Sense8: Polyphony

“Art needs a bit of a mystery. Something that resists us.”

Sense8 has several parallel stories taking place and it’s hard to evaluate one episode as a whole when the quality varies so much from one story to another. Some of them are great (Sun’s), some are okay but nothing special (Lito’s) and some vary from great to eye-rolling (Capheus’). Consider that some of the arcs are just beginning (Capheus as a leader), some are nothing but build-up so far (Kala’s family) and others are ending (Sun leaving prison in the previous episode), and we are left with an episode that goes through a lot of dissimilar tones.

I complimented the last couple of episodes for being more focused and I stand by that – “Polyphony” also balances well the several stories it advances –, but none of them were great from start to finish. A terrific scene is followed by a forgettable one, next there is a good one and so on. Then there is the overarching mythology and conspiracy, which also had a varying quality in season one but it seems to have found its pace. Finally, the show relies a lot on montages to deliver powerful moments, but is it a powerful drama outside of them?

Case in point, “Polyphony” offers us not one but two montages. The first one is a work of art. I would watch an entire episode of Sun doing that Korean Yoga Dawn Routine. Does anyone know what that is called? It perfectly catalyzed Sun’s jailbreak into one beautiful display of freedom. The sun on her skin, the slow movements, the happiness on her face, the gorgeous cinematography, the captivating soundtrack – “Good for Me” by Above & Beyond. The montage also features Kala attending an art exhibition with her hubby, and Wolfgang babysitting Felix in the club, but Sun is the star of the show, no pun intended.

The second montage intertwines Capheus, Kala and Nomi. Capheus and Kala find themselves in the middle of protests. In Nairobi, people want water. In Mumbai, religious men gang up on Kala and her mother-in-law, whose family they perceive as an enemy of their faith. Nomi is panicked because Amanita is being chased. The montage kicks in as the three sensates take each other's places, and while it mostly works, I can’t stop thinking that it only exists to give substance to scenes that, isolated, maybe wouldn’t have much. So let’s see how each story fares by itself.

I wanted to like Capheus’ story, trust. But, oh my god... Water is life? Rescuing a baby? Come on. That’s all it took to convince the tank truck guy to give people some water? Listen, I know Capheus is already seen as a leader and I would love to see him take charge and lead his people on a rally or a general strike. But not in the cheesy way it was done here. I know you can do better than that, show. In fact, the interview was a better scene, I loved the way Capheus declared he was just a bus driver who couldn’t have an opinion on more difficult topics, only to deliver a powerful strike at politicians. His interaction with Zakia continues to be adorable too. Please, upcoming episodes, don’t go cheesy on Capheus’ leadership storyline.

Kala’s family is going through... something. They are involved with politics, religious leaders hate them and now they are receiving death threats. I know that’s going somewhere and whatever happens next will affect Kala, but right now it’s not holding my attention. Kala is not a bad character, I really like her. Tina Desai does a good job with the role, she is sweet and charming without being too sugary. Kala’s knowledge is essential to the group and when they need her, she delivers. She said again that she has a darker side, so perhaps her story in Mumbai will improve as it gets to that point?

Nomi fares better than Kala and Capheus mostly because she already had a successful storyline in season one and her personal relationships are better established. Even though I had my issues with this episode’s second montage, Nomi said one noteworthy thing after Amanita arrived: “Something is always happening.” Being a sensate can be an amazing experience, but it can also be quite overwhelming. If you can’t unplug yourself from the others, you’ll be dealing with eight times the problems, the pain, the demons. That’s a lot to carry. To ease off her burden, Nomi decides to share the truth about herself with Bug. Once you come out, it’s the other person’s responsibility to deal with it. Also, it’s fair that he knew, he’s been putting his life at risk for her. His reaction is a cypher, but Bug has remained Nomi’s friend after she transitioned, I think he’ll remain loyal now too.

Sun’s story continues to be the strongest and it doesn’t rely on a montage to deliver. I would watch a TV show centered on Sun and her life in Seoul. I’m not sure I’d say the same for the other individual stories. I was sad to see Min-Jung decide to head back to prison, I thought she’d continue to be Sun’s unexpected sidekick. Their goodbye was heartbreaking. Sense8 excels at turning two people into an unlikely pair and delivering a powerful moment, and they did just that with Sun and Min-Jung. These women forged a friendship worth dying for, and I want Sun to keep her promise and visit Min-Jung in jail after she has cleared her name.

Lito’s meeting with Raoul’s father, Señor Pasquale, also resonates emotionally. The power of storytelling is something that both Sense8 and its sibling series The OA explore to great effect. We hadn’t met Pasquale before, but by the end of his tale I deeply cared for him and that’s due to how well the show laid down his narrative and to the moving performance of guest actor Marco Treviño.


“Polyphony” is also stronger when it plays with the show’s main concept and let the characters have some sensate fun, such as when Lito goes all melodramatic to distract the guards during Will’s escape, and when Will, Kala and Lito sneak into Riley’s business meeting with her ex. That scene in particular is clever because the writers insert some comedy and sensate interplay into a moment that otherwise would’ve been pretty procedural-y.

The final moments came as a big surprise for me. The episode focused on sensates being lobotomized – we saw it happening to both Todd and Raoul – and it was all leading up to Jonas going through the chop himself. Jonas is the most important sensate outside of the main cluster, so having him go through that brutal procedure amps up the stakes for the rest of the season. He will probably appear in some form – flashback, post-death sensate visit, zombie –, but it’s still a shocking end of the line for an important ally.

Bits and Pieces

- Professor Kolovi is a big fat liar who worked with Whispers during the early stages of Whispers’ lobotomizing program.

- Kala has amusing reactions to some of the art displays. Desai’s body language is on point.

- Felix is a big kid, isn’t he? I care for him only because I know what he means to Wolfgang, but that’s it.

- The cop who fought against Sun has “love interest” written all over him. His name is Mun. As in Moon. As in Sun and Moon. Also, Sun and Mun only differ by one letter. Do you think they are going somewhere with this?

- I know Sense8 loves to celebrate sex, and I don’t want to sound like a prude, but Lito and Raoul’s quick sex scene was totally dispensable.

- “Small Things” by Ben Howard played during the second montage.

I know I’ve been somewhat harsh on this show. It’s just Sense8 is such a unique TV series with a gorgeous cinematography that I wish the content fully lived up to the potential and the wrapping. Another good episode. Three stars,
--
Lamounier

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Lamounier, I totally agree that Sun's story is the one that is resonating right now. I really enjoyed her relationship with Min-Jung, and the beautiful scene on the roof that screamed "this is what freedom feels like."

And I totally do *not* want to deal with lobotomies!

While the idea is that they're all together without being physically in the same place, Kala and Wolfgang should be physically together! Why can't he go to Mumbai, or she to Berlin? Why did Kala marry into this dangerous family in the first place? Are they setting up something where her husband is going to be killed?

Lamounier said...

Are they setting up something where her husband is going to be killed?

Good theory. It could be. I think Kala married Rajan because it was the "safe" choice, whereas going after Wolfgang would have been the crazy risky one. Obviously, she should have followed her heart instead of her fears.