The more obvious problem of the show as we keep going forward with it and build the world out, is that the fundamental rules still haven’t been figured out. You can see that most clearly in the battles and anytime the group has to get together to help one another. There is a bunch of pseudo scientific stuff that is mentioned but never probed. But we’ve now had our first sensate vs sensate fight in what is one of the most awkwardly staged action scenes I’ve ever seen. Lila and Wolfgang going at it while their clusters bounce in and out of them like a couple of accordiens, reveals how the show has moved faster than its own understanding of itself. The disparity between what the characters see and feel, and the visual representation of it has always been in the DNA of the show from its very first episode, but now that the war is coming and the show moves towards all out action, these problems need to be addressed for season three to be remotely watchable.
I know that many critics are applauding the end of season chase scene between Sun and her brother, but to me all it does is reveal that we still don’t really know how sensates work. Let’s back up a bit to the series premiere when Angelica “births” the sensates. She awakens their powers, which at the time seemed like a metaphysical ability that didn’t need to be explained too thoroughly, or at least the show was ambiguous enough where we were still enjoying getting to know the characters too much to care. Every so often Jonas would appear with a bit of information about the sensates and the rules of being one, ie. clusters can communicate at free will, other sensates need to make eye contact. But we never met any others outside our crew besides Whispers, Jonas, and Angelica, the “mother.”
Now, the world has opened up, our cluster of perfect has discovered more people like themselves. And not only that, they’ve discovered a whole infrastructure and history that has been previously denied to them. We’re introduced to the idea that sensates are actually a different species of human that has been recognized by world governments for at least the last sixty years. This I think is the main mis-step of the show in its mythology creation, because by extending the world of the sensates it opens us up to more questions that the show won’t and cannot answer in any plausible or interesting way. What makes someone a sensate? What connects sensates? Why are some clusters, like Lila’s for example, bad and want to dominate humans? What have they been doing all this time and why haven’t they heard of Angelica’s new batch of saviors until now? And tying it all back to the beginning of the show, why do they need to be birthed? And what exactly does that mean?
These are questions that can be answered through a couple lines of silly dialogue but the more pertinent rules we need are the ones directly informing our characters. A show that relies so much on us caring about its core group needs to do everything it can to support them and keep us continually attached to them. The superpowers were fun when we weren’t sure what’s happening and when the sensates themselves weren’t exactly sure how to use them. But we’re going to war now, we have Whispers and sensate Benedict Arnold Jonas tied up in the back of a van as our set up for season three. So what can our group do about it? How do we follow them fight a war and care about it when we don’t understand how they’re fighting it and what the point is? I’ve gone over how the perfection of the characters is a real stakes killer, but if we’re going all in on the sensate mythology now we need to know the simple mechanics of what they’re doing when they’re communicating.
We know that we’re supposed to see what they’re actually seeing, that it’s not just voices in their heads. There’s a moment in season one when Jonas asks Will “who’s driving your car?” during their chase. And that would imply that a sensate is just a zombie when they go visit someone else. But we actually haven’t seen what that looks like so I can’t say for sure. Then, when they’re being visited, we know that they respond physically in a way that is visible to those around them. Think back for example to how Wolfgang is making out with Kala in the snow and then his cousin and two girls actually see him rolling around in the snow by himself. But that rule doesn’t always seem to be true. Sometimes, sapiens see our sensates in the middle of an action that we see, but rather than acknowledge it they just say something like “who are you talking to?” To which our heroes always bashfully just sweep it under the rug as if it’s nothing. Well what is actually happening outside the vision of a sensate? What does a regular person see?
One scene struck out to me in particular for how it dramatized such a low stakes situation, and that’s when Lito is called in to do his audition with none other than, wait for it, Andy Dick. Just an aside, you can’t cast Andy Dick as an artistic filmmaker and expect me to believe it as anything other than a joke. But getting back into that scene, Lito decides that he needs to visit Sun and get into her body so that he can make a drink for her job interview to work at the restaurant where she’ll get a chance to kill her brother. Ok, so he sacrifices his casting right? Of course he’s using the time of his casting to help her correct? Wrong, instead he saves the day for her with his bartending skills, and then she returns the favor later by doing his lines for him so that they both win. But what’s the timing here, what is Andy Dick actually seeing in front of him while Lito’s bartending? Is it a dead looking, drooling and unresponsive Lito on the couch? Are these things happening simultaneously? That’d be an answer but the show hasn’t ever taken the trouble to explain these things. And look I’m not arguing against the need for suspension of disbelief, but simply demand that the show give us enough information to maintain that suspension.
We absolutely have to know how things work in this world and what the difference is between what we see as the sensates, and what the rest of the world sees to have any ability to keep up and know what to root for. The show is very deceptive, because on the surface you could praise how visually masterful it is for using so many locations, set pieces and smart editing to depict its story. But I’d argue that’s a ruse that masks a lot of its failings, it’s a lot of style over substance that’s running on its ability to move so fast and bombastically that you don’t really think too much about it. It’s an emotional ponzi scheme of a show that’s constantly borrowing more sex, more action, more slow motion montages, more virtue signaling, to constantly distract viewers from the holes it has opened up for itself. The Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski are certainly fun and dynamic filmmakers and creators, and I do ultimately understand why people gravitate to the page turning appeal of Sense8. But ultimately, when you take away the glitz it’s a very standard sci-fi thriller that ten years ago would’ve been a low budget Sci-fi channel serial at best. And hey, if that’s what entertains you who am I to judge, but let’s just call it for what it is and not pretend there is an important social aspect to it, just because it pretends there is.
Season 2, Episode 9-11 (S02E09-11)
Sense8 airs May 5th on Netflix
Greg Brecher | Contributor