The first season of Sense8, for the most part, is action and emotion-fueled entertainment. The biggest problem is the pacing of individual episodes and, perhaps, of the entire season.
For those who don’t know, it’s about people who live in entirely different parts of the world but whose minds are linked so they can get essentially experience each other’s lives, and then some. The primary theme seems to be diversity, similarity and inter-connectivity; that despite our differences, we are the same where it matters, in our capacity to feel. Well, that’s what I surmised knowing the premise and watching the first episode (haven’t changed my mind after finishing the season).
Warning: There are some *SPOILERS* below.
Action aka Deus Ex Machina
Hands-down, some of the most satisfying scenes are the action sequences wherein the sensates, the mind-linked folks, hand over control of their bodies to one another to beat up the bad guys. Though this is sort of a repeatedly used deus ex machina in the show, used so the characters who can’t fight can get out of difficult situations, it’s still satisfying to watch due to the superb tension building.
It’s obvious that the Wachowski Siblings (I didn’t know they’d stopped going by the “Wachowski Brothers” until I started watching this show) and Straczynski intended to fill the cast with characters of varying gender, sex, race and nationality. This is also reflected in the settings which, going from the most western countries first, includes: the United States, Mexico, Iceland, England, Kenya, India and South Korea (I’ve been to five of these seven; sorry, couldn’t avoid mentioning it).
Despite the great range of representation, the Wachowskis play it somewhat safe by having the season’s finale center around a straight, white cisgender couple (with the male being American to boot). While there are other sex/gender/race romances prominently featured, given the heavy doses of diversity throughout Sense8, I was surprised that the finale focused on the old school pairing. Sadly, this particular couple felt like the least developed of all the romances.
Let’s just get this out of the way. The pacing, at times, isn’t perfect. Having so many characters to juggle makes pacing very difficult. Given the number of main characters, the show does a decent job but is far from perfect.
Feels odd to say, but the pacing might have worked better if there were commercial breaks so the abrupt transitions between the mini-climaxes and slow build-up scenes wouldn’t be so pronounced.
The first episode dragged on with a lot of exposition, jumping from one sensate character to another. This made it difficult to develop sympathy. It took me three or four episodes to start caring.
The series benefits greatly from having what is essentially a captive audience. As a Netflix Original by the Wachowski Siblings, it was almost a guarantee that a large number of people would watch the show beyond the first few episodes even if they dislike the beginning; Netflix viewers are binge watchers and Wachowski fans are Wachowski fans. Had the show been on another medium with an unknown team at the helm, many viewers might have stopped with the first episode.
Overall, though, the first season is good. So, let’s continue to stuff I like—
Best Sensate/Main Character
Winner: Capheus aka Van Damme (Aml Ameen). Something about a goodhearted guy working to get medicine for his mother and being super nice to everyone appeals to me. He’s the guy who teaches the other sensates (who are all considerably well off in their first world countries and telenova star house) to stop being depressed.
Runner-up: Wolfgang. Mostly because he delivers my favorite line in the show (see “Best Lines” below). Random side note (with a spoiler): Watching the scene when young Wolfgang murders his abusive father reminded me of the anime Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle in which the character of Wolfgang Krauser does the same.
Best Couple (This review/recap is devolving into a yearbook thing—but, it works given the number of primary characters.)
Winner: Though there are a number of romantic pairings in Sense8, I thought the chemistry was strongest between Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Angel Silvestre) and his boyfriend, Hernando (Alfonso Herrera). Most likely, it’s because Lito’s entire story arc was focused on his relationship with Hernando (and the problems which arose from his unwillingness to come out of the closet). Perhaps their relationship was made more entertaining to watch due to the near-constant presence of Daniela Velasquez (Erendira Ibarra).
Runner-up: Kala Dandekar (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt). This relationship seems to have more passion than most of the others; sort of a we want to, but we shouldn’t kind of deal. That’s always fun.
On a somewhat related note, the character of Sun Bak (Doona Bae) is a giant East Asian stereotype: no romance, emotionless, martial arts expert. To top it off, her male relatives are chauvinist/misogynist assholes—another stereotype reminiscent of the initial portrayal for Daniel Dae Kim’s character on Lost not too long ago.
Winner: As a team, Hernando and Daniela Velasquez. Lito’s story arc was one of the more interesting ones because of these two. Attractiveness aside, Hernando is smart and insightful-ish while Daniela is bubbly and kind of a pervert. What’s not to love?
Runner-up: Amanita. In the early episodes, her sass seemed a bit forced but after a while it started to work; I’m a fan of sass.
Best Non-Combat Scene
Winner: The birth sequence with cute self-referential jokes is pretty nice (e.g., Lito’s family watching television as he’s born; Wolfgang’s water birth to match his nude swimming scene). I thought it was a nice touch if a bit cheesy. I’m not including an image for the birth scenes; those images were burned into my mind. I feel like Chandler Bing in “The One With the Birthing Video.”
Runner-up: The “accidental orgy” (as a writer I know calls it), particularly for Will Gorski’s (Brian J. Smith) comedic response. Gorski making out with the air was also pretty funny.
Winner: “He’s my brother. And not by something as accidental as blood; something much stronger—by choice.” -Wolfgang (emphasis added).
Runner-up: “Van Damme always comes back.” – Several characters.
Like every other Netflix Original series I’ve seen, Sense8 is definitely worth a watch (assuming you’re okay with nudity and violence). Just be prepared for a slow start.