'Sense8' Season 1 Review: the Wachowskis Enter the Netflix Game in Mind-Bending Style
Sense8 premiered on Netflix on June 5. Coincidentally, June 5 is also the day that my mind melted into a puddle of awesomeness.
It's hard to write about Sense8, not so much because of spoilers, but because any attempt to summarize this show will inevitably end in failure. Therefore, bear with me through this part.
The Wachowskis' latest mind-bender follows Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith), a cop in Chicago; Sun Bak (Doona Bae), a businesswoman and underground fighter in Seoul; Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a closeted actor in Mexico City; Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a trans political blogger and hacker in San Francisco; Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJ in London; Capheus van Damnne (Aml Ameen), a Matatu bus driver in Nairobi; Kala Dandekar (Tina Desai), a pharmacist in Mumbai; and Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt), a locksmith/member of an organized crime family in Berlin. All eight of them experience the suicide of their "sensate mother," Angelica (Daryl Hannah), who activates their psychic abilities before she kills herself. The eight of them, known as a sensate cluster, then begin to experience strange visions and dreams that connect them all.
Jonas Maliki (Naveen Andrews), a member of Angelica's cluster, tries to teach them about their new abilities and keep them safe from the ominously named Whispers, also a sensate, who is out to destroy other sensates. As the cluster figures out what's happening to them, they realize they can now "visit" with each other whenever they want, existing in Berlin and Mumbai, or Seoul and Nairobi, at the same time. They are able to fully experience what anyone else in the cluster is doing or thinking at that moment, including "sharing" their knowledge, languages, and skills (which makes for some awesome action sequences). They can also visit with members of other clusters if they make eye contact with them in real life, though members of different clusters cannot share with each other. The more they learn about each other, the closer Whispers gets to hunting them down.
Phew. Okay. Are you still with me? Good. If Sense8 sounds a little confusing, it is. The viewers get their knowledge at the same time the characters do, so we're figuring this all out together. Most of the explanations come from Jonas, and he's not exactly easy to reach. The show also moves between tense, fast-paced moments of discovery and slower, more character-driven scenes. This pace wouldn't work well on a week-to-week show, but Netflix's binge-watching model gives the Wachowskis the opportunity to slow down without worrying too much about losing viewers, knowing that most people will hit next episode as soon as the previous one is over.
Sense8 is pretty stripped-down when it comes to the technical aspects of the psychic connection. We know that when visiting, cluster members are merely occupying the same space. When sharing, members actually put themselves in the place of whoever they're sharing with, essentially melding the two minds into one body. Cinematically, this is done by having the characters appear out of the blue. There's no process we can see to how the cluster connects. As Jonas says at one point, "It's not something you make happen; it's something you let happen."
Because the Wachowskis employ such a minimal approach here, viewers need to work to figure out what's going on. (Pardon the phrase. 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up?" has been stuck in my head for days.) No one is holding your hand when you watch this show, giving you ever bit of information immediately, so if you're the kind of person who prefers passive TV, Sense8 probably isn't for you. If, like me, however, you don't mind doing some of the legwork yourself, you'll love this show.
The Wachowskis blend sci-fi, a diverse cast, prevalent social and cultural issues, and amazing locations in the beautiful, complex style we've come to expect from them. They're serious and intense, even campy at times, but they're always sincere. Was season 1 perfect? No. It definitely has some areas to improve upon in season 2. But Sense8, which is possibly Netflix's most ambitious original series yet, comes together in a way that has me feeling like Lito at the end of that sequence in episode 6: More please.