First look Netflix TV review: Sense8 (Episodes 1 to 3)
Chris Bryant | On 02, Jun 2015Reading time: 5 mins
Already seen Episodes 1 to 3? Read on at the bottom for some spoiler-filled notes.
The Wachowskis begin, as they so regularly do, with elegant confusion.
Sense8, like a lot of shows, lives to intrigue and create tension through mystery. Opening on a brutal, mystical scene in an abandoned church, Sense8 continues the ominous air of the unknown throughout most of its initial three episodes. The dramatic sci-fi follows a variety of individuals (“Sensates”) as they realise their powers to connect with one another – to see, hear and feel what their counterparts do – while a faceless danger looms above them.
What Sense8 does well, it does spectacularly. The eight individuals are as diverse as could be imagined. All races, all orientations, and all with their own relationships – both with others and the law. Their similarity in age has been cited as significant by The Wachowskis, but all ages are represented. It never feels forced, as though a focus group went into political correctness overdrive, but as if these eight humans really were randomly selected.
As they begin their journeys, each must first deal with their own problems, ranging from family issues to organised crime to brain surgery. Although the main cast rarely interact – none of the Sensates will meet physically in the first season – the ease of following their lives is more comparable to Heroes or Lost than Game of Thrones; each episode gives us more information on a single character’s back-story, although the leaps between stories can leave you feeling like little progress has been made. There is a clever, heartfelt subtext revolving around it all; it quickly becomes clear that one character’s emotions and actions can affect another from half a world away, but what exactly links them and what it’s heading towards is still a total mystery. Almost.
One link is the mysterious Jonas. Played gently by Naveen Andrews (Lost), he appears to the Sensates as, quite literally, a spiritual guide. He inhabits their consciousness when they need answers most, or to direct them when another needs help. His inclusion in the opening scene – involving Daryl Hannah’s “angel” – puts him at the top of the food chain, excitement-wise.
This excitement is both Sense8’s achievement and biggest problem. While the blissful immersion into each culture is a new and interesting move for the sci-fi veterans, the mystery provided may not quite be enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Couple this with some of the more noticeably poor dialogue and the show certainly has moments of weakness to match its overall spectacle; Sense8 seems to be able to manage all its moving parts, just not necessarily at once.
There’s no doubt, though, that the culture exploration and special effects eclipse the few ropey lines and thinly spread plot, not to mention the fact that the next few episodes will undoubtedly build momentum after the introductory period. Starring recognisable faces, including Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix), Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas), Tuppence Middleton (Trance) and Tina Desai (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Sense8 cleverly conjures enough young talent – as well as established Wachowski faces – to match the tempo necessary for the inevitable binge-watch.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– The Sensates all conclude their story arcs in these three episodes in difficult situations.
– Will, a cop from Chicago seems desperate for some kind of redemption; while he also seems to have the most experience using his new abilities having contacted Riley, the DJ in London who, having been used as bait in a double murder, is looking to run away again. Will has also had the most contact with Jonas, following his advice after being unable to fight him.
– Capheus, a bus driver from Nairobi, is trying to earn money for AIDS medicine. When physically threatened, he unknowingly connects with Sun, a Seoul businesswoman working, and underground kickboxing, in her brother’s shadow.
– Lito, a big-shot in Spanish cinema, has his biggest struggle off-camera, trying to conceal his gay relationship from the world. After being discovered by a mistaken female co-star, Lito and his partner have to balance hiding with keeping her happy – no matter how irritating she may be.
– Kala, a soon-to-be-bride in Mumbai, also has little to say. Seemingly content rather than happy, it’s yet to be made clear if she’s excited at all about her oncoming wedding.
– Wolfgang, a safe-cracker in Berlin, appears to have had his role in organised crime forced upon him by his father, but that doesn’t stop him being excellent at breaking into safes. Having stolen two trays of diamonds, Wolfgang is now tasked with selling the merchandise without being noticed.
– Finally, Nomi Marks, a trans-political blogger and hacktivist, who both acts as one of the most powerful love stories, as well as the show’s ticking clock. Heading towards brain sugery in a hospital that won’t leave her alone, it is Nomi that Jonas tells Will to save.
– A fantastic array of cultures and problems, the show balances the stories well, but not perfectly. None are boring, but some move at a slow pace, especially where their awareness of their new Sense is concerned.