Eight total strangers are suddenly connected to each other, able to share their individual abilities and feelings.
This review comes from someone who loves Cloud Atlas, someone who believes the idea of a connection between strangers has lost none of its initial appeal, no matter how familiar a trope it has become on television by now.
It is also a concept fit to the Wachowski’s philosophical and often downright dramatic approach.
With Sense8, the director duo presents another original idea, and even in the face of recent failures they manage to have audiences excited for the result, especially due to the large scope of the project, spawning eight characters in eight major cities, and their collaboration with Babylon 5 mastermind J. Michael Straczynski.
Much of Sense8‘s great concept however, is poorly executed. With eight people connected, you might want to know what exactly connected them and how it works. Other than pseudo-medical talk around something called ‘limbic resonance’, Sense8 offers no explanation on its main plot point.
This could be forgiven if the rest of the plot, and plot is a generously applied term in the case of this show, were to make up for it.
Granted, The Wachowskis do not lose themselves to the complexity many viewers cited to be Cloud Atlas’s downfall, but many simply ignored opportunities to expand their own world-building can lead to frustration on part of the viewers. As it stands, Sense8 is predominately concerned with its characters.
The eight twenty-somethings are on first glance wonderfully diverse, ranging from a transgender woman in San Francisco to a coach driver in Namibia, and it’s clear the script was leisurely paced to allow for proper character introduction.
Describing the pace as leisurely however, is putting it mildly, once it becomes clear it is bound to stay that way and the action many viewers glanced in Sense8‘s pre-release trailers stays little and spaced far apart, segmented by near-endless scenes of choked-up dialogue that focuses on the character’s individual problems.
While this might not be perceived as a flaw by many, it goes sharply against the expectations the show initially raised, seeing as any sci-fi, no matter how intelligent, should not have to go without any… well, sci-fi.
Audiences who signed up for action might thus find themselves in more of a soap opera instead.
The characters too, often do not hold up to their initial promise, often seeming more sketched than fully developed. This is on one hand due to some of them receiving markedly more screen time than others, and all of them having been seemingly based on one character trait.
Transgender woman Nomi for example, will mainly talk about her transgender experience, which makes for important representation is is understandable due to Lana Wachowski’s own experiences with the topic, but still does not make for a rounded character.
Similarly most I know about gay Mexican actor Lito is that he really loves his boyfriend and is really struggling with his life in the closet. With a show of twelve episodes however, I could think of other ways to use this, to show, rather than tell.
Also it becomes obvious very early on that for all its diversity, Sense8 cannot seem to shake its American point of view.
All dialogue is in English, an awkward if understandable production decision, but the show is also wilfully stereotypical in other aspects.
The assumption of police sirens being the same in every country might still be nitpicky, but India, home to character Kala, is swiftly equated with Bollywood, while street gangs in San Francisco are led by black thugs, something to frown at especially after recent events in Ferguson.
The relationships between characters too, are often barely alluded to, newly forming romances not based on anything more substantial than attraction, and most interaction never happening physically.
It makes the eight seem much less like a group that grows together, especially since there is also no reason given as to why certain characters have a ‘counterpart’, one of the eight they frequently come across.
With a little-explored sci-fi plot device and characters suffering from bad dialogue (although by no means Jupiter Ascending-levels of bad), the introduction of a good villain might have turned things around for the show.
Alas, the group’s adversary is… a shadowy agency. While this agency wants to capture the group for testing (and because they are dangerous, of course), none of the characters seem to have an interest in uncovering the origin of their abilities or test their limits, and none of their problems, safe for suddenly being shot at with alarming frequency, seems to have arisen from their new connection.
It should make even the most patient viewer wonder what the point to the season is, other than to hope for an actual plot to be developed for a second season, which Sense8 once again sets itself up for with an ambiguous ending.
All too complacent with vague steps in the right direction, Sense8 is astoundingly lazy for such a grand TV series. Viewers who will find characters to identify with will likely stick with it, but while being daring in some respects Sense8 remains utterly average in many others.
Episodes: 12, approx. 65mins per episode
Starring: Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Miguel Àngel Silvestre, Tina Desai, Brian J. Smith