Sense8: A Review

Show: Sense8.
Made by: Netflix.
Season: 1.
Released: 2015.

Sense8 is a Science-Fiction/drama online series that was created, written and executive-produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). The story consists of eight individual strangers from different corners of the planet, and from different cultures, and social classes, that come to realize that they are becoming mentally linked to one another.

One of the strengths of this show can be found in the cinematography, particularly its excellent use of editing. The transitions between shots, particularly in moments between two or more characters when they are communicating mentally, reflects the physic merging of minds, particularly during moments of intense action or emotion. The visual fluidity of these transitions reflects the shows premise and offers something to relate to when trying to conceptualize the notion of the commingling of mind, body, and identity for the viewer.

The 8 main protagonist characters are also another strong aspect of the show for the most part, an excellent mix of different personalities and motivations from different cultures and walks of life that make their dynamic interesting to watch as they become closer with one another. Their individual stories particularly with Capheus (Aml Ameen) a Matatu bus driver in Nairobi who is obsessed with Jean Claude Van Dam, runs afoul of criminal organizations while trying to scramble a life for him and his sick mother, and Bak Sun (Bae Doona) from Seoul, who struggles with hard choices to preserve her family image and her own desires, just to name a few examples. Most of the protagonists have their own strong individual stories going on while the overarching supernatural component bleeds them altogether. With stellar acting going into each character, the protagonists are a definite plus in the good show department.

For all the goods that this show has, it is still hampered by some unfortunate weaknesses.

In this television show we are introduced to a few minor and major antagonists such as a somewhat cliché secret organization (for the moment hopefully) that are seemingly headed by a rouge sensate called Whispers (Terrance Mann) (his organization may also be called Whispers as well), though he is so unmemorable that his impact pretty much reflects his tittle in the minds of viewers. There is no clear presentation of his motivations, or personality beyond being the “boogeyman bad guy.” Though his eye-contact-gotcha and puppet mastery abilities are interesting, it doesn’t save him from being a one note villain. An example of the proper use of Boogeyman style antagonists like Whispers is in the show Daredevil (2015, Netflix) and the character Madame Gao. She is original in her creepiness, but not overstated, she is not the main villain, but was always present as this subtle more and more powerful shadow of sinistery that could do in a few minutes of her presence in a shot what Whispers could not do in the series. True, she also has no clear motivations, but her personality, presentation and actions made up for it. Whispers has his own bogeyman quality in his powers, but his lack of clear personality or presence, takes away from his impact as a sinister force, and is mainly there for the sake of plot progression.

The super-secret sinister organization that Whispers heads, or at least is a powerful member of, is alluded to as having a lot of power that works in the shadows hunting down Sensates. At one point we are given a vague explanation for their motivations by Jonas (Naveen Andrews), but it is weak and not exactly ultimately informative, their motivations more a generalized claim on the nature of humanity and even that is rather anemic.

Not that there wasn’t any good antagonists in the show, Silas Kabaka (Peter King Mwania) is a minor antagonist that is part of Capheus individual story arc, a crime lord of significant power who is impressed with Capheus and wishes him to shuttle his daughter to and from her medical appointments. Capheaus is presented as a very dangerous man with a very determined and manipulative personality, but also as a loving father figure, giving him a bit more depth then a one dimensional bad guy. He is Capheus’ vehicle of moral temptation, his presence causing the main character in this individual arc to face hard choices that we as viewers in turn become involved in seeing him overcome.

This is how an antagonist works. Embodying components that challenge the protagonist(s) in a vital way, and each also a reflection of the other to some degree that adds a level of commonality for a believable conflict between them, and singularly defines them (both are men who are willing to do dubious things for family, but there are lines that Caphues will not cross that Kabaka will do without blinking).

Meanwhile the plot itself contains well established main characters and engaging story arcs, with a great variety of settings all around a very interesting and original premise. The only problem with the plot lies in the fact that the characters are reacting a little to calmly to the fact that they are mentally connected to perfect strangers. Humans in their nature are very proud of their individualism despite being a social species, not to mention the inherent right to privacy, particularly in one’s own head, so when something comes along like being a Sensate, that heave these cherished notions out the window for these 8 people who were likely raised with that given sense of knowledge, there should be a bit more of a reaction to this rug pulling among all of them.

In the end this is a very original, and engaging show. Chances are the problems of season one will likely be ironed out in the following season (hopefully), and despite these current problems it shouldn’t scare you off from watching it as the cinematography, acting, fleshed out characters, and the individual story arcs as well as the overarching premise, make this well worth the time to watch.

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