Sense8: A Christmas Special

“We exist because of sex. It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s something to honor.”

You have to hand it to Sense8. It’s the only show out there that could make two montage scenes with overused songs - “Feeling Good” and “Hallelujah” - in the same episode and make it work both times. Lana Wachowski and co. really like their montages and big moments. They want to make us Feel®. There is a risk, of course, that those scenes will come off cheesy, but the result is nearly always grand and it’s no different with the “Christmas Special.”

This was a big episode. So big that when I pressed play and saw it was two hours long I asked myself why they weren’t calling it a movie. The answer is simple: there is no central plot, and no major arc completed by the end of the special. It’s a supersized piece of a larger narrative. A lot happens but not much progression is made, which is understandable considering this episode is an interlude between seasons one and two.

Even though there was no central plot, there was a unifying theme of imprisonment versus freedom. Will and Riley are together and hiding from Whispers some place in Europe, Will being drugged almost constantly to keep Whispers away from his mind. Nomi is hiding in San Francisco, Amanita is with her, obviously. Sun is still in jail and Kala is still trapped in a relationship with a man she doesn’t love. Lito is facing the consequences of coming out, while Wolfgang is facing the consequences of killing a bunch of criminals. And Capheus is played by a different actor.

It hit the news earlier this year that Aml Ameen had left the series and been replaced by Toby Onwumere. I was upset then and very curious now to see how the replacement would affect the dynamics of the series. On Onwumere’s first scene, there was a funny banter in the dialogue addressing the situation, but it ended a little too literally. It was a nice acknowledgement that Capheus’ face wasn’t the same, though. Capheus didn’t get a lot of screentime, probably because The Powers That Be wanted to soften the transition, but I still missed Ameen. He brought an innocent charm to Capheus that just wasn’t there with Onwumere. Now, I’m not going to hold it against the actor, it would be impossible to replicate Ameen’s performance, unless of course they had hired Tatiana Maslany, but that would’ve been weird. I’m going to move on, accept the situation and try to enjoy what Onwumere brings to the table.

Capheus’ casting drama aside, another character that didn’t have much to do onscreen was Riley, who is basically taking care of Will. Poor, poor Will, he is in an awful situation. When he is awake, there is the constant risk Whispers will taunt his thoughts to break him emotionally and chase him down. His only escape is to be drugged. Every. Single. Day. He is away from home, left his job, his family and friends behind. I bet he wishes now he had never been born a sensate, the cost has been too high for him. That scene where Whispers was with Michael, Will’s father, was terrifying. Whispers posed a triple threat: he was trying to turn Michael against Will, he could kill Michael at any second and he had Will watch it to torture him a little further. No wonder Angelica killed herself. How can anyone live with a murderer psychopath watching your every move and taunting your thoughts? How longer can Will take it?

Nomi is also hiding from Whispers and government agents. At some point, she is forced to move from a LGBT shelter to Bug’s place. Amanita is always with her, but she is starting to show signs of exhaustion from all the madness she’s been thrown into. I wonder how that will play out in season two.

Will, Riley and Nomi are still the only sensates directly affected by the central mythology of the series, while the other five keep dealing with the more mundane aspects of their everyday lives. Wolfgang has a reason to rejoice when Felix, his longtime friend, wakes up in the hospital and fully recovers, but his life remains upside down, right in the middle of a gang fight he indirectly started. Kala is the one that unlocks a lighter side of Wolfgang, as he unlocks a freer, more authentic side of her. But it’s all temporary and they are both back to their personal traps.

Last season I was mostly bored by Kala’s storyline, but I found it entertaining here, even if it was more of the same: Rajan loves her a lot, she doesn’t love him back but puts a lot of effort to make their relationship work. Oh, and now they are indeed married. But Kala, who is still a virgin, is afraid of having sex with him. It’s Sun, the most amazing person ever, that tries to lead Kala to a more confident place. Sun is just incredible. She is the most physically confined character but her mind is the freest, and she doesn’t even need to be a sensate and “travel” around the globe to achieve that freedom. She is the boss of her thoughts, in charge of her emotions. When she shares with Kala the story of her first sexual intercourse, it’s powerful because it’s the tale of a woman limited by the men in her life that still found her way to be free.

Miles away from Sun is Lito, but he has started his journey to be free, after he chose to do the right thing last season, at the cost of having his closet exploded. “Fuck consequences”, he says, but the exposure of his sexuality and the cruelty of the tabloids are no easy consequences to deal with. His biggest concern, in the end of the day, is how his mom will react. I knew from the second his mom started talking that she would support him, the scene was spelling that out for us, but I still teared up when she said it herself. Good for Lito, a parent support in times like this makes a world of difference. As he and the others sensates will soon find out, it’s your little cluster of loved ones, the family you have and/or the one you have formed, that pull you through the hard times and help you find the strength to break free from the whispers of fear.

Bits and Pieces

- It’s an interesting choice to call this episode a “Christmas Special”. Release date aside, the episode covers five months of the life of the sensates, from their birthday in August through Thanksgiving, until Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

- January 2017 Update: Netflix changed the name of the episode to "Happy F*cking New Year".

- There was also time for another sensate orgy. It was beautifully shot, although I’m not sure about the inclusions of Capheus, whose sexuality we don’t know a lot about, and Kala, who was still a virgin. Are we supposed to interpret that Kala lost her virginity to her cluster, not to Rajan?

- Amanita has dads. Plural. As in four.

- When Lito, Hernando and Daniela are inside the car, paparazzies all around them, each sensate sees a different offensive word spray painted on the wall. Faggot (for Lito), freak (Nomi), virgin (Kala), slut (Riley), pig (Will), nigger (Capheus), nazi (Wolfgang) and bitch (Sun).

- Bug is adorable.

- I like Daniela, but how should we react to the way she lusts after Lito and Hernando? Are they a weird triple, or is she just objectifying them?

- Hernando’s parents died in a car accident in New Year’s Eve.

- Capheus and Jela were fixing the van with the tank full of gas? How crazy are they?

- There was a cameo of Lana Wachowski and her wonderful hair. It goes without saying, she did an amazing job directing this special. So many wonderful shots you lose count.

Quotes

Guy: “We become our parents.”
Amanita: “First scary thought of the day.”

Amanita: “I believe the rich should pay more taxes, which means believing in something doesn’t make it so.”

Wolfgang: “Cops made it clear they didn’t give a shit about the shooting.”
Sun: “Sounds like cops.”

Will: “Should I be jealous?”
Riley: “Only if it makes you want me more.”

Sun: “I think we all know how this works by now.”
Kala: “Do we? It works very inconsistently for me.”

Rajan: “There aren’t any words that can make me happier.”
Kala: “Make love to me.”
Rajan: “Except for those.”

Felix: “You know I said it was our revolution. I forgot in revolutions people get shot.”

Volker: “You and I could own the city.”
Wolfgang: “If I was interested, it’d already be mine.”

Kala: “You have something good and beautiful hidden inside of you. Just as I have something dark and wicked inside of me.”
Wolfgang: “Perfect for each other.”

Felix: “I can’t get shot again. I just got out of the hospital. That would be terrible plotting.”

Lito’s mom: “You were too good a dancer to be a straight boy.”

This gigantic episode was a treat for the fans. Thank you, Sense8 team. Three out of four Amanita’s dads.
--
Lamounier

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What a terrific review, Lamounier. I watched this episode last night (we must be on the same wavelength, perfect timing) and while I liked it, I found it frustrating that we got two hours and in the end, Will and Sun were still imprisoned, Nomi and Amanita were still on the run, and Kala went through with her stupid marriage when she obviously loves Wolfgang. Although I get that it's a special, set between seasons. I assume all of these huge plot threads will be addressed in season two.

The "visiting" scenes were still lovely and it's still the best thing about the series. I did particularly like Hallelujah. The mind orgies are beautifully shot but they seem to go on for a long, long time, don't they?

My favorite scene was Lito coming home and the lovely way his mother reacted. And actually, the way his mother treated Daniela, too.

Lamounier said...

The "visiting" scenes were still lovely and it's still the best thing about the series.

They have always been my favorite scenes. The Lito/Nomi scene at the museum last season instantly comes to mind. Now it was the Sun/Kala scene that stole my heart. The special didn't have a lot of those scenes, though.

Lito's mother is a lovely woman, indeed.

Corona Zschusschen said...

The episode didn't feel like more than two hours, but still felt a little redundant in some places. Note that Will and Riley are probably not in Iceland as they are implying to Whispers but in the Netherlands. The girl at the door was speaking Dutch, Riley asked her for Laxeermiddel (a laxative). And there were a lot of bikes ;)

Lamounier said...

Thank you, Corona. I edited it.

Actually, it makes sense they are in Germany. We see in the final fight scene both Wolfgang and Sun fighting, I mean, they are shown together on the same shot. That is not possible, unless there is a sensate, physically, with Wolfgang. My bet now is that Riley was there and Sun was "possessing" her body.

magritte said...

There is a sense in which Sense8 remains more visually than dramatically arresting and yet there's no question the episode was powerfully moving. I found the scenes of Will and his Father particularly painful. And I was almost as shocked by Will's appearance as Capheus.

In addition to freedom vs imprisonment, as Lamourier hinted at the end of the review, family was a huge theme running through this episode, both biological families and families we choose. Even Sun has managed to form meaningful ties with her fellow prisoners. Bug with Amanita's family was sweet, too. But Wolfgang had only Felix. I hope that theory that Riley and Will are there with Wolfgang is right because he's otherwise alone and seems to be imprisoned in a neverending cycle of violence.

Kala's story remains frustrating, partly because her problems lack the gravitas of everyone else's. Maybe that's why she's been paired with Wolfgang, whose story is the darkest, though Will's catching up quickly.

I enjoyed Lito's story much more here than in most of season 1, and I liked the choice to introduce the bombshell of Lito's outing through the venue of Hernando's classroom as well. I thought it was odd that they didn't show more interaction between Hernando and Lito's mother, though.