Aug 2, 2015

[TV] Sense8: Season 1

At first I wanted to post this review on Thursday, together with my other TV reviews, but the nature of the show kind of made it perfect for my Sunday LGBT feature, and so here we are. And as much as being LGBT isn't necessarily a core pillar of the show, the character-centric narratives do bring one's LGBT self to the foreground. Thus making it quite the interesting thought experiment as well.

Sense8 is a tricky show to describe since at times it feels more like some sort of an experience captured in a show. And while it does have a pretty evident meta-plot that is active from the very first episode, most of the series almost feels like a bunch of character-centric vignettes with everyone working independently.

Tobie points out that this very much feels like a tabletop RPG campaign with each of the 8 primary characters being something like player characters in the game. Hence the reason they end up operating independently with limited options for interaction. Diversity is key.

Synopsis: Sense8 is science fiction drama series created by Andy and Lana Wachowski together with J. Michael Straczynski. The 12-episode first season debuted on Netflix in its entirety on June 5, 2015.

Sense8 is the story of 8 strangers from around the world who find themselves linked by the vision of the violent death of a woman later revealed to be Angelica (Daryl Hannah). Will (Brian J. Smith) is a Chicago police officer. Riley (Tuppence Middleton) is a DJ in Iceland. Capheus (Aml Ameen)is a bus driver in Nairobi. Sun (Bae Doona) is the daughter of a powerful businessman in Seoul. Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a closeted actor. Kala (Tina Desai) is a woman in Mumbai engaged to marry someone she does not love.Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) is a locksmith and safecracker in Berlin. Nomi (Jamie Clayton) is a transgender woman and hacktivist blogger in San Francisco.

After that first vision that they all witnessed and experienced as if they had all been at the scene, they start to find themselves seeing through one another eyes and eventually feeling everything that the others feel. It happens at seemingly random intervals as they start to discover the other members of their "cluster" but soon they're actually taking over one another's bodies in order to help out in situations where the skills of the other actually work out better. But all the while they're also being hunted down by an individual only known as Whispers (Terrance Mann), who is working for some other corporation. The group's only help is coming from Jonas (Naveen Andrews), a sensate from a different cluster.

At first glance, the show can be pretty confusing. We start with the surprising death of Daryl Hannah's character and from there we're jumping all around the world following these different people. And most of the series focuses on making sure we know who they are and we understand the story of their lives. If anything, it feels like the show's writers took it upon themselves to pretty much tell 8 separate stories fully with very limited points of interaction between the two.

Tobie pointed out an interesting aspect to the show - the fact that all of them were pretty average people with limited financial means or at least are generally not in a position to fly around the world. As they meet the other members of their sensate cluster, they quickly discover that they're all from different parts of the world, but you also don't see an immediate effort to try and find one another. Thus their stories progress on largely independent tracks until we get towards the end.

The skill-swapping angle is pretty brilliant - how they are able to pretty much project themselves into each others bodies and use their own knowledge and experience to get past challenges. Thus a man without fighting skills can take on the abilities of someone else who is better equipped to handle the challenge when the need arises. Of course the fact that they don't immediately show them actively knowing how the links happen and yet they do happen does feel like quite the interesting series of coincidences.

And you have very heavy-handed parallels between characters where they all seem to be going through pretty similar situations at generally the same time. This can be amusing initially but a little strained at other times since it seems like such a lucky break that things work out the way they do. But I suppose it can be argued that this is all part of the fact that they're part of a sensate to begin with and so maybe this is a factor in the shape of their lives and the many coincidences?

The show may not be a purely LGBT show, but it is one that preaches a song message about diversity. We have people from very different cultures and even different genders, the more obvious ones being Lito as a homosexual male and Nomi as a transgender woman. But I love the fact that they're stories aren't solely about their sexual identities for these particular characters. But they are strong parts of the story and some of the challenges that they face.

Sense8 is an experience and quite the beautiful one that takes us into the lives of 8 different characters from 8 different cultures. It's a series with a meta-plot that is still important but generally takes a back seat to the characters and yet still draws you in wanting to know more. Thus the first season gets 4 crazy moments of body-swapping within their cluster out of a possible 5.

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