The brother and sister pairing formerly known as The Wachowski Brothers were once kings of the big screen delivering genre defining works like The Matrix. Yet over the years, they have wavered, and this year’s gigantic space mess, Jupiter Ascending, has seen their reputation plummet back to Earth with a bang. The talent and storytelling ability are still there but they need to find it again. They need to find themselves again, and the best place any writer or director can go to do this is the small screen. Without the pressures of mega budgets and delivering box office results, they can indulge their storytelling creativity on a project they can actually enjoy. It would seem that’s just what The Wachowskis have in mind with their new Netflix Origimal science fiction series, Sense8. More importantly, it looks like they’ve achieved it. This opening episode doesn’t a have a single oversized explosion of CG monstrosity in sight but still heavily entertains.
Episode 1, Limbic Resonance – 8 strangers from across the globe suddenly find themselves mentally and emotionally connected in the aftermath of a mysterious death. As they start to experience strange occurrences and hallucinations they can’t explain, their own lives become affected before some start to understand the links they now possess.
Since this episode is primarily an introduction to the 8 different character stories it seems right to lay them out here. They’re certainly a diverse and fascinating bunch:
The episode spends its entire duration establishing each in turn. As you can imagine, some appear stronger than others. Kala initially looks to be the lame duck of the bunch as she comes across more annoying than anything else. Whereas Capheus immediately becomes very endearing. He’s the most upbeat and optimistic of the bunch, living poverty by comparison to the rest. The variety of the locations keeps things feeling very fresh at the cost of cohesion and some of the locations' visuals are highly impressive. The visual highlight being Nomi and girlfriend (played by Freema Agyeman and showing us a very different side to Marha Jones) as they celebrate Pride in San Francisco. For the early episodes at least, Will and Riley appear to be the main story as they both establish link to their connecting creation in some way. Riley also mentions that she’s always wanted to go to America so it feels like the pair will come together soon enough.
As you’d expect from a series based on a central mystery, it is asking for certain degree of audience faith and patience. While the opening scene of a distraught Daryl Hannah birthing a connection between them pledges the idea, it offers no notions of how or why them. There are a couple teases like mentions of a chemical that connects all living things from some drug-taking rave scene aficionados. We’re shown Terrance Mann (The Dresden Files) is the clear villain but with no initial clue of his agenda.
The connection is used well for a dramatic tool as the lives of the 8 start bleeding into each other drip by drip. Nice subtle little touches, such as Will hearing Riley’s DJ set in his head but thinking it’s his neighbors blasting out the music. In many cases, it provides transitions from one location to the next. It also conveys the ideas of seeing through each other’s eyes very well as we see one character quickly interchanged for another, and very often making great use of music to emphasize the process.
Despite the more serious overtone, the episode find snice ways to source humour and lighten the mood occasionally. The biggest laughs come from Capheus and his local Matatu (African privately owned minibus) rivalry. You have to love the idea of their livelihood being linked to the cultural relevance of Jean Claude Van Dam (“Jean Claude is watching over us”). Lito’s struggles to find his acting mojo in his trailer raise plenty of smiles as he just can’t scratch that itch the way he’d like to, and you have to love Wolfgang stopping to watch an X-Factor knock off in the middle of a robbery.
Despite its minimal reveals, this opening salvo from Sense8 does a good job of justifying strapping in for the ride. It’s enchained octet all feel like real people, each with their own problems and emotions to deal with before they even look at each other’s. Much will hinge on just how long The Wachowskis string audiences along before delivering some answers, but for now Sense8 is pretty great.