TV Review - Sense8: Season 2

If you need a primer on what this series is and who the characters are, my review of the first season should clear up some questions. This second season actually premiered last year. Netflix released what was then called "A Christmas Special," which ended up being the first episode of this second season. A lot of the issues that I had with that episode, the rest of this second season doesn't address or solve. For the most part, Lana Wachowski and co-writer J. Michael Straczynski move along with the convoluted subplot and philosophical statements that reaffirm their contradicting worldview.

Given the story that Wachowski is trying to tell and the various plot turns, the show seems like it's reasonably paced, but somehow it feels slower than the first season. This is probably because there aren't as many thrilling action scenes this season as there were last season. Each episode last season featured a really great action set-piece. This season tries the same but several episodes fly by without one and it drags the season. This season feels like it spins its wheels more than it actually goes anywhere. Instead of 12 episodes, which are actually 10 episodes that are a hour long and 1 episode that is 2 hours long, this show could and perhaps should have been reduced to the titular 8.

Wachowski and Straczynski could have tightened things up here not just from a writing stand-point, but Wachowski as the primary director could have also tightened things on the production front. Her love of slow-motion shots could accentuate moments, but this time around it only slows the progression. Since the two aren't able to top what they did last season, it feels even more frustrating when she does do her slow-motion shots.

Conversely, certain stories and characters aren't given the proper amount of time or focus to fully explore their situations. For example, Toby Onwumere co-stars as Capheus aka Van Damn. Capheus is the African who works as a tour-bus driver. His tour bus is decorated with images of the actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. He rescued a little girl last season. This season, he meets a news reporter named Zakia who encourages him to go into politics to fight corruption and poverty in his town or neighborhood. His mom doesn't want him to end up like his father, meanwhile a local gangster is in love with his mom. All these plot points are all brushed over. Capheus jumps from plot-point to the next without time to explore each, so much that it doesn't feel like we're truly connected to him, a shame given that Onwumere replaced the actor who played Capheus last season.

Tina Desai also co-stars as Kala, a biochemist who works with her husband, Rajan, played by Purab Kohli. She works with Rajan at his father's company in Mumbai. Last season, it was established that Kala doesn't really love Rajan. Their marriage was arranged and she's discovered that she has feelings for the German criminal named Wolfgang, played by Max Riemelt. Besides physical attraction, the show doesn't spend any amount of time exploring why Kala might love Wolfgang or what future she might have with him. The show rather spins its wheels with her. She spends the entire season on the fence about leaving Rajan who is a really good guy but with whom she doesn't have that spark. I get that she's ambivalent and doesn't want to hurt Rajan, but it got boring watching her after a while.

When it comes to relationships, the show sends a bunch of mixed messages. Obviously, this show is now noted for its orgy scene. We see a bunch of people having sex together. Eight people are basically naked and on top of each other fornicating. With a relationship between a transgendered woman and a lesbian, as well as a veritable threesome between two gay men and a woman, this show pushes the idea that people should be able to love whomever regardless of race, gender or sexuality. This show also seems to push the idea of plural love or poly-amorous relationships. Nothing says that more than an orgy.

Yet, the show also keeps pushing this contradictory idea that Will, played by Brian J. Smith, and Riley, played by Tuppence Middleton, are this be-all-end-all couple. The same could be said about Kala and Wolfgang. The show keeps pushing that they're these two star-crossed lovers who are destined to be together because no one else is right for them. Even though it's non-traditional, the relationship between Nomi who is transgendered, played by Jamie Clayton, and Amanita, the lesbian, played by Freema Agyeman, is in that same vein, and that vein is monogamy.

Each time the characters in this series engage in an orgy, it's never questioned afterward. They accept it as normal and natural. Yet, this idea of monogamy seems very strong among the aforementioned couples, as if they've forgotten that they've all had sex with each other. Arguably, the orgies are all in their heads. Since the characters all live in separate countries and most have never actually been together, they probably don't perceive it the same. However, in Episode 6, entitled "Isolated Above, Connected Below," Kala does have sex with Wolfgang, even though she's in India and he's in Germany. She wonders if that means she's cheated on her husband, Rajan. In reality, it would be like asking if phone sex with someone else is adultery. Given what being a sensate is, the answer is yes. Weirdly, she never asks that question after the orgy, which happens in Episode 1.

The problem is that this show never really wants to explore that question. Nomi and Amanita are in a relationship in the physical world, but Nomi is a sensate and can have orgies with seven other people in her head, which is arguably just as real. Amanita isn't a sensate, so she can't have orgies in her head, but she's okay with it. Therefore, how would Nomi feel if Amanita went off and engaged in sex with other people in reality? Will and Riley were both in that orgy, so clearly they don't mind having sex with other people. Yet, when Riley is approached by another guy named Puck, she rejects him as if the idea of sex with him is so abhorrent. Maybe she wasn't attracted to Puck, but she later spends time with Will's friend, Diego, played by Ness Bautista. He's also a cop who's cute and funny, so what if she hooked up with him. How would Will feel?

Wachowski and Straczynski want their cake and eat it too. They want to play into the concept of monogamy as a way of heightening connections between certain pairs, but then embrace polyamory and sexual fluidity when it suits them to be prurient. Having an orgy seems like a logical conclusion to a group of characters with this kind of psychic ability but Wachowski and Straczynski want to jump to that orgy without taking all the logical steps and stops to get there, and certainly without any character questioning or even challenging it.

Speaking of which, the sensate ability in and of itself is never really questioned or challenged. In the second episode, entitled "Who Am I," a character says that if we can read minds, no one can lie. This statement goes unquestioned or unchallenged. No one ever debates that having privacy or the right to privacy is something that many people in the history of the United States have fought and died for. It's not that lies are good, but people like having their privacy. Among the characters here, no one takes that position.

In that case, this series is like the new film The Circle. That movie was all about social media and using technology to connect people and eliminate privacy. A lot of millennials embrace this idea, but there are plenty of people who believe everything about a person, even their most intimate moments, shouldn't be posted online for all to see, or even to a closed loop of friends, as was the intention of Facebook. This series bypasses the technology and supposes a psychic form of Facebook. Yet, there's never any push-back. There's a hint that one peripheral character might not like being a sensate but none of our main characters takes that point-of-view.

The main characters have no real conflict among themselves. They all like each other. There's never any real drama within the cluster. A sensate is part of a cluster or a limited network of people who are all psychically linked. What if one of the people in your cluster was Osama Bin Laden? Would you be okay having an orgy with him?

That being said, Episode 9, entitled "What Family Actually Means" and Episode 11, entitled, "You Want a War?" are the two best episodes of this season. The writing and emotional resonance in Episode 9 is simply heartbreaking. The action and intrigue in Episode 11 are by far the best of the season.

Here is my list of the best moments from the other episodes in Season 2.

Episode 2 - Will becomes Sherlock Holmes when facing off against Mr. Whispers in the interrogation room.

Episode 3 - Sun is nearly killed in prison by hanging.

Episode 6 - Capheus enjoys some coffee after sex.

Episode 7 - Nomi meets Amanita's three dads and her hippie mom.

Episode 7 - Sun fights Detective Mun (pictured above).

Episode 8 - Sun has to deal with a depressed Lito in her love hotel room.

Episode 10 - Lito and Hernando have their 'From Here to Eternity' moment.

Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 11 episodes.


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