In case it hasn’t been made clear in my past reviews, I really dislike SENSE8 and do not think it’s worth your time to watch. I’ve gone over why I find this show to be a complete mess with very ugly themes masquerading under a blend of high octane action and emotional prestige, so I won’t belabor the point too much and just focus on a few points that I particularly disliked for their tone deaf approach to what the show seems to want to do. To be clear, I like a show that calls for more human empathy in our world, in fact I think the best shows do this without stating it. But the insidious thing about Sense8 is that it hides behind this higher calling while doing the exact opposite, and thus trivializes all the points it’s trying to make. If you want to know more about the human condition watch “Rectify,” a decidedly un-diverse show that relishes in the small moments of being human. Sense8 hides a very stupid show behind a multi racial and queer cast that make it seem at first glance as if it’s doing something positive for television and media. In fact though all it does is double down on the stereotypes and otherness that alienates its subjects even further.
My “Captain Planet” reference after viewing the Christmas Special seems all the more pertinent now after having watched through episodes 8 of season two. Our cluster of sensates is effectively a group of perfect human beings by the standards of the show. The problem with perfection in character story-wise, is that it’s just boring. Think to the difference between the perfect Superman and the more human Batman. Being perfect robs you of stakes, so that when any sensate finds them selves in a difficult place, there’s immediately someone there with the perfect set of skills to get them out of it. There’s no question of them ever being in danger, and while that was true in season one as well, now that the gang knows how to communicate better and seems in control of their powers, we’ve completely lost any chance at surprise. A bolder show would have at least killed off one of the cast by now, but Sense8 is too in love with its glossier moments to ever sacrifice a character for story and theme. It won’t ever let go of its painfully long slow-motion montages of the sensates staring at each other. It won’t let go of its hilariously overly simplistic views on the world and why hate seems to persist over love. It can’t do anything of meaning until it makes its characters human, and not perfect.
Our heroes always know the right course of action, they’re always in the right. Will mentions at one point to Sun that a cop “knows when he has to fight,” letting us know that there is such thing as a just battle. So when Sun decides she needs to kill her brother, the group support her. And why wouldn’t they? Sun’s brother is such a clearly evil person that of course the world would be better off without him. The same is true of Wolfgang’s Berlin enemies, Capheus’ political rivals, Lito’s enemy Joaquin, and of course the ridiculous Mr. Whispers. The show suggests that humans and humanity can be perfect provided that we weed out the ones who just look to disrupt that harmony. Episode seven brings in the issue of a mass shooting occurring at a mosque. Of course they side step the political aspect of this and attribute it to the evil Mr. Whispers. But before it’s clear what the reason is, Nomi says to Neeta: “how much better would the world be if these guys just started with themselves?” To which Neeta responds with a “totally.” I understand the feeling, I understand how maddening it is to constantly hear about mass shootings and see that nothing is being done. But Sense8 is supposed to be about understanding people, being so empathetic you can actually step into their minds and feelings. Every mass shooter has some reason for doing what they’re doing even if it is from a disoriented view of the world. Shouldn’t Sensates be the exact people to stop sick or broken humans from causing harm? All our perfect characters do with their powers is help each other out of jams, and have sex. Why aren’t they helping the world around them? It seems like they only fight when they’re being personally attacked for being themselves.
It makes the show more a revenge fantasy than a real introspection of empathy and its purpose. And revenge fantasy would be ok if it just accepted that’s what it is and went with it. But instead we get constant moralizing telling us that the only love is free and open love. Neeta grows up in a world with one mother and three dads. Lito has accepted a trio for his life partnership. The sensates are constantly sleeping with each other despite coupling off and professing undying love for certain members. So is there no jealousy in them? No resentment? The show avoids any of those discussions. Look at how Kala is jealous of Lila, and how it never reaches a boiling point because we find out quickly enough that Lila is another purely evil character. The sort of world the show prescribes maybe would be better, but it needs to show us how that works in reality. Because in practice we all know that polyamory can have a very hurtful downside that doesn’t take into account everyone’s feelings. And why is that? It’s not always because of human negativity or malice, but because being human by itself is hard. It’s not because some villain is constantly trying to over complicate things, it’s simply because we’re not equipped to handle the gift or curse that is emotion.
I definitely appreciate that this show has a multiracial cast and is trying to put gay and transgender characters into the public sphere, making them heroes effectively. But there are so many better ways to do this that actually humanize their characters. If it’s secretly supposed to be a superhero show for the LGBT community, then it needs to find a way to make us closer to its characters, rather than putting them on a ridiculous pedestal that sneers down at the rest of society. Up to this point a third season is apparently in the works but not confirmed. Some reports are saying Netflix will wait to see how many people watched season two before pulling the trigger. I have to say I’ll be very upset if my having to watch this show helps it get a third season.
Season 2, Episode 5-8 (S02E05-08)
Sense8 airs May 5th on Netflix
Greg Brecher | Contributor