Watching 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.