With the complete second season of Sense8 about to debut on Netflix in just two days -- the first two episodes of the second season were a December 2016 special -- I thought it a good time to look back at the first season, as prelude to a review of the 2nd season in a few days.
Remarkable - and welcome - Sense8 was. Telepathic connections used to be a big theme in science fiction through the 1950s, but for some reason hadn't made much of an appearance in the past 50 years. Sense8 does a great job of this, and presents a story that not only needed to be told on screen rather than page, but over 12 episodes rather than a few-hour movie.
The story -- of eight people around the world, in their 20s (all born at the same instant), who suddenly discover they are telepathically connected, and then find that elements of the rest of humanity are hunting and trying to exterminate them -- has roots in the late lamented Heroes. But that series had many heroes with many different powers, and, given the limitations of traditional network television (NBC), we saw very little of the world on those screens.
Netflix has liberated all kinds of storytelling, and the world panorama it affords Sense8 provides a literally vivid and pulsating environment for the story, which takes place not only in the United States, but Iceland, India, Africa, South Korea, London, and Germany. And not only do we get a vibrantly rainbow mix of nationalities and cultures in Sense8, but a portrayal of just about every mutually consenting sexual activity, presented with sensitivity, style, and humor.
The different talents of the eight sense8s become the basis of the action sequences, with each of the eight characters being available to contribute her or his talents - martial arts, medical knowledge, computer savvy, etc - via telepathic input when another is in danger or dire need. These rescuing visitations, even though we come to expect them, remain surprising and satisfying through the ending. And there's much more than fight scenes in Sense8 - one of the most memorable, indeed in all of television, is a scene in which one of the sense8s is singing, and the others are hearing and joining in in their own ways around the world. To describe this almost seems corny; to see it is beautiful and breathtaking. (In our own reality, you can feel some of this power in the Song Around the World videos - I posted one at the end of this review.)
The deeper metaphysics or science fictional premises of Sense8 are plausible and well handled well. We are correctly told, at a crucial point in the story, that just as only a fraction of our DNA separates humans from chimps, so a fraction could engender the difference between sense8s and the rest of us humans.
Sense8 is a creation of J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis (Lana and Lilly), and their best work in years. Highly recommended for a different, bright and colorful and profound and dangerous, kind of science fiction.
And hey -- here's my review of the first two episodes of Season 2
The Mental, the Digital, and the Palpable
Among the best scenes, as in the first season, are the all-eight events, including in the two new episodes: a birthday celebration (all eight in the cluster have the same birthdate), a Christmas celebration, and an eight-person orgy. All were moving -- especially the Christmas celebration, topped off with a beautiful rendition of the recently late Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Christmas scenes are difficult to do in an original way, but Sense8 did this quite memorably (that is, in an un-trite and emotionally powerful way).
The fight scenes were also good, as also in the first season. These scenes, in which members of the cluster with martial arts skills take over the fight of someone else in the cluster who doesn't quite have them, are a fresh perspective to martial arts gambits and are always welcome to see.
The science in the story was furthered, too, with Jonas helpfully explaining that, for sense8s, memories are transmitted along with genetic material to offspring. This gives sense8s a valuable cognitive connection to the past, in addition to members of their cluster.
The main threat remains Mr. Whispers, who now has an in with Bill. Fortunately, Whispers, though despicably powerful, is not without some flaws, which Bill, aided by Riley and the others, may be able to exploit. Riley and Will are now the most interesting couple in the group, because, as they both say as they physically hug each other, they're now able to hold in their arms what they previously had held only in the minds.
That, in effect, captures the essence of the series - the intersections of the mental (throw in digital, too) and the palpable physical, and I'm looking forward to more on May 5.
Song Around the Workd
Realspace: The Fate of Physical Presence in the Digital Age
The Silk Code
"As a genre-bending blend of police procedural and science fiction, The Silk Code delivers on its promises" -- The New York Times Book Review