I’m a busy guy, but I had a lot of free time come up lately and was finally able to finish the first season of Sense8, a Netflix science fiction series.
How was it? Review and maybe some mild SPOILERS after the cut.
Sense8 was created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski. The basic idea is that, for some reason owing perhaps to evolution, eight random people in seven countries are suddenly emotionally and mentally connected to each other.
The eight in question are:
- Will, an American cop living in Chicago.
- Reilly, an Icelandic DJ who starts the series in London.
- Wolfgang, a German thief living in Berlin.
- Kala, an Indian chemist living in Mumbai.
- Lito, a Spanish actor living in Mexico City.
- Sun, a South Korean businesswoman/martial arts champion living in Seoul.
- Capheus, a Kenyan bus driver living in Nairobi.
- Nomi, an American transgendered woman hacker and activist living in San Francisco.
Over the course of the season, these eight people interact without actually meeting in person (with one exception at the end of the last episode). Part of the deal of their…whatever it is they are, they can borrow skills and knowledge from each other, and hold conversations in their minds. Whatever it is that makes them what they are also means that whenever any of the eight are in need, the one person they need most of the group will come along to help them.
That’s underlined in one of the last episodes of the run. Wolfgang is a career criminal who stole some diamonds from the organized crime group run by his sorta uncle before they could steal them themselves. He’s confronted by a group of them and is about to be shot, reaching for the gun he stashed under his car’s undercarriage. Lito appears to Wolfgang and offers to show Wolfgang how to buy some time, and by taking over Wolfgang’s body using his skills as an actor to spin some convincing lies to let the thugs relax long enough for Wolfgang to get the gun. Later in the same episode, Lito goes to help a friend escape from her abusive thug boyfriend, and while Lito may play a tough guy on TV or in the movies (I’m not quite sure where Lito’s work appears), he can’t really throw a good punch. Wolfgang can, and returns the favor to knock the snot out of the bad boyfriend.
There’s a lot more going on than that. A conspiracy led by a guy known as Whispers hunts down sensates like himself to perform medical experiments on them. Whispers can invade the mind of any sensate by locking eyes with them, allowing him to see, hear, and know what they know. Not only do they have to avoid the guy, they have to avoid even seeing the guy.
So, what happened to these people? It’s vague, but somehow they’re the next step in evolution. The show follows each of the characters individually, and collectively as they go up against the conspiracy Whispers is involved in. The season ends with Reilly captured by the group, Will going to rescue her in person, and the other six lending the right skills at the right time to pull the plan off.
The Wachowskis have a reputation, for better or worse, for a sort of grand, big, stylistic approach to things. That often makes for…excessive stuff. The right balance was found with The Matrix, but the duo keep producing big budget flops at the box office. Sense8 must have likewise had a huge budget. Scenes were filmed on location, and a few shots, like Kala’s wedding and Capheus’ escape from armed criminals, show dozens if not hundreds of extras. What you can’t say is that the Wachowskis don’t have a vision of some kind. They may not be the best at putting butts in seats, or even in producing consistent work, but they certainly have style.
For example, I remember when the second Matrix movie came out, The Matrix Reloaded. There’s an early scene there where Neo and Trinity go off to have sex while the rest of Zion appears to be having a rave. The scene…well, it goes on for a while. A former classmate I saw the movie with later said, “We get it. Dancing is like sex.” There are a couple of moments like that here, such as when Will is watching Fourth of July fireworks on his dad’s boat (with Sun and Capheus) while Nomi is having sex with her girlfriend. There’s also a four sensate mental orgy at one point (involving Nomi and most of the men), and when Reilly goes to hear her concert pianist father play, each of the others likewise attends in her head and they all…flash back to their own births. While each character has a birth scene that is thematically appropriate for their characters…c’mon, they remember the day they were born? From the outside?
Clearly, this is not a particularly realistic show, or even all that “gritty”, which is how a lot of TV tries to go for quality these days. That does lead to some fun. Action sequences are well choreographed. Anytime someone needs a beating, even a large group of someones, Sun will show up and smack some heads, Will will be ready for the use of a firearm, and Wolfgang for ruthlessness. Heck, even Kala is no slouch in a fight when you consider what she can do with chemicals, a nice surprise since she spends the season wondering if she should go ahead with a wedding to a man she doesn’t love.
If anything, despite moments of extreme violence, the show has a rather optimistic tone to it. Outside Wolfgang and Sun, the characters seem to end the season in a good place. Lito, for example, has overcome his fears of being outted as gay, while Capheus gets out from under the various crimelords he’s being stalked by. True, Whispers is still out there, and the closest they have to a mentor is his prisoner, but the show has a bright tone of optimism.
Despite the obvious expense, Netflix has committed to a second season. For this first one, I’m going to give it seven and a half rocket launchers hidden in a BWM’s trunk out of ten. I’m curious enough to try more when they show up, but if the show had grabbed me more I might not have waited several months to finish the first season.