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Sense8 fights impostor syndrome with the power of love

Photo: Sense8 (Netflix)
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It’s incredible how much mileage Sense8 gets out of its central concept. Even after 22 episodes, the joy of watching the sensates connect with one another hasn’t worn off, and I can’t imagine it ever will. There’s something so achingly beautiful about the idea of never being alone; of always having a wiser and more skilled guide when you’re out of your depth; and of having a completely non-judgmental friend who’s always there to gently push you in the right direction and to tell you it’s okay when you mess up. The sensate link is a concept that’s at once mind-bendingly complicated and utterly simple. And it allows the show to reflect and refract the human experience in all sorts of fascinating ways.


The element of the human experience explored in this particular episode is something a lot of people, including myself, struggle with: impostor syndrome. That’s the clinical term for the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity Lito describes on the beach. He fears he’s secretly a fraud and that it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be discovered as such. I imagine being a sensate only compounds those feelings. After all, it was technically Sun whose emotional honesty earned Lito the role in Iberian Dreams. But, on the other hand, if Sun is a part of him, is he not just using the acting tools at his disposal?

Sense8 doesn’t try to provide any big sweeping answers about the nature of identity, but it’s a theme that runs throughout the episode, right down to its lengthy title, “If All The World’s A Stage, Identity Is Nothing But A Costume.” That line comes courtesy of Marc Jacobs, of all people, who is on hand at Andy Dick’s—I’m sorry Kit Wrangler’s—Hollywood party to give Lito a makeover. The whole party sequence speaks to the bizarre nature of identity in a place as fiction-obsessed as Hollywood. Pretty much everyone at the party struggles to separate Lito Rodriguez, the actor, from Jordy, the character, to the point where they literally dress Lito as Jordy as some sort of weird group activity. And by the time Wrangler is asking Lito’s co-star if he wants to fuck him, the distinction between actor and character has become a confusing blur with hints of something ominous. No wonder Lito is feeling like an impostor.

The other main sensate struggling with impostor syndrome and identity issues is Capheus, who heads to his first big political rally while feeling a bit like an actor wearing a costume himself. In my review of “All I Want Right Now Is One More Bullet,” I think I underestimated the extent to which Capheus’ passiveness is supposed to be a part of his political storyline. Yet even with that in mind, there’s still something about his run for office that’s just not quite working for me. Perhaps it’s my own cynicism bleeding through, but the idea that Capheus could be so politically successful while also being so disinterested in politics rings false. The speech he gives at the rally is genuinely lovely, but are we supposed to believe he came up with it completely off the cuff? If so, his speak-from-the-heart eloquence feels like the most Pollyannaish take on his “an outsider shakes up politics” narrative. And if not, it’s odd that Sense8 refuses to show Capheus actually putting any work into his own political success.


Separate from the mechanics of his campaign, however, this is probably Capheus’ best episode of the season. Toby Onwumere nicely conveys both the discomfort Capheus feels at being thrust onto a national stage and the true conviction he has for what he’s saying. And the episode grapples with identity not only in terms of Capheus feeling like a pretend politician, but also in terms of his personal identity as well. In his speech, he explains that he’s a man of two worlds, one with ties to both the Kikuyu tribe of his mother and the Luo tribe of his father. And the fact that his parents boldly married outside of their communal boundaries meant Capheus grew up with the perspective that love is a bridge, not a wall.

Capheus’ connection to both the Kikuyu and the Luo tribes is a small-scale version of an idea that’s run throughout Sense8’s second season: Having a personal connection makes it harder to “other” someone with a different life experience. When she found out her husband’s company was shipping expired drugs to Africa, Kala wasn’t just outraged over an abstract injustice. She was specifically outraged that her Kenyan friend’s mom might not receive the treatment she deserves. Similarly, because Capheus has connections to both the Kikuyu and the Luo, he can’t paint either side as a faceless evil. He has to reckon with the humanity of both groups.


That’s part of the reason why even though Superpower’s return is somewhat random, I buy his new allegiance to Capheus. They have a personal history together and maybe that’s enough to put them on the same side. Though he kind of frames it in terms of regionalism, Superpower’s connection to Capheus is ultimately an experiential one—they both grew up in the slums and that gave them a certain scrappy determination and a shared outlook on life. The political riot is the sort of massive action sequence that’s breathtaking in scope, but Sense8 keeps it grounded in character as well, lending specificity and stakes to the visual spectacle.


In terms of other identity-related stories, Will struggles through the pain of his father’s death before rediscovering his identity as a cop for what feels like the umpteenth time this season. And in the most literal sense of impostor syndrome, Sun has to maintain her cover as a bartender at her brother’s gala with the help of Lito’s impressive skills. But there’s another theme at the heart of “If All The World’s A Stage…” too, and it’s, well, matters of the heart.

One of Sense8’s calling cards is that it’s so open, earnest, and celebratory about sexuality. But “If All The World’s A Stage…” puts aside the sex for once to focus on pure, old-fashioned romance. Though I’ve never been quite as invested in the Will/Riley pairing as the show wants me to be, Kala and Wolfgang more than fulfill my quota for intra-cluster romance. Tina Desai and Max Riemelt have fantastic chemistry that sells the idea that these two very different people would be inexplicably drawn to one another. And though we’ve already seen them have sex, there’s something almost Austen-esque about how much sexual tension this episode is able to wring from a hand touch and a kiss or two. Having been stuck in a holding pattern for so long, it’s refreshing to see Kala definitively choose Wolfgang over Rajan. But though it’s easy to get swept up in the sun-drenched romance of the Kala/Wolfgang scene, the episode’s most romantic moments belong to Lito and Hernando.


As Marc Jacobs notes, gay male relationships are often associated with sex more so than with romance. (Now there’s a sentence I didn’t expect to be writing in a Sense8 review.) And one of the things that was so lovely about Lito’s proclamation of love at the São Paulo Pride Parade was that it was a moment of pure romance for a couple who have had their fair share of hot and steamy sex scenes. And that romantic streak continues in “If All The World’s A Stage…” as Lito and Hernando offer the From Queer To Eternity scene the world didn’t know it was missing.

It’s a beautiful, uplifting sequence that’s all the more unexpected because it follows on the heels of the introduction of a character who seems destined to come between Lito and Hernando. And while that might still be the case, for now Sense8 reaffirms the strength of one of its strongest relationships. During his impostor syndrome crisis, Lito turns not to one of the seven voices in his head, but to the man who’s been at his side long before his sensate rebirth. And Hernando knows just how to reassure Lito and how to lift him out of his funk with a little movie magic. Yes it’s an incredibly sexy sequence, but even more importantly, it’s an incredibly sweet one too.


I’ve teared up every time I’ve rewatched the beach scene because it functions so well as both a specific celebration of the Lito/Hernando dynamic and as a broader example of what makes Sense8 so special. In between its mysteries, action scenes, and orgies, Sense8 is a show that celebrates the human experience in all of its diversities. Sometimes that means watching an up-and-coming Kenyan politician assert the need for peace and understanding. And other times it simply means watching two hot boyfriends make out on the beach.

Stray observations

  • On the one hand, given Andy Dick’s long history of sexual abuse, I’m super disappointed in Sense8 for casting him. On the other hand, getting Andy Dick to play a character who shoved an Oscar up his butt is also kind of inspired.
  • It’s pretty convenient that the sensates always have an empty seat next to them whenever they fly.
  • I was both surprised and delighted to see Cheyenne Jackson pop up as Lito’s new co-star, the perfectly named Blake Huntington. I know the show generally keeps Lito’s storyline away from the mythology stuff, but I hope Blake is another sensate. Also I hope he sings.
  • So was Miguel Ángel Silvestre already a flair bartender or did he learn that for the show? Either way, I’m impressed.
  • I was touched by Will struggling through his blocker-induced haze to warn Capheus he was headed for a trap. I was also touched by Capheus forgiving Will by noting, “When my father was killed I went a bit crazy too.”
  • It took every ounce of my willpower not to just watch the finale instead of writing this review. Let the sensate heist begin!
  • On that note, I leave you in Rowan’s incredibly capable hands for the finale. It’s been such a joy to get to write about this show and to read your insightful comments. If you want to chat more, come find me on Twitter where I’m doing important things like sorting the sensates into Hogwarts houses.

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