Sense8 Episode 1-6 Review

The Wachowski siblings do not have the greatest track record when it comes to their filmography. The Matrix is a classic, but it’s two sequels are less that stellar, Speed Racer was just awful, and while Cloud Atlas was a return to form, it was made contravention by those who lacked context for the film or chose to ignore the context (thus missing the point of the film). Their latest film, Jupiter Ascending was probably their most disappointing, with it’s clear call backs to the themes that made the Matrix so great, but in the end was weighed down world building and jargon while most of the big idea stuff seems to have been left on the cutting room floor.
With all that said, the Wachowski’s are still one of the most interesting creators working today. Either good or bad it’s always clear that their movies come from a strong creative vision, and you’ll never mistake one of their films for someone else. Because of this I always look forward to their next project, even though I cant say I go into it with the highest of expectations. So when I heard they had a new show coming out, I was always intending on giving it a look. When I heard it was a netflix show, I couldn’t help but get a little excited. With “Daredevil”, “House of Cards” and “Orange is the new black”, netflix has sold me on their original programming. So what do we get when we mix the potential of the Wachowski siblings and the stellar track record of netflix, do we get an exciting and thoughtful product like “The Matrix” or do we get a beautiful but brain dead series like “Speed Racer”? Lets find out.
The idea of the show is pretty weird: it’s about these 8 people, all in different parts of the world with little to nothing in common, who are psychically linked. They can draw information and skills from each other, like the ability to fight or speak another language and they can even feel what the others are feeling. On top of this, they can also visit each other, giving each other advise or encouragement when needed. But for the most part no one knows what’s going on, and this new ability is causing some metal distress for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, as far as plot goes that strange set up is all there is to talk about. In the six episodes I watched (half the season) no real unifying conflict has been developed. So far the show very much just is us watching these very different people, with very different lives and problems over come their issues by using each others abilities. That may be the point, but so far it feels like the show is just on a slow burn. I described it earlier to some one I know as “trying to heat a bathtub with a 4th of July sparkler; beautiful to look at, but not getting the job done as fast as it could”. From what i’ve seen so far though I wouldn’t say the main draw wasn’t meant to be the plot, but the cast.
The Wachowski’s seem to be tying to single handedly fix the issue of representation in media. Half the cast are LGBT members, half the cast are people of color and only two of the characters are American. It really feels like they used this to just kind of shout into the void: adding diversity really shouldn’t be that hard guys, we literally went to an extreme with it and look how little that impacted our show”
Unfortunately, with 8 main cast members of the show, plus all their side characters, no one really feels developed as well as they could be. Because of this the Wachowski’s some archetypes that could be seen as stereotypes people who don’t know the difference or those who are just sick of seeing these common themes always brought up when talking about what ever racial group we’re talking about. For example, one of the main leads is a Kenyan bus driver who’s mother has AIDS. Now, depending on if you see this as an archetype or a stereotype will color how you view this character, his inclusion and what the Wachowski’s are trying to say.
Now, for those of you who don’t know the difference: an archetype is a character mold that characters fill so we get an understanding of who they are and how they operate so we can skip to the more interesting part of the story. A stereotype are applied characteristics used to belittle a group of people. So with this character you can view him and his ADIS ridden mother as an archetype to make us understand why he does some of the more dangerous stuff he does, or a stereotype meant to imply that they’re African so of course they have aids. While I personally see this as using archetypes to fill in gaps that would take too long to fill in otherwise (witch would have killed the shows pacing, witch isn’t great to begin with) I can’t say I don;t see the arguments that can be made of the other side, or even that they would be wrong. However, even if you allow for this concession it’s hard to ignore that an easier option exist: cut the cast in half. Clearly this is being used to save time, so cut the cast in half, thus cutting in half the amount of people we have to get to know, understand their troubles and presumably care about. Get rid of the boring cop, merge to addict chick to another character and so on.
Another issue I have that was brought up in another article about the show is that it feels too American when most of the cast are non-American. That Kenyan bus driver I was talking about? Yeah, he’s favorite movie star is Van Dam, and irrelevant action hero here, so why would he think painting Van Dam on the side of his buss (and even going on to adopt the name himself) would be a good idea? And while I get that a more global entertainment market means where not gridlocked into cultural specific reference points ( I literally just did an editorial about this topic) it does feel unfairly one sided. However, I do think it’s important to not that the author of the article I got this idea from also complained when the Indian couple used a bollywood style song to express love to each other, making their argument feel more like “i want this to feel foreign in ways I like” rather than, “i see a fundamental issue with the creators being too American centric for a show that sells itself on having a global cast of characters”.
However, a TV show or movie based on it’s characters is only as good as the actors playing them. So how does the cast do? Pretty freak well, actually. My personal favorites are Jamie Clayton who plays Nomi, a trains woman who, with here girlfrind try to escape here transphobic mother and a brain operation that could leaver her lobotomized (author note: I’m complementing the job she did. For those who don’t like the idea of a cis woman playing a trans role, I understand your issue but still have to say she’s doing a great job). Every time she and Freema Agyeman (the actress who plays her girlfriend) are on screen together I feel the show is really hitting it’s mark.
Another great is Miguel Ángel Silvestre who plays Lito, a gay Mexican actor living with his boyfriend fake girlfriend who is using him to escape a badly ended relationship the same way he’s using her to hide his true self from the media. These three always bring a smile to my face.
The one “weak link” is Doona Bae as Sun. A few times through out the show I found myself asking if she was giving a poor line delivery or if it was just her accent that I wasn’t use too. But as I just got done seeing her in Cloud Atlas and never had this issue, I feel safe in saying it was the delivery. She doesn’t drag down the movie by any means, but this was noticeable on a few occasions and only ever with her.
This reminds me of something else I found odd about the show: every one speaks English. I know they are meant to be speaking their native language and the show is just kind of…translating for us….but I think it would have be a better chose to have the character speak their native language when talking normally. I know why this choice was made, but it make me wonder what could have been.
In the end I have to say I’m liking this one a lot. I do wish the plot would pick up its pace, but other than that there isn’t a lot I have an issue with. It seems like the Wachowski siblings wanted to tackle the same topics and ideas that they did in “Cloud Atlas”, but in a way that was less con traversal so maybe people would pay attention to it this time. I’ll check back in when I finish the series and we’ll see if they stick the landing.


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