Idiot Box: “Sense8”

Mental As Anything

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
ÒSense8Ó on Netflix
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“Sense8,” Netflix’ ambitious, new series, comes with an impressive pedigree. It’s the dual creation of the Wachowskis (makers of such fine, sci-fi entertainment as The Matrix and … a bunch of other movies you didn’t like nearly as much) and J. Michael Straczynski (the creator of “Babylon 5” and the comic book writer who made Superman do nothing but walk across America for an entire year). “Sense8” is the kind of offbeat, risk-taking show that will turn off a lot of viewers, win a handful of dedicated fans and further cement Netflix as the industry-leading boundary-pusher.

There isn’t a lot of hand-holding in “Sense8.” Viewers are dumped into the middle of an twelve-episode story line they will only begin to make sense of over the long haul. Things start off with a bang as Daryl Hannah (wow, does this woman ever age?) commits suicide in the middle of a perfectly cinematic abandoned church. Her death appears to spark the “rebirth” of eight wildly divergent “Sensates” around the globe. We’ve got a cop in Chicago, a transsexual blogger in San Francisco, a safecracker in Berlin, an EDM DJ in London, a bus driver in Nairobi, a corporate vice president in Seoul and … a couple others. I forget. It’s a lot of people to keep track of.

In time it appears these eight individuals are linked by a singular power to connect with one another on a psychic level. What one feels, the others feel. What one sees, the others see. What one hears, the others hear. But mostly, these eight strangers just think they’re going insane. Naveen Andrews (from “Lost”) shows up occasionally as Jonas, a sort of sexy, Indian Ben Kenobi (or, given the creators involved, a sexy, Indian Morpheus) trying to explain what’s going on. But he can only be so many places at one time. This leaves our characters (and, by extension, our audience) groping for answers as to what’s happening.

What precisely is happening and what this all means is hard to say. The show sticks to the sort of “we are all one” worldview that the Wachowskis started espousing in
Cloud Atlas. What do a transsexual blogger and an African bus driver have in common—besides a telepathic connection brought about by the death of Daryl Hannah? “Everything, man,” say the show’s creators in a techno-mystical, New Agey sort of way. “Sense8”’s commitment to diversity (in cast, style, storytelling technique and tone) is admirable. But that also makes it hard to get into. You can never really be in the mood to watch “Sense8,” because you never know what the mood is going to be. At any given moment, you could be watching a crime drama, an indie romance, a cop movie, a conspiracy thriller. Heck, at one point, there’s a full-on Bollywood dance number. It’s also hard to really sympathize with the characters—mostly because we don’t get to know any of them for more than a few moments at a time.

Which is not to say that “Sense8” doesn’t work. It just requires serious patience. This is an extremely slow-building narrative. When it finally starts to come together (as in the third episode where our Kenyan bus driver suddenly switches minds with two of his fellow Sensates), it clicks like gangbusters. “Sense8” could be your new TV obsession. Or not. You just have to give it a few episodes to find out for sure.

The entire first season of “Sense8” is available now on Netflix.

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