Sense8 is a set of promises. With the premise of the show, it promises certain things: a diverse set of characters and locations, high production values, and sensate communication weirdness. As it’s progressed, it’s made new promises, and largely delivered on them.
Wachowski-level action sequences? Promised, and delivered multiple times in just the first half-dozen episodes, particularly Nomi’s escape and Capheus’ gang fight. Intense, earnest emotional connection? Promised and delivered with the famous karaoke sequence. At an individual level, Sense8 promised seasonal arcs for its characters, with almost every single member of the cluster having a straightforward story in the first season which achieved resolution by its end—Wolfgang with his uncle, Lito coming to terms with his sexuality, and so on.
But the biggest promise that Sense8 made, and delivered on magnificently, was the final sequence of the season, the grand rescue involving the entire cluster, for the first time working together against the big bad guys at BPO—followed by the first-ever shot with the entire cluster.
That, too, served as a promise, as the Christmas Special launched multiple highly emotional scenes at us, with all of the sensates partying, celebrating, and fucking as a group. With the second season beginning, we had a few promises: that the characters’ individual stories would evolve and progress; that the BPO story would get bigger, better, and make more sense; that we’d meet other clusters; and that we’d get those awesome set pieces that proved to be Sense8 at its best.
For half the season, Sense8 mostly delivered, and in the process, set up two very specific promises. First, that we’d get a cluster versus cluster action sequence, which we saw a bit of when Wolfgang fought Lila in the bar, but one that got cut short. And second, the season has set up the potential of our sensates meeting in person, as a cluster. The relatively slow pace of the back half of this second season has also made a few promises—without those famous action sequences in the last few episodes, the finale promised explosive resolution.
Not only did it not deliver, “You Want A War?” actively went out of its way to betray that promise.
I mean, if I made a list of the top Sense8 scenes that I wanted to see, everyone meeting physically for the first time and the cluster all working together, in-person, on a massive heist would probably be near the top of the list. Sense8 skips the former entirely, and shows only a quick set of highlights of the latter (without any of the planning that makes heist movies so damn fun.) It was, essentially, the Previously On for the coolest episode of Sense8 yet, and now one we’ll never see.
There’s a stunning lack of emotional resolution throughout the episode. No fewer than three storylines are put on hold, instead of resolving, across the finale. Wolfgang’s resolution with Lila, either by fighting her or fleeing to meet Kala is cut short by BPO kidnapping him. Kala, meanwhile, is apparently finally ready to tell Rajan the truth, when Rajan, as is his wont, cuts her short without telling the whole truth and ships her off to Paris—we still don’t know exactly what’s happening except that Rajan is a controlling patriarch and his handsome friend is somehow untrustworthy, which we could figure out easily from before.
And then there’s Sun, whose apparent resolution to her revenge story comprises the bulk of the first half of the episode. In a vacuum, this section would be great, albeit a little rushed. As she’s preparing to take her revenge, Detective Mun shows up and is promptly shot for his trouble by Sun’s brother. She gives chase, fighting through his security, and leading to confrontation in the garage. Kala demonstrates some action hero skills, shooting a gas tank and leading to a proper explosion, not like one from Hollywood. (“Okay. That was hot,” says Wolfgang.)
To be honest, the sequence isn’t one of Sense8’s greatest action scenes. It’s slick as hell, but far more gunplay than martial arts, which is typically weaker for the show. Detective Mun‘s quick appearance and even faster neutralization also goes against the level of interest the show seemed to have in him in his first few episodes. On the other hand, the car chase sequence is pretty great, though, especially with Joong-Ki screaming “Are you serious? My sister’s the fucking Terminator?”
Still, on its own, the relative lack of resolution—Sun captures her brother, but lets him go rather than striking the final blow—wouldn’t really stand out, especially as he flees with a man who may be an even bigger bad than him, set up for the next season. But combined with everything else that happens in “You Want A War?” it seems a lot more like the entire episode is spent setting up for the third season, instead of being satisfying on its own.
I mean, look: first, the BPO storyline ends on a cliffhanger, with Whispers and Jonas kidnapped while Wolfgang remains imprisoned. Then Sun’s, Wolfgang’s, and Kala’s stories get halted in the middle in this episode. Last episode, we got our apparent end to Capheus’ narrative, as he flees his speech in the middle of an attack, only to be told later that it was a good speech. Will’s emotional state after his father’s passing isn’t even mentioned here, and Riley is still primarily attached to him and the BPO narrative, so we don’t get anything from her.
That’s six of the eight sensates, and the overarching plot, that get varying degrees of unsatisfactory resolution in Season 2. Last episode, to be fair, we got a lovely resolution to Lito’s previously-dragging arc, as Dani’s conniving to get Lito a Hollywood role bears fruit. And the episode before that included Nomi’s emotional arc hitting a high note as the FBI is blown off her trail and she gains a measure of acceptance from her father.
Not only that, but in the finale, Nomi and Amanita have perhaps the only successful emotional resolution of the episode, when, with time to process, an apology quickly turns into a delightful mutual proposal. Amanita’s been one of the star non-sensates for the show’s entire run, and this, combined her arrival in London alongside the entire crew, really solidifies her as an equal cast member to the eight core stars.
But apart from that scene, I just don’t understand why “You Want A War?” is supposed to be the season finale. Sense8, for all its flaws, has understood structure. For a season and a half, it escalated in complexity and resolution, both in terms of the internal narrative and its own production. Then it stopped—seemingly with the promise that cool and emotional stuff lay ahead—only to withhold that action and catharsis at the last minute. That’s not just surprising for not being how Sense8 has worked prior to the second half of this season, but it’s also surprising given J. Michael Straczynski’s history of successfully building multi-seasonal arcs on television.
With that in mind, the only explanation I can think of is that this episode was rushed for production reasons. To hit its release date? Because thirteen episodes were expected in the season? Because a third season was all but guaranteed and there was too much story to properly fit in this season? It’s all rampant speculation, but what I know is this: Sense8 is one of the last shows I expected to go all Ocean’s 12 and tell, not show, the climactic resolution. But at the end of its second season, the questions Sense8 has left me with are “How did this happen?” instead of “What happens next?”
- Capheus connects with a few local sensates: “So even though no sensate with half a brain should go to a public event like your speech without taking a blocker first,” “We came.” “We heard you.”
- Between the promise of Paris, and the addition of Los Angeles, we’re seeing more and more major cities potentially playing big roles on Sense8. I’m kinda torn on this—it’s nice to drop in on famous new cities, but locales like Mexico City and Mumbai felt distinctly underutilized this season as it was.
- A huge thank you to Caroline Siede for splitting this season with me. I hope we see you again sooner than two years from now.