May 15, 2017 SECOND THOUGHTS: Some of the exhilaration goes in seeing these scenes so many times, but watching the connections grow remains emotionally satisfying. Most of my irritation about the incredibly dumb use of opaque infodump, however, is still fresh. Jonas may have gotten captured, but he deserved it for being so smarmily coy about saying, “You’re psychically linked to seven other people all over the world and somebody is hunting you.” On the other hand, Capheus and Nomi being rescued by the Cluster will never get old, especially that scene in the alley with Nomi, Will, Sun, and the Capheus. Just pure joy. And then there’s the karaoke scene. Set-up strangles the first part of the first season, but it’s the Cluster in action that really is the story. Lesson: BACK STORY KILLS.
Aug. 4, 2015 Warning: HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS POST. One way to look at a story is that the protagonist moves from stability to stability. That is, he or she is living in a world that he or she understands how to negotiate and feels safe in because of that, even if it’s a miserable world to live in. The story starts when something happens that shatters that stability, and the protagonist battles the antagonist (and the cause of the instability) until one of them wins, the story ends, and the world becomes stable again, albeit a new kind of stability that reflects who the protagonist has evolved into during the struggle of the story. In the case of Sense8, the instability is caused by Angel giving birth to the connection that links the Cluster–and does anybody know how the hell she did that? because I still don’t–and the eight start having visions of Angel gazing balefully at them–I died for you ingrates–coupled with migraines. It’s not a fast start to the story, and it doesn’t get any faster in the first two episodes because the writers want to set up the individual stories. Episodes 1 and 2 are really anthologies, a collection of eight stories, each with its own protagonist and antagonist, linked by the beginning of their supernatural connection. They are, essentially, the set-up for what’s to come. (Note: Not a good idea. Do not do this.) Episodes 3 and 4 then rip those stable lives out from under the characters and start them on their stories. So let’s look at Three and Four, at stable lives disrupted, at each of the eight’s increasingly impossible struggle to get back to the solid ground they once knew, and then at the incredible joy that takes them unaware as they finally all connect without realizing it. Episode 3: “Smart Money’s on the Skinny Bitch” Love this title: it’s got action, character, a hint of conflict. Plus, it’s about Sun who has been woefully undercharacterized as the quiet, self-imolating, good daughter in service to a cold father and a dickhead brother; she’s so underutilized she wasn’t even in Episode 2. But in Episode 3, she finally becomes “the skinny bitch,” an underground kickboxing champ. Seems like a stretch? We’ve got eight people who are psychically linked, chased by a guy who can track them if he looks into their eyes. A CFO who’s also a secret kickboxing champion is not a stretch in this show. And she’s glorious at it, too. (Light theme-mongering: “There’s nothing in the rules about gender; smart money’s on the skinny bitch;” I like it so I’ll allow it.) Then Sun gets a visit from Capheus in the middle of her fight; he’s getting beaten to a pulp as he fights to get back his mother’s stolen AIDS medication (motivations in this show are not complex).
Okay, this is what the series promised me, the eight connecting and working together, so there’s a clause in my viewer’s contract filled. Great stuff. Love it that Will shows up when Capheus picks up the gun, too. Sun doesn’t do guns. Sun doesn’t need guns. I love Sun. (This is also the second time they’ve paired Sun with Capheus. Remember the chicken? That’s starting to look like Chekhov’s chicken now.) Other notable moments: Daniella’s ex, Joaquin, threatening Lito with the steak knife (worst ex-boyfriend ever); Amanita setting fire to the hospital to save Nomi (best girlfriend ever). Episode 4: “What’s Going On” This is the episode that made me a diehard fan. Terrible things happen to each of the eight this hour, but underneath all of it is this incredible sense of joy as they begin to unconsciously connect, culminating in them all singing “What’s Up?”. Anybody who watched the karaoke scene and still didn’t buy into the Cluster has a heart of stone. The set-up for the clip below for those of you who aren’t watching this (what are you waiting for?): Kala wakes up on the couch Riley is sleeping on to see two people having noisy sex in the next room, which is more than she’s ready for. She pulls the covers over her head and then Riley pulls them down and goes up to the roof in London as Kala goes up to her roof in Mumbai. Riley turns on her iPod to 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up?” as Wolfgang, drunk on his ass in a bar in Germany, is shoved by Felix into doing karaoke to, yep, 4 Non Blondes. As he sings, badly, the others in Cluster are drawn in, hearing it, too, and singing along, including Will, searching the internet for info about Nomi so he can save her; Nomi, drugged for her lobotomy and dazedly mouthing “What’s going on?”; Lito in bed with Hernando and Daniella, looking a little unsure as to how he got there; Capheus driving his bus and beaming as usual; Sun showering before going to meet her father and her fate ; and Kala, alone on that rooftop in Mumbai. The best part: The way Wolfgang lights up when he sees Kala. Sue me, I’m a ‘shipper.
Then Will wakes up as Nomi, strapped to that gurney for the lobotomy; thank god he knows how to pick locks; this is the stuff I signed up for: GO TEAM CLUSTER. I don’t know why Amanita is waiting downstairs with a wheelchair, but I’m so glad to see her, I don’t care. Great escape from that son-of-a-bitch surgeon; I’m looking forward to seeing him get his (IT’S IN MY READER’S CONTRACT, THIS SHOW PROMISES ME THAT). Meanwhile, Will wakes up on his couch in Chicago and laughs because he found her, saying “What just happened?” This is the good stuff.
Oh, and in the realm of antagonists you want to see run over by two buses and then kicked in the head: Nomi’s mother. That scene in the hospital is one of the places the show does what it sets out to do in exploring gender politics. Before that scene I was annoyed when people insisted on called Caitlin Jenner “Bruce;” after that scene where the hag keeps calling Nomi “Michael,” I was outraged. People get to determine their own identities, you bitch. Now that’s getting a point across the right way.
Other moments of joy: Riley hearing her father’s voice and his good news on her phone, Capheus and Jela’s happiness at the new popularity of the Van Damn bus, and Felix dragging Wolfgang off to buy shoes (and his story about what happened when he lost his virginity). And I personally loved Sun’s blowing smoke at her father.
And so at the end of Episode Four, we have eight people whose stable lives have been irrevocably smashed and who are waking up to both the terror of the new and the huge possibilities unfolding before them:
• Will keeps seeing things and is risking his job to see Jonas in prison. Upside: He’s falling in love with one of his hallucinations.
• Riley is witness to two murders and a robbery and is being hunted by the drug dealer who is probably in league with the guy whose couch she’s sleeping on (Lito’s director tried to warn her). Upside: She has a loving father and a cute Chicago cop who keeps appearing out of nowhere to smile at her.
• Nomi is now on the run from Whispers, still wondering if she has a brain tumor because her hallucinations are getting really vivid. Upside: One of those hallucinations can pick locks. Also Amanita.
• Lito is in a three-way relationship that is either the best or the worst thing that’s ever happened to him; also Joaquin wants to kill him, and strangers keep appearing and disappearing in his life. Upside: Pretending he’s not gay just got a lot easier since Daniela’s in his bed.
• Sun is getting ready to confess to her dickhead brother’s crimes; no going back to VP/CFO now. Upside: She won’t be with her horrible family. Also, when somebody at the sex club tries to ambush her, Will protects her, which is new for her. (I want the dress she was wearing in that scene.)
• Capheus is in the employ of a major crime lord and in way over his head. Upside: He has a feeling something really good is going to happen today.
• Wolfgang’s heist to foil his psychopathic cousin has him under suspicion from his family, who are not the kind of people who let bygones be bygones. Upside: He’s rocking karaoke in his new shoes and half in love with an Indian woman who walks randomly through his life at odd moments and makes him smile like a loon.
• Kala is still trying to hold on to the arranged marriage she doesn’t want, but there’s this German guy who keeps showing up and almost kissing her. Actually, that’s the upside: The German guy is really hot. Also he sings to her.
Damn, I love these characters. I’m still hostile about the writers and my viewer’s contract, but I’ll stick for the characters. Also, for the love of god, Wolfgang, kiss the girl. My still unanswered questions:
• I’m not completely clear on the whole visiting and sharing thing. I get the visiting; that’s just astral projection until they start touching each other, which is a lot harder to explain. But then sometimes they switch bodies? They must switch because Capheus is looking around the shooting range and then trying to get up from the center of the boxing ring, while Will and then Sun are staring perplexed at the dusty Kenyan landscape. There’s also a bit later on where Lito asks permission to take Wolfgang’s body, so it’s some kind of consciousness swap. Or they can project themselves into each other’s world with solid bodies, although nobody else outside the cluster sees them, which is why Diego interrupts Will kissing the air later. This is confusing. I have no problem buying supernatural premises, but I do need some kind of consistency. If Will can kiss Riley in his apartment, can he get shot when he shifts with her to London and the gunfight? He must be able to because he beats the crap out of the guys trying to kill Riley in a later episode. You know, I should have a better idea of how this works in general after twelve episodes, and I still don’t know what the hell Daryl Hannah was doing in the first scene.
• Jonas the Exposition Fairy explains that anybody outside the cluster can show up if they’ve made eye contact with somebody in the cluster but they can’t share bodies. On the one hand, that helps explain Whispers looking into your eyes being a death sentence and how Jonas can flit from Nomi to Will with the back story but can’t reach anybody else. On the other hand, it still doesn’t make sense, He looks into your eyes and can track you, like some kind of ocular lojack? Nope, don’t get it. Your magic has to make sense, you can’t just wave your hands and say, “Advanced humans.”
• If Will could hear and see Sarah Purcell asking for help when he was a kid, does that mean he was part of an earlier cluster? I know, she’d looked into his eyes, but if he could hear her, then somebody already gave birth to a cluster that activated him, right? No? How did Whispers find Sarah? Because that’s not just a dream, Sarah tells him not to look into Whisper’s eyes because that’s how he got her; it’ll be another twenty years before Jonas tells him that.
• Speaking of those scenes with Sarah, they’re annoying, but they’re not flashbacks, they’re memories. Almost as annoying as flashback, but not quite. What’s not annoying: the amazing quality of the child actors in these scenes, particularly the young Wolfgang and the young Felix, but really, all of them. Not an annoying moppet in the bunch.
• There’s a whole counterfeit drug motif going on here that I can’t pull together. Capheus’s mother is suffering because somebody sold them counterfeit drugs and that’s how he ends up in the hands of Kataka who cuts off the hands of the employees who try to cheat by diluting drugs, Kala’s company is concerned about the counterfeits, and Sun’s brother has been embezzling through pharmaceutical stock devaluation. Riley does the drug that Nyx gives her and that’s how she connects first with Will, Riley’s boyfriend’s drug robbery almost gets her killed, Capheus become Van Damn (sic) when he goes to get his mother’s AIDS meds back, Will injects himself with sedatives to save the cluster and Riley later does it for him . . . . There’s a drug motif, but I’m not seeing the pattern. Annoying loose ends.
• All the men in this show have extremely tight brotherly relationships–Wolfgang with Felix, Capheus with Jela, Will with Diego, and Lito with Hernando (who’s also his lover). Not so much the women: Sun and Riley are completely isolated, and there’s no one in Kala’s huge family she can tell the truth to so she has to talk to a statue of Ganesh; the only one with a relationship like the men’s is Nomi, and Amanita is her lover. I’m not sure what to do with that, either, even though it’s blatant. More loose ends.
• Father’s are bastards in this show (Wolfgang’s psycho-dad, Sun’s withholding executive who expects her to sacrifice for him even though he’s never paid her any attention, even Will’s dad is a jerk a lot of the time), but mothers are awful, too, like Nomi’s bitch mom and Sun’s invalid mother who guilts her daughter into taking care of a little brother they both know is a loser and then dies so Sun’s stuck with the promise. I loathed her almost as much as I hated Nomi’s mother. Maybe more. Even Cepheus’s mom, who clearly adores him, tries a mother-on-the-cross move by telling him she should stop taking her meds so she’ll die and he’ll be free. Really? You know he’s not gonna buy that, Mom, get off his back. The only completely healthy parent in the bunch is Riley’s dad who greets her at the airport in a later episode with a ukelele solo, although I’ll cut Kala’s dad a break since he has no idea he’s guilting her into marriage: that one’s on Kala. Not on her: her future father-in-law’s plans to outlaw her religion. All of that should be adding up to something, but it seems at the moment to just be “Childhood sucks.”
• Music is hugely important in this show, and more than just as a soundtrack, but they never bring it together. Riley’s a brilliant DJ, but aside from her intro, you never see her working. Her father is a world famous musician. Will collects vinyl. Rajan courts Kala with a musical extravaganza at their pre-wedding party; Wolfgang seduces her with karaoke until her sister interrupts. The first time the entire cluster connects at the same time is through song, even if they don’t realize they’re connecting. And Netflix just did a promo for the show about brain waves being music. I really expected that whole music motif to pay off, but it’s just another loose end.
• One more thing that bugs me (actually two). All the antagonists in this are flat-out evil sons-of bitches, psychopaths, to the point of being cartoons. All the life partners, though, are absolutely perfect. Amanita, Hernando, even Daniela sacrifice without hesitation for the people they love; they’re always cheerful, often cook, and constantly offer support, encouragement, and the occassional hospital fire. Nobody ever has a cranky day, they all live to serve. I think that may be a fallout from the complexity of everything else going on here; once again lack of story real estate means the writers fall back on shorthand.
• The thing that surprised me most about this series: How romance-heavy the plot is. Both the romances are traditional hetero–Will and Riley, Wolfgang and Kala–because the trans woman and the gay guy already are in Perfect Relationships–but they’re done really well so that when Wolfgang tells Kala to go back to Rajan because he’s too much of a monster to be with her, or when Will at the end of the finale tells Riley he loves her with such passion and certainty, you believe it. For all the stuff they screwed up in this, they nailed the hetero love stories. They’re not so good at the established relationships–Hernando and Amanita are pretty much there to serve and protect and don’t get much of a story of their own–but they’ve got the falling in love stuff down. Now pair the spares because I don’t want Sun and Capheus left out of this. Okay that’s a lot of bitching again. Never mind. The show has finally gotten up off its ass and it’s moving, hell, it’s singing, and I’m loving it. So what did you think? (Back with Episodes Five and Six on Friday . . .)