Sense8, Season 1, Episodes 7 to 12
Created by The Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski
Premiered June 5th, 2015 on Netflix
In the first half of its season, Sense8 benefited greatly from the simplicity of the stories that comprised its universe. Most of the arcs weren’t deeply fleshed out and their weaknesses may have been glaring without the show’s complex architecture to keep viewers engaged. That being said, the power of the eight-part narrative structure helped hold everything together, and the Wachowskis’ virtuosity as action filmmakers made the climactic actions scenes instantly gripping, even if there wasn’t much exposition around the characters affected by them.
In the second half of the season, the potency of the action choreography hasn’t dissipated, but the structure around it has grown even more complicated, lessening its effect. The idea of law enforcement making sure Nomi gets a lobotomy is hard to believe, but the international conspiracy against the Sensates which explains it is even harder to understand. As the focus shifts away from the individual stories and more towards the global conflict between the Sensates and Whispers, the series as a whole becomes more and more convoluted, weakening the dramatic impact of what should be its most powerful moments.
The shift also means that the individual stories aren’t given the time necessary for satisfying conclusions, which feels more unforgivable than the lack of exposition prior to their endings. There’s no issue with not having a thorough explanation of why characters were fighting or being chased, but one does want to know what happened to them. Presumably, the narrative was constructed in the hopes of the show receiving more seasons in which the unresolved issues could be addressed, but the individual stories feel like they’ve been abruptly abandoned in favor of addressing the issues concerning the Sensates’ persecution.
Then again, perhaps this makes sense, given the show’s message about none of our actions happening in isolation. In a series so heavily concerned with our connections to each other (a metaphorical concept made literal by the show, similar to what the The Matrix did with our addiction to technology), it’s understandable that the season’s ultimate climax would concern a shared fate of the Sensates. Still, even with the structure’s thematic relevance, this keeps the arcs from reaching satisfying conclusions, which weakens the strength of the series a whole. It’s not just initial exposition these stories are missing, but endings as well.
As for the show’s commitment to its message, there’s also a bit of a disconnect with its reliance on violence. The characters help each other out, but only through violent means and in violent situations. The lone exception, Wolfgang’s appearance at Kala’s wedding, feels accidental, even if it’s in a way that emphasizes the cosmic connections between the characters. We’re all responsible for each other, the show seems to tell us, but only when others are in danger of being brutally murdered by violent criminals.
This also could be simply because these are the sorts of moments the Wachowskis do better than any other. Capheus’ transition from being in servitude to Silas to rescuing him feels a bit abrupt, but it’s hard to care much as he’s engaged in a thrilling car chase to get away from Githu and his henchmen. It’s even harder to care when Wolfgang shows up to help him shoot his way out of the situation. Again, this only makes the message of violence being the answer to people’s problems more pronounced, but the Wachowskis execute these scenes so skillfully that the troubling themes don’t feel burdensome.
And if this makes the second half of Sense8‘s first season sound like an unholy mess, that’s certainly not how it feels. As much as the series fails at explaining the rules of its universe and the quiet moments between story beats, it excels so strongly in the climactic scenes that its faux pas are easy to forgive. Outside of the kick-boxing extravaganzas, massive explosions, and nail-biting chases, the montages of the Sensates experiencing the same overwhelming human emotions make for powerful, if simplistic, moments. Viewers could’ve assumed before “What is Human?” that the characters all were born at some point, but seeing their births next to one another emphasizes their shared humanity.
And ultimately, there’s not much that feels more important to Sense8 than showing what we all have in common. At times it feels childish, in a “We Are the World” sort of way, but it’s hard not to respect the unabashed earnestness of the Wachowskis and Straczynski. Even if the stories get muddled, their sentiments never get wholly buried, and (along with the action scenes) they make season one of Sense8 a compelling watch.