Sense8, a project from the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, is bold, colorful, weird, sexy, funny, and delightful. It’s full of startling imagery and intimate moments, its characters are, for the most part, richly human, and it’s got a queer sensibility that I adore. It’s also difficult to review.
Starting with Orange is the New Black, I have fallen in love with Netflix original series. I adore Daredevil, Orange is the New Black, and now Sense8. But these shows are difficult to break down into writable chunks. There’s no way to participate in a cohesive Internet conversation about shows that drop all at once: Someone’s immediate gratification is someone else’s spoiler, and there’s no understanding of a linear flow in the way that a weekly series provides. So maybe it makes sense that the very non-linear Sense8 should be the first time I make the attempt.
I’ve read reviews that suggested Sense8 is incomprehensible or convoluted, but neither Professor Spouse nor I have trouble following the plot, although all its secrets have yet* to be revealed–which is as it should be.
*As of this writing, we’ve seen 9 episodes of the 12 episode first season, and a second season is planned.
The opening episode gives us a mysterious women named Angel (Daryl Hannah), accompanied by Jonas (Naveen Andrews). Angel “gives birth” to eight adults, causing a kind of psychic/telepathic awakening that binds them together, and then kills herself before some mysterious enemy can reach her. There are two things going on: First, we get to know the eight people, and explore the psychic interconnection they have, and how it can help them, and second, we learn a little about a broader scheme or conspiracy, “sensate” people, those who help them, those who are trying to kill them. Our “cluster” of eight is in danger from whoever threatened Angel in the opener, and gradually we learn more.
The conspiracy plot is only vaguely touched on even by the halfway point. The richness is in the characters, their lives, their internal complexity, and the exquisite visuals. These people are just so much fun to spend time with (some more than others). Their lives, colorful, richly-drawn, and occasionally sexually explicit, are anything but typical television.
In brief, the eight are:
- Nomi, in San Francisco: A hacker and a transwoman in a same-sex relationship with “Neets” (Aminita)
- Will, in Chicago: A cop, the son of a cop, and a talented lockpick
- Riley, in London (but originally from Iceland): A successful DJ, daughter of a renowned classical pianist
- Capheus, in Nairobi: A private bus driver trying to earn enough to afford his mother’s HIV medication
- Sun, in Seoul: An executive being manipulated into covering up her brother’s embezzlement
- Kala, in Bombay: A scientist on the eve of her wedding
- Lito, in Mexico City: A closeted film star, living with Hernando, but dating starlets for benefit of the paparazzi
- Wolfgang, in Berlin: A safecracker, the son and nephew of major crime figures
Not all of these are as interesting as others. Kala, in particular, is thinly drawn in a way that makes her seem too passive, and sometimes almost stupid. Lito is mostly used for comedic effect. Right now Nomi, Riley, and Sun are the ones who are always completely fascinating when they’re on-screen. As the series progresses, the cluster awakens to interconnection. In the first two or so episodes, they mostly hear sounds or feel weather from one another’s locations, but as time goes on, they begin to be present for each other more meaningfully. Meanwhile, each of their lives is at a critical juncture.
What about you, Basketcases? Do you have favorites and least-faves among the eight?
There’s also the supporting cast–the family and friends of our eight, including Neets and her mother, Hernando and Daniela for Lito, Will’s partner, and Kala’s family. Of these, Neets and Hernando are far and away my favorites.
They also seem to have strong connections to one another through background. Even though they’re extremely different–international, gay and straight, religious and atheist, trans and cis, rich and poor, scientist, thief, actor, cop, we begin to feel commonality in their stories. Two of them are struggling with the aftermath of their mothers’ deaths when they were young, three have/had sadistic fathers, two have been put into a position of taking a fall for a criminal, and so on. Sometimes we see the same images in several of the various cities where they live–two go to the movies at the same time, three swim at the same time, etc. It’s not repetitive, it’s like music playing a theme that might haunt, or amuse, or build.
The visuals are crazy good. Filming is on location, and the Wachowskis have an eye for the most striking way of presenting a place. They also have plenty of sly humor–at one point, Lito films a scene that seems like a parody of the Wachowskis’ Matrix movies.
It’s different from anything you’ve ever seen, and it’s beautiful to look at, so even if I wasn’t enjoying the mystery/adventure/weirdness, I’d recommend this show.