GENRE: Sci-Fi, Drama
EPISODES: 12 (1 season)
CREATED BY: The Wachowskis, J. Michael Straczynski
DIRECTED BY: The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue, Dan Glass
UK CHANNEL: Netflix
STARRING: Aml Ameen, Bae Doona, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Tuppence Middleton, Max Riemelt, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Brian J. Smith, Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah
PLOT: A group of people around the world are suddenly linked mentally, and must find a way to survive being hunted by those who see them as a threat to the world’s order.
The Wachowskis are a pretty unique brother and sister team, who like nothing more than delivering head-fuck cinema. Sometimes it works (The Matrix), sometimes it doesn’t (Jupiter Landing) and sometimes you just have no idea what the hell is going on (Cloud Atlas). But they always twist your head in ways that others can’t, so when I heard they were making their first TV series I was very excited.
Sense8 is a tale of eight twenty-somethings, who unexpectedly become telepathically linked. These ‘sensates’ are from various cities around the world and each character has their own culture, career, troubled past and particular skillset. Capheus is a Nigerian bus driver obsessed with Jean Claude Van Damme, Sun Bak is a kickboxing businesswoman from Seoul, Nomi is a transgender lesbian hacktivist, Kala is a hindu pharmacist preparing for an arranged marriage, Riley is an Icelandic DJ in London, Wolfgang is a German safecracking locksmith, Lito is a Mexican action-movie star hiding his homosexuality and Will is maverick Chicago cop.
The show starts with the suicide of Angelica, played by Daryl Hannah, which sets in motion an interconnection between the characters where they can visit and interact with the other sensates and their surroundings. As the show goes on and they become more aware of how to control this power it allows each to use their personal skills to help others out of sticky situations, such as Sun Bak taking over Capheus’ body during a violent struggle. Using her kickboxing skills she is easily able to see off his attackers and creates the myth that Capheus, now known as Van Damme, is a peoples champion with awesome combat skills.
It would be difficult to talk too much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but the story follows a pretty standard path with a shady government agent called Whispers hunting down the sensates to either destroy them or use them as puppets to do his bidding. However it is the back stories of each character that give the show a unique feel as it deals with the often taboo subjects of sexuality, politics, religion, freedom and personal identity. A spaghetti junction of plot twists are to be expected from US serials, but rather than follow that path, the Wachowskis run eight parallel and intertwining stories at once and this keeps each episode feeling fresh and exciting.
There is a definite movie feel to the direction of the show and we are treated to some quite graphic violence (particularly in the Nigerian story thread), but this isn’t the only gratuitous blood that is on display. Birth plays a very strong part in the tale and in one scene as the sensates all watch a concert pianist play they all experience visions of their own birth with no modesty sparred. The cesarean section scene is particularly gruesome and had me covering my eyes at one point!
Sexuality is another heavily explored theme and whilst there isn’t a huge amount of nudity, there are some quite graphic sex scenes which are thrown at the viewer almost immediately with a quite unexpected lesbian sex scene in the very first episode. It doesn’t feel like these are gratuitous though and they are directed in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative.
The cast on the whole is very good, though a couple of roles are a little stereotypical (Brian J. Smith is your typical American cop hero and Max Riemelt your standard German thug), but I was impressed by the diverse cast and performances. However the one role that I struggled with a little was that of Nomi. Played by Jamie Clayton who herself is transgender, I found her completely believable for the most part, but the delivery of her lines often felt stiff and fake. Whether this is due to the necessary changing of ones voice when taking on a trans lifestyle or a reflection of Clayton’s acting skill I don’t know.
Although there are no super powers or mutant skills, the show has a feel of the NBC series Heroes, which I am happy to see is being resurrected this autumn. I would absolutely recommend that you give Sense8 a try and I am certain that a new series will be commissioned soon. Cleverly, the show could quite easily continue the story of the same group of sensates or it could introduce us to a whole new cluster (or both).
Sense8 was released on 5th June as a complete series on the Netflix subscription service. I like this model as it allows you to binge on the show rather than stretching a series out over 12 weeks. Netflix is fast becoming a must have for TV fans as they create more and more exclusive and original content.
TV SHOW REVIEW
Sense8 has a rare cinematic feel that makes it standout from similar shows, without overdoing things with Wachowski-like special effects. Eight parallel and intertwining stories at once keeps each episode feeling fresh and exciting.