Originally posted to Facebook on 5/14/17
This is a general review of season 1 of Sense8 and is spoiler-free outside of general story and premise stuff.
So, two years ago when Netflix’s bizarre, unique (and kinda gay) new series Sense8 came out, I binged it pretty hard. However I ended up falling asleep during the finale (because I was so excited and tried to watch at 3am, not due to the quality of the episode). And for whatever reason, I kept getting sidetracked and distracted and never actually finished it until today, but I decided first to do a rewatch. With it all fresh in my mind I wanted to write a bit about it since it’s a very interesting show.
Helmed by “weird sci-fi” veterans J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and The Wachowskis (The Matrix Series), Sense8 is a show that’s not easy to describe but I will do my best. The story follows 8 strangers from various cultures and walls of life who find themselves suddenly psychically linked. They all share one another’s emotional states, and as their bond grows deeper they can even share knowledge and skills, and forge intimate personal connections. In practice, we are following 8 characters in their own struggles but finding support and assistance from their fellow sensates (as the show calls them). In the beginning, the connections are weak, the shared connections take a backseat as we focus on developing each of the characters, which is no mean feat considering there are 8 concurrent stories each with their own supporting characters. But fairly quickly, we see the connections really take shape and start to make huge waves in each other’s stories.
The show’s biggest strength is its characters. While some get more screen time than others, each of them are engaging in their own way. The standouts for me are Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a closeted Spanish actor living in Mexico City who struggles with not only keeping his secret but making his relationship work despite it being kept separate from the rest of his life, and Capheus Onyango (Aml Ameen, but apparently is played by a different actor in season 2, I’m not there yet) a matatu driver in Nairobi who has to see what lengths he will go to to provide for his AIDS-stricken mother. Lito’s failure to balance his home and work lives, and Capheus’s boundless optimism in the face of oppressive conditions are both shining examples of the great character work that is present in Sense8. Also worth mentioning is the cryptic sensates guide Jonas Maliki played by the ever fantastic Naveen Andrews from Lost. He is our big bucket of exposition that pops up on occasion and explains how the whole sensates thing works, though his motives always seem a bit of a mystery, ever with a sly smile that Andrews does very well.
Another huge check in the plus column in this show is the truly global feel to it. The show was shot on location in 9 cities in 8 countries and it really shows. In more than just establishing shots, all of these stories feel deeply rooted in the local culture of where each story takes place. This also provides a lovely contrast for when the characters are mentally visiting each other as the sensates feel out of place and it really demonstrates how different each of these characters are in many ways.
Speaking of those visits, I think those are handled very well. It would’ve been easy to go for some fancy special effects work to make these characters appear in each other’s lives, but, weather it was for budget reason or creative reasons, they opt for a very simple approach of just having the character standing there in the room with them. Occasionally they will have the characters completely stand in for one of their fellow sensates while using one of their skills to help them. This is particularly interesting in fight scenes where they will switch which character is in the scene each time the camera cuts, somehow managing to maintain the flow of the scene while constantly swapping out one of the combatants. It’s hard to describe but amazing to watch.
My criticisms of the show are few and minor. There are times when some of the dialogue is just a liiiiiitle bit heavy handed. Nomi Marks, a transwoman hacker played by Jamie Clayton, seems to end up with the most of the eye roll-y dialogue especially when she gets into hackery technobabble. Which is always a bit frustrating as when one of your characters is a transwoman in a happy, supportive bi-racial lesbian relationship (with the amazing Freema Agyeman of Doctor Who fame) you want to make sure you do everything right as that is a character type where the word “underrepresented” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
If you’re looking for answers about the mythos of the sensates, how they came to be, how exactly their abilities work, you won’t find them. At least not in season 1. And while the nerd in me is a little let down by that, as digging into deep lore is what we do, the show isn’t really about the why. It’s about the characters themselves, and on that front the show delivers more and more each episode.
I’m looking forward to starting up on season 2 now, and hopefully I won’t wait 2 years to finish this season.
I’d love to hear what other people thought so feel free to comment! I’m also always looking for constructive feedback on my review itself, as I’m trying to do more writings like these and want to make them as good as possible. Thanks!