By Tara Bennett
The Wachowskis keep telling the same story over and over again, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Wachowski formula is simple enough. A seemingly average person awakens to a hidden supernatural world in which they play a pivotal role. Not just any crucial role, the pivotal role. They realize that they have awesome powers and potential. They’re not like everyone else. They’re special, chosen to be different, powerful. They’re unique.
Sense8 is the Wachowskis’ smartest and most self-reflective variation on this theme to date. In this show, it’s not a lone protagonist who is special, but a group of eight protagonists. What makes these “Sensates” extraordinary is not their individual uniqueness, but their membership in an extraordinary group. Instead of one character having the pivotal role, they all share the central role.
These protagonists’ supernatural powers come from their psychic link to each other. This isn’t the usual Wachowskis’ typical Chosen One wish-fulfillment seen in films like The Matrix or Jupiter Ascending, this is a pretty sophisticated and very political exploration of identity.
Eight strangers from across the globe experience strange psychic visions. They begin to see and taste and feel in common, and are guided through this “rebirth” by their “mother” Angelica (Darryl Hannah) and a mysterious messenger named Jonas Maliki (Naveen Andrews). Each of the eight Sensates experiences this supernatural rebirth during a crucial moment in their lives. Ironically, as they become members of a mystical psychic community, they’re already caught in a tight spot between their identity as individuals and their identity as part of a group. These characters are navigating some awkward or violent clash between individuality and group identity, all while being initiated into a miraculous new group identity. The Wachowskis repeatedly dramatize this conflict by exploring the Sensates’ complicated relationships with their families.
The first two episodes of Sense8 are full of mystery and drama and promise. What’s also important is the variety of the cast, in races, backgrounds and personalities, and the way the show deals with very important issues that are sometimes still overlooked in modern television – homophobia and transphobia, yes, but also poverty and politics, corruption and individual freedom. What I loved most about it, though, besides from the amazing cinematography and the great editing, was the fact that it’s a story about humans helping other humans, no questions asked and no personal gain, just because they can and they feel like they should. It’s a story of courage and self-acceptance that explores what it means to be human at its very core. Basically, Sense8 represents all of the Wachowski’s characteristic indulgences, with all their strengths and weaknesses. There’s always a genuine sense of wonder behind their storytelling, and when it’s well-executed, the viewers feel that wonder too.
Of course, I don’t mean to say that Sense8 is completely perfect. When the storytelling is not well-executed, I just feel like I’m watching a show made by people who really, really wanted me to feel wonder. The falls into certain patterns and certain clichés. There’s a tricky balancing act at work here though. With a narrative that focuses on eight main characters all experiencing something similar, it will occasionally get a bit repetitive. It’s confusing at first, but if you can make it to episode three, you’re in the clear for good entertainment.
In the long run, this show has a huge potential with an intriguing premise, a great cast, and an exciting global setting. I’m excited to see what happens next.