Sense8 Season Two

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others.”

The quote above is not from Sense8, it’s from Cloud Atlas, which in many ways is Sense8’s parent movie. In her revelation, Somni, the quiet hero of Cloud Atlas, delivers a message of human connection that would become the essence of Sense8.

That theme was even stronger in the show’s sophomore season, which tightened the connection of the eight main characters and expanded the scope of the story by introducing sensates from other clusters. We visited new countries, were presented with breathtaking views and, like in season one, were given some beautiful moments. But did it all make a winning season?

The short answer is: not entirely. I’m going to be objective in this overview. [Striked because I ended up writing an enormous post.] First, let’s get out of the way what didn’t work. Then I will write short [maybe not so short] discussions for each main character and talk a little bit about the romance. Shall we?

What Didn’t Work

Pacing. I don’t mind a slow pace if that’s what the writers are going for, but they need to back it up with a strong story. In the first half of the season, the BPO story developed slowly yet steadily, but the pacing became erratic on the second half and the last couple of episodes before the finale practically sidelined that arc. Momentum disappeared, and while that could’ve been a deliberate choice to give the final fifteen minutes more oomph, it looked more like the writers had to hit pause for a while because there wasn’t enough story for eleven episodes.

Hitting pause is another flaw this season had, because some of the arcs felt incomplete. Still on BPO, we learned a lot about their methods, but we still don’t know why Whispers does what he does. What is in it for him? It appeared we would get that answer, but then, pause. I have no idea how the Wachowskis and JMS broke the story for five seasons, but season two should have had a bigger bite. Even when I think of shows that were eternal cliffhangers, like Alias, there is still a sense of completion in each season that Sense8’s second didn’t have. Forget other shows, Sense8’s first season was better on that aspect.

Last but not least, some individual arcs lacked layers. Capheus entered politics but part of that plot was very superficial, almost as if the writers only bothered with the emotional aspects and big moments. The gang conflict in Berlin was also underdeveloped. It’s clear by the end of the season that it all led up to Lila turning on Wolfgang and delivering him to Whispers, but there still should have been something to justify the turns, such as Fuchs’ decision to start killing some of his rivals when he mentioned he wanted to maintain things at peace. What motivated his change of heart? We never learned.

Characters Breakdown

[This is in no particular order, except for Sun. I love her the most and want to talk about her first.]

Sun

I love Sun. She is easily my favorite of the core eight and Doona Bae is amazing playing her. This season’s biggest theme, identity, was deftly explored in Sun’s arc as she faced the idea of killing her brother. I haven’t hidden my disappointment with how that particular story ended for Joong-Ki, but where Sun was concerned, it worked.

One of my favorite pairings this season was Sun and Min-Jung’s. There was complicity and sisterhood in their relationship, and I wish it hadn’t been so short-lived. There is a softness in Sun’s heart, something that Ming-Jun saw, something that we see when Sun mourns a father who didn’t fully deserve her love, when she can’t kill her despicable brother because he is still her brother and she made a promise to her mom.

Even though Sun’s story remained mostly stagnant throughout the season, I enjoyed her emotional journey. She may have lost her family to death and betrayal, but she has found love and support in a new family of strangers, even if it means being annoyed by Lito here and there.

Will

There is no official main character in Sense8, but it’s safe to say Will is the de facto lead protagonist. And he had a tough ride in season two. When season one ended, we wondered how Will would be able to live with Whispers at his grasp. Would he have to drug himself constantly? The answer was: kind of.

Will and his cluster found clever ways to fight back, but his cat and mouse situation with Whispers cost him a lot. Can you imagine living with your greatest enemy stuck in your head taunting you at every turn? Will’s journey was of pulling through and it was one of the most riveting aspects of season two. He collected the shattered pieces of his self and – even after the final punch of his father’s death – he led his friends to deliver a decisive blow against Whispers and BPO.

Capheus

Capheus had a big journey in which he saw himself become a politician. It was a major shift from his arc in season one. Personally, I liked that they moved Capheus away from all that violence because that didn’t match the message of the series nor the character specifically. The shift also meant we got to see more of Kenya’s colors – and they were vibrant! – aside from the stereotypical “it’s all violence, illness and poverty” approach to Africa.

But I wonder if the writers ever intended to explore the consequences of Capheus’ past actions. I also wonder if they intended to have Capheus become his own man. In season one, Capheus was led by circumstances to slaughter several men. In season two, Capheus was led by others to become a political leader to his people. When would Capheus take the reins of his life? It’s unfortunate that we probably won’t see it happen now, that would have been a nice ride.

As it is, though, I truly enjoyed Capheus this season. His big love and strong sense of justice are qualities we need more in this world. Like I mentioned before, I also appreciate that he is surrounded by unconditional supporters – his mom, his best friend, his new lover. And his message of unity and togetherness is something we should carry at heart. We might not get all of those five seasons the showrunners planned, but we got a lesson that should endure for five lives.

Toby Onwumere did a great job walking into a role previously played by another actor. I was unsure, as were we all, about him at first, but he captured the essence of Capheus and gave his own touch to the character. And it was his first acting gig! Well done, Toby.

Lito

Oh, Lito. How can we stand your never-ending crying?

I kid, I’m not the biggest Lito fan, but I mostly enjoyed his arc this season. He went through a lot, from closet to pride, from rejection to success. He made the right choices and is now a champion for the LGBT community. Well done, Lito.

It was nice to meet Lito’s mom and have Daniela officially become a member of Lito and Hernando’s family. My only complaint is that Hernando was underutilized; there wasn’t a lot for him beyond being Lito’s boyfriend.

The writers were somewhat quick to give Lito a smashing career victory. I would have liked to see Lito find strength amidst his career downfall first. Considering the abrupt cancellation, though, it’s a good thing he already got a happy ending.

Riley

I thought Riley’s enormous trauma would be further explored in season two – I wish it had been, she clearly wasn’t over it by the first season finale – but instead she spent most of the sophomore season looking after Will. In fact, that was her most prominent role: taking care of her lover, both literally and figuratively, as she stepped into his leadership role and became a front liner in the fight against BPO.

I enjoyed that. Once, damsel in distress, now fearless investigator. A fine reversal. In fact, after season one a lot of people pointed out that Riley was the only sensate that didn’t have a “talent” to contribute to her cluster, unless you counted her DJ skills as something helpful. Well, she showed us it is possible to contribute even without a specific ability, you only have to show up and take responsibility.

To be fair with the fandom, people also discussed that Riley’s role within the cluster could be more abstract, such as mother figure or the heart of the group. I wouldn’t go as far as saying she is the mother figure or the heart, but she plays some role of connection, at least that is my interpretation. It was to rescue her that the group consciously connected as a whole for the first time, and she was the first one to broadcast her sensateness and connect with sensates from other clusters. “I see you” is her message.

So, while I wish the writers had given some attention to her terrible losses, I can’t really complaint about the story we got. Mrs. Blue had a fine ride.

Nomi and Amanita

Nomi was my favorite character in season one, so I am mildly disappointed that she was not as strong a presence in season two. Even her job of magical hacker, as Billie called it on her season one review, was diminished! I love Bug, but still.

Oh, well, what we got was good. I mean, that speech at Teagan’s rehearsal dinner? Glorious.

I included Amanita in the title of this section because (1) Amanita totally earned her place as the ninth member of the cluster and (2) Nomi and Amanita are super tight so it felt natural to name them together. :) Seriously, apart from her sister’s wedding, I can’t remember a significant moment for Nomi that was not about her and Amanita.

See, like I mentioned before, I thought they would go through rough times, that Amanita would question if it was all worth it. Of course, that’s not what happened because Sense8 brings the best out of people. Amanita stays. Amanita and Nomi are one and that cannot be broken. It was so well done. Very, very nuanced. Every step of the way, every turn of the road carefully written. When Nomi expressed her gratitude and slight concerns, Amanita looked back at her appreciative and, more importantly, inevitably in love. It all led up to a beautiful proposal scene that I rewatched a couple of times and now carry in my heart. I hope Billie is right and the finale special ends with the two love birds getting married.

Kala

Kala, like Capheus, is someone that goes with the flow more than decides where to go next. In fact, most of her individual story was about reacting to her husband’s shady business. However, I think that Kala grew more into her own during the second half of the season, which made me very happy.

There is something special about Kala that I can’t quite put my finger on, and I’m not talking about her ability to make things explode. In season one her arc was so pedestrian and boring, but I couldn’t help liking her. Maybe it is Tina Desai’s charm at playing the character, maybe it is Kala’s pure heart. I don’t know. When I think back of this season, the Kala moment that first comes to mind is the one in which she tells Wolfgang she doesn’t want to hurt Rajan. You can tell her words are honest, and, damn, it’s refreshing to have such a purely decent human being on TV.

Wolfgang

If I remember correctly, I wasn’t crazy about Wolfgang, or at least I didn’t care much about his arc in season one. Then they revealed his backstory and left me perplexed and thinking “Okay, I understand him now.” I’ve grown to love him since then, and I liked that he wanted to distance himself from all the gang violence.

Wolfgang kept being pulled in, though. He was a player wanting out, but he knew it wouldn’t be so easy. The entire season he carefully watched the game unfold until Lila turned the cards against him and he had to make a decision, which he did: he would never go to his knees for anyone. Nor would his people. Then he is out. But it’s not over. Because again he is pulled in, as in kidnapped, and we are left with a huge cliffhanger to speculate for months – at least it is not forever – how his story will close out.

Romance


Usually, romance is not my favorite part of stories, but Sense8 has such a vivid approach to it – well, it has a vivid approach to many human experiences – that it’s impossible not to be captivated. The colors and emotions, the artful sex scenes. It’s all amazing, really.

Riley and Will are the most vanilla couple and even they have a bond that has become worth watching, especially when you consider all the pain Will is going through and how Riley is his emotional rock. Then you flip the coin and find the tantalizing couple that is Wolfgang and Kala, and, by God, you want them to be together as much as they want one another. Okay, I’m being melodramatic here, but you get the point.

I think that what attracts me more in Sense8’s portrait of romance is how intensely one lover surrenders to another. It’s raw, animal, no emotions barred need, pure and unequivocally good. Therefore, it’s magnetizing.

TV shows like to create as much drama as possible within a romance, but Sense8, keeping true to its positive view of all kinds of relationships, strengthens and celebrates its couples. Nomi’s life is too crazy? Not a problem for Amanita. Will is in pain? Riley is there for him. Zakia and Capheus are from different worlds? Not tonight, they aren’t. So we are left with this extremely blessed view of romantic partnerships, that they are about adding, about combining, about creating a unity that is unwavering. And that’s just how it should be.

Season Bits and Pieces

- Sense8 got an Emmy nomination for Best Cinematography, which is so much earned. I wish Doona Bae had scored an acting nomination too, she was fantastic this season.

- This season had eleven episodes, season one had twelve. Considering the Christmas Special had two hours, the runtime of each season is pretty much the same.

- The soundtrack was amazing. So many songs I know now because of this awesome show. “Good For Me” by Above and Beyond has become a big favorite of mine.

- Thanks everyone for reading the reviews. I'm as happy as Kala to have gone through this season with you all.


Overall Analysis: I might sound harsh on Sense8 here and there, but I truly love this show. It’s touching, positive, liberating; it’s about love and, above all, it’s filled with humanity and hope. Are there flaws? Yes, many, to be honest. But that’s okay, a flawed show can still be great. Sense8 is excellent. Where it succeeds, it’s artful and beautiful. And its second season took us through that intimate experience once again. A glass of exploding Greco di Tufo for it. Now onto what I hope is a smashing finale that crowns this beautiful tale with the bookend it deserves.
--
Lamounier

7 comments:

magritte said...

Thanks for the review, which I basically agree with. Early in the season, I thought the show had hit its stride and found the right level of pacing and focus, but then it began meandering again after episode 4. And I honestly wonder if they suspected that Netflix might pull the plug on them and put together the rushed finale just to get some sort of victory for the Sensates to go out on. While it was exciting, I still feel it would have been better to cut out some of the flab from the previous five episodes and split the final one in two. And I found the Berlin story incoherent.

Sun and Will were the stars of season 2 for me, which is funny because they were not my faves in the first season. And I like your comment on the positivity of the relationships in Sense8. It just struck me how unusual it is. So often if a relationship is already established when a show starts, it's sure to fall apart to build drama, and even romances with happy endings usually put the lovers through some conflict (often highly contrived). It was refreshing to have a show where most characters had good relationships with their lovers, friends and family, instead of being filled with drama. Sure there were exceptions (Nomi's mother and Sun's family), but on the whole, this is a show with a very upbeat view of humanity in these cynical times.

Are you still planning on going back and reviewing the first season?

Lamounier said...

magritte, thank you for such a great comment.

Yes, the Berlin story was incoherent. My impression is that the writers made a list of what would happen - Fuchs will approach Wolfgang, Fuchs will give the club to Felix, Fuchs wants to keep things at peace, Fuchs decides to kill his rivals - but didn't go any further in the writing process to make it layered and logical. If came off very first drafty, and I had that same impression with Capheus' storyline. Both stories work on an emotional level, but the plot is underbaked.

I agree that they could have cut out some of the flab - very appropriate word to describe it, BTW - though I think (hope?) the finale special will make up for the rush of season finale.

You are right that Sun and Will were the stars of the season. They got the best character work by far.

Yes, I will write reviews for each episode of season one starting this month. I liked season one better, or at least that's what my memory tells me, so I'm looking forward to revisit it.

Billie Doux said...

Terrific review, Lamounier. It's funny, but I really didn't get into Sense8 while watching season one. It finally clicked in for me in season two. So I went back and rewatched season one and enjoyed it a lot more, probably because I'd gotten to know the characters so much better.

Lamounier said...

Thanks, Billie. Based on what I have read, fans are split in which season is the best. I only rewatched one episode of season one back in the day - the first one, to introduce the show to a friend - and I thought it was a much better episode on rewatch.

Billie Doux said...

I think it's because Sense8 is so different. I had to acclimate before I could like it.

Lisianpeia said...

Great review! I think I agree with everything you said, even the "What Didn’t Work" part - I'd ad to that the fact that Kala didn't divorce Rajan. Even if there would be five seasons, I can't see why drag this out anymore. I understand she doesn't want to hurt him - but that will evetually happen, she knows that.

Sun is also my favorite character =)

magritte said...

I'm not sure which season I prefer. I like the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2, I think. It took a while before I was really hooked on it. I mostly watched it for the eye candy (cinematography and pretty people) for the first few episodes.