If Netflix keeps flooding the market with great TV shows, we at TVEnthusiast will enthusiastically continue to cover them. Today we are talking about Sense8, which comes to us from the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix). I came into Sense8 after reading a few fairly negative reviews from reviewers I regularly trust. After watching the series myself, I quickly realized that this is a highly divisive series. While I can understand some negativity towards the series, my own experience was different. Personally, I came away from Sense8 as an evangelist for the series. That being said, negative reactions should not be ignored, as divisive media will enthrall some while infuriating others. Is Sense8 for you? Hopefully this review will shed light on your own answer to that question.
So What is Sense8?
Sense8 is a series which uses a rather ham-fisted premise to drive unique and fascinating character interactions between fun and quirky characters. If you come in for the premise itself, you are likely to walk away unhappy. If, on the other hand, you come for the insightful character moments, you might just enjoy the ride. The basic premise of Sense8 is that there are clusters of humans who share a mental link between eachother, through which they can share experiences, conversation, and even skill-sets. Sense8 follows 1 of these clusters, a group of 8 “sensates” who have recently awakened to their connection. While the pilot episode focuses largely on this premise, the series itself is more focused on the individual character stories of each sensate in the cluster. The mental link premise works primarily as a means of helping characters explore their own stories in a more entertaining way for the audience.
I would say that Sense8, overall, is a series about understanding each other, understanding ourselves, and accepting our differences without judgement. In many ways, Sense8 is romantic and idealistic. While at times, this can lead to rather unrealistic scenarios, I personally envision these unrealistic moments as broader strokes that symbolize our feelings about our surroundings, rather than our surroundings themselves . Sense8 is not about rationality and cold hard logic. Sense8 is about our messy emotions.
Who are the Sense8?
The resident badass of the group (though there are a few others) comes to us in the form of a South Korean businesswoman who must cope with the misogyny of her country’s business culture, which leads her to a hard choice between familiar obligation and her own self interest. In order to unwind from the stress of her possition, Sun battles in underground fights. Sun brings combat capability to her fellow sensates, yet throughout the course of the series, she receives little help from her cluster-mates. Sun Bak is portrayed by Bae Doona (Cloud Atlas).
Nomi is a transgender lesbian with one of the more harrowing early storylines. Her story itself is rooted in unreality, as she finds very little respite from transphobic discrimination, even though her story takes place in modern San Francisco, DURING Pride. If you can put that aside, however, she has an emotional nail-biting story as she desperately avoids a lobotomy. I felt that Nomi was our introduction to the theme of acceptance that permeated the series. Her skillset as a hacker primarily aids 2 other sensates in the final arc, and she remains relatively disconnected from the others. Her rescue, is one of the first examples in the series of one sensate taking over another. Nomi Marks is portrayed by real life transgender Actress Jamie Clayton (Hung).
One of the least interesting sensates, Kala seems to be in place mostly for possible events in future seasons, as her medical knowledge and connection to a recurring mention of a pharmaceutical company have yet to pay off much. Kala struggles with an upcoming marriage she is unsure of, and finds herself deeply attracted to a badboy sensate from her cluster. The dispelling of said crush comes in one of the more satisfying moments of the series. Kala Dandekar is portrayed by Tina Desai (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).
Capheus “Van Damn”
Van Damn, is a Bus Driver in Nairobi. More specifically he is a Matatu Bus Driver, an interesting cultural phenomena I was previously ignorant to. As this is not Matatu Enthusiast, I direct you to the following Wikipedia page for further information of Matatu. Van Damn gets his nickname from his bus, which is decorated in a Jean Claude Van Damme (he is a big fan) theme. By making use of Sun Bak’s fighting abilities, Van Damn lives up to his nicknamesake, and is given a business opportunity that puts him at great risk, while allowing him to provide medicine for his HIV Positive Mother. Van Damn is easily the most likeable character on the show. His positive outlook, strong sense of justice, and bravery is often of greater benefit to his fellow sensates than any of the skills they provide. Van Damn does offer his own skillset to the cluster though, that of a driver, though his abilities are often exaggerated to what might be seen as a detriment to the series for some viewers. By that point, I had fully accepted the ridiculous heightened nature of the series, and came away unphased. Capheus “Van Damn” is portrayed by Aml Ameen (The Maze Runner).
This beautiful Icelandic Musician, is a part of 1 of the 2 major inter-cluster relationships. As a young child, a sensate from a different cluster scared her into thinking she would bring harm to those she loved if she didn’t leave Iceland. After several significant tragedies, she left Iceland for London. Her story eventually takes her back to Iceland, where a past trauma exposes her to detection, and sets up the final arc of the season. Riley Blue is portrayed by Tuppence Middleton (Jupiter Ascending).
One of the more interesting Sensates, Wolfgang is the morally grey element of the cluster. Wolfgang is a safe cracker from an organized crime family, who values a long term friendship above his familiar ties. He is developed as a love interest for his cluster-mate Kala, before he puts an end to it by exposing her to his world of violence. While not actually a morally black character, Wolfgang definitely lands in the grey territory. He is willing to murder and eager to steal, though his disposition and skills are of great benefit to his fellow sensates. Wolfgang may be morally grey, but he is also highly dependable. Wolfgang Bogdanow is portrayed by Max Riemelt (We Are the Night).
Lito, an Antonio Banderas-esque character, helps his cluster with his sex symbol action star acting chops. In his personal life, Lito struggles to protect his career by keeping his sexuality secret. Lito’s story begins a bit cliche and boring, but his relationship is cute, romantic, and deeply believable. His story is fun, emotional, and touching. Lito, and his same-sex partner Hernando, prepare a rotating door of “beards” to protect Lito’s reputation as a sexy latin action star. His story deals primarily with one of his beards, Daniela. After discovering his sexuality, Daniela becomes incredibly close to both Lito and Hernando, and takes on the role of a live-in beard. Unfortunately, Daniela has a dangerous former lover who threatens their peace and Lito’s secret. Through the series, Lito learns to step up from playing the action hero, to being an actual brave man. His story, by itself, would make a fascinating series. Lito Rodriguez is portrayed by Miguel Ángel Silvestre (Verbo).
Will Gorski is perhaps the least interesting character on his own. That being said, he acts as the glue the holds the entire series together. As a Chicago cop with an abnormal amount of compassion (compared to his colleagues), Will quickly becomes the protector of his cluster. While putting everything on the line to help others, Will’s skills and knowledge as a police officer are frequently put to use to help his fellow sensates. Unlike the other sensates in his cluster, Will comes into direct physical contact with one of his fellow sensates, by putting himself directly into a dangerous path. He does so to help the woman he loves, Riley, a sensate in his cluster. Will’s most interesting contribution to the show will likely come in season 2, where he could be a liability to his cluster-mates as he is the only one of his cluster to come into physical contact with “Whispers” the mysterious antagonist of the series, and a sensate from a different cluster. “Whispers” making eye contact with Will allows him to visit Will, which means he can track him. This will likely play a major role in the next season. Will Gorski is portrayed by Brian J. Smith (Stargate Universe).
Also Worth Mentioning
Besides the sensates of the main cluster, other notable characters make an appearance outside of the individual character stories. Daryl Hannah kicks of the first scene of the series as a sensate from a different cluster who awakens the connection of the series’ 8 protagonists. Though her performance is strong, the scene itself is a weak start to the series which is too bogged down in the premise. Naveen Andrews (Sayid on LOST) is interesting and fun to watch as Jonas, a sensate (seemingly from the same cluster as Daryl Hannah’s character) who directly and indirectly interferes with the lives of the stories main cluster in order to prepare and protect them.
Should I Watch Sense8?
If the premise is what excited you about Sense8, or a hope for a Matrix-like experience from The Wachowskis, you will likely be disappointed. In Sense8, the premise really only serves to create character connections, which drives the emotional and individual character stories. The contribution of the Warchowskis was, for me, less interesting than the contributions of Tom Tykwer (The German Director of Run Lola Run, and The Princess and the Warrior) and J. Michael Straczynski (Writter/Showrunner of Babylon 5 and Jeremiah). In particular, a scene towards the end of episode 4 (directed by Tykwer) is incredibly powerful and human with very little original script. In the scene, all of the characters are singing the same song (What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes), a simple enough concept that is brought to life by a feeling that all of these characters are now aware of eachother. It is as if they have suddenly become acquainted with a part of themselves they never knew before. By the end of the scene my eyes were wet, with no significant event occurring. I would compare the scene to the phone call at the end of the season 4 episode of LOST, The Constant. If that sounds appealing to you, character moments with deep, though melodramatic connections, Sense8 might just be worth your time. The entire first season is currently available on Netflix
Have you seen Sense8? What did you think? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of Sense8, Netflix’s ever growing lineup, and all of your favorite shows.