Saturday, 13 June 2015

Sense8: Season 1 (2015)

Odd statistical anomaly:  Andy Wachowski, as well as sharing my name is exactly one day younger than me!

Sense8, a dodgy title that reminds me a little too much of the abundance of i's, e's, and x's in product names a few years back. I just don't like the substitution of numbers and letters for another letter; just call it Sensate. I suppose it could be worse, it could be "iSense8 eXtreme"!

So what's it about? A group of eight unconnected people become linked; sharing each other's thoughts, emotions and skills. Is this the next step in humankind's evolution and who is the shady organisation tracking them down? Sense8 was created, directed and written by the Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5).

The first few episodes are quite bitty, which, I guess, can't be helped when introducing eight characters from eight different countries. That's fine though as all the background detail is intricate and you really start to become involved in their lives. You can tell it's all leading somewhere but you're not entirely sure where and knowing J. Michael Straczynski's penchant for huge sprawling story arcs you know it's going to be an interesting journey. The episodes are quite slowly paced with occasional action set-pieces to get your juices flowing. There is no rush, and that makes a real change these days when programmes seem to be continually scared of being cancelled and throw blood and John Woo style gun battles at you like there's no tomorrow. Don't get me wrong though, there are some stunning foreign location fight scenes, gun play and car chases in this otherwise character-lead sci-fi drama.

The main characters are well fleshed out and likeable. Some of them have obviously useful talents (shooting, unarmed combat, lock-picking, hacking), but others may not be quite as obvious. The "bleed-through" from one character's life to another's is really well handled and leads to some interesting crossovers. There is a considerable LGBT slant to some of the characters, in particular a transgender relationship allowing Lana Wachowski the means to address the media and public reaction to her transition. This is not at all preachy and intrusive, but welcome and very moving.

This brings me on to the, ahem, sexual content. Sense8 is highly sexual - there are dildos, masturbation, straight and gay sex. Also, because of the shared conciousness, it also brings up some interesting ideas about gender fluidity. Sense8 is admirable for the normalising of gay sex and intimacy.

Sense8 has themes of identity, empathy, gender, sexuality, trust, and personal and species evolution. there are touches of The Matrix; shared conciousness; dreams as reality; reality is an illusion; solipsism; simulation hypothesis, but if there is one overall theme it is that we are all flawed and it's our friends, our partners, our lovers that seal over the cracks and make us whole.

Some technicalities are glossed over, for example, how can a person who is two places at the same time, move in both places, which have different dimensions and layouts, without bumping into things. I guess this is what suspension of disbelief is for - just go with it and don't over-analyse the science; this is more about the "why" and not the "how".

The first season finishes with a terrific, action packed finale where every character has a part to play. The plot may have been a little obvious and contrived but I didn't give a shit. A fun end to a really interesting gender/identity drama. Good on ya Lana and I really hope Netflix picks this up for a second season.

Plus any programme that quotes Conan the Barbarian has got to be good!

"Conan! What is best in life?"
"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women."

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