Ensemble television is a fickle mistress. They run a risk of spending too much time with some characters, not enough with others, and potentially developing a muddied and convoluted narrative. A show like LOST comes to mind the most when I think about an ensemble show that executed its intent well enough to be loved by many, liked by more, and infuriating to the rest.
It is surely a daunting and exhausting task, but when you take J. Michael Straczynski, who has a long history of creating television and movie gold, and The Wachowski’s, who have proven themselves as masters of visual execution and creativity, what are you going to get from it all? Well, you get Sense8, a show that uses the imagination to entertain. It tells us that we are all people and deserve to be treated and respected as such. It also goes international by giving us characters from all over the world to root for.
Sense8 tells the story of eight strangers: Will (Brian J. Smith), Riley (Tuppence Middleton), Capheus (Toby Onwumere), Sun (Doona Bae), Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), Kala (Tina Desai), Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), and Nomi (Jamie Clayton) – each from a different culture. In the aftermath of a tragic death, they each experience what they perceive as dreams or visions, and suddenly find themselves growing mentally and emotionally connected. Imagine it, one day you are a normal grown adult and then suddenly you have seven imaginary friends that are actual people in other parts of the world.
Season two takes the promises and building blocks of season one: here are your main characters; here they are learning how to work with and adjust to this new ability; here is the major threat to them all. It then puts this foundation to work by fleshing out the rest of the world, and adds some fun camera tricks to create great effects to punch the story up. It turns out there are more people like them, and that threat is much bigger than they thought.
Overall, this season felt stronger then the first and some things that marred year one were toned down to a more effective level. See, what the show is really about is people and how we are all equal and we should not let gender, skin color, social economic background, and what other stick of measurement can be called out mean anything more than we are ALL just people. The show does an amazing job of getting that message across, when it’s not trying a bit too hard to get that message across.
The opening credits are a prime example of what I am talking about. A video montage in stunning 4K quality takes you all over the world, but it goes back to: here’s a gay pride parade, here are two men sharing ice cream from the same cone at the exact same time, another pride parade, and at least two or more images as such. It’s the visual equivalent of needing a hammer but grabbing a sledge. Use just one of those images, it’s all you need to tell your story, four or five images means you are putting more weight on that element than anything else.
Second, the first season was over indulgent in the sexual games that could be played by people with this sort of bond. They even found a way to indulge themselves in a Christmas episode…a freaking Christmas episode. Were the moments of heavy petting or dog piling tantalizing? Yes, but their use and execution feels more like Hannah Baker’s suicide, or the hanging scene in 12 Years a Slave. It is on the screen for an uncomfortably long period of time. Thankfully season two made the sharing more about what’s on the inside and less about getting in on the inside.
The overall story of the season is heavy. Appropriate viewing equipment may be a notebook, remote with a robust pause button, a map, an abacus, and the ever important bowl of popcorn. This season isn’t the kind that would allow you to watch casually. Each episode it so dense that answering a text message may cause the viewer to miss something. Is this a good or bad thing? I say it depends on the type of person you are.
Personally, deep dive shows are fun, immersive, and a credit to the writers and creators. Our sensates are just as fun and compelling as they were in the previous season. One of our actors was replaced this season, something that is normally distracting, but the character was given a little more to do and due to the amount of weight in the story, the viewer isn’t given enough time to consider the consequences. The standout of the season was Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a closeted Mexican action star outed and trying to find his way. Silvestre played a character whose life is a shambles and has lost his career, and managed to make him both sympathetic and funny. Kick Gurry joins the cast as Puck, a new sensate that lives up to his name, adding a level of depth to the sensate community as well as exemplifying the naughtier nature of sharing experiences. Valeria Bilello adds a darker element playing a sensate willing to sell out her own kind. Terrance Man as Whispers, comes back this season and they kept him terrifying, but they also showed him with his family which oddly makes him feel softer as a character.
Season Two of Sense8 is a strong piece of genre television, you know “genre”, that word they use when they don’t know where to categorize it. Is it a Drama? Is Sci-Fi? Is it Action-Adventure? Really, what difference does it make? It’s a fun show with people you can enjoy time with. Would I suggest this show to anyone to watch? No, this show is most decidedly not for everyone. That is coming from a person who enjoys watching this series enough times to ensure absorption of as many story elements as possible. If you are open-minded, and are able to look passed some of the more explicit, shall we say, story elements, then you will find a charming and engaging group of people who will tell you a good story about the world they live in.