Warning: HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS POST. I went back and looked at the pilot in light of what I knew about the whole series. I think the problems are much more complex than just the first episode, and because I don’t completely understand what they’re trying to do here, it’s iffy to say “This is how that first episode should have gone.” But based on the idea that a beginning should introduce the protagonists while establishing setting, mood, tone, and conflict, which is pretty basic storytelling, here’s how I’d revise that pilot. 1. Cut the first scene. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave a lecture this week at RWA, and one of the things she said was, “If you’re a first time writer, before I even look at your manuscript, I know what you have to do: Cut the first chapter.” I laughed because it was so true. Then I looked at the Sense8 pilot again and said, “Yep.” Your opening is the only time you’re sure to have your audience in an absolutely receptive mind to your story, so you want to grab them then and not let go, and you do that by clearly and quickly investing them in your protagonist because that’s where their emotional attachment will be rooted. The Sense8 pilot wanted to blow our minds with how out there it was, but because it never established an “in there,” there was no “out there” to go to. Add to that the first three characters we see are Angel, Jonas, and Whispers, none of whom are protagonists, and you have a wasted seven minutes and a frustrated audience. Cut it. 2. Introduce Your Protagonist(s) Yeah, this shows has eight protagonists in eight different cities spread across the globe. While I understand that they want the eight to be equal, they don’t even manage to do that in their own pass at the pilot, so I think they’re going to have to pick one to be first on the scene. I’d start in the first minute with something everybody recognizes: the good cop in the patrol car in the bad neighborhood. Give Diego his crack about gangbangers and show that Will isn’t buying it, and then have Will see Angel standing on the side of the road, only to disappear. Then they get the call about gunshots, turn on the siren . . . Cut to Berlin and a funeral where Wolfgang stops in the rain because he hears the siren, only to see Angel standing by a grave. Blink and she’s gone and the Bad Cousin comes up and starts his trash talk, playing out the rest of that minute scene and ending with Felix’s line about not knowing which he’s going to enjoy more as Wolfgang smiles and the thunder rolls . . . Cut to Mumbai, where Kala looks out when she hears the thunder, sees Angel disappear, and then goes back to argue with her father about how she really does want to get married . . . Introducing eight protagonists as pictures in Angel’s mind was worthless; characters aren’t what they look like, they’re what they do. Plus even after watching the first scene, (hell, after watching the entire first season) I still don’t know what happened in that first scene (why the hell didn’t she shoot Whispers?) so I’m not losing anything by cutting it. What I gain is eight protagonists with antagonists in action, even if only a minute each, linked by visions of Angel. The sounds (gunshots, thunder, etc.) as transitions tell us that they’re telepathically linked even if we don’t know how (I still don’t know how), the glimpses of Angel tell us they’re seeing the same things, but most of all, they’re not just eight pretty people, they’re eight pretty people in trouble who are also all having the same vision. If the hook is set, then I’ll settle in to find out, not just what the mystery of the blonde they’re all seeing is (which is the least interesting thing about the story), but how they’re all going to solve their individual problems, and more that that, how those links they’re experiencing for the first time are going to evolve. Will they be able to see each other they way they see Angel? Will they be able to talk to each other? Touch each other? Help each other? Will they be allies or enemies? None of those questions is “What the hell is going on here?” They’re all questions of expectation and anticipation, two things that make readers turn the page and not turn the channel. 3. Make Sure Each of Those Protagonists Is in Conflict or At Least Trouble. Of course, in order to make that work, those story intros are going to need revised. Will in his squad car hearing gunfire works, Wolfgang getting harassed by his cousin works, Sun being belittled by the client and her brother works. Even Lito blowing his dialogue works to a lesser extent, as does Riley’s meeting with Nyx; those aren’t great conflicts but they’re indications that something’s wrong. But Capheus needs a bigger clash with either the Bat Van or the gangster who’s going to try to take him down later; Kala needs a conflict with her father, even if it’s just lying to him about wanting to get married; and Nomi needs a complete rewrite. Showing her having sex with Amanita does nothing to characterize either of them, and in fact it undercuts our attachment to her because she’s not in trouble: she’s having great sex with a woman who loves her. Maybe something to do with her hacktivist past coming back to haunt her with Amanita standing by her, something that establishes her as skilled and powerful. Get her in trouble so I’m worried about her and cut all the wordy speeches about how much they love each other (talk is cheap) for action that shows they love each other. (No, sex does not show they love each other. Amanita setting the hospital on fire and throwing a tampon at the Fed thug shows love; two people we don’t know coming their brains out just shows athletic compatibility.) 4. Then Build Logically On the Character Plots You’ve Introduced As You Develop the Links Between Them Then after the titles that follow the eight minutes of linked characters, we’re back with Will who dreams, but not about some ghostly little girl whose mystery is never entirely solved in the course of the series, but about Angel giving birth to that connection, being found by Whispers, killing herself. He wakes up with his headache, hears the music, etc, which takes him to Riley who’s in deeper trouble, and so on. The key is to strengthen the links between the characters with each pass at their stories so that when Will/Wolfgang/Riley danger montage happens, it’s a logical outcome, echoed or foreshadowed by a quieter Sun/Kala/Lito frustrated secret montage, or whatever. Build the links to the climax of the episode which is when Riley and Will meet in the place where Angel killed herself and talk, only they try to figure out what’s going on, what Angel was doing, why her death links them, before there are gunshots and Riley’s back in the bloodbath. And then have Will there at the end, the first of the you’re-not-alone moments that sets up the rest of the series. Yeah, that’s not nearly as edgy and obscure as the way the original pilot is structured. The problem is, the content is obscure, so the structure has to be clear. At the end of your first chapter, you want viewers and readers saying, “What happens next?” not “What just happened?” Give readers/viewers a clear path to follow, and they’ll spend their time with a complex premise and complex characters with complex conflict arcs. Give them complex everything, and they’ll go watch something less interesting because it’ll also be less frustrating. Story is the delivery system for ideas; put it first because it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if they’re never delivered.