After the absolute tragedy that was the marketing and promotion of Jupiter Ascending earlier this year, I was really hesitant to start watching the Wachowski’s Netflix original series Sense8. I love high-concept science fiction. It’s my favorite genre. But the truth about my consumption is: I’m extremely picky.
By and large, “high concept science fiction” loses itself in a number of tropes, some of which the Wachowskis have clung to for far too long, namely, a straight white male savior in a sea of diverse acolytes who are more than happy to be saved by some bland-ass, not-special dudebro. And I have no patience for that. See: The Matrix, Jupiter Ascending by the Wachowskis; Avatar, District 9, Elysium, Stargate for other obvious examples. I will not be the last person to mention this, but I always find it astounding that, in science fiction where literally the universe is limited to a writer’s imagination, a white guy is the one left standing at the end, bathing in the praise of his “inferiors” (all women, all people of color).
But something struct me as different about Sense8 as soon as I read that there was a trans* character, played by an actual trans* actress. While women characters in Wachowski projects have been relatively strong, something felt even more different. Maybe, just maybe, the siblings were being given some leeway after their hands were tied working with other, more traditional outlets?
Considering that Lana’s transition made headlines for years (and it’s still mentioned in, like, every article about the Wachowskis, and I hate the fact that I am pointing it out, too), it always felt disingenuous to me that their later properties were so… I dunno, boring. Straightforward. A lot was made about the swinging identities in Cloud Atlas, but a movie still feels inherently safe when the lead star is Tom-goddamn-Hanks. Only now, it makes sense that, since Netflix’s biggest success is lesbian-centric and multi-ethnic Orange is the New Black, that the Wachowskis could really, finally, get down with diversity.
So, I sucked it up and started the show. And I cried more than I ever have at an entertainment property since the last time I watched Moonstruck while PMS-ing and drunk on $6 tempranillo.
Make no mistake– some of the writing is straight-up bad, and it’s not helped a whole lot by some lousy acting. I honestly don’t need to know how the mental connection between the characters work, and future episodes would probably benefit a lot from just kind of letting the magic work without exposition. There are a LOT of zingy one-liners that seem forced. For long (longgggggggg) swaths at a time, some characters are boring and useless, bordering on completely unnecessary (poor Riley just cries and walks around in a druggy stupor for eight episodes, and I would have loved some goddamn frame of reference until the finale; I’m still praying Caphaeus and Kala will get more to do other than be, essentially, charming and pretty and Not White).
I also spent way too much time making a mental logic puzzle in my head about which characters had interacted and which hadn’t yet, which I’m assuming many other people had as well, a stress that was relieved at one point when Will, aka HunkyCop, asks Lito, aka Guy with The Hot Boyfriend, “Do I know you?” and Lito responds with a very sly wink about their previous, entirely-naked interaction.
There are so many characters in Sense8 it makes Lost look like a tight ensemble drama. But somehow, even if you can’t keep all the names straight, the emotions are there, and that’s really what’s done me in for this show. I’ve not cared about fake people this much since my high school Buffy days. I genuinely want to know more about Will’s scruffle with his dad (played by Joe Pantoliano). I’m in love with Nomi and Amanita’s love. Wolfgang honestly scares the bejesus out of me. Caphaeus is one of the first African-set characters that makes me believe that the writers of a show don’t think that all of Africa is the Serengeti. It’s refreshing to see a female Indian character get hot and bothered, which for some reason, they’re not really allowed to do in Bollywood films.
I’m spending a bit of time trying to boil the characters down to their Breakfast Club types, and it bothers me a bit, right now, that it’s possible, but I think it’ll all be fixed in the second season. Will the Savior, Lito the Liar, Caphaeus the Caretaker, Kala the Faithful, Sun the Assassin, Nomi the Brain, Wolfgang the Destructor. Riley, I think, is the Mother, which is definitely an issue for me (I hate having lady characters reduced to their womb), but I think that might have a link back to Angelica (Daryl Hannah) and how they were all created in the first episode. (</ramblings>)
I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of the show, and I’m surprised at how many people find it clunky and dull. What I’m really thinking is is that people who review the show poorly tune out when the storyline isn’t about straight white guys– and there are no “straight” white guys on this show. Even HunkyCop and Wolfgang were gettin’ in on that almost-entirely boy-centric sex scene y’all, so this is not a story that is friendly to the staunchly hetero. This is literally the first time in my life I have seen a TV show where tampons are shown, out of their wrapper, in more than one episode. One of the last eps shows vaginas, up close & personal, doing one thing they’re meant to do: you know, birth kids.
Does it catch you off guard? Of course. Are you going to see a lot of naked people, kissing naked people of the same gender? You bet. But I’ll be damned if I’m not happy that they’re all different colors and sizes and shapes. (That being said: so far, none of the sensates are differently-abled or overweight. Work on that, Wachowskis.) This was 12 episodes of something that could be truly earth-shattering. Rumor has it, they’ve got 5 seasons (~60 episodes) all mapped out, and they’ve already been renewed for season 2.
I’m in for the long haul.