So I’m going to be straight up here – I wrote this review a few days back and then accidentally saved my episode 5 review over it. So I’m writing this one again, and apologize if I miss a few details.
Let’s bitch it out…
I was struck by the theme of family, particularly parent/child relationships, in this episode. Near the beginning of the episode, Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) and his buddy try to sell their stolen diamonds to an old Jewish guy. The man tells them a story about his mother – about how she survived the Holocaust, only to later have to make a choice, and how she committed to that choice, despite the consequences and the impact it had on her family. That thread is present throughout most of the episode, especially with Capheus (Aml Ameen) and Sun (Doona Bae).
After Capheus’ kung fu spectacle in ‘Smart Money’s On The Skinny Bitch’, everyone wants a ride on the Van Damn – he even starts his day off by saying that he thinks it’s going to be a great day (because that always goes well). It’s not long before things take a sudden turn and he’s being hauled off to meet with a local crime lord, Kabaka (Peter King Nzioki). Turns out it’s the boss of the thugs that Capheus/Sun had taken out, and the man wants to hire Capheus to work for him. Being a good human being, Capheus’ initial response is to say no – until he’s offered a briefcase full of AIDS medicine that could help his mother. Sense8 has done a good job to date of showing the strong bond between mother and son, so it’s not a surprise that Capheus quickly accepts the offer once he realizes what the compensation is. It’s highly likely that bad things will come of this deal, and Capheus probably realizes that, but he’s willing to make that sacrifice to help his mother.
Sun, on the other hand, has a much more difficult choice to make. She is also forced to make a similar sacrifice in order to save her family. The difference is that she doesn’t share the loving bond with her family that Capheus has, although in flashbacks we see that she shared something very personal with her deceased mother. Unfortunately, Sun’s father Kang-Dae (Kyong Young Lee) loves her screw-up brother, Joong-ki (Ki-Chan Lee) much more than he does her. When Sun discovers that her brother is embezzling money from the company’s clients, she must choose to take the fall for him or the company – and her family’s name – will be ruined. It’s worth noting that the only reason she even has this option is because her father required her to hide her identity, so that even people who work in the same company aren’t aware that Sun is his daughter. So what choice should she make? Sun would have every right to tell her father/brother to screw off and let them be ruined (they made their bed), but she also made a promise to her mother that she would protect the family. Is it worth giving up her own freedom to save two people who haven’t shown her any love or loyalty to honour her word?
We also got a quick glimpse of Riley (Tuppence Middleton) receiving a voicemail from her father. It’s not clear why she can’t go home to visit, but it’s evident that she still loves him very much. It’s just another layer to the show’s commentary of just how complicated family relationships can be. Even though these two love each other, there’s something keeping them apart.
One thing that Sense8 definitely does well is ramp up to a solid climax for most episodes. Like the episodes before it, ‘What’s Going On?’ features a slow crawl through its first two-thirds, building up the character development and laying out little bits of plot and world-building. And then we’re suddenly in the middle of it. I felt like the second half of this episode flew by.
First, we got a lot of exposition, delivered in clunky dialogue, in a nonetheless interesting scene between Will (Brian J. Smith) and Jonas (Naveen Andrews). A lot of words, like “visiting” and “sharing” and “cluster,” are bandied around without much context, but this is probably intentional since the words are self-evident, and we’re only learning little bits at a time. It’s interesting to see how Will can feel the physical aspects of Jonas’ cell. This suggests a lot of possibilities for where the writers may take these connections between the eight characters. Will the sensates eventually be able to fully manifest in each others’ locations?
After a vague plea from Jonas to help Nomi (Jamie Clayton), Will finds himself able to visit (or is it share?) Nomi in her hospital. This is a great scene, and the first we’ve had of one of the eight consciously controlling another. Will is clearly leading the escape, using his skills to get Nomi out of the restraints before pulling back and leaving her to her own devices. I loved the look on Will’s face as he re-entered his own body; it was like a look of pure glee. He was so excited by what he was experiencing. It’s another variation on the powers that these eight possess – they can project into another’s location and interact with the environment, as well as enter directly into one another’s minds, willfully controlling their actions.
The episode reaches its crescendo with a musical montage of the aptly titled “What’s Going On?” My first impression is that it is kind of awkward to have the eight characters all singing along, as some of them are involved in scenarios that are pressing and/or inappropriate. But, on reflection, I guess that’s the point. These eight individuals still can’t control when they access one another’s minds, and this is the first instance when all eight of them are in synch at once. Plus, it’s a catchy song, so ultimately it works for me.
I’m definitely liking the show more and more with each episode, but I’m still yearning for some sort of plot that ties the eight of them together. I haven’t forgotten the scene in the first episode where some dude and his henchmen bust in on Jonas and Angel (Darryl Hannah), there’s got to be a big bad in this show who hasn’t appeared to any of the eight yet. We’re only four episodes in, so I’m willing to be patient and let it grow.
- While I am enjoying the show, I’m still not sold on the writing. Sometimes the plotting works for me, other times it doesn’t. But, mostly, the dialogue just seems off a lot of the time. I didn’t feel like the scene between Jonas and Will worked as well as it could/should have. And oftentimes the characters use terms that seem out of character to me.
- I love the Jean-Claude Van Damme presence that exists in the show. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia talking, having watched pretty much every one of Van Damme’s action flicks as a teenager, but this is a really nice addition for me.
Your turn: how did you feel about the musical finale? Do you agree that family is the focus of the series? Is the writing letting the series down? Sound off below, but please refrain from addressing any future episodes.
Sense8 is available in its entirety on Netflix. Check back Thursday for our review of episode five.