Review: Sense8

The Sense8 cast at the Neflix premier party

Sense8 is a Netflix original created, written and directed by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, among others. It’s strange and disjointed and hard to grasp, but it’s also fascinating and intriguing and compelling. The series is an ambitious attempt at epic storytelling.

Spoilers ahead.

If you like science fiction and are willing to accept a far out concept as the basis of the show, you’ll probably enjoy Sense8. The basic premise is that 8 individuals who are distant in geography and lifestyle all are connected to each other. They can see each other in defiance of time and space. They can talk, touch, interact, and, most importantly, help each other. The 8 form a cluster of sensate individuals who are the target of a group called BPO led by a mysterious man called Whispers (Terrence Mann).

The first part of the 12 episode season is devoted to premise building and character introductions. With 8 key characters, there’s a lot of character development to be explored.  By the end of a few episodes, you’ll start to get the hang of how the story is going to work and accept the jumps in logic and space that characterize Sense8. It’s R rated; there is sex, nudity, and violence.

The American cop Will Gorski played by Brian J. Smith
The American cop Will Gorski played by Brian J. Smith

There’s a Chicago cop who witnesses the death of the character Anglica (Daryl Hannah) who somehow gives birth to the 8. (You have to use the word somehow a lot in describing this series, because generally you don’t understand the how – things happen somehow.) The cops around him think he’s crazy – talking with people who aren’t there, acting out strange scenes with no one they can see.

The Korean Sun Bak is played by Doona Bae and the Indian Capheus van Damnne is played by Aml Ameen .
The Korean Sun Bak is played by Doona Bae and the Kenyan Capheus van Damnne is played by Aml Ameen.

There’s a Korean business woman who is an expert in martial arts. She volunteers to take the rap for her brother and go to prison. Capheus is a Kenyan bus driver whose mother has HIV and needs expensive medicine. Sun helps the peaceful Capheus defeat some thugs who rob his bus.

The German Wolfgang is played by Max Riemelt and the Indian Kala is played by Tina Desai.
The German Wolfgang is played by Max Riemelt and the Indian Kala is played by Tina Desai.

A German man, Wolfgang, is a thief and safe cracker. He scores a big diamond robbery by breaking into an unbreakable safe. The Indian woman Kala is engaged to a man she doesn’t love and doesn’t want to marry.

Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks
Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks, an American

A transgender woman, Nomi Marks, is a writer and hacker. (The actress playing her, Jamie Clayton, is actually a transgender woman.) Nomi’s girlfriend (Freema Agyeman) is prominent in her life and the story. Nomi is the first of the 8 targeted by a group that is trying to eliminate all the sensates by lobotomizing them.

Riley, played by Tuppence Middleton, is Icelandic. She's curently living in England.
Riley, played by Tuppence Middleton, is Icelandic. She currently lives in England.

Riley is a DJ who gets in trouble because her friends had a ton of money and drugs. Riley gave away all the money and threw the drugs in the trash. Oops.

Riley’s situation is similar to several other characters. In addition to the BPO which searches out the sensates for elimination, there are others after her as well.

Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Lito, with Nomi Marks
Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Lito, with Nomi Marks

The last of the 8 is Lito, a Mexican leading man played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre. He’s a closeted gay man. His partner Hernando is played by Alfonso Herrera. Lito and Hernando have a relationship with one of Lito’s leading ladies, Daniela, played by Erendira Ibarra.

Another important character I haven’t mentioned is Jonas, played by Naveen Andrews. Jonas is a middle-man who tries to help the characters understand what they are and bring them together.

There is definitely a representative rainbow of gender, sexuality, and race in this series. It’s one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen in a long time. All the actors are experienced, skilled, and talented.

Each character has issues and problems. Sometimes these problems lead to violence, sometimes to character building and the development of courage. Often, the problems a character is having prompts them to cry out, “Someone help me, please.” That’s when one of the other characters may sense them.

With so many characters and such great differences in point of view between them, you get a mind-bending mashup of everything from heroic cops, machine-gun flinging gangsters, sexy lesbians and gay men, innocent young women who pray to elephant-faced gods, and self-sacrificing children.

They learn each other’s needs, talents, and skills, and can respond with the right intervention at the right moment.As the characters grow more aware of each other and their own abilities, the cry for help isn’t needed. They seek each other out due to attraction, or similar circumstance, or simple curiosity. They learn each other’s needs, talents, and skills, and can respond with the right intervention at the right moment.

The sheer number of sets needed to film this series is astounding. Within any scene, the setting might jump from a London rooftop to a Korean prison to a Kenyan street to an Icelandic cemetery to a Berlin bar or to a Mexico City bedroom. Filming took place in Nairobi, Reykjavík, Mumbai, Berlin, Seoul, Mexico City, Chicago, London, and San Francisco.

The photography is beautiful, as this shot with Daryl Hannah shows. One particularly memorable scene is a sensate group sex scene that looks like a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph. It shows a tangle of bodies writhing together while also showing each of the 8 as they carry on their activities in real time.

There are quiet moments of conversation. The dialog is brilliant in these scenes. Sun and Riley have a long talk about losing their mothers at early ages. Lito and Nomi talk about having the courage to be who you are. Wolfgang and Kala talk about the value of friends.

Early in Riley’s life, another Icelandic woman who is sensate, but not part of Riley’s cluster, warns Riley that she’s in danger in Iceland. Iceland is headquarters for the group trying to eliminate all the sensates.

Season 1 ends in Iceland with several characters helping Riley.

Sense8 is odd and disjointed, yes, but it’s also fascinating and beautifully eccentric. I think it’s going to be an individual reaction to this series for each person. I don’t want to recommend it to everyone, because it isn’t for everyone. But a lot of people are going to love it. I enjoyed it. In fact, I went back and watched it all again after the first run through.

Images ©Netflix

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