Sense 8: A review By Heather Thayer

Last week I posted a video (which I’m posting again at the end of this review) and said that I wasn’t totally on board with Sense 8 yet. Well, Heather Thayer sent me that video and told me to keep watching, which is why I spent thirteen hours last week glued to the screen. The show is a slow start, but once it hooked me, it REALLY hooked me. Here’s Heather’s review!

Sense8 – Watch It, Be Confused, Fall in Love

Sense8 is the new Netflix show by the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski — the first season was posted on Friday, June 5.  It was stormy here that weekend, so I watched the whole thing in two days. Like all Wachowski productions it is fun to look at — sometimes beautiful almost to the point of being distracting.  At its core, the first season is simply a character study — the premise is that there are certain people, “sensates” (get it?) who can share thoughts, experience, knowledge etc within their cluster of eight, even though they are scattered all over the globe.  The show begins with a new cluster being created — a group of eight people who share the same puzzling vision that they each dismiss as a dream or hallucination. How it is that these people can sense each other and share experience is confusing (an attempt to fully explain later in the season would have been best left out of the script as it reeked of woo), but I was willing to go along with it because I wanted to see more of these characters.

Many early critics complained that the show is confusing, and that criticism has merit at the beginning. Netflix goofed by only providing the first three episodes to the preview critics when this show takes at least four episodes for the viewer to get invested.  For most of the season, each character just continues with her or his own life as if nothing has happened.  Granted, many of these characters are at individual crisis points in their own lives and it takes a while for them to figure out that what has happened is real and not a strange dream, but it would seem that suddenly being part of a collective with seven other people around the world would be . . . riveting.  But no, the show just keeps following each character in their individual story rather than following a collective narrative, and much of the first season is simply following eight separate stories about eight separate people.  What makes the show more confusing is that rather than using each episode to introduce one character in depth, as is customary in multiple-character dramas, we meet all of them all at once and follow all of them all at once. This makes it hard to keep the characters straight or to invest in the outcomes until nearly the fifth episode. While there are lots of action sequences (must every one of these people get into a fight?), very little of the action propels the overall narrative arc but is simply in service of a character’s individual story.

Yep, that’s a rocket launcher.

This show is built for binge watching because with so many stories to follow with little connecting arc, it would be (even more) difficult to follow if one left too much time between episodes.  This is a show where no episode could stand on its own — with eight characters to follow, each episode takes baby steps to move each of the eight stories forward.  That also makes it difficult to get hooked. But sticking with it produces rewards. As a good friend (okay, it was Carrie) said to me, “I was not that into it but then I kept thinking about it. It kind of sank into my head.” It’s that kind of show – initially confusing and slow, but with random beautiful moments that draw the viewer in gently.

They find the plot confusing, too.

As we get to know the characters better we start caring about their individual journeys and an overall arc begins to show up (evil corporation anyone?) with villains with mysterious motives. Some of our characters start to be in a danger that threatens the whole cluster and some of them know what is actually happening while others simply accept without understanding.  The characters get better at stepping in to help each other out, and by the end of the first season the cluster starts to work as a collective team.

There is something about the show that eventually becomes compelling but it takes time to just look at the scenery along the way.  There is one sequence where one character listens to a song and they all, where ever they are, sing along.  It is a long sequence that doesn’t do anything to move the plot, but it is a joyful moment that sticks with me and I find myself singing that song.  I like a show that will take time to create interesting moments just for the sake of delight, and in the end I found that I had fallen deeply for the characters and the show. I can’t stop thinking about it. And I want more.

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