Will Downing In ‘3 Body Problem’ Explained: Is Will Dead Or Alive?


The black sheep of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem was Will Downing. He was friends with Saul Durand, Jin Cheng, Jack Rooney, and Auggie Salazar. Together, they formed the Oxford Five. Saul was in charge of the Hadron Collider in Oxford. Jin was a theoretical physicist who was studying all the particle accelerators in the world. Jack was rich. Auggie was making some mind-bending stuff with nanoparticles. And Will was a science teacher, and barely anyone listened to him. Will was in love with Jin, but he never expressed it because he thought that he was too basic for her and she deserved someone like Raj, a naval officer. Things took a turn for the worst when Will learned that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer and that it had spread all over his body. That said, he continued to be an integral part of the narrative, and it’s possible that he’ll be incredibly pivotal in the war between aliens and humans.

Spoiler Alert

What Did Will Do for Jin?

After Will’s operation, where his tumors were removed, and Jack Rooney’s death, he literally and figuratively moved away from the central plotline of 3 Body Problem. He inherited a huge chunk of money that was left for him by Jack, and he went away to a small cottage on a beachside to spend the rest of his days. He smoked weed, drank all kinds of liquor, and listened to Saul and Auggie’s issues. Jin visited him too, but he didn’t express his feelings for her, even though he knew he was dying, and he wouldn’t get the chance to tell her the truth if he didn’t seize the opportunity when the time was somewhat right. Auggie and Saul gave him a massive push and urged him to go and meet Jin and speak his piece before it was too late. He took a train to meet Jin, but when he saw that Jin was comfortable with Raj, he backed off. 

Instead of completely giving up on Jin, he immortalized his affection for her by dedicating (or buying) a star in her name. Yes, he spent most of the money that he had inherited from Jack Rooney on Jin because he felt that that was the right thing to do. I feel it was the right thing to do. I mean, it was better than giving it away to his good-for-nothing relatives, who showed up out of nowhere to take what belonged to Will. Luckily or unluckily, the relatives weren’t aware of what Will actually had, and they only asked for what their mother had left for him. Probably, it didn’t amount to much, but given how petty they were, that was the only thing they deserved. For everyone else around Will, money wasn’t an issue. So, dividing it amongst them wouldn’t have made a lot of sense. Therefore, spending it on something romantic and indulgent, like buying a star, was a great decision. Not telling her who she had purchased it for was probably a little childish, but people do stupid things when love is one-sided.

Why Was It Chosen For The Staircase Project?

Wade was brainstorming ideas to probe the San-Ti. Given how Wade knew that they were being monitored by the Sophon, he wasn’t very clear about his ideas. But the basic plan was to send something or someone towards the incoming San-Ti (that would arrive on Earth in 400 years). That would be picked up by the San-Ti, and then Wade and his scientists would be able to learn all about their plans and hopefully disarm them or come up with an effective way to attack them and stop the invasion. Since the probe would have to travel across several light-years of distance, the individual inside the probe would have to be put in cryostasis. A scientist experimented with a monkey, but it turned out to be a bust because, firstly, the freezing of a live organism came with a lot of side effects, and secondly, it made the vessel heavy. 

Jin’s plan involved detonating nuclear or atomic bombs in front of a sail made of nanofiber to give it the necessary push to reach the speed to travel across several light-years. However, for that to work, the vessel that the sail was attached to needed to be as light as possible. Wade proposed the idea of sending someone’s frozen severed head because he wanted the subject to be interesting enough, but not too interesting to generate any suspicion, to pique the curiosity of the San-Ti. He knew that no one with the will to live would be up for the job. So, he chose Will. Jin objected. She convinced Will not to take this deal. Hence, Will rejected Wade’s offer. That didn’t dissuade Wade from making Will a part of Project Staircase because he said that his unwillingness to sign on the dotted line made him the perfect candidate for the job. What does that mean? I don’t exactly know because Wade wanted to keep things ambiguous so that the aliens couldn’t understand his plans. In doing so, he made it confusing for me as a viewer with no degree in astrophysics.

What Is The Fate Of Will’s Severed Head?

Will decided to let Wade sever his head, freeze it, put it in a probe, and send it into space because he knew that, no matter what Jin said, she wanted the Staircase Project to be a success. And for that to happen, Will technically needed to die. He was given five chances to say “yes” to the program. Saul tried his best to convince Will that maybe this wasn’t a good way to go. However, Will knew that he was part of something historic and life-altering. He had spent every second of his life as an underdog. Everyone was generous to him, but he never had anything to give anyone. This created an unimaginable inferiority complex, which stopped him from telling Jin that he loved her. So, when he got the Staircase Project to subvert all of that, he took it. He got to say goodbye to Saul, but he didn’t get to say farewell to Jin. Wade told Jin about the star that Will had purchased for her, and Jin rushed to the operation theater to meet him one last time. However, she was too late. All she could do was watch his head get stuffed into a freezing container and then shoot it into space. Since Will had done so much for Jin’s project to succeed, she desperately wanted the probe (with Will’s head in it) to go in the right direction and turn the tide of the impending war in favor of humans. 

Sadly, though, while hurtling through space, the strings of the nanofiber sail broke and sent Will’s head in the wrong direction. Jin, Saul, and everyone else who was a part of the project were undoubtedly heartbroken. But Da Shi said that they had work to do, and that was why they wiped their tears and moved on. Therefore, the answer to the aforementioned question about the future of Will’s head is twofold. The pessimistic outcome is that Will’s head will endlessly float through space until it’s either destroyed by a celestial body or burned while accidentally entering the atmosphere of a planet. The optimistic outcome is that, since the San-Ti are aware of Will’s floating head, they’ll go out of their way to acquire it and study it. Before getting his head severed, Will and Saul talked about being brought back by the aliens. So, it’s totally possible that the San-Ti will reanimate Downing’s body, probably attach it to an endoskeleton, and make him whole again. That said, if Will doesn’t gain the upper hand after being reanimated, he can become their pet or slave (both of these possibilities are predicted by Will). The concrete answer lies in the yet-to-be-announced second season of 3 Body Problem. Let’s hope that Netflix greenlights it and allows its showrunners to further Will’s journey.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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