Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game!
Sex, philosophy, and high octane thrills–these are the first things that come to mind when I think of Sense8, the latest Netflix original series to hit the small screen. Written and directed by the Wachowskis–most famous for their work on The Matrix Trilogy, V For Vendetta, and more recently, Cloud Atlas—Sense8 follows a group of eight strangers from various parts of the world who, one day, become psychically linked, and find themselves able to see, hear, smell, touch and taste what the others do. The eight in question are Will, a Chicago police officer, Riley, an Icelandic DJ, Nomi, a transgender hacker from LA, Lito, a closeted gay Mexican actor, Kala, a Mumbai pharmacist, Capheus, a Kenyan bus-driver, Wolfgang, a German locksmith, and finally, Sun, a South Korean businesswoman. Each of them quickly becomes aware of the others’ existence, acquiring skills and habits that they originally did not possess, and even learning how to communicate with one another, despite all speaking different languages. Things only get worse when a mysterious man named Jonas appears and tells them that they are all being hunted by an unknown organization that wants to kill them. And, well, the story just gets crazier from there on in.
Now, before I go any further, I just want to make a few things clear. First, I actually really like this show–it’s one of the few series that I couldn’t stop watching. And second, I would seriously recommend that most people give it a look–if forced to assign a fractional score, I’d probably give Sense8 a 7.5 out of 10. That said, I do have problems with the series, and would like to bring them up in this review, but only with the hopes that, if the filmmakers do get the chance to produce a second season, they can learn from their mistakes and make an even more awesome show. But, I digress. Back to the review!
I did some research, and found that Sense8 actually started off as a desire the Wachowski’s had to use sci-fi to comment on current events. With hindsight, this seems kind of obvious, seeing as the show touches upon a number of prominent social issues, such as gender, sexuality, identity, and even AIDS. And while I admire the series for that, and for its international setting and cast, I do still have some problems with it.
First of all, when you watch the show, it becomes very clear that certain story lines–specifically, the ones that address the issues I just listed–were given a lot more thought and care than others. You spend a whole lot more time with Nomi and Lito than anyone else. Hell, there are whole episodes where you don’t even see Capheus, Kala, or Sun. Now, on the one hand, I can understand why the Wachowskis would choose to do this. One of them, Lana, is a transgender woman, and I can totally see why she would want to talk about her own experiences and hardships through art. That’s all well and good, but if your primary goal was to discuss gender and sexuality, why include all these other characters? Why not have the show just be about Nomi and Lito? It would give you more time to develop them, and wouldn’t distract the audience from the series’ main objective.
The second issue I have with the show is the fact that, just as certain story lines are given more thought and care than others, so too are some narratives given little to no thought at all. Riley, for instance, is featured in every episode, and yet she does absolutely nothing. I’m serious! 90% of the time she’s on screen, she just sits there, listens to music, and looks sad. She barely talks, and she never initiates anything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that interesting at all. So why are we spending so much time with her? This just goes to show you how poorly thought-out certain narratives in this series are.
The third problem I have with Sense8 is a problem I have with a lot of American films and TV shows set in other countries–that being that the depiction of those countries and their people is pretty stereotypical. Nairobi, for instance, is shown as a never-ending slum, overflowing with drugs, hookers, and warlords. Similarly, Berlin is portrayed as a grey, dreary, over-cast puddle where no one smiles. And as if the environments in which you see these characters interacting isn’t cliche enough, the characters themselves are more or less archetypes. Kala, for instance, is a “modern Indian woman” who doesn’t want to marry a man she doesn’t love. Sun, likewise, is an amalgamation of every stereotype Westerners have about East Asian Females–she stoic, knows martial arts, and is regularly abused by men. All I’m saying is, if you want to have your story be set in all different parts of the world, do your best to represent those parts accurately.
But, if you ask me, the biggest error that the creators of Sense8 made was having their characters be kind of stupid. What I mean by that is there are numerous points in the series where the characters wind up in unpleasant circumstances, and these circumstances are ones that the protagonists could easily have avoided. Kala, for instance, doesn’t want to marry a man named Rajan, but goes along with the wedding anyway. Why? It’s not like this is an arranged marriage. The series goes out of its way to explain how this is a consensual union, and how both her and Rajan’s families are super modern and progressive-minded. So, if Kala really didn’t want to marry him, she could just have easily said no, and then there’d be no problem. Similarly, Sun’s predicament is one that she could easily have gotten out of. See, she and her brother are executives in their father’s company, and after a while, you find out that her brother’s been embezzling money. So, Sun, being the gracious and loving older sister, takes the blame for all his crimes, and goes to prison. Just one small problem with this–in absolutely no way does she have to! The series shows numerous instances of her father and brother treating her like shit, and of her hating their guts in equal measure, so why would she go to prison for them? It just doesn’t seem logical. All I can think is that the creators were trying to ride the coat-tails of Orange Is The New Black’s success, which, as most of you probably know, is all about women in the prison system. But, either way, the choices that the characters in this series make are ridiculous, and when they get into trouble for making them, I don’t really feel much sympathy. Let’s just hope the writers come up with some better ideas next season.
But, all these criticisms aside, I do still think there’s a lot to admire with this show. It’s well acted, the premise is interesting, and there are a lot of touching and profound moments in it. All I can say is that, if the creators learn from their mistakes next season, they just might have themselves a perfect show. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.