Glenn Garvin TV Reviews

Sense8: The Wachowskis Bring Their Hallucinatory Visions to Television

First season of show about strangers with mysterious mental connections debuts on Netflix.

|

Sense8

"I think I'm losing my mind!" gasps a cop who finds himself in a hallucinatory car chase in which he teleports back and forth between the pursuing car and the pursued in the blink of an eye. "No," counsels his companion-quarry, possibly a terrorist and possibly a guardian angel. "It's just expanding."

So it goes in Sense8, the long-awaited television debut of Andy and Lana Wachowski, sibling creators of the Matrix films as well as V for Vendetta. Paradoxes, anomalies and just plain old murk abound, without any obvious guideposts to help sort them out. In short, it's business as usual for the Wachowskis, whose peel-the-onion style of storytelling has both fans and detractors in joyous abundance.

All 12 episodes of what the Wachowskis and their co-producer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) are calling the "first season" of Sense8 debut today on Netflix. The binge-watching potential of the mass release may be an advantage—viewers seeking solutions to narrative lacunae can charge ahead until their eyeballs fry, rather than waiting four years, as they did with the Matrix movies.

Or it may be a disadvantage, simply allowing the Wachowskis to slow their pace to a crawl. In interviews, they've said the first season will be spent filling out details and back stories of their characters rather than moving the overall plot forward. That sounds like an awfully long first date, especially when there's no guarantee of scoring at the end.

That it will take time to establish the characters, there is no doubt. Sense8 has eight twenty-something principals, scattered all around the world, with no visible threads connecting them—except that they've all shared a horrifying vision of a gory suicide.

They include Will as a Chicago cop bridling against the callous ethos of his department, and Riley, a London electronica deejay so profoundly disconnected from life that she assumes her vision of the suicide was the result of "too many drugs."

In Mumbai, Kala is a recent college graduate tempted by a loveless yet prosperous marriage to her boss. Wolfgang is a Berlin safecracker with daddy issues; Sun, a mysterious and ill-tempered Seoul businesswoman; Lito, a wildly popular—and deeply closeted—action-adventure Mexican movie star. San Francisco blogger Noni is a former hacker, while penniless Nairobi bus operator Capheus is struggling to find affordable medicine for his AIDS-afflicted mother.

Following their vision of the suicide, all these characters go about their daily lives. But soon their lives begin bleeding over into one another's—first in wisps (as Kala attends her engagement banquet, Wolfgang wakes up with a craving for Indian food), then in outright mind-melds as they pop up in the middle of each other's crises.

Flitting about in the background of all this is a man who calls himself Jonas, whose sinister appearance (he's played by Naveen Andrews, the menacing Iraqi secret-police torturer of Lost) is—seemingly—belied by his attempts to help the eight. They're "sensates," he tells them, with unspecified special mental powers, and they're being hunted down for vivisection by a malign force, perhaps a corporation or government.

It's this broader plot that unfolds slowly in Sense8. The stories of the eight major characters move at different paces. By the end of the third episode (all that Netflix made available in advance), we know a great deal about Will the cop but virtually nothing of Capheus the bus driver. The story-telling style is reminiscent of the Wachowskis' eccentric and elliptical 2012 film Atlas of Clouds, in which individual lives give off ripples that stretch out over centuries.

Yet there are also echoes of the Matrix films, particularly in Sens8's dreamy texture. As sights and sounds—sometimes as mundane as a file folder, sometimes as ominous as a gun—carry over from one character's life to another, the boundaries of reality get mistier by the moment.

The effect is amplified by the fact that all the characters seem to be wearing multiple masks: Noni the blogger is not only a lesbian but transgender. (The actress who plays her, Jamie Clayton, is transgender, as is Lana Wachowski.) Lito, the closeted actor, uses a series of gorgeous actresses as beards to protect his box-office bang. And the prim businesswoman Sun has a secret with real punch, revealed in an explosive scene that is no less effective for all its obvious manipulativeness.

In short, Sense8 is a seamless blend of excitement, ennui, sexual intrigue, anti-authoritarian paranoia, and fascinating sci-fi concepts that—of which the presence of Lost's Andrews is a continual reminder—could turn out to be thunderously stupid. The ultimate paradox of Sense8 is that it can give away so little about its ultimate destination in three hours of screen time, and still be seductive enough to make hour four an attractive proposition. As one of Lito's frustrated groupies tells him, "I'm not used to men telling me no. It's kind of turning me on." We know the feeling. 

Sense8Now available on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

NEXT: Rand Paul Roundup: Winning Back Ron Fans, Fighting for Female Ones, Keeping the Nevada Caucus, Speaking His Unrestrained Mind

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. They’re “sensates,” he tells them, with unspecified special mental powers, and they’re being hunted down for vivisection by a malign force, perhaps a corporation or government.

    Can they make people’s heads explode?

    1. Nah, but we do get a reference to the ending of Videodrome within the first 10 minutes!

      “Long Live the New Flesh!” 🙂

  2. Atlas of Clouds?”

    1. Havent seen it? It stars Hanks the Tom.

  3. I’ll give it a try.

  4. Its about time that a critic has had the bravery and chutzpah to call out the TV series Lost for being, as Gavin puts it here, “thunderously stupid”. Lost was a 100 hour trek throughbad writing, bad acting, navel-gazing pseudo-intellectualism (the chatacters are, like, named after philosphers – thats *deep*, man) and cliff-hanger gimmicks that were as formulaic as they were unintelligible. Its so awful that, looking back, its no surprise that an American public that embraces reality television with both arms would find Lost to be as trendy and clever as voting for Obama or driving a hybrid car.

    Lost sucks balls.

    1. I enjoyed it immensely when it was on, at least until it started to unravel towards the end – but in the end I have to agree it sucked. Is it even in reruns?

    2. Yeah Lost and BSG strike me as movies that pretended to have strong story arcs to keep people intrigued, but by the end you realized that the writers were making it all up as they went along. I gave up on Lost around the third season when our first child gave us an excuse to cut that hour out of our lives. I finished BSG, only because I had heard it was ending its run about the time it became insufferable and I figured it would bring some closure (spoiler: it did not).

      The good news is that J Michael Straczynski is co-producing. He practically invented the pre-determined Story Arc in syndicated TV. I had plenty of problems with his episode-to-episode writing, but he did a great job starting with an idea and following it through- despite a lot of real-life setbacks like actors leaving the show and set-fires.

      I have been disappointed with the Wachowski’s work ever since the second Matrix. Hopefully together they can do something good.

      1. Three seasons sounds monumental. I didn’t make it through one episode. They had a polar bear on a tropical island and I picked up the remote. And no, I don’t care why there was a polar bear on a tropical island.

  5. Does the cop get home safely? That’s all that’s really important.

  6. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

    ————- http://www.jobnet10.com

  7. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.jobnet10.com

  8. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.worksite90.com

  9. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.www.netcash5.com

  10. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netcash5.com

  11. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.worktoday7.com

  12. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.worktoday7.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.