If you are looking for a quick fix one-shot this-is the-crime-this-is-the-capture sort of show then the Wachowski's production for Netflix might not be your thing. This is a real slow-burner, True Detective not CSI. The opening episode introduces the lives of some of the main characters, but it is does introduce much if anything in the way of plot. At the end of the that episode, in which the everyday lives of people are built up layer on layer, and the underlying themes are only gently referred to I was amazed. I'd watched an hour of TV and had no idea what was happening. This is how the great horror writer Stephen King makes his characters work, he fills in the minutiae of people's lives and thoughts until we become familiar and at ease with them, and then he pulls the rug from under them.
In Sense 8 the rug-pulling isn't so obvious. Many of the characters live lives which include an element of danger, Tuppence Middleton's Riley associates with dubious friends on the edge of the London nightlife scene, the almost obnoxiously handsome Miguel Angel Silvestre's actor Lito Rodriguez has to hide his true sexuality to protect his career, and in nicely opposite manner, Jamie Clayton's transgender Nomi Marks flaunts and displays her sexuality in a precarious present built on Pride and harder times. Most often, when these characters have their worlds changed it isn't so much as a result of their newly awakened mental powers but as a result of some change in their normal lives.
As the eight members of the Cluster begin to recognise what is happening to them, we see a the series take a more human than superhuman direction. In a more traditional comic book style series we might expect a superpower to unveil itself at the moment of deepest need, and this does happen in Sense 8, but what we also see is much more emotionally based set of psychic abilities in which the characters sense and mirror each others emotional states and desires. When Capheus channels the fighting abilities of Doona Bae's Sun Bak the danger and thrill is palpable, but we learn more about the Cluster members when they mirror each others fear, misery and lust.
Sense 8 is a wonderful achievement, it brings a richness of character development not often seen in sci-fi and it champions love as much as it relies on action and tension. Just as importantly is that Sense 8 has not jettisoned the friends and lovers of the Cluster in order to focus on the central players, the importance of Nomi's girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman) to her emotional stability and ability to interact with her Cluster companions is vital, and the odd and painful/hilarious symbiosis between Lito, Hernando ( Alfonso Herrara) and Daniela (Erendira Ibarra) is beautifully played out.
|Tuppence Middleton as Riley|
Visually Sense 8 is a masterpiece, shot on location in Nairobi, Mumbai, Mexico City, London, Chicago, Berlin, Seoul and San Francisco, emotionally it is heart-warming and empowering and it draws you in, makes you love the characters and feel and fear for them, and this was surely the intention, as the characters mirror each others emotions on screen that we in turn mirror their feelings in watching and become part in turn of the events.
The biggest challenge for Sense 8 in series 2, and I do hope there is one, will be to keep the series away from being just another sci-fi plot in which the shadowy bad guys hunt the good guys. Sense 8 feels in a way more like Warren Ellis' FreakAngels than it does say X-Men, because more often in life, when you're feeling lost and alone, fragile and scared, what you need most in the world isn't a man with a metal exo-skeleton and retractable knuckle blades, what you need most is a friend.