The second episode of Netflix’s Sense8 is a nice step up from the premiere, but I’m starting to think that maybe this show should be called Sense5 or Sense6.
Let’s bitch it out…
The major theme at play in the second installment of Sense8 seems to be a variation on the concept of love – the reality of love versus the expectation or appearance of love. The episode focuses on different relationships and how the dynamic of love plays out within each.
Nomi (Jamie Clayton – yes, I finally picked up a few of the names) and Amanita (Freema Agyeman) consume a good chunk of the screen time, and their relationship is quite clear – they love each other very much. Unfortunately, an accident lands Nomi in the hospital, and, thanks to the appearance of her mother, we learn that Nomi was actually born Michael. Given that Lana Wachowski has followed a similar journey in her own life, it makes sense why this story line is at the forefront of the show. I’m all for social commentary within television shows, but it works better when it feels organic to the narrative, rather than manufactured and tacked on – which is what I’m feeling about this relationship so far. At the start of the episode, we learn that Nomi is a “hacktivist,” but it’s mostly just exposition and despite the significant screen time, the character still lacks characterization. We do, however, gain some sympathy for her, at least. Once Nomi is diagnosed with a rare brain illness that causes hallucinations, her mother’s monstrous behaviour kicks in. This plays into the love theme: we’d like to believe that parents accept and love their children unconditionally, but unfortunately that’s not always the reality. Nomi is in an awkward position where her mother still appears to care for her, while completely dismissing her life choices and self-identity.
Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) is also gay, and is also deeply in love with his partner. As a public figure, in a very religious country, the idea of being openly gay is a difficult one to handle. As such, Lito shows up to red carpet events with women he has no real feelings for. Is it easier to come out to close family and friends, who you have an intimate relationship with, or to the faceless masses, who will judge you – positively or negatively – without knowing you? To Lito, he is obviously worried about harming his career, so he chooses to continue the charade, but by the end of the episode his latest female arm candy, Daneilla (Erendira Ibarra) is in on the act. This could lead to some interesting places, but it also puts Lito in an awkward position – can he trust this woman to keep his secret? At some point, the appearance that he’s trying to maintain and the reality of his heart’s desire are going to converge.
Kala (Tina Desai), meanwhile, is getting married to a man that everyone but she seems to adore. Problematically we haven’t learned why she doesn’t adore him. Kala seems to be going along with the marriage because that’s what her family and friends expect of her. There are obviously cultural implications, but it still seems like she could walk away if she really wanted to – she isn’t being forced into an arranged marriage, there’s just an expectation that when a man like Rajan (Purab Kohli) proposes, you accept. Plus, he does a really cool Bollywood flash mob – what’s not to like? This arc is a little harder to get into, because, again, we know so little about Kala. Am I supposed to care that she doesn’t love this guy and feels trapped? Maybe…but for all I know she’s just being selfish. It wouldn’t have been that hard to establish why she feels the way she does, but Sense8 is so cluttered that the writers don’t bother to elaborate on Kala’s wedding jitters. I hope we find out more; for the time being I’m tuned out on this storyline.
Will (Brian J. Smith) – our Chicago cop – appears to be single, but he has some sort of fractured relationship with his father, who was also a cop. There are obviously a lot of hard feelings there, but Michael (Joe Pantoliano) is still the one he seeks out in a moment of confusion, when he feels lost and alone. Will seems like a good person so far, and his father comes off like a hard man who sleeps off his drunken nights in the local bar, so it’s easy to take Will’s side here. But the parent/child relationship is always complex, as evidenced by Nomi and her mother. Television shows often go to the “bad parent” well, but I’m glad to see that the writers have at least shown there’s some sort of bond present, even if it is damaged.
The bulk of the first three-quarters of the episode was spent engaging in these relationship ideas, establishing where everyone* stands in their various relationships. Whether love is hidden or out in the open, romantic or familial, pristine or damaged, it has an impact on us regardless.
*Well, not everyone, obviously – just the four characters that the episode focuses on, and a quick scene in Berlin to discover that Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) doesn’t want a relationship at all.
The story kicks into high gear towards the end of the episode, just as it did in the first episode. Jonas (Naveen Andrews) finally reveals himself – to both Nomi and Will. He provides the first hints to the characters of what’s happening to them, and then we get a pretty cool chase scene where Will and Jonas both appear to use their minds to teleport into one another’s car. It messes with the mind a bit – who is driving the car? Are they in two places at once, or is it just some sort of telepathic projection? Whatever the case, I’m enjoying the concept. The structure of the show is still flawed, though. Much like Game of Thrones, this series is doing a lot of jumping around to juggle eight main characters, but I don’t think it is doing a great job of it. After two episodes, I only feel invested in a couple storylines. While Games of Thrones is content to ignore certain stories for entire episodes, it is in its fifth season. In season one it was very concerned with making sure the audience knew everyone. This is the biggest weakness with Sense8 so far.
- Early on, Nomi is making her vlog about the upcoming Pride parade, and makes reference to the seven deadly sins and Thomas Aquinas. I’ve always found pride to be the most interesting of the seven deadly sins, and also the one that is most confusing to people. Taking pride in achievements or oneself is a good thing, isn’t it? Of course it is – so why is it a deadly sin? Because in the context of the seven deadly sins, pride really means vanity. Dante defined it as the love of oneself, perverted into hatred or contempt of one’s neighbour. So it seems like a misguided criticism for her to slam Thomas Aquinas; the Pride that matters to Nomi is a celebration of who she is as a person, whereas the pride that Aquinas is condemning is vanity or arrogance. Context matters with words.
- I really wanted to learn more about Capheus (Ami Ameen), the Van Damn guy. We see him for like five seconds.
- Definitely feeling more LOST vibes. Not only is Jonas played by Naveen Andrews, but his character seems eerily like Jacob from the island show. Both pop up in random locations, seemingly by magic, trying to recruit people. Jacob was a little more subtle, but it’s the same idea.
Your turn: what did you think of the second episode? Do you agree that some storylines aren’t being served by this 8 protagonist divide? Are you more invested in some characters now that we’ve had more time with them? Did you miss Riley, Capheus and Sun? And are you feeling the LOST vibes like me? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers of future episodes.
Sense8 is now available in its entirety on Netflix. The review of episode three will be up Thursday.