There are three kinds of emotional resolutions that Sense8 works toward. The biggest and most successful are the huge interconnected sensate scenes: karaoke, orgies, and parties (oh my!), which we’ll get to at the end of this review. The second plot resolution that Sense8 tends to work toward is its own mythology. We’ve seen a fair amount of that this season, with the Will-Whispers conflict serving as the dominant narrative force so far.
But the aspect of the show that takes up the most time in each episode is the third one: the individual stories of each sensate. Despite rarely dominating the discourse surrounding the show, they provide Sense8 with arguably its biggest potential advantage. For example, if the cluster moments work, like they did in the first season, you get a show that’s easy to love but can be hard to like. If the mythology story works, then you get a fast-paced conspiracy show that probably burns out pretty quickly.
If the individual sensate stories work, however, then you get a show that could be one of the best on television. Most of these stories were relatively generic in the first season: Will following a mystery; Capheus dealing with an African gang war; Wolfgang out for revenge; Kala trying to make a loveless marriage work. Some worked, some didn’t, some varied wildly from scene to scene.
So one of the things I’m most keen on keeping an eye on in this second season of Sense8: whether these storylines have adapted and improved. Or, to put it another way, whether they’ve moved away from the simple genre and location variation of the first season, and added significant depth or surprising turns in the second season.
Nowhere is that more apparent than Sun’s story, which is quickly turning into one of the highlights of Sense8. I mean, we all knew Doona Bae was awesome, but her ability to kick ass was largely detached from Sun’s story: she occasionally had to fight in prison, and she occasionally had to fight with and for other sensates. In this second season, however, we’ve seen two major developments that make her story far more interesting. Her specific friendship with the elderly Ming-Jun, for example, has brought out a vulnerability in Sun that we haven’t often seen. That ends in this episode, though, in “Fear Never Fixed Anything” as Ming-Jun gives her blessing to Sun to move along without her.
In her place comes the second-season complication: the return of Sun’s teenaged rival and lover, Detective Mun. “Polyphony” had him realize who Sun actually was in his past and hers, this episode sees him do something about it, as he goes to Sun’s dojo (in a decent bit of detective work) and leaves his offer to be an ally to Sun’s quest for revenge. The complication is fascinating because Sun, for all her physical poise, has also demonstrated a certain naivete about sex and love. The storytelling coincidence of Mun being sent after Sun is utterly absurd at a certain level, but in terms of making her journey more interesting? It’s hard to see a better single choice than this.
On the other side of this manner of measuring Sense8’s progress is Lito’s story, which appears to be stuck in neutral. In the first season, Lito had to come to terms with the public nature of his sexuality while trying to keep Daniella and Hernando happy. In the second season….that’s still exactly where he’s at. His invite to the Sao Paulo Pride event makes this more explicit: Should Lito publicly embrace his sexuality and celebrate his gayness, or should he continue to try to fit in with his culture’s norms? It is not at all a surprise that Sense8 comes down hard on the side of “be yourself publicly” but it is, so far this season, not a story that seems to be progressing in an interesting fashion from where it was in the first season.
Capheus’ story, meanwhile, is one that seemed pretty generic last season but is demonstrating both fascinating progression and cringe-worthy moments. I am really interested in the idea that Capheus, by virtue of being a sensate and having access to a cluster that can make him both more charismatic and more of an action hero, can actually become a hero within his community—and how he deals with that. Just the idea that any sensate automatically has access to eight different professions could immediately make them one of the most valuable people in any community—and if any of those professions are truly special, like martial arts prodigy or wildly popular pulp actor, then any member of the cluster could immediately stand out, as Capheus does. So it’s no wonder he’s recruited to join a political party.
On the other hand, in “Fear Never Fixed Anything,” this fame manifests as, well, him being treated as a hick by a bunch of fancy-pants reporters in his crush’s news station. This scene…to be honest, I have no idea what this scene was supposed to do. I have no expectation that we’ll see these reporters ever again, although I guess it’s possible. They’re just conventional TV bullies in a way that makes Capheus feel small and nothing else. This storyline promises to be far better than the stereotype of the African gang war that held the first season back in many ways, and then it does something like the reporter bullies that goes nowhere.
The oddest shift from the first season to the second may be within Kala’s story. Kala had probably the weakest of all the first-season stories, to be honest. She had a relatively simple melodrama of a perfect husband whom she didn’t love, and whose rich father was kind of a jerk, and…that’s about it. This second season hasn’t seen a major addition like Capheus’ fame or Sun’s old flame. Instead, Kala’s story has been complicated primarily by making her perfect husband seem like kind of a jerk,
The process started in the Christmas Special, when Rajan’s reply to Kala’s worries about her sensate friends was entirely about his sexual needs. But it really accelerates in this episode when Kala gets promoted, finds some accounting discrepancies, takes them to Rajan, and is immediately dismissed in a fashion that any genre-savvy viewer should immediately understand as screaming “MASSIVE CAPITALIST CORRUPTION THIS IS A VERY BAD MAN.” When Rajan says “What matters is that we ship on time,” well, that’s pretty much game over for him in the Good Sense8 Partner Power Rankings.
It’s so transparent that I think it undoes a lot of the good culture war work in the earlier dinner scene between Kala’s father and Rajan’s—a fascinating argument between capitalist progress and humanist empathy is reduced largely to a jerk trying and failing to bully a nice dude.
That superficiality is also on display in a fascinating way with Nomi’s story in this episode, as she attempts to work with “The Guy,” a hacker who can help her and Amanita achieve “e-death” and escape their surveillance. “The Guy” ends up being a hacker in an Anonymous-style Guy Fawkes mask, a turn that’s bizarrely self-referential given the Wachowskis’ connection to V For Vendetta, the film that popularized this particular look amongst Anonymous. Meanwhile, Nomi’s big line in the cluster trying to decide what to do seems like it’s taken directly from a superficial fight-the-power movie like V: “Your life is either defined by the system, or by the way you defy the system.”
It’s especially odd to see given the role that Anonymous-like groups have played in the escalation of harassment and destruction of womens’ lives and reputations in “movements” like Gamergate in the past few years, let alone how Wikileaks has, uh, apparently switched sides from freedom fighters to fascist lickspittles.. The relatively straightforward support of leftists and anti-authoritarians (like myself) for activist hacker groups half a decade ago no longer seems to apply—yet here’s Anonymous, dropping cool lines and helping Nomi and Neets out while suggesting an opposition to BPO in general. I don’t want to go too overboard here suggesting that Sense8 gets Anonymous and the internet totally wrong here, especially in the middle of the season, but I’m certainly keeping an eye on it.
Another storyline I’m keeping an eye on is Wolfgang’s position in the rising gang war of Berlin. Both that, and his relationship with Leila, a sensate from a different cluster, seem promising—but not enough has happened to either fulfill those promises or be disappointing.
The episode ends with the last two sensates, Riley and Will—who’ve become totally entrenched in the overarching BPO storyline—trying to make contact with other sensates. The episode’s title, “Fear Never Fixed Anything,” comes from Wolfgang agreeing with Will that they should move from the defensive to the offensive. Specifically, they should attempt to contact other clusters.
That’s a decent plan, and one that I think will definitely help the mythology of Sense8 become far deeper and more compelling than the excuse to grand set pieces that it currently serves as. The problem is…okay, the problem is, what the fuck exactly was the plan to contact other sensates and how the hell did it actually seem to work? Somehow, Riley holding a DJ set in a packed warehouse was sufficient to make telepathic contact with sensates like the extremely stereotypical Australian (WITH A FUCKING HAT WITH CORKS IN IT) and a Tibetan monk, because of course a Tibetan monk is a sensate.
Watching the episode, and putting together the way story, image, and sound worked together, the only logical explanation I could think of was that in the world of Sense8, playing 4 Non Blondes in and of itself automatically summons sensates. Hearing the sing-song “What’s goin’ on!?!” played on loud enough speakers is sufficient for summoning homo sensorium no matter where in the world they may be.
Maybe I missed a half-assed explanation for how the telepathy would work, or maybe Sense8 didn’t bother, but the ending managed to do two of the things I’m most worried about the show doing: setting up set pieces merely as references to its greatest hits (like the karaoke scene), and focusing on striking images and scenes instead of constructing coherent narratives. On the downside, it’s the first time I’ve felt like the show is more interested in mythologizing itself than simply being itself. On the plus side, it’s the first time this season that I think it’s swung and totally missed on a big important moment. As long as it continues to build on the fundamentals of each of its characters’ stories, mistakes like this will continue to be forgivable.
- “I’m talkin’ eeeee-death!” I wouldn’t necessarily call Bug genre savvy but he’s definitely genre aware.
- “I have no plan. I have an enemy. And I won’t stop until he’s dead. Or I am.”
- “Spending my time in a kitchen learning how to cook was my destiny. Just as inheriting a fortune was yours.” SENSE8 BURN
- “Nothing venal, vile or vainglorious, rather, a vital vertex of virtue, valor, and virtuosity in the name of veracity.” Gotta applaud that.