Friday, July 3, 2015

Sense8 S2 Episodes 9-12

An interesting thing happened while I rewatched the last act of Sense8, I stopped taking notes as I had been doing consistently through the first eight episodes and just watched it all transpire again. It shouldn't have been as engaging since I literally only just watched these episodes for the first time a couple weeks ago, but I couldn't pull my eyes from the screen. It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say about what happens in this final act, but what I had to say took a backseat to the experience. And I think that's most of what I love about this show in a nutshell: it's not without its problems, when you stop and think about things for too long (like why the hell does Wolfie just happen to have a damn bazooka in the trunk of his car?), the story can falter a little bit. But it's all so interesting, so engaging, and so unlike anything else on TV that you can be totally immersed in the story while its on. In a scene where Kala Visits with Capheus, she asks him why a house might have a big screen TV but no bed. His response is that the bed keeps you in the slum while the TV takes you out of it. True escapism at it's finest. It's not the only thing I love about storytelling, but it's certainly one of the things I love the most, and I think Sense8 does it about as well as any other show out there.

The last four episodes serve as a culmination of everything the show had been building towards for the eight that came before. Most of the stories draw to a solid conclusion, we get an awesome sequence of all of the cluster working together to use their skills and save one of their own, and a fairly solid path forward for future seasons, assuming there are any. Collectively, these elements combine to make a thrillingly satisfying ending, but taking the stories on an individual level, I'm less sure.

I mentioned previously that Lito's story is my least favorite of all the individual threads they follow in
the first season, and that's equally true for the ending. The scene between him and Nomi in the eighth episode is brilliant, but it's also the first extended Visiting scene he has in the season. The scene where Sun is on her period and he feels the effects for it was mostly played for laughs, as are most of Lito's scenes, and this is the first time that he has this kind of sit and talk and share some piece of yourself moment that the others have been experiencing all along. It's a part of what I don't like about Lito's story: he feels so isolated from the others. But the other thing I didn't care for about Lito's story is that it felt the most predictable. From the moment Lito allowed Daniela to go off with Joaquin, you knew there was no other way for his story to go. Of course he spirals without Hernando, of course he finds his courage and goes after her, of course he gets her back and his actions allow Hernando to forgive him and they all get to be a happy family again. Subtlety was never Sense8's strong suit, but this was all a bit too obvious for my taste. Which leads me to say that we've seen this kind of story (specifically the closeted gay man having to come out in order to earn the love of his out boyfriend) enough times before that there's nothing new or interesting that can be done with it, so maybe choose a better story next time.

With that being said, Lito finding his place within the cluster by helping Wolfie achieve his action movie climax was amazing. I complain about Lito's isolation from the rest of the cluster, but the truth is that Wolfie is isolated too. Prior to the tenth episode, which opens with him having a brief and perplexing conversation with Will and leads to his moment with Lito, the only person he'd spent any one on one time with was Kala. That's still one more senseate than Lito spent time with, but the fact that the two of them are the cluster's most isolated characters and they join together to help one another through their respective story's endings makes a lot of sense and is very fulfilling. If the two of them continue to be on the fringes of the group moving forward, it could be a lot of fun to see a close friendship developing there.

I've mentioned the show's potential balance issues before, and that came up in small ways in these last four episodes. Lito and Will's conversation during the attempt to rescue Riley bugs me. These last four episodes feature a couple of the cluster members meeting for the first time. Capheus and Kala sit and watch a movie together, and the aforementioned scene between Nomi and Lito is their first meeting as well (other than the orgy). In both of those cases, the characters start off not by introducing themselves but by acknowledging that they already know who one another is. Nomi looks at Lito and says, "You're Lito," and he responds with, "You're Nomi." But when Lito pops up in the BPO facility, the first thing Will says to him is, "Do I know you?" It's a line purely in service to the comedy of their awkward exchange about the orgy they had and Will's being flustered about it all, but it doesn't work for me. I think you can stick with Will's discomfort about having had sex with two men and one woman, and the weirdness of it all, but there's no real excuse for the group to have reached the last episode and for him to still be unsure about who anyone in the cluster is. It strikes a discordant note to me.

But there's also an element of discordance to the entire final act which kicks up the action elements of the show to a much higher level than any previous point in the series. I don't think that this is a mistake, the ability for this show to be high action has been there from the start, but it was obvious that they wanted to focus on the characters first and the action later. I think all of this was done in an attempt to make sure that when the action happened, we were invested enough in the characters to care about who was getting shot at and why. But it still makes the third act feel, at times, like a slightly different movie than we've been watching for the last eight hours. The quiet character moments that set this show apart from others in the genre are still there. Lito and Nomi's scene is a landmark scene for the two queer characters within the cluster. Capheus and Kala's scene is a mirror of the scene he shared with Sun in the fourth episode. And this group of episodes doesn't lack in more of the romance between Will and Riley and Kala and Wolfie. There's also the third moment of the series doing something that no other show on TV is doing: the birth scenes while Riley listens to her dad playing.

First the 4 Non Blondes song, then the mind orgy, and now graphic depictions of each senseate's birth all set to classical moment and streamed one after the other. It's honestly transcendent in a way that no other show could really capture. The first time I watched it, I cried like a baby over the beauty of it all. This time, I didn't cry but I still had goosebumps and I couldn't believe how each of their births informed so much of who they'd each become. Kala born in a temple, Will delivered in the back of a cop car, Lito born while the whole family watched the latest telenovela. Who they are echos back to those moments and they are connected to those moments in a deep way, and each of them being connected to their own moment connects them to each other's as well. It felt magical and moving.

But there's also the action. And the action comes to the forefront in a way that it simply hadn't prior. In the last four episodes, there's multiple shoot outs, car chases, two games of chicken, multiple explosions, and hand to hand fights. Each action sequence works because we are invested, so the show did its work well, but the overall feeling of watching a different show is still there on the surface. In the end, I think this is neither good nor bad for the first season, it's just a fact.

It all leaves me with a feeling that through the course of its first season, Sense8 was capable of telling us exactly who it was. It's a show that's capable of grand ambition and showing us things we've never seen before. It's a show about the quiet moments between these connected characters that prove we aren't alone in our personal struggles. And it's a show with some really great action moments. These things don't have to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, in a show about eight people scattered around the world who are all living different lives but get to be constantly connected, I'm not sure how these things could be mutually exclusive. How Sense8 is telling its story is intricately wound up in what that story is, and that's a brilliant thing to find in a first season.

Which leaves us with the question of what me might be able to expect from the show going forward? In spite of Netflix's procrastination in announcing a renewal, I find it hard to believe that we won't be getting more episodes. So what might happen? Having Will look at Whispers in the last episode means they'll have to address that in some fashion moving forward. It also probably means that killing Whispers so that Will can have his mind to himself again should be at the top of the Cluster's to do list. Will and Riley are together now, though we don't know for how long, so I expect to see more about how love within a cluster is narcissistic, as Riley's Iceland friend, Inga, put it. Meanwhile, Kala and Wolfie seem to have hit a snag in their own romance. Watching the two stories progress alongside one another should be fun. But mostly, all I think I want to see is more scenes like Riley's rescue. More of these people jumping in and out of one another's lives at just the right time to add their own special skill set to the mix and solve the problem before them.  The way the show figured out how to have a specific use for everyone was brilliant, and if that's more of what the next season looks like and less about each character's individual stories, then I'm all in.

Random thoughts:

--One thing I'm still not sure on is Wolfie's statement that he's a monster. On the one hand, I think he's just feeling a bit down on himself after the events at his uncle's place, but prior to the last episode, there was no evidence of him being monstrous. So should we take the statement with a grain of salt, or does the show honestly want him to be a bit more on the homicidal maniac side of the spectrum? The way Will calls him in to play chicken with the helicopter suggests that he's akin to a suicide bomber within the group. But I still don't know if I feel like that was earned or not.

--Something else I feel very split on is Riley's background. Currently, she feels like the one cluster member with the fewest skills or knowledge to offer in big action moments. But beyond that, the last episode being so focused on telling the story about her and her husband seemed like a miscalculation to me. It's not that those flashbacks weren't affecting, because they were. But in a situation where so very much of who she is in these moments has to harken back to this experience, it seems a bit odd that we're only just finding out about it now. They do a good job of dropping hints about it all throughout, esp in the episodes after she's back in Iceland. So I feel confident that they knew this backstory all along, but it's another moment where part of me thinks they should have told us about it before they did.

--For all of my dislike of Lito's story, his scenes at the bar were really nice. I liked it that they had him go back and apologize instead of allowing the scene to just kind of exist in a bubble. But also, did he actually pay for any of those drinks? I know he's famous and all, but still.

--I mentioned it earlier, but Wolfie just happening to have a bazooka in his trunk made me laugh both times. It never pulled me out of the narrative, but it was still funny and slightly unbelievable, but still fun.

--One more thing I'd like to see if the show is renewed is for the partners to be a little bit less perfect. Amanita, Hernando, and Rajan are all just way too storybook for me. I love them all as I love all the characters on the show, but a few flaws can go a long way.

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