Sense8, the newest Netflix original series from the minds of the Wachowski siblings along with J. Michael Straczynski, starts out with a bewildering opening episode.
The first scene throws the viewer into the middle of a climax in the conflict between telepaths known as Sensates, and the head of a conspiracy to eliminate them.
It has a lot of unintelligible dialogue that will only make sense after re-watching the scene when you’ve seen the whole season. The rest of the opening episode is less obtuse, but feels like it’s attempting to set up and flesh out its cast in one episode like Lost did across its entire opening season.
The show is worth sticking with through this rough early patch, which is an easy task thanks to the Netflix streaming model, where all the episodes have been made available at once.
As Sense8 finds its footing, it becomes a uniquely romanticist and humanist sci-fi story that will be a joyful experience if you have the right mindset for it.
The Wachowski Siblings are divisive. Ever since their inert, tensionless sequels to their acclaimed and revolutionary film The Matrix, they’ve brought an individually ambitious creative vision to their movies, with mixed results.
Their subsequent films having no end of original ideas and directorial flourishes, but often lack in cohesion and narrative engagement. Uniting with Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski in creating a TV series seems like it might be the best outlet for them, with the stretched, serialized nature of a TV show allowing them to flex their philosophical skills.
Sense8 ultimately succeeds fabulously in this goal after a shaky start. The show defiantly offers little explanation for the phenomena in the first few episodes, leaving the viewer to feel as blind as the leading characters, who only get a straightforward explanation of the rules and concepts of the series over halfway through the season.
The show valiantly attempts to flesh out 8 different characters and the wildly different cultures surrounding them, which are filmed in California, India, Kenya and South Korea to name a few.
However, by putting the driving plotline on the backburner to service the characters with equal screen time, it’s simply far too unfocused to work as an engrossing narrative, though the characters are well written and very well-acted from the start.
The show does seem to have fallen too in love with the binge-watch model in the early episodes, confident the viewer will watch multiple episodes at once to understand what is going on, but it also throws too much at the viewer at once.
There are multiple flashbacks in the first few episodes that happen in between characters spontaneously jumping locations. It feels as if they were trying to write a movie in the first few episodes, introducing and also developing the back story of a dozen characters, along with a conspiracy hunting them as if they were limited to a two-hour film, and the opening scene is far too unintelligible to grab your attention.
However the show picks up considerably by episode 4 onwards, as the characters start getting to grips with their telepathy and Straczynski’s experience as a TV writer shows its influence.
The show gains more focus and structure with the different stories, and it all begins to click. The show has a multitude of wonderful and memorable scenes with the different members of the cluster interacting, and you’ll find yourself growing to love the characters (Capheus being a personal favourite of mine).
The conspiracy aspect of the show is surprisingly downplayed until near the end of the season, which works wonders for developing the Sensates but leaves frustrating confusion about the intentions of its overpowered antagonists.
What you will get if you stick with the series, is a story about wildly different, likable and suffering people finding the shared aspects of human nature that enable them to help each other out.
It’s also a sci-fi action show that lets the characters share their talents in exciting and occasionally hilarious escapades. The show doesn’t hold back on having wild fun with the concept, whether it’s being in your face about its political outlook and engaging in the more intimate potential of shared sensory experiences, to grossing you out with simple human experiences such as showing actual real-life birth in explicit detail.
The show is definitely trying to have shock value in its more daring scenes, but they are all simply parts of human life that just aren’t shown on TV.
The show ends with a statement about human connection that is well-earned by the time all its characters have come to a crossroads in their life. The potential for where their stories are to go in the future is very intriguing. If you’re looking for something different and potentially inspiring, Sense8 just might fit the bill.