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TV Review: 3% (Season 2)

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The second season of electric dystopian thriller 3% came back with a bang, complete with even more twists and turns than before!

Free of the Process structure of the first season, we jump straight in almost a year after we last saw our (morally questionable) heroes. With a few slightly disorientating flashbacks to the immediate aftermath of the Process, the majority of the events of this season take place in the lead up to Process 105.

Sticking with the impressively complex morality explored in the first season, things only get gnarlier now. Loyalties flip back and forth, double agents become triple, and maybe even quadruple agents, and everyone’s motivations are distinct. The soaring string score ties everything together, providing coherence when there isn’t much, and alerting us to the nuances to every truth and lie told.

Queen snake Michele (Bianca Comparato), though purported to be the lead, is still somehow the least compelling of the foursome. She switches convincingly between breezy Offshore threads and undercover Inland rags, but watching her struggle with her conscience isn’t as compelling as it should be. Rather than picking a side in the clearly defined class struggle, Michele’s ultimate loyalty lies with her brother André (Bruno Fagundes) — the Offshore’s first murderer. Whether this is a vulnerability or a motivational strength depends at any given moment on who is trying to manipulate her, but in the end, the resolution of this particular storyline feels pretty cheap.

On to more interesting matters. Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) is the other Cause agent that made it to the Offshore, and his conscience-grappling is 100 times more interesting to watch. Though he dives into a weirdly accelerated relationship with plot device doctor Elisa (Thais Lago), his devotion to the Cause is his driving force. It’s such a brilliant choice on the writers’ part to have made us question him so many times in the first season, because this time we see his ultimate loyalty but can’t help sympathising with those suspicious of him. Valente delivers a brilliant performance, balancing paranoia, biting fury, frustration, despair, all with a genuine desire to be considered one of the good guys for once.

Back on the Inland, Fernando (Michel Gomes) struggles with his disenchantment with the whole Process, and the contextualisation of this as a literal religion is as hard-hitting as ever. Back home, he reconnects with childhood friend Glória (Cynthia Senek), a precocious 20 year old gearing up for her own Process. The friendship and history between the two of them adds an un-ignorable weight of consequence to the rest of the plot. Gomes is on top form, particularly in the final episode where he really gets a chance to shine.

We see Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) driven into the arms of the Cause after the events of season 1, and her new boss Silas (Samuel de Assis) has some eerily similar methods to Ezequiel (João Miguel), despite them fighting for opposite sides. Oliveira is phenomenal in portraying Joana’s bitterness and determination, alongside her genuine budding ability to trust her comrades. Once more, we see this sometimes as a vulnerability and sometimes as a strength. The same could be said for Fernando’s wheelchair, and Rafael’s willingness to sacrifice anything. 

These four find themselves on opposite sides, pretending to work together, and genuinely working together at various points throughout — the audience is kept constantly on our toes. Even Ezequiel isn’t predictable — we started to see some regret from him last season, but if you think that means you know what’s coming… trust me, you don’t. From manipulative politician, to violent extremist, Miguel plays it all with disturbing charm. The montage that ends episode 5, bang in the middle of the season, is one of the best constructed moments of television this year. Propaganda the audience sees right through stokes the flames of revolution and war, and that sequence alone captures the political and social messages the show communicates throughout.

Head of security force the Division, Marcela, is the closest thing we have to an explicit villain figure this season, played with steely grace by Laila Garin. Even she is given incredibly 3 dimensional and complex emotional moments … especially with the unexpected plot twist regarding Marco (Rafael Lozano)! The return of his character as a grotesque parody of his former self is one of the best things this season does. The running theme of the Process creating monsters is conjured in the flesh with a truly terrifying performance from Lozano. 

The politics of the show, as ever, are never presented as black and white. Innocent lives are at stake for the sake of the greater good, and the oppressed genuinely think they are happy in maintaining the status quo. These moments of doubt that plague our heroes create a complex narrative that struggles somewhat to satisfyingly conclude the season.

The mission is only half complete, the Process goes on, yet Michele’s uncovering of the Offshore’s dark origin story leads her to a left-field resolution. The history of the Offshore was another thing that didn’t quite sit right. Of the trio, the privileged Samira is the one to protest, while the duo from a poor background are the ones to actively sabotage the Inland. Rather than the blame lying at the feet of Samira’s father, representing the rich elite, instead the poor people are blamed for turning on their own out of selfishness. Samira dies a rich, privileged martyr.

The class politics of this show are inextricable from the race politics — it was no accident that Michele and Rafael were the ones to pass at the end of season one, and Joana and Fernando were sent back Inland. It sets apart the privilege of fighting the system from within — rising in the ranks as a spy — where people of colour, and black people specifically, are forced to violent methods and attacking oppressive forces from the outside. Samira lies firmly within the first category.

Presenting Michele then as her reincarnation, in her fancy Offshore clothes, with her fancy necklace, as a saviour from above for the poor people that she left behind when she passed the Process on her own merit? I don’t believe the writers expected us to buy that for one second. She’s right — she does need Fernando to keep her in check … but we’ll have to wait til next season to see whether or not he can!

3% Season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.

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