Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sense8 episode 1 review

I think it’s safe to say that after the pilot it’s impossible to know what the hell is going on with this show. I am hopeful that it will all come together in the end, but then there is Naveen Andrews reminding me that I used to have similar hopes for LOST.
So the easiest way to analyze what’s going on here is to look at the arcs for each of the sensates as they go through their little journey here.

There are eight of these people. Four men and four women. Four of them are white people (all of them blonde). These four are two Americans, an Icelander in London, and a German, and then there are a Mexican, an African, a Korean, and an Indian. At least two of these characters walk into a bar. More of them enter a church. We see a variety of sexual identity. All of the people are traditionally attractive. You cannot be a sensate if you are fat. Hell, you apparently can’t even know a sensate if you are fat.

The story opens with the mermaid from Splash as she sees visions of two people who can’t see each other, then kills herself. She then appears as a ghost and as a child version of a ghost to the eight main characters of the show. Who are (in opening credits order):

Capheus: An African guy whose entire story this episode revolves around the fact that the people of his town prefer to ride in a rival bus company’s bus. Pretty low stakes here. While I appreciate finally seeing a depiction of African life that doesn’t focus on a war lord or war profiteer (see LOST, 24, Book of Mormon, The Poisonwood Bible, Blood Diamond, Invisible Children, Avengers 2, etc. etc. etc.), I have to believe that other interesting things do indeed happen on that continent. And trading bus passage for a chicken is not one of them, even if the chicken then magically manifests itself onto the desk of:

Sun: A Korean business woman trained in martial arts. Are there no other Korean female names? This show is not trying hard enough to get me to forget LOST. Her story arc is she gets sexually harassed by a piggish business associate and refrains from hitting him. So, a non-starter, but hopefully this is just build-up to when she goes all Karate badass on everyone. For now it’s nice to see Doona Bae back after her perfect turn in Cloud Atlas.

Nomi: A trans woman whose scenes are all about her various experiences at San Francisco’s Pride. Many of the moments shown are emotionally interesting (she and her girlfriend watch an AIDS memorial dance number, a flashback to when the girlfriend became the first person ever to stand up for her) but are so far removed from any sort of arc for Nomi that they stand out as exactly what they are: soapbox moments for the director. But it’s a voice we don’t hear enough. And the strapon scene at the beginning, while not TV’s first trans sex scene, is perhaps its most intense. And it might be the first trans woman/woman sex scene on television). Nomi’s sexual-ness stands in stark contrast to the matronly role of Laverne Cox’s Sophia in that other sprawling Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. Sophia is brassy, confident, and largely sexless. Nomi so far comes across as bohemian, unsure, and sexy.

Kala: An Indian woman who has agreed to marry a suitor she doesn’t love. As with everyone else so far on this list so far, the stakes are so, so low. Just basically no stakes. Mostly she is a point of view with wavy hair and an exotic accent. Kala is an educated woman, and in her prayer to Ganesh she makes it seem as though she could easily get out of the marriage, but doesn’t want to take away from her parents’ happiness. The thing is, we meet the dad, and he seems like nothing if not the bastion of reasonableness and calm. That’s about all that happens with her in this episode, besides the fact that she think it is raining outside because she hears it, even though she is standing next to all sorts of doors and windows and sunshine that we can all see. Silly Kala!

Riley: An Icelandic DJ who has a questionable past. She claims to have seen the ghost of Daryl Hannah, but explains it away as being the result of too many drugs. When drugs are offered, she says she has a headache. Her arc consists of people telling her to try drugs until she does. Then she astrally projects to meet one of the other characters in the church in Chicago where the ghost killed herself, and when she comes to her boyfriend and the drug dealer and a third man murder each other for fast and unclear reasons that seem unconnected to the other violence in the show, and she stands in shock and spattered in blood as the episode’s cliffhanger. Which just goes to show that in this show, even if the stakes are super low, everyone can still get murdered. And drugs are good, I think, except for the murderiness.

Wolfgang: A German thief and safecracker. Someone should tell this man that Netflix already did the whole “peeing on your father’s grave in broad daylight” thing THIS SEASON on House of Cards. It seemed far-fetched the first time. I mean, not that I’ve never peed on a grave, but you do it at NIGHT, people. We later see the thief trying to break into a safe, but not being able to for a long time. Then he is able to, and the day is saved, but not before he takes a break to watch a singing contest show, which flashes back to his childhood when he was supposed to sing in front of his school, but was too shy or afraid or something. And then his dad stands up in the back of the room and laughs at him. And we know it’s his dad because they made sure to get his face printed on the tombstone. Anyway, if this whole storyline is going to be "I never wanted to be a burglar; I wanted to be a broadway star!" and he ends up doing it, It will be outrageous and I will love and hate it. Wolfgang, by the way, is the star of Free Fall, the German answer to Brokeback Mountain that ended up seeming a little oops-a-daisy homophobic thematically but was still hot as hell.

Lito: This is a transparently gay and probably self-flagellating Mexican pulp actor. It’s not that he acts in any sort of gay way or that the other characters can tell that he’s gay, but that there is a lot of weirdness going on with his erection as he’s trying to rehearse his lines (Is he not allowed to masturbate with his hands? Is that why he’s rubbing all over the wall?), and then he rejects a beautiful costar’s sexual advances, and then she says that the person he’s with must be a lucky woman, which is just pointing too much at the fact that it’s not a woman. The switch with his not really being about to murder a priest at the beginning is great, and is reminiscent of when LOST did the exact same thing in the infamous Nicki and Paolo episode.

Will: A good white cop in inner city Chicago. This is a good time to point out that several of these characters are a little too patly named. Will’s story is the most engaging, and is all about the choices he makes. I’m thinking he may end up our main protagonist. After somehow hearing Riley’s music, Will goes to work and soon discovers a young boy who’s been gang-relatedly shot. Since cops and gangs hate each other, he’s going all Good Samaritan in his rescuing of the boy. Stereotypical angry black hospital lady hides behind bureaucracy and tries to turn the boy away, but Will’s plaintive cry and all that blood change her mind. The boy is saved, but hospital lady teaches us the final lesson: What if that kid eventually kills a cop? How will he feel then? He doesn’t have an answer, letting this be the moral of the episode, at least for now. My money is on the kid will be back in a future episode and will save one of our protagonists.

So far, very few of these stories have really led anywhere, and basically it is a huge rambling mess of plot and structure. But it is immensely watchable because of the thick air of mystery, the attractive cast, and the increasing intersections between these eight strangers. I’ve heard that these characters are on their way to sharing one consciousness, which I think will be great, and I wonder how it will change them. Will they all become a little more Hindu, for example, or will Kala lose her faith as she is exposed to alternate viewpoints? There are a million ramifications to this, and I am excited to see how they play out.

For extra viewing fun, whenever Lito is on, switch the language to Spanish and set English subtitles, and the same but in German for Wolfgang. This show is not available in Korean or Hindi.