty sure Vaneza Oliveira and I are supposed to be besties.

Joana’s “Oh snap!” moment (Screenshot taken by the author from Netflix 3%, Episode 201 “Mirror”)

Seeing Michele in the Recovery and Treatment Center (RTC) was a little anticlimactic. I was envisioning a more menacing place with high-tech treatments to make non-believers conform. Instead it just seemed like a spa with Ezequiel as an annoying activities director. Michele claims she’s subjected to “brainwashing” but we don’t really see what that looks like. I love Ezequiel’s take on it instead as “routine evaluations to adjust the misfits.” I still can’t get a handle on the dynamic between these two. At times Ezequiel acts paternal toward Michele and other times seems to be flirting. Later in the episode he drives home the point of how much like him Michele is and then threatens her. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised down the road if Michele gets the upper hand and tries to intimidate Ezequiel. I think we’ve only scratched the surface as to the relationship between these two. I’m looking forward to seeing how that unfolds.

When Ezequiel was trying to illustrate his threat to Michele, he shows her Aline, who is a shell of her former self. I didn’t really like the character of Aline that much in the first season, although I did feel bad for how she got framed. However, seeing her in a childlike, confused state did make me sad. Hoping there’s some way for her to recover and stir things up in the future.

I’m liking new character Marcela (Laila Garin). Loved how she was doing the Morgan from Walking Dead tai chi stick routine. Because I know about the deadliness of the tai chi stick on both people and zombies, I was immediately impressed and ready to see how Marcela will kick ass in future episodes. I thought her touchy-feely routine with Michele was so deliciously uncomfortable. She delivered all that affected affection and then verbally skewered Michele by bringing up her murderer brother. Oh, and then reminds her “family ties no longer have any meaning.” Ouch.

Morgan Jones (Lennie James) from AMC’s The Walking Dead

Back on the Inland and we have another instance of Joana and Michele’s experiences being mirrored. Joana is on her mission to steal fertilizer from Gerson. As she works her way though the home she’s having PTSD-type flashbacks to the day she accidentally killed Gerson’s son. There cannot be anything worse than having accidentally ended the life of an innocent child. That Joana is even functional is a miracle. Glad the show doesn’t try to breeze right past that fact and instead shows the reality of the memories she’s dealing with. Meanwhile, Michel is showing Ezequiel her test – a maze made up of the same mirrored glass that imprisons her brother. Very symbolic as I’m sure Michele is feeling almost as trapped as her brother and equally helpless and hopeless.

The final scenes once again mirror Joana’s and Michele’s experiences as they both must face unthinkable choices. Ezequiel shows Michele a video of Joana stealing the explosive materials. He then tells her her true mission at the Inland is to “restore contact, infiltrate the Cause and sabotage their plot” to destroy the Process. Meanwhile, Joana hears from Silas the plan to blow up the Process Center during Ezequiel’s speech. If successful they will kill all the Center staff and all the candidates, who Silas calls martyrs. Michele resists and is finally blackmailed by Ezequiel. If Michele goes forward with the plan, her brother will be released from prison. Joana is horrified about killing so many innocent people, but Silas tells her that fear is the only way to end the Process for good.

Thoroughly enjoyed this episode and loved getting a chance to see how the other half lives on the Offshore. Silas appears to be a great addition. I had hopes for him as a possible love interest for Joana but honestly, asking her to go along with a plan to kill so many people might be a deal breaker. And I’m not suggesting that she needs a man, but it would be nice if someone cared for her for once and helped draw out more of the vulnerability that we’ve started to see. I was surprised and disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Rafael and Fernando’s story from the year between Process 104 and 105. I love Rafael’s smart ass, me-first attitude and Fernando’s stoic gentleness. Can’t wait to see more from both of them.

3% Season 2. Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) (Photo by: Netflix)

Ezequiel’s still conniving. I’m waiting for him to break down and show us more than just his scheming side. I’m secretly hoping that he still has loyalties and ties to the Cause and things will really be turned on their head with that revelation. Also can’t wait for him and Marcela to bump heads some more. Marcela (Laila Garin) is another strong female character on a show that already has so many. Thanks Netflix!

We are left with many unanswered questions – will Michele rejoin the Cause and help them or stay loyal to the Offshore for the sake of her brother? Will Joana follow the plan of the Cause at the expense of so much loss of life? What is Rafael’s end game and where does his loyalty lie? How will Fernando react to Michele’s return? With all the shifting loyalties and vague alliances, in the end it’s hard to tell how things will shake out. One things for sure – all our favorite characters seem to be on a collision course to a reunion on the Inland.


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Tammy Johnson