Sunday, 2 August 2015

TV Show Review: Sense8 Season 1 (2015)


©Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com

USA; 12 episodes; sci-fi, drama
Channel: Netflix
Creator: Andy and Lana Wachowski, J. Michael Straczynski
Cast: Aml Ameen, Bae Doona, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Tuppence Middleton, Max Riemelt, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Brian J. Smith, Freema Agyeman, Anupam Kher, Terrence Mann, Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah


A dark room with high ceilings and colored glass windows, maybe an old church or an abandoned train station... Where are we? Amidst rubble lies a woman in a white gown. But, just like the mattress she is bedded on, the dress is dirty and stained. In a shot that resembles the production of a one-woman play, said woman is at center stage moaning and squirming in obvious pain. Who is she? Suddenly, in a desperate gesture, she stretches her arm upward as if reaching for someone or something – and a man supportively grabs her hand. He protectively encloses her in his arms and seems to coax her toward something. What does he want? The woman zones out and, saying she can see them now, is transported to a bunch of different places. In various locations she focuses on a single person and just stares at them. Who are they? Back in the dark, high-ceilinged place we get a long shot of the woman crouching on the mattress by herself. Yet, she still seems to be talking to the guy who grabbed her hand. Where is he? Suddenly we can see him again and he is urging her to do the right thing. She is struggling, and all of the sudden a man appears at her other side, very close as well and telling her to do the opposite of what she has been told before. Where did he come from? The men, it seems, can't communicate with each other, so we have to believe it is the woman who holds the connection – perhaps only in her head? Her mind seems to be made up now, and from somewhere she takes a gun into her mouth and shoots herself. What the hell?! The second man that appeared in what we assumed was the woman's imagination bodily approaches the scene of violence and we are left to wonder what we just witnessed. Maybe we don't have to understand, but just experience in a way we didn't know before... Sense8.


© Netflix | Source: Mashable
The pilot episode of the Netflix original series Sense8 starts off with some serious challenges for our brain cells. But who expected anything less from a series by the masterminds behind The Matrix. The Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski created, wrote, and executively produced this new 12-part science fiction drama that takes us into the minds, emotions, and relationships of eight different people from around the world. If the show can fulfill the expectations I got from this promising set-up, I’ll tell you in this TV Show Review.

Technically and stylistically Sense8 makes a lot of unexpected and unconventional choices in film making that underline the general confusion we are meant to feel because of the plot. The opening credits serve as a stark contrast to the introductory scene I described before. Instead of dark, destroyed places we see a montage of sunny and bright skylines and vivid scenes of odd and everyday within different cities. What starts as a relief in suspense quickly picks up speed again with quicker cuts, moving people, and increasingly urgent music. Then the bright colors abruptly end with the start of the next scene. Additionally, the use of mostly non-mainstream music or strategically
© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
placed extremely mainstream music and silence gives the show a certain edge. A lot of close-ups and semi close-ups clearly demonstrate that Sense 8 is a show about people. We learn a lot about the random everyday lives of these people and see them in very intimate situations. It appears there is nothing that can't be shown. The eight people are also the fix-point during scene transitions. A person from one storyline will appear in another and take the viewer with him or her. There are also hard cuts from one scene to the next while cross-fading the sounds that rip you out of the action and transport you to another place without really being there, just as it is happening to the characters.

What makes Sense8, in my opinion, are the characters or sensates as they are called here. The show’s creators gave birth to a complex and diverse group of people whose personal struggles and interactions keep the show going at any point. There is Riley (played by Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJane, who left for London because she believed to be cursed. Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith) is a cop in Chicago with a criminal past. Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a transgender woman based in San Fransisco, who finds solace in the arms of her girlfriend Amanita. Capheus (Aml Ameen) is a Kenyan bus driver and passionate fan of action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Max Riemelt plays formerly East-German Wolfgang Bogdanow, who cracks safes with his best friend Felix in Berlin. Kala
© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
Dandekar (Tina Desai) is an Indian woman unhappily engaged to a Mumbai entrepreneur. Then there is also Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a Mexican actor, who can’t find the courage to publically stand by his boyfriend Hernando. Finally, Doona Bae plays Sun Bak, a business woman in Seoul, who goes to prison for her brother to save her father’s honor. The nationally, racially, and gender-wise diverse storylines seek authenticity by using actors from similar origins as their characters and by letting directors and film teams familiar with the settings create the different storylines. This works really well. As does the look into the deep, dark secrets of the characters’ psyches.


What does not work, however, is the development of comprehensible connections between the different personas. Unfortunately, there is a lack of logical storylines. These eight people go from being shocked and overwhelmed by the sudden connection with seven other people in the pilot to suddenly being entirely comfortable with switching consciousnesses with each other and collectively tackling situations a few episodes later. By itself this might work, if by that point we’d have gotten some sort of explanation for what is happening to them, which we have not. What is even more shocking is that there are only some sensates who actually do try to solve the mystery of their
© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
connection. The rest is simply comfortable continuing their lives as they were. There is no denying the chemistry between different sensates, like Riley and Will or Wolfgang and Kala, yet the build-up to their relationships is sloppy in plot development.

This rings true for the majority of the show. It seems like the creators cockily envisioned a multi-season gig instead of embracing the 12-episode-format. By the end of these episodes there is only slightly more clarity than after the first hour of the show. In Matrix-style there is a dark organization behind it all that is trying to control and kill the sensates and that the 8 minds have to escape from. But how and why? This conspiracy is not thought through and, in between desperately trying to build up romantic relationships between different sensates, seems rushed. While the last episode goes back to the fate
© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
of the woman, who killed herself in the pilot, there are many questions left unanswered. This characteristic of not being able to narrow the plot down to 12 hours is also reflected in the characters personal storylines. There is a clear imbalance between the different characters’ screen time. The Mexican actor Lito and San Fransisco-based Nori get a lot of attention. As do the budding relationships between Riley and Will and Wolfgang and Kala. Because of that a lot of other strings of storyline are neglected or forgotten. That Sun Bak vows to bring her brother to justice or Capheus’ quest to help his sick mother is mentioned, but not continued. It seems there are clear favorites among the characters and some of the other sensates are mere providers of skills (like Sun’s martial arts) to help these favorites.

© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
While a lot of choices on how to realize the show are innovative and exciting, it sometimes takes things too far. We get it, ‘heey it’s Netflix and not network television and we get to show all the nudity and violence we want!’. Good for you! But why?! Yes, some of these network restrictions are archaic and prudish and I don’t oppose nakedness and action-related blood spatter per se, but there has to be a point to it. This is really what irritated me most about the show. While of course the show has a clear sci-fi angle to it, you don’t just drive by a locksmith’s shop in central Berlin and shoot someone with a bazooka without anyone taking notice. No. Don’t aim at realistic settings and plausible character traits then. I know pop culture and television are all about constantly upping the ante, but if you want to be edgy and fresh, sometimes less is more. Also, nudity is great! Yeah, go for it if it fits the storyline, but in a way that makes sense, please. It seems Max Riemelt is in the nude any time he is not shooting something. Trying to relax and work out at a public pool – naked – or interrupting Kala’s wedding – naked – are just a few of the very plausible situations for his exhibitionism. The final montage of episode 10 features a way too close and personal view of the different sensates birth and there is also too much sex for sex’s sake in Sense8 for my
© Netflix | Source: fishsticktheatre.com
taste. If you want to show how close the characters are or how passionate, fine, go for it. But to me it should add to the plot in some way at least, since I did not decide to watch senseless porn, but a show with a storyline. Also, as the sensates are all mentally connected, if one is having sex all are having sex. This culminates in an orgy-like scene in one episode, where all of them devour each other. Aesthetically maybe choreographed nicely, but the involuntary nature of this connection and choice of partner(s) sort of leaves a weird and bitter taste behind…
 

With Sense8 Netflix tries to jump onto the popular sci-fi wagon with the help of the brains behind The Matrix the Wachowskis. While the show does have an excitingly edgy feel to it and a mentally challenging and promising idea behind it, Sense8 can’t live up to its expectations. Not even the very diverse cast, characters, and storylines can make up for the lack of logic and perseverance in the story. With the show’s fate still in the air, I am torn between wanting a second season of something that holds a lot of promise and having enough of a failed attempt at being clever and innovative. If Sense8 does get a second chance, there have to be some serious changes made in drawing up logical storylines that bring some degree of clarity and reward to us viewers.

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2 comments:

  1. I see your point concerning the endless boundary-pushing sex- and violence-wise, although I have to say that "cluster-f**k" (wink-wink) at the end of episode 6 is just a beautiful piece of filmmaking.

    I loved Sense8 all the way through. But I was never looking for answers - I just enjoy the concept and the situations that arise from it. Whenever two sensates meet I got all tingly...

    I can see why many people were frustrated in the end, because we hadn't learned anything new about the conspiracy (especially when the show seemingly dealt with that stuff) but I was enjoying the whole journey.
    You probably didn't like the Lost-Finale, either, right? :)

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    1. actually, I really enjoyed the lost finale. It didn't give all the answers, but enough to provide a form of closure and fulfillment where it counted, meaning in the reunion of this fellowship of plane crash survivors.

      And this connetion of the people I do also totally get in Sense8, and I agree there are a lot of beautifully shot sequences in there, but what I was missing were the links between all the things going on. You don't have to give me all the answers, but if you, as it seems, want to send a message that has some depth and significance to me, then you at least have to explain enough.

      As I said, the show had and hopefully has a lot of potential and I just hope the show makers take a look at the way they were telling the story and will follow through a bit more ;)

      But I am glad you enjoyed Sense8 and thanks for the comment :)

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