I am three episodes into the Wachowskis’ new Netflix series, Sense8, and I have no idea what’s going on.
Let me back up: Some of that is the point, I’m sure, because it’s a super-high-concept, super-huge-scale, globe-spanning funhouse that follows eight characters in eight countries who can live each other’s experiences telepathically. Making sense of all of it in three episodes is kind of impossible. Making sense of all of that in 100 episodes might be impossible, especially when you take into account the eight bonkers characters the show follows. Each of them has so much going on (each of them IS so much), and the show hops all over the place filling us in on their various backstories with bits of blinking neon action. So, like one minute, a blond Icelandic DJ is doing party drugs at a robbery gone bad, then the next two dozen people are doing a highly choreographed dance at a lavish Mumbai engagement party, then the next a transgender female hacktivist in San Francisco is getting vigorously penetrated with a rainbow strap-on by her partially purple-haired lesbian partner. There is a lot happening in the first three episodes of Sense8. There is
happening in the first three episodes of Sense8.
But there’s also nothing happening, somehow. Being that each of the characters has so very much going on, the show basically has to spend three entire hours introducing us to them. It’s kind of like watching the first half hour of pilots for eight different shows all at once. (Quote Netflix can use in promos for the show, if they want: “Sense8, it’s a lot of shows!”) Like, these are the characters:
Nomi Marks — Aforementioned transgender female hacktivist. Here’s a screencap of her and her partner eating burritos in a park during Pride Week moments before the two men in fairy costumes behind her give them free pot brownies.
Capheus — A Jean-Claude Van Damme-obsessed Matutu bus driver in Nairobi whose mother is dying of AIDS and whose bus is emblazoned with airbrushed images of JCVD in martial arts action poses.
Sun Bak — A high-ranking executive in her father’s Seoul business empire who deals with the sexism of her business partners and also fights against men in underground, anything-goes kickboxing matches held in loud techno clubs lit almost entirely by black lights.
Kala Dandekar — An Indian woman who is engaged to a wealthy Mumbai businessman she doesn’t love. (It says a lot about Sense8 that when she set up her “big confession” and it turned out to be her not loving her fiance, I was like “Wait, that’s it?” I was expecting… I don’t know what I was expecting. Something bigger. I fully expect her to be, like, an American spy by Episode 6.)
Wolfgang Bogdanow — A Berlin locksmith who moonlights as a safecracker and diamond thief and who literally urinates on his father’s grave less than 30 minutes into the premiere. (For those keeping score at home, this brings the count of Netflix series where a character urinates on his father’s grave to two.)
Riley Blue — Suicidal blond Icelandic DJ living in London who uses the same stock iPhone ringtone I use, which (a) was very confusing for me, (b) calls her credibility as a hip Nordic DJ into question, seeing as I am literally wearing khaki cargo shorts as I type this.
Lito Rodriguez — A closeted gay star of a popular Mexican telenovela who is constantly fending off very aggressive sexual advances from women he knows, one of whom discovers he is gay and agrees to be his fake girlfriend in public so she can try to dissuade a suitor of hers who happens to be a violent psychopath drug dealer who works for her father.
Will Gorski — A hero Chicago cop who saves wounded teenage gangbangers and whose partner has a dog named “Ditka” and whose father is a drunk retired cop — played by Joe Pantoliano — who at one point casually flings his colostomy bag onto the table of a bar.
All of which is fine, by the way. I am all for huge ambitious television shows, and billion-dollar companies heaving money at creative-types, and buses with drawings of Jean-Claude Van Damme on them. On paper, I am way, way in. My concerns here, however, are two-fold: One, the Wachowskis have this habit of going bigBIGBIG with their projects in a way that leaves almost no room for error in the execution, and this sucker is just gigantic. I haven’t even told you guys about the creepy hospital staff who is trying to lobotomize people, or Sayid from Lost randomly popping up and creeping everyone out, or Daryl Hannah appearing in the opening moments as a telepathic heroin junkie named Angel who blows her own head off to thwart a creepy mystical villain named Mr. Whispers. I repeat: There is a lot happening in the first three episodes of Sense8.
The other issue is that it is, uh, not very good. At least not yet. The whole thing is about as subtle as a brick to the forehead. (See: bitter criminal pissing on father’s grave, nurse at hospital brusquely attempting to turn away a bleeding child who is being carried into the ER by a police officer, actress in nun costume grabbing the throbbing erection of her secretly gay co-star so he can turn her down to hammer home that he doesn’t like women, etc.) That’s not to say it isn’t endlessly fascinating in some ways. It is. There is almost nothing that could happen in the rest of the episodes that would surprise me. Someone could spontaneously grow a bushy dog tail in episode seven and I’d probably like, “Okay, she has a tail now.” Hey, for all I know, the rest of the season will tie all of this together and stick the landing. It’s a little unfair to judge the whole thing on just the first quarter of it. I get that. And I guess I’m in this one for the long haul now, if only to see where this things all ends up.
But right now, through three episodes, I really have no idea what is going on.