The Wachowskis are often known for their willingness to pursue creativity over trying to mimic mainstream success. Their boldness has produced a wide range of results, from the industry changing Matrix to the recent (perhaps underrated) flop of Jupiter Ascending. But while not every project can muster widespread appeal, we can’t accuse them of being boring. Every time they put their minds to a new idea, they bring something fresh to entertainment.
This is brilliantly exemplified by the most recent gem that is Sense8.
This mystical sci-fi drama follows the lives of eight individuals across the world who become inexplicably linked mentally and emotionally – or what are known as sensates. As the group faces challenges in their very different lives, they begin to borrow from each other’s skills and experiences to get by. Though each character has their own tale to tell, another overarching story unfolds – what exactly is happening to these people? Somewhat expectedly, he group finds themselves the target of a unknown but far-reaching entity lead by a turncoat sensate known as Whispers. Who are they and what do they want? These are the questions the audience and the protagonists face with each episode.
While the series is still under the radar in terms of what we consider a mainstream hit, where it has really found a strong and adoring audience is with often-ignored demographics of minority groups worldwide.
Dedication to Diversity
Sense8 wears its diversity with unapologetic pride, boasting a central cast who range in race, gender, orientation, and culture. Adding to the in-universe representation, the production team pulled in actors who are actually well known in their native countries and were dedicated to filming on location. This often involved painstakingly weaving two separate scenes from characters across the world into a single, shared moment.
Furthermore, each character’s identity and culture is central to his or her arc, from their challenges, to the way their story is filmed, to the mood and lighting in their scenes.
For instance, overdramatic flare follows Lito, the devilishly handsome but closeted Mexican actor whose life plays out like a telenovela. Warm tones and a vibrant Bollywood dance-number paint Kala’s life as a privileged pharmacist in Mumbai. Meanwhile Riley’s scenes often reflect her drifting back and forth between her own inner world and reality, with the background fading away and the mood being cool and detached.
The foreign actors speak in English using grammatical structure that more closely resembles their native language than ours – as much as it can be for us to understand – intentionally done to show us that they are actually speaking, say, German or Korean, but somehow understanding each other.
At times it’s not hard to imagine that every note, every word, every color was carefully selected as a filter into each character’s unique point of view. It’s more than just telling us, but showing us in every detail who these people are, how their cultures affect them, and where their differences and similarities lie.
And yet somehow none of this feels invasive or forced. Despite the unfamiliar worlds of each of these people, the natural and comfortable way in which the actors perform almost makes it feel like home, perhaps the same way they begin to see each other’s worlds as another home.
The Only Drawbacks – Pacing, Complexity, and Inconsistent Character Focus
Warning – minor spoilers ahead in this section
Sense8 is absolutely the type of series that benefits greatly from the Netflix model. I admittedly struggled with the combination of a complex story with extremely slow pacing, at least for the first half of the series. This is not a background-noise type of show. You can and will miss important details so it’s best to give Sense8 your full attention to enjoy it.
I believe this largely has to do with the attempt to tell many individual journeys alongside one major plot. In order to achieve this, some characterization sacrifices had to be made.
Nomi, for instance, is a trans character played by a trans actress who I severely want to find more interesting than she is. Likewise, Will Gorski, while charmingly precious and sweet, isn’t particularly engaging, either. Coincidentally, both of their arcs are central to the main plotline where the sensates are being hunted. Nomi’s hospitalization and Will’s traumatic childhood flashbacks are directly related to the sensate mystery. Meanwhile most of the others get their own unique and culturally driven story that makes them more complex, interesting, and colorful.
In full circle, in all the time it takes to dance around Kala’s marriage indecisiveness, Sun’s horrible family, and Capheus being far too sweet for the world he lives in, the main plot and action doesn’t get going until well into the second half of the series where it picks up dramatically.
But once it does really get going, it’s a fantastic ride.
Also, the long-ass opening sequence is annoying.
Conclusion – If you love character-driven entertainment and enjoy or don’t mind soft sci-fi, watch this series – now.
Despite pacing and minor characterization flaws, Sense8 delivers a wonderful character-centric global story that celebrates the diversity of humanity. You can’t ignore the powerful message – our fate as humans is directly tied to everyone in the world. We are stronger together and our differences turn into strengths when shared. It’s an appreciable evolution from an long history of egotistical sci-fi that seems to forget the world doesn’t revolve around America and Europe. But the series does so by paying a great deal of respect and homage to cultures without reducing them to one-dimensional stereotypes.
It’s a fantastic and captivating journey that will absolutely leave you craving season 2.
Watch the conceptual trailer. It’s awesome.