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Summer 2015 Review: Sense8

3 Jul


Sense8 spans the globe, telling a story based on a telepathic connection that exists between certain people around the world. In particular, the focus is on eight people who don’t know each other and have never met in person but have some sort of telepathic link and are bound to figure into each other’s lives in important ways from now on. The scope is vast, as would be expected in a TV show from the Wachowski siblings, who were behind good movies like The Matrix, and bad movies like The Matrix sequels (I’m not even going to mention Speed Racer. Oops, I guess I did).

Daryl Hannah plays a woman, struggling in agony, in the ruins of an abandoned church. Naveen Andrews appears next to her, tells her he loves her, and that she can do it, it being, well, who knows, but something difficult, because she insists she can’t, though he eggs her on. We’re led to believe that Andrews is a projection, talking to her through some sort of telepathy. He, any viewer who has watched television or movies would quickly ascertain, is some sort of force for good. He’s countered by an older gentleman, also an apparition, apparently the force for evil, who attempts to persuade Hannah to join his side instead, and he remains convinced that she will, while Andrews insists that she will not. The bad dude comes in in the flesh, causing Hannah to kill herself rather than be apprehended by him.

Somehow, I think, and I could be getting this wrong, we’re led to believe that she somehow activated the powers of the eight people shown throughout the rest of the episode. These eight, four male, and four female, and I’ll run through them quickly in a moment, have all just started seeing visions, both of Hannah herself, and of each other.

Here we go. First, a Chicago cop who works in gangland south Chicago with his partner. Second, a British DJ, whose boyfriend seems intent on robbing some other dude. Third, a Russian guy who with his brother or cousin robs safes. Fourth, a Mexican soap opera-type actor. Fifth, a South Korean businesswoman being overshadowed by her brother. Sixth, an Indian woman who is about to get married to a very successful man she does not love. Seventh, a San Francisco woman who seems to be some sort of intellectual. Eight, a Kenyan van driver.

Some get more screen time in the first episode than others. The cop, the DJ, the San Franciscan, and the Russian thief, get a lot, while the South Korean woman and then Kenyan driver get almost none.

Most serial supernatural shows go out of their way to lay out a premise and several distinct questions in a plot-heavy pilot, trying to pack as much in to get viewers hooked on the story from just 40 minutes. Sense8, possibly because it’s a Netflix original not shown weekly or subject to the traditional pilot process; it had a full season order straight out of the gate – doesn’t feel obliged to do this. There’s a relatively small amount of plot in the pilot.

And so, well, that’s all I have to go on. The set up feels like one a director or writer would love to put issues of fate all over it, but thankfully Sense8, at least initially, refrains from any fate talk; it doesn’t sound like Tim Kring fake-heavy Touch or Heroes. Still, though, and maybe I’m just used to the packing of plot, but it was kind of boring. It looks pretty; and spanning the world, there’s certainly an epic quality which is welcome in a television series. But, there wasn’t enough for me to bite into. Eight people are now telepathic and supposed to do something good, presumably. The series look good. But what it is stuffed with is characters, and while they seem fine enough I don’t really find any of them so interesting I want to know more from the get go.

It’s tough with these types of shows. You make an investment based on guesswork, and hope that it’s rewarded by watching the rest of the season and the series. Is the hook catchy? Are the dialogue, cinematography and character work sophisticated enough to lift the show to being more than merely its plot?

Could Sense8 turn into something really interesting? Maybe. Does it pull me in from the first episode and make me want to immediately watch a second? Not really.  Sense8 certainly aspires to be more than its mere story, and it well could be, but despite the fact that it sometimes seems like it I can’t watch every episode of every halfway decent looking show and Sense8 doesn’t quite make it over the hump.

Will I watch it again? No, not right now, anyway. The production was impressive, but there just wasn’t enough there for me. Maybe if I hear good things from others who have seen it all, I’ll revisit. I’d be very happy to admit I’m wrong.