Back when Sense8 premiered, one of its chief marketing points was its locations. It was the story of eight interconnected characters in eight of the world’s great cities: Mumbai, Seoul, London, Chicago, Berlin, Nairobi, the Bay Area, and Mexico City. With the Wachowskis’ typical high production values, it was going to be a visual feast, like tourism with a story. You can still see the remains of this impulse in Sense8’s intro, which focuses not on the characters or storyline, but instead just people, all over the world, living their lives in a combination of the beautiful and the mundane.
Yet as the show has continued, this pitch has somewhat fallen by the wayside. For one thing, some of the early criticism of the show focused on its “failures of global imagination” which specifically called out the lack of personality in many of the show’s locations. There were a few exceptions, of course, particularly the scenes in the Bay Area and in Berlin, and every time the show went to a museum.
The things that the show got praised for, meanwhile, tended to not be about location at all. The diversity of the cast and characters, and the celebration of that diversity was one of the main sources of love for Sense8, of course. And there was also a lot of praise for the grand interconnected montages and action sequences, which didn’t necessarily require any kind of location—the biggest of them, after all, was a generic corporate building in the middle of nowhere in Iceland.
For the bulk of this season, Sense8 hasn’t focused on its locations as key elements of the show in their own right. First, we’ve definitely moved beyond those eight cities, as Amsterdam and Sao Paulo have had more memorable and clearly on-location scenes than a few of those initial locations. And several of those initial prominent cities have largely faded into the background, especially if you consider the Christmas special a separate entity. I don’t have any real sense of Mumbai, Mexico City, or Berlin as locations, while the characters left London, Seoul, and Chicago some time ago.
But in “I Have No Room In My Heart For Hate” we get a homecoming, at least of sorts, to many of locales and perhaps more importantly, the characters who inhabit them. The biggest of these involves Riley flying to Chicago in order to get information on Whispers. It’s not a homecoming for her, of course, but it is for Will, who’s along for the ride and has to recruit his best friend and police partner Diego to help Riley out.
Will trying to apologize to Diego is one of many scenes throughout the episode of cluster members trying to reconnect with people they’ve left behind. (Nomi, oddly, directly vocalized this to Amanita who’s perhaps the only major non-sensate character who doesn’t need this apology in the previous episode.) Three scenes in fairly quick succession all follow this template: Will with Diego, Capheus with his mother, and Sun with her memories of her parents. These comprise the heart of the episode, with all of them being about emotional connection that doesn’t involve magic, and all of them also being about the sensates’ innate sense of justice costing them normal lives.
That sense of justice pervades the episode almost as much as the homecomings. It is the driving force behind Kala’s fight with Rajan, for example, as she discovers that he’s involved in the “totally normal” Big Pharma habit of dumping potentially expired drugs overseas. It’s probably that Kala would be shocked on her own, but her relationship with Capheus and knowledge of his mother’s condition makes it personal to her.
Rajan’s apology also seems to fit within the homecoming idea, although he hasn’t been quite as absent as, say, Diego was this season. It does appear to be a return to the idea that he’s potentially a decent person—I’ve been slightly confused by his sudden heel turn this season, so I hope that this is a character complication and not merely a charming sleazeball knowing how to say the right things. We’ll see, I suppose. This remains one of Sense8’s weaker storylines, but more three-dimensional characters can’t hurt it.
Lito’s story, meanwhile, is still filled with beautiful emotional moments while remaining largely stuck on the same theme of homophobia. This time, not only does it hurt Lito, whose talent agency dumps him, but also Daniela, whose ex and family comes to try to manipulate her into leaving Hernando and Lito. “I have a relationship with these men that isn’t based on threats, or control, or money” is a wonderful line and ideal, but it’s also a variation on the same form, episode after episode. As beautiful as moments like the young talent giving Lito a hug in the elevator can be, I don’t think we’d lose their power if the story surrounding them was more complex.
On the other hand, Capheus’ storyline continues to impress me, moving quickly from being one of the weakest in the first season to probably my favorite this season (maybe tied with Sun). The obvious explanation is that despite not quite having the instant charisma of Aml Ameen, Toby Onwumere is able to infuse the character with more depth. But I think that could be only part of the story—it’s also that Nairobi, one of the least interesting locations of the first season, has been infused with depth and a more interesting storyline of Capheus needing to step up and be able to do more than simply be really good at violence, as his story went in the first season.
That depth is very much on display in the scene with his mother. Perhaps there’s an innate appeal in the narrative of the child of a murdered social justice working taking up his parent’s cause, but the whole story really worked for me. The way it tied into Sun’s story, as she decides what form her quest for justice or revenge might take is simply an added bonus.
Sun’s got an interesting little story this episode. The plot doesn’t necessarily move along—Detective Hot Cop shows up again, and tries to gain her aid, again, without success. But it does include some of the most beautiful shots of the episode, a sort of return to that first-season form of trying to find the most impressive locations in each city. The Seoul cemetary at dawn certainly fits that bill, and the scenes are shot to take full advantage of both the architecture and the lighting.
Detective Hot Cop also challenges Sun to a sparring match, which takes advantage of Sense8’s superb action sequence potential in a way that the past few episodes have kind of ignored. So while it may have felt like wheel-spinning plot-wise, Sun’s scenes had tremendous aesthetic value. She seemed to agree, giving the detective a smooch before leaving him in the dust.
The quest for justice also pervades the mythology-based cliffhanger at the end of the episode. Riley, having been given a location in Chicago, seeks it out in a superbly-paced sequence for building tension. That tension comes to a head in one of many meta sequences this season, when Riley, in order to find out the truth, as asked to take a pill that may be more dangerous than it’s worth. Nearly 20 years after Morpheus made his famous (and much-abused) offer to Neo in The Matrix, a Wachowski is pulling the same trick.
It works, however, and the woman Riley meets is another person driven by a sense of justice to rebel and help take Whispers and BPO down. Here the tension changes form to Will and the other Action Movie sensates preparing for an assault on Whispers’ house…when the previously thought-dead Jonas appears to ask if they really want to do this. I expected to see more Naveen Andrews, though primarily in flashbacks. Seeing him apparently alive is a fast twist, but not one I’m opposed to following.
Like Capheus’ story, I’m coming around the overarching BPO narrative. It would be easy to dismiss the idea of a powerful evil corporation and secret history of humanity as cliché, and like Caroline, if asked, I’d hardly mention it as a major reason to watch Sense8. And yet despite that I find myself consistently engaging with the BPO scenes at an emotional level beyond what I’d expect. Perhaps it’s J. Michael Straczynski’s famous skill at television plotting that’s parceling out this narrative at exactly the right pace, or perhaps it’s just that it’s not failing at any point where so many mystery shows do. But I can’t deny that most of the time, the BPO scenes are some of my favorites, much to my surprise.
- “My god, Kala, you’re even more beautiful when you’re upset.” Lines like these make me lean more toward the Rajan-is-a-scoundrel theory.
- “But I also know that my best friend is the shittiest liar I’ve ever met.” I didn’t even remember liking the Will-Diego relationship that much, but this scene was surprisingly good.
- “Because you cannot escape hope. The only hope this country has is if we do it ourselves.”
- “May I propose a test to your invulnerability, Miss Bak?” Nobody can resist Detective Hot Cop.