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On paper, the Wachowski siblings’s idea for Sense8 sounds really cool. Eight people, located all around the world, connected through some mysterious force. This allows them to work together to defeat anything that comes their way. Oh, and just for fun, there is a shadowy organization that is seeking to catch these individuals and destroy their link by killing them off one at a time. The problem isn’t in the idea. The problem, as with so many other Wachowski films in the past few years, is in the execution. Sense8, to put it bluntly, is an absolute mess.
From the plot that takes great pains to not explain the ins and outs of these powers (or, to explain why Whispers, the shadowy bad guy played by Terrence Mann, is after our heroes beyond the cursory “he will hunt you down and kill you all” conceit), to dialogue that is stunningly bad and a cast that isn’t that much better, there is very little within Sense8 to recommend. And, lest you think I only watched a few episodes before giving up, let me assure you that I gave 12 hours of my life to watching this show- 12 hours I can never get back.
When I broadcast my disappointment with the series on Twitter, I was sent a few interviews from the Wachowskis’ co-creator J. Michael Straczynski (best known for the sci-fi series Babylon 5, a show I generally enjoyed when it was on) explaining the show and it’s basic plot. I have to admit I didn’t actually watch the interviews, because by that point I had already come to the conclusion that the series wasn’t likely to redeem itself. But I also avoided watching the explanations because I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to find outside interviews and commentary to explain the basic tenets of a series. That isn’t my job as a viewer. It is the job of the show’s writers, directors, and actors to create a series that is accessible. Sure, additional materials might help one to gain a deeper understanding of a particular series, but a basic understanding should be apparent in the show on its own. With Sense8, it’s not.
And that is, perhaps, the most troubling aspect of the series. After finishing the first season, I understand what the eight central characters can do. I do not understand why they are such a threat to this shadow organization. I don’t understand why they were chosen. And, after 12 episodes, I can only name four characters off the top of my head. I can, however, offer rather one dimensional character traits of the other four characters to you (there’s the African man who loves Jean-Claude van Damme, the Asian woman who went to jail for her brother and is a gifted fighter, the Indian woman who doesn’t want to marry her fiance, and the closeted Mexican actor). And of the four characters whose names I know, I also only know basics identifying facts about them. I can’t, for instance, tell you anything about who they are beyond their race, nationality, and sexual orientation. The characterizations are so completely shallow within the series that each character does not exist beyond their most clearly identifying elements (the mobster, the transgender woman, the DJ, the cop, etc.). If I don’t know what makes these men and women tick, I don’t care if something happens to them- good or bad.
The choppy and dull dialogue does nothing to help suss out inner secrets and complexities within the characters. And, since only a small handful of the cast seem to have acting talent, those on screen cannot make up myriad of issues plaguing the series. Aml Ameen (who portrays Capheus, the Kenyan bus driver with a love of Jean-Claude van Damme) and Miguel Ángel Silvestre (the closeted actor) are the breakout stars of the show, each seeming to elevate the story when they appear. Bae Doona, the tough fighting Korean woman Sun Bak, also shines within her scenes (which, are greatly helped by the large amount of martial arts involved). Other than that, there’s not much to write home about. Jamie Clayton, who portrays Nomi the transgendered woman, is particularly stiff in her role, and Freema Agyeman, who portrays Nomi’s girlfriend, offers up one of the most horrific American accents I can ever recall hearing on television.
I could go on, but I think it’s clear to see that Sense8 doesn’t live up to its interesting premise. And that is really a shame. The best element of the series are the truly exceptional fight sequences (hardly a surprise, since that seems to be the only thing the Wachowskis have succeeded in with their projects of late). I should also say that the series is the most sexually open and free series I have ever seen on television, which is another positive. But even that cannot make this a series worth watching. I can’t help but wish the Wachowskis had sold this idea to a studio that could have provided a writer who could have crafted this concept into a more cohesive series. Because, as it stands, there’s nothing worth salvaging from the mess that is Sense8.