OK…This Makes No Sense8

Sense8-castWatching Sense8 was one of the stranger viewing experiences I have had. The only other experience I can compare it to is 2001: A Space Odyssey, though I hesitate to do that because Sense8 is not nearly as masterful as that movie. The two comparisons drawn are that they are both science-fiction and they both provoke in the audience a sense of frustration at not quite understanding what the whole thing is about. This frustration was so great in the case of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece that 241 members of the audience walked out of the film the night it premiered. The beautiful thing about 2001 is that the frustration is completely intentional. Kubrick wanted to make it difficult to watch this movie because the reward was a magnificent visual pay-off (even if you still didn’t quite understand it). Unfortunately for Sense8, the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski failed to make such a satisfying conclusion to their noble cinematic aspirations.

The most frustrating thing about Sens8 is that the premise is so spectacular. Picture this: a group of 8 people living around the world begin to sense each other on a telepathic level that is so powerful they can lend their skills to one another even if they are a continent away. They are being chased by a cabal of “others” determined to wipe the sense8s out. Unfortunately, the entire series drags and it is evident from the first episode. There is not nearly enough “sensing” and when “sensing” does happen it rarely serves a purpose. In fact, it is often hard to tell if the characters even realize that they are in someone else’s head.

It was by the end of episode three that I realized this show could lose a few storylines and still not make complete sense. To be sure, it had its moments and it the first time the characters actually used their abilities instead of floundering around with them. Instead of building the episode around that moment, the show spends the majority of its time focused on three or four other things. It used to be shows would have an A plot and a B plot. Sense8 is asking you to follow eight plot threads in a single episode, nine if you count the actual overarching plot. I would have fast-forwarded through the Indian and the German storylines if I had not been afraid of missing some random “sensing” or “visiting” because the transitions really are quite brilliant. I would have skipped through the Korean storyline but after episode three Sun Bak’s character becomes roughly 15 times more fun to watch.

SPOILER ALERT: Sense8 does not use subtitles. Actually, it does use subtitles…three of them. The rest of the time everyone speaks English. I can see no reason for this beyond someone’s greedy decision to appeal to more Americans who simply cannot be bothered to read subtitles or listen to a dubbed version. Yet, listening the South Korean extra with a speaking role just trying to get those words out or the eight year old Kenyan who has a suspiciously British accent, one wonders how much speaking a foreign language affects a person’s acting talents. There were a few Mexican extras with speaking roles whom you could tell were trying their hardest to sound as American as possible. This show’s casting director must have had his/her/their work cut out for him/her/them with this project and I’m sure they did the best they could. And props to whoever got Freema Agyeman as Amanita, the most supportive girlfriend in the history of girlfriends.

For all its faults, Sense8 does get a few things right. It is the most trans-positive show I have seen. I have not watched Transparent or Orange is The New Black or whatever the hot new trans-positive thing is so I cannot say how this compares, but this show is so matter-of-fact about Nomi, an LGBT blogger, that I had to rewind her first scene to catch a bit of dialogue about “colonizing white males.” And then there’s Lito, a Mexican action star whose love-life is about as soap operatic as it can get. I could not see how their skills would be useful as members of the sens8 cluster but their storylines were so compelling that I did not care. Of course, it became obvious how useful their skills actually are during the season’s last few episodes.

Warning: There is very graphic sex, nudity, and several birth scenes. I was hoping to go through life never seeing an actual childbirth. I avoided all those documentaries and reality shows for a reason. It was soooooooo gross. The sex scene is not that bad but it does go on for quite a while and is kind of an orgy.

Final Thoughts: At the end of the day, the premise is sound and the final two episodes do a serviceable job of capping off the show. It could have done with a few less characters (hopefully, a few will be killed off next season) and perhaps ten instead of 12 episodes. Daredevil had similar pacing issues. It makes me wonder about this new binge-watching format and what the perfect length is for long-form stories like these.

Where is My Mind?

When I was 22 years old I lost my mind. Literally. I was a senior in college and had a fairly confident outlook on life when I began my slide into mania. It had all the hallmarks. My mind was filled with racing thoughts, I exhibited erratic behavior (it didn’t seem erratic at the time), and for several months I got by on 2-4 hours of sleep a night. It started during the summer of 2007 when I was overcome with the premonition that a world-altering event was about to commence. I did not know what this event was but I knew I had to prepare for it. Perhaps, if I had been a little saner, I would have begun storing canned food and building a bunker in the woods. Instead, I started perfecting my newly discovered talent for telepathic manipulation and I started taking my 1986 Toyota Tercel out on nightly time-traveling missions. During the day, I did what I thought was a pretty good impression of being a college student. It was all very exciting. I wish I were joking. I wish I could tell you that this is a prank story and that I did not spend several months in a realm of thought that was so far beyond rational I still cannot quite comprehend how I ended up there. Eventually and fortunately, the delusion fell apart.

That December, my psychiatrist broke the news to me matter-of-factly. He diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. He gave me a brochure so I could look over the symptoms myself and I was forced to conclude that I did fit the profile. I have to admit it was little heartbreaking to learn that I did not, in fact, have super powers. What was more heartbreaking was having to come to terms with how unhinged I had been and how much danger I had put myself and others in. And then there was the fear that it could happen again. That was terrifying. Even more distressing was that I had planned a career in anthropology, a field that demands critical observational and analytical skills. How could I survive in such a field when my perception of the world around me could so easily descend into madness? My depression was so great that I graduated from college convinced that I did not deserve my degree. I also shied away from engaging in any critical thought that was not directed at how much of an utter failure I was bound to become.

Luckily for me, I graduated into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The job market at home was not particularly robust so I took a look at opportunities abroad. This led to my first experience of being stigmatized for having a mental illness. I applied for a job teaching English in South Korea, which I thought would look nice on a CV/Resume, and had come fairly close to securing the position. The final step in the interview process was completing a medical health history form. “Do you have any chronic medical conditions and if so, what are they?” I thought about it but I did not think very hard. My diagnosis will be with me for the rest of my life regardless of whether I have another episode and, barring some kind of revolutionary treatment, I would be taking medication for it for the rest of my life. It was an incredibly naïve decision and if I did I have a time machine I would certainly revisit it. The negative response was quick and it was a crushing blow. Despite responding very well to the mood stabilizer I had been prescribed, my depression was never really far away and it was easy to give into the notion that my disorder would forever be a wall between me and the future I had imagined for myself. In fact, I could not really imagine a future at all beyond a single goal: stay sane. The years went by and I was more or less successful.

Above all of this hovered the specter of Lamar Street, my father. I never knew the man. There is picture evidence that he was a part of my early life but he was out of the picture before any sustained memories could be formed. He died when I was in junior high, before I ever even contemplated trying to find out where he was. I did not ask my mother about him very often and when I did she would talk about similar we were. He was very bright, she would say, and creative. The most bizarre likenesses were the way we walked, how we both fidgeted with our hands, and our facial expressions. Now we have one more thing in common. I still do not know very much about Lamar Street but I know that his mental illness ruined his life.

So far, it has not ruined my life. I do not let my disorder define my narrative the way I once did. . Regular sessions with a psychiatrist and a regular dose of Lamotrigine keep my feet off the cliff’s edge and my head on my shoulders. Still, I have yet to truly dispel the depression that set in 7 years ago. It has transformed into a less devastating sense of melancholy at the fact that the career in anthropology I had once planned seems just as out of reach now as it ever has. And as grateful as I am that there exists a pill which can keep me on an even keel, it has its downsides. I don’t cry anymore. I don’t experience very much joy, either. It stifles my creativity. But I have my mind back. So, you know, there’s that.