As if the opening credits weren’t enough to let you know you’re watching something socially important, SENSE8 season two picks up right where it left off its Christmas Special, ham-fistedly preaching about empathy with characters more suited to a Calvin Klein catalog, than a show about the necessity and higher power of love. I found enough mystery in season one to offset the thematic issues I had with the show. But now that we’re in the thick of it and most of the mythology has been revealed, the show has exposed how thin its premise and rules really are. When you cut out the estimated forty percent of slow motion scenes of people hugging and crying, you’re not left with a whole lot. To be fair to them, the show could fix that quite easily by just having less episodes instead of ascribing to the now outdated model of ten episodes. But as it is, there’s just too much time to fill with an idea that doesn’t ask enough questions for all the answers it proposes.
It’s not that season two is worse than season one, but rather that it can’t hide its flaws as easily. So if you loved the first season you’ll love the second, but if you were on the fence and only interested in the mystery of it, there’s not much left for you to keep watching. The needs of TV are different than film, and where the Wachoswki’s tend to excel is posing a wide idea and then depicting its surface level visually. Think back to “Cloud Atlas,” “Speed Racer” or the first “Matrix.” They’re all highly executed and visually entertaining movies that succeed at showing us a glimpse of a dynamic and new world. But TV requires much more mining than a film does. Just look at how much weaker Matrix Revolutions and Reloaded were, Or the abject failure that Jupiter Ascending was when the need to build a mythology kicked in. Mythology is something that films do well by not filling in the blanks. Television, by virtue of the time it occupies, needs to fill in the blanks and paint within the lines. Sense8 would have benefited immensely by doing something more unconventional like the OA, having a shorter season while playing with the form and making it fit to the show, rather than the other way around.
Tonally, as with season one, season two is completely in love with itself and what it’s trying to say. The preciousness to me is unbearable and its central thesis while interesting as a thought experiment does not make for compelling television once the cards have all been laid out on the table. Look back at the second conversation Caphaeus has with his new love interest Zakia. They discuss their liberal naivety in a way that marks it as fact rather than theory. Yes we know that the moral and just path is the more difficult one, but then show it as being more difficult. The strangeness of the show is how it constantly rewards its characters for being good without ever really putting them through a trial. Whenever things are tough they constantly have someone there to fix things or comfort them. The result of this is that it makes anyone who doesn’t live like them or see things their way seem ridiculous. So what happens is that it’s a show about empathy that has zero empathy for anyone beyond its heroes and their loved ones.
I recognize plot wise that BTO needs to have some philosophical reason for wanting to test the Sensates. But we never get enough of the world outside the Sensates to understand why the government is worried about them and not more in awe. The moment we have someone who can provide that view point he’s murdered by the cartoonishly evil Whispers. Whispers continues to be such a creep it’s hard to believe he has a family or has ever had a regular relationship with another human being. His interaction with his wife is just bizarre, and he’s basically our only tie to the counter, so I have no choice but to root for everything the Sensates do and want.
The lack of grace or humility in a show that constantly asks for understanding is truly astounding. Everyone is constantly learning and gaining wisdom from simplistic platitudes like: “Life is a big trap made up of many little traps,” or “Art needs a bit of mystery, something that resists us.” These lines are spoken and then followed up by really long looks of our Sensates understanding life better. The idea being that through their evolution they just feel things better than most of us but sometimes lack the words to organize them. We should feel sorry for them for being so connected and vulnerable. In episode three Sun is being hung, and we’re treated to a montage of every actor dropping to the floor and pretending to be hung while people around them look sort of stunned and confused. Not one actor is strong enough to sell such a silly looking action amidst the overly dramatic music and treatment of the situation. The handling of the changes of scenery were mysterious enough that when they first happened it just seemed jarring and interesting. But now, most moments involve two actors acting while a third just stands there and says, “what are they saying?”
Then there’s just a host of strange production choices that stand out to me. The show is clearly expensive but the most they do to make Daryl Hannah look young in flashbacks is give her a ponytail so that she looks like an old woman pretending to be a college student. Everyone still speaks English to one another no matter where they are in the world. Apparently old Korean women are fluent in English, which maybe in fact they are, but I doubt they speak it to each other. And now that our Sensates know how to wield their power the show makes no attempt at explaining the physical effects beyond what the camera tricks allow to see. For example, what’s actually happening to someone’s body when their mind is somewhere else? In a film I think it would be much more surreal, but because there’s always a constant need for plot the show can’t just do that, and instead employs these very fast and confusing cuts back and forth between conversation in different locations. Does this travel make their heads hurt? Does it feel like anything? There just isn’t any world building to it beyond the basics.
I never know how seriously I’m supposed to take a situation, so that by the time something as intense as Jonas getting his brain taken out happens, the moment has lost all gravity. The show will take us from one scene where someone is getting injured, to a funny sit-com type scenario and do nothing to bridge the gap. Humor is one thing that definitely falls flat when it’s attempted, but stubbornly the show keeps trying for it. There’s just no discipline to the series at all, they’ll throw action in when they want, humor, tragedy, what have you. Take Amanita’s hilariously boring motorcycle chase and look how over the top Nomi’s reaction is to it right after Amanita walks into their home completely unscathed. It’s really just plot for plots sake and it does nothing to actually move the story or characters forward. The binary world of the show is incredibly trite, leaving the characters to always say what they’re thinking or feeling. At one point Kala stares off at the sky and says “Do I believe in happy endings anymore?” Sorry, but where’s the tragedy in her life again? Why is she suddenly all down with this amazing super power she has and extremely rich life in one of the poorest countries in the world? The defining example of this is when Lito walks into the bar where he kissed the waiter and is thanked by him for showing so much courage. The scene amazingly ends with the bartender telling him he proposed to his long hidden boyfriend…who happens to be sitting at the bar right behind him!
We’re just a few episodes into season two but I find almost everything about the show insulting and distasteful. It would be fine if the Wachowski’s didn’t make such a show about the moral arguments they’re putting forward. This is honestly the kind of show and philosophy and people criticize the left with as being out of touch.
Some Random Thoughts:
-Capheus’ humility is now just borderline stupid. Being a sensate seems not to open him up to the idea that he’s more than just a “matutu driver.” You’d think he might have a better understanding of the world and society’s self imposed limits at this point.
-Lito using his acting as the talent to help the group with is consistently the dumbest part of the show. It’s incredible that they try to equate him with the others and continue to jam him into scenes just to get him to do something.
-The Episode two cliff hanger is really goofy for a giant moment that’s supposed to make us worry. Even though it’s not supposed to be funny, episode three begins with Will dumbly saying, “fuck, he’s dead,” as if his limp body and pool of blood weren’t enough to suggest that.
Season 2, Episodes 2-4 (S02E02-04)
Sense8 airs May 5th on Netflix
Greg Brecher | Contributor