Sense8 Episodes 1-6 Review
One of the great movements that Netflix has gotten the ball rolling among online streaming services is the ability for creators to present their work with considerably less restrictions or studio mandates. Various “niche” shows have been able to find their audience when they would have been snuffed out over meetings with producers. One such case which premiered online this last Friday is Sense8, collaboration by J. Michael Straczynski and Andy and Lana Wachowski. The series follows eight individuals from around the globe who develop a psychic connection, experiencing each other’s thoughts, feelings, sharing knowledge, language, and projecting themselves in each other’s minds.
The “sensates” include Sun Bak (played by Doona Bae), a businesswoman in her family’s pharmaceutical corporation in Seoul, Nomi Marks (Jaime Clayton), a hacktivist living in San Francisco, Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Angel Silvestre), a beloved movie actor in Mexico City, Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith), a Chicago police officer, Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton) , a DJ on the London club scene, Capheus van Damnne (Ami Ameen) a Nairobi bus driver, Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt) a safecracker and part of a Berlin based crime family, and Kala Dandekar (Tina Desai), a pharmacist in Mumbai. As episode one opens up, their psychic connections begin to grow upon the death of a mysterious woman and an enigmatic man by the name of Jonas Miliki (Naveen Andrews) who possesses similar but more powerful abilities. Though the first half of the season, the sensates’ powers being to grow and their lives start pooling over into one another’s.
While it’s fair to make jokes of the Wachowski’s work as even their best received work often can become the source of many a good punchlines, they tend to produce far more interesting and creative works than their competition. It’s been over a decade and people still can’t figure out what is up with the Matrix sequels after all. Sense8 comes across far more in themes to that of their adaptation of Cloud Atlas, that is the transgression of identity across gender, class, race, creed, and nationality and how humans affect each other whether they know it or not. That in and of itself is a great message to have, especially now in an ever more connected world, however one particular weakness of the Wachowskis is to tackle big philosophical ideas without having a proper grasp on them, that’s where Straczynski comes in. Creator of the excellent space epic, Babylon 5, one of Straczynski’s main talents lies in adding much needed down-to-Earth characterization to a cast to help an audience digest completely foreign cultures.
The way Sense8 executes its globe spanning story is by presenting all of its characters with fairly basic stories that show insight to each sensate’s life instead of getting wrapped up in the greater mystery of why their powers exist. Lito is a closeted homosexual trying to keep his personal life a secret, Kala is in a loveless engagement, Riley ends up on the wrong side of a drug dealer, etc. That may come off as a bit too simple for some but most of the cast give strong though subtle performances. Ameen and Bae are special stand outs as Capheus and Sun respectively. Some cast members are at times a little thin, Smith’s Will and Middleton’s Riley have very little to do in their own stories , however when the sensates begin communicating with each other, they share a rich chemistry that makes up for those lesser moments.
If there is an iffy part of this production, it’s when the sensates start pursuing the source of their abilities. Often this involves Andrews’ Jonas popping in to shovel out vague mysterious clues about what’s really going on. At this point, halfway through the season, there’s very little pay off and brings up reminders of other “dangle the mystery in front of the audience like keys” that don’t live up to the hype such as with Heroes. This is especially true when there are much better scenes such as Capheus pulling the collective martial arts and firearms knowledge from Sun and Will to, well, go Neo on a bunch of bandits.
There’s not much to say on terms of cinematography. The most interesting bits are whenever one or more sensates pop in on their massive mental Skype call and how each perceives the other, especially by the midway point of the season. There is an overabundance of short slow motion shots, this is the Wachowskis after all, which start to get grating but that’s the worst of it.
Sense8 is a fascinating new member of Netflix’s roster. Straczynski and the Wachowskis make for a captivating creative team that use science fiction as a means to study bigger ideas such as globalism, cross-cultural mixes, and reflections of society instead of blowing things up with lasers and robots. It’s compelling, inventive, and well worth your time.