Review: Sense8

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Scintillating

The Wachowski's are back in great form, rounding out one of the most promising new series of 2015.

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We live in an era of global media saturation. The internet has forced us all closer than we’ve ever been before, as cultural walls begin to crack to let us see into other people’s worlds. Technology is beginning to do what our parents warned us it would, gluing us the devices that connect us to one another. There will soon come a time when this consistent, familiar connection to the world around us will feel necessary and even make the alternative feel unthinkable. Enter Sense8.

Earlier this year, Sense8 hit our computer screens in the form of one of those high profile Netflix-exclusive television series all the kids are talking about. The 12 episode series is the latest offering from Lana and Andy Wachowski, well remembered for creating The Matrix (1999) in collaboration with J. Michael Straczynski, the writer of Changeling (2008). The series revolves around eight characters of diverse origin located all around the world, who discover themselves to be linked to one another through a mysterious cerebral connection, that allows them to communicate with one another, share memories and borrow one another’s skills. Together, they discover that they are all more than human, and are wanted for some nefarious purpose by a shadowy and powerful corporation.

The series manages to beautifully juggle the lives and development of all eight characters, switching naturally between each of them. One minute we’re in Mexico City, as the famous actor Lito Rodriguez prepares for his next big role, while in Nairobi, Capheus the van driver struggles to support his fledgling business, as Nomi Marks enjoys pride in San Francisco with her girlfriend. Although the consistent switching of character and location has been criticised by some as incomprehensible, the show goes to great lengths to keep the viewer up to date, moving at a comfortably slow pace and easing us into the wider concepts at work.

When the show picks up, it reads like a modern spy thriller, if you’re willing to replace the grim and masculine Jason Bourne with the unlikely and considerate Chicago police officer Will Gorski. Individually, these characters are all clueless people with complex problems of their own, Will, for instance, deals with gang violence and the vicious animosity between the kids living in bad neighbourhoods and the police, doing whatever he can to try and stop the violence, to the disappointment of his father. While in Mumbai, Kala Dandekar is studying to become a pharmacist and is having second thoughts about her arranged marriage. These problems are shared across the characters and as the series progresses, and they share their knowledge and insight to help one another, they allow their lives to become shared as well. Indeed, much of the story has very little to do with shadowy corporations and psychic warfare.

What the show does seem to have in a pleasantly surprising abundance, is an emphasis on LGBT issues, such as the psychology of closeting and life as a transgender woman. Themes of sexual liberation run rampant across the show, as it features multiple sex scenes, one of which is shared through the sensate connection which results in a beautifully shot, yet unforeseen psychic orgy, in which the characters enter one another’s minds in a highly sexual display of affection. For anyone who’s been looking out for it, this is essentially the Matrix Revolutions moment, in which the Wachowskis really double down on how weird and unique they’re prepared to be. This scene in particular will probably stand as a significant hurdle for those unwilling to stretch their suspension of disbelief.

Ultimately, Sense8 makes for a breath of fresh air, moving in and out of genres, from action thriller to mystery conspiracy and then right back into kitchen sink drama, throwing conventional television formulas out the window to offer something very different to what any of us are used to. If you were a fan of Cloud Atlas (2012), you’ll most likely enjoy this colourful series. Although, if the incomprehensibility of constantly changing characters and thematic tones is a bridge too far, then this might be one for you to avoid. Whatever the case, Netflix have renewed the eclectic series for a second season as of August 8th, though there are currently no details regarding the premiere date.

All 12 episodes of Sense8 are available to stream now on Netflix.

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