The most common complaint I’ve heard from people watching the first half of Sense8’s first season is that it’s too slow, that it doesn’t deliver enough on the sci-fi action its mythology seems to warrant. The premise promises an intricate telepathic connection between its eight main characters, and yet, we rarely see that connection put to use. But the steadfast restraint of Sense8 is far more compelling than any time its characters get all philosophical with their words. Because the sensates’ abilities to visit each other and use one another’s skills have been used so infrequently, when they finally happen, it’s exciting and fun. Sense8 doesn’t rush through these reveals, and as a result, they’re so much more powerful.
Plus, there’s an impressive amount of realism to how these characters are reacting to their changing lives. Often in sci-fi tales that show normal humans discovering they have extraordinary abilities, the characters embrace the weird a little too quickly. It makes sense from a story point of view: You don’t want to get bogged down in the believable but potentially boring and redundant psychology of your characters just losing their shit over what’s happening to them.
But Sense8 doesn’t back down from the emotional and psychological states of these characters, because their abilities rely fundamentally on their emotions and psychology. Every character has had a bit of a different reaction to their unexpected visitors, and those differences make sense based on what we know about each of them. Nomi thinks there’s something wrong with her brain. The devoutly religious Kala thinks a demon has been sent to her in the form of a perpetually naked German man. Lito thinks the stress of work and his secret relationship are making him go crazy. Capheus thinks he’s being watched over by the spirit of Jean-Claude. Sun tries to be as rational as possible, rejecting the visitors as hallucinations. Will is the most well adjusted sensate, simply because Jonas managed to explain a little to him. And Riley and Wolfgang seem relatively chill about the whole thing, which perhaps makes sense for the lifestyles they both lead.
In “Demons,” the sensates work through these complicated feelings and face their blossoming connections more directly than we’ve seen in previous episodes. As Rowan Kaiser said of “Art Is Like Religion,” the Sense8 structure is pretty straightforward: eight individual short films that play with different genre elements, connected loosely by the telepathic premise. While that still applies in a macro sense to “Demons,” it’s the most tightly connected episode of the season yet. The visitations here seem more intentional, more urgent. Riley and Will bond early on and then are forced together again when Will has to save Riley from Nyx. Wolfgang confesses his attraction to Kala and tries to further convince her not to marry Rajan. Sun and Riley realize they have similar pasts and presents.
The connections between the sensates become more intimate over the course of “Demons,” building too their most intimate bond yet: a literal telepathic orgy. Now, much like the global performance of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” the orgy is a definite work of fanservice. They remind me of Orphan Black’s clone dance from last season. They’re examples of the writers having fun with the premise, and again, because Sense8 uses them sparingly, they’re very effective. And whereas “What’s Up” was really just fun and games, there’s something much more subversive and thematically relevant about the orgy. First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like it on television. From a queer theory perspective, the implications of the sensate orgy are incredibly radical and complex. Any binaries or preconceived notions about sexuality and gender seem to vanish the second the sensates begin this collective sexual experience. As dumb as the menstruation plotline in “Art Is Like Religion” sometimes skewed, it’s interesting to think about how the sensates’ shared minds challenge the notion that certain experiences are innately “male” or “female.” The orgy is an even more nuanced and smart exploration of that mindfuck. And on top of all that, the orgy filmed with the same beautiful stylization most of Sense8 is seen through. In other words, it’s hot.
Not only is “Demons” intimately connected by the sensates finally becoming closer to one another, but it’s also one of the most thematically tight and consistent episodes of the season so far. In more ways than one, the characters don’t feel so disparate anymore. The episode’s demons are fear and desire, which drive most of the stories in “Demons.” The desire, obviously, is seen in that orgy. But fear is just as potent throughout “Demons.” And the sensates experience their own fears simultaneously with the fears of the others…so no wonder most of them are starting to really freak out. That’s a whole lot of fear. But they’re also starting to realize that they have each other, that their connections can be used in times of danger, loneliness, and yes, even pleasure.
- Thank you to Rowan Kaiser for letting me step in on this show. It’s kind of a weird mix of everything I love, so while I know it’s not perfect, I’ve been enjoying it immensely. And I’m especially grateful I got to step in for the orgy episode! A telepathic orgy!
- Many elements of Sense8 can seem very cliché for the genre, but the most glaring examples are its villains. As effective as the sequence of Will and Riley suffocating together ends up being, it was impossible to take Nyx seriously, especially as he muses about plastic bags and violence in a faux-deep way. Silas Kabaka is similarly a very conventionally drawn baddie, and even his relationship with his daughter seems more like an obvious, hackneyed choice than something to give him depth.
- Amanita’s mother teaches evolution, because on all shows about people with special abilities, it is mandatory that someone be an evolution professor.
- Riley speaks more in this episode than we’ve ever heard from her, and it’s a welcome development, because for a while, all Tuppence Middleton really had to do was look sad or scared.