Each episode of Sense8 has served a purpose so far. The first introduced the characters, the second, how the show’s premise works with its characters. “Smart Money’s On The Skinny Bitch” focuses on what the sensate connections mean, culminating in a riveting final action sequence where weapons and martial arts skills get transferred to a novice in order to win a desperate fight.
The problem is that much of the rest of the episode doesn’t support that. It’s very common with these complex, intercutting shows to engage with what former TV Club editor Todd VanDerWerff calls “moment storytelling,” where episodic structure is largely tossed aside in favor of ending on a memorable moment. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it quickly make what’s supposed to be a novel form of storytelling eminently predictable and, if the setup pales in comparison to the ending, makes it feel like the only point of a show is waiting for the last five minutes.
That isn’t really a feeling I’ve gotten from Sense8 before now. Part of this may just be that the previous action sequences, the drug dealer shootout and the car chase, weren’t significantly better than the rest of the episode, as was the case here. This action sequence felt like vintage Wachowskis, managing to marry quick cutting with clarity of combat. It’s also about the two least-used characters of the eight so far, Capheus and Sun Bak, finally giving them something to do in a big way.
For the other characters highlighted, well, it’s hard to say what’s going on. Lito’s sex farce continued, and turned dangerous, with Daniella’s would-be lover showing up and threatening him, then seemingly giving him a blessing for their relationship. There’s definitely an escalation in the tension of that part of the plot—but it still feels almost totally disconnected from the other sensate stuff, except for the occasional Riley pop-in. As the connections in the rest of the story pick it, it still seems to be a near-total outlier.
I do find myself fascinated by the different layers of acting, movies, and reality that Lito’s story carries. The scene with him and Joaquin in the restaurant, talking about his pulp movies felt exactly like a pulp movie on its own—a sort of sexy Charlie Kaufman film. More than any other, Lito’s scenes feel like a fully-fledged film on its own. It’s one I’m happy to watch, but currently confused about its relevance.
Riley’s story as well seems to have moved in a totally different direction, where after the tension of the first episode, she’s hanging out in one of those television druggie London lofts with kind street kids. Wolfgang, meanwhile, is totally missing, turning this episode into an unsurprising counter to the focus on the white characters of Sense8 I noticed last episode.
I was also intrigued by the show’s sudden glorification of violence, which seemed to be a specific choice by Capheus. Sense8 could, easily, have had the fight start when he was robbed. Instead he made the deliberate choice to chase down the robbers and become the aggressor. For a show about empathy and interconnectedness, deliberate violence seemed somewhat surprising. Of course, the Wachowskis’ most famous film, The Matrix, has no shortage of violence. But something like Cloud Atlas, or much of J. Michael Straczynski’s work, tends to highlight violence as a last resort—albeit an occasionally awesome one. How much this becomes a focus moving forward could define Sense8 in interesting ways.
It’s possible that awkward episodes like this may be inevitable with a show that utilizes this structure. Some parts will be better than others. Sometimes the revelations will force previously quiet character moments into pieces of plot momentum, as is the case with Nomi in the hospital—which may simply have been a lack of time given over to her current situation. Still, this could be predicted—we’ve had years of multi-threaded TV shows like The Wire, Game of Thrones, or even Glee to show how these issues work.
Or perhaps it’s simply an example of early-season blues. Perhaps there’s no good way to a sprawling, complex premise and turn it into a focused plot quickly enough to work. There is, after all, no shortage of superb TV shows whose early episodes are clumsy. Regardless, “Smart Money’s On The Skinny Bitch” is the first episode so far where I’ve been able to understand the critical consensus on Sense8 as a confusing mess with some great moments. I hope it’s the last.
- Lito finds out why Daniella’s in trouble. “What did you do?” “…fucked his best friend?”
- “Do you want to leave another message?” “A message…” Oh, hello Doona Bae, you are in this show.
- “It is Van Damn!” Cute or awkward? Both, probably.