Monday, January 2, 2017

Sense8: Vibrant, Profound, and Dangerous

I binged the first season of Sense8 from 2015 the past few nights.  I started watching the December 2016 special, but seeing as how the first season is a remarkable narrative in itself, I thought I'd review it now, and come back with a review of the 2nd season Christmas special in a few days (and here it is).

Remarkable - and welcome - Sense8 was.   Telepathic connections used to be a big theme in science fiction through the 1950s, but for some reason hasn't made much of an appearance in the past 50 years.   Sense8 does a great job of this, and presents a story that not only needed to be told on screen rather than page, but over 12 episodes rather than a few-hour movie.

The story - of eight people around the world, in their 20s (all born at the same instant), who suddenly discover they are telepathically connected, and then find that elements of the rest of humanity are hunting and trying to exterminate them - has roots in the late lamented Heroes.   But that series had many heroes with many different powers, and, given the limitations of traditional network television (NBC), we saw very little of the world on those screens.

Netflix has liberated all kinds of storytelling, and the world panorama it affords Sense8 provides a literally vivid and pulsating environment for the story, which takes place not only in the United States, but Iceland, India, Africa, South Korea, London, and Germany.  And not only do we get a vibrantly rainbow mix of nationalities and cultures in Sense8, but a portrayal of just about every mutually consenting sexual activity, presented with sensitivity, style, and humor.

The different talents of the eight sense8s become the basis of the action sequences, with each of the eight characters being available to contribute her or his talents - martial arts, medical knowledge, computer savvy, etc - via telepathic input when another is in danger or dire need.   These rescuing visitations, even though we come to expect them, remain surprising and satisfying through the ending.   And there's much more than fight scenes in Sense8 - one of the most memorable, indeed in all of television, is a scene in which one of the sense8s is singing, and the others are hearing and joining in in their own ways around the world.   To describe this almost seems corny; to see it is beautiful and breathtaking.

The deeper metaphysics or science fictional premises of the story are plausible and well handled well. We are correctly told, at a crucial point in the story, that just as only a fraction of our DNA separates humans from chimps, so a fraction could engender the difference between sense8s and the rest of us humans.

Sense8 is a creation of  J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis (Lana and Lilly), and their best work in years.  Highly recommended for a different, bright and colorful and profound and dangerous, kind of science fiction.

See also Sense8 2.1-2: The Mental, the Digital, and the Palpable


another kind of human species
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