A review by Nalini Haynes
Eight people around the world discover they’re mentally linked and they have been since birth but they’ve just discovered it. The first episode introduces us to these diverse characters in a short space of time. On a first viewing, this first episode was so intense and fragmented that I wasn’t enthusiastic about continuing viewing. As the minion said, it was intelligent, diverse and showed great potential. We persevered.
Perseverance pays off.
In the space of a short season — 12 episodes — these characters develop individually, they build relationships within the group and they discover a powerful corporation is hunting them down to eliminate people who are different.
Who is really human? Are the Sense8 the ‘real humans’ and the others simply those who have become disconnected from one another and the planet? It’s easy to kill when you don’t feel it; one of the Sense8 is a sociopathic murderer but he has his reasons. He’s also a good man to have in your head in stressful situations.
Every episode explores the human condition — for example love, loss and relationships — while maintaining momentum with the hunt for truth and the hunt for the Sense8.
I nearly stopped watching after the episode with the orgy. (What? What else do you call sex with multiple partners?) I was concerned that Sense8 was going to go down the Game of Thrones path but I was very wrong. Not only is Sense8 directed towards everyone’s gaze and not merely the male gaze, it’s not as explicit as Game of Thrones and the multi-partnered-sex incident was a one-off. Although there are other sex scenes and other relationships that furrow my brow, like the gay guys having sex in front of the woman… Let’s just say Sense8 is the enlightened SF TV series you’ve been looking for. Because male abs and male ass, not just boobs’n’bums. And yet, it’s not as focused on sex as Game of Thrones.
Sense8 isn’t flawless. The ‘visiting’ of other people within the group — for example, Riley in Europe and Will in America — ‘visit’ each other. Sometimes they’re inside each other’s heads and can take control of the body to interact with the world and other times they’re beside the person having individual control over their environment. At first I thought the ‘beside’ phenomenon was merely a means to televise the visiting scene but, when they start kissing, other people can see weird behaviour of the person being visited (Will smooching thin air although he thinks his arms are around Riley and his lips are attached to hers). So the sex scene — out of character for the ‘faithful’ Lito and the ‘straight’ Will who was also doing weights at the time — was a bit of a mind bender.
Sense8 is the most diverse US TV show I think I’ve ever watched although Babylon 5 (also by Straczynski) had actors from all over the globe. In Sense8, for example, Doona Bae plays the fascinating and kick-ass Sun Bak whose father despises her and adores her narcissistic brother.
Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a transgendered woman whose mother insists on calling by her former (male) name and who wants to lobotomize Nomi just like that based-on-fact movie I saw when I was a kid about a controlling mother having her daughter lobotomized. Nomi’s mum is the woman you love to hate. Freema Ageyman is Amanita, Nomi’s lover; just because Nomi is transgendered doesn’t mean she automatically wants the opposite sex.
Aml Ameen is Capheus (aka ‘Van Damme’ because What Would Van Damme Do?), a guy looking after his Aids-suffering mum in Nigeria, facing death squads, gangs and hijackings as part of his daily life. Shit gets real, people. This is what many real people experience in impoverished African countries.
The gorgeous Tina Desai is Kala Dandekar, supposedly the first woman in her Indian family to marry for love but she has doubts, partly because she devoutly worships Ganesha and her finance’s father loathes religion and wants to outlaw worship. And partly because she’s deeply attracted to Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), the German sociopathic murderer with a tragic past.
It’s almost as if a trio of writers sat down and said ‘Let’s create the most diverse SF TV series ever. It’s got to have a riveting plot building to an end-of-season climax leaving fans crying out for more but let’s also make sure we have a plan for next season so we’re building on a strong foundation.’ The one thing they forgot is to include people with disabilities in their core group. It could have been amazing if one of their number was blind or deaf or couldn’t walk; this could have added another layer to the series instead of leaving me feeling like ‘here’s another group who said “Let’s have diversity: diversity means more than straight white men” and they forgot the 20% of the population who have disabilities.’ On the one hand, I give Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) and the Wachowskis a standing ovation and, on the other hand, I find it depressing that when people discuss diversity they usually only include sexual orientation, colour, gender and, if you’re lucky, religion.
Sense8 isn’t easy to get into in the first episode. Expect to watch 2 or 3 episodes before you start feeling immersed in this world. However, once you get to the end, you’ll want to turn around and watch it all again. I’m sure I’ll get more out of it the second time through. And the third. Sense8 is the closest we have to a science fiction version of West Wing although the story focuses more on the human condition and relationships than politics, with drama and momentum deriving from a thriller-plot. Must watch.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Creators: J Michael Straczynski, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Aml Ameen, Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Tuppence Middleton, Max Riemelt, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Brian J Smith, Freema Agyeman
Running time: 12 episodes around 60 minutes each