Sense8: Limbic Resonance

"You're so beautiful. I don't just mean in a physical way. The warmth pouring out of your heart, even though you work hard to hide it."

When the first trailer for Sense8 came out, I was hooked. The premise was so original and interesting, the show a creation of the Wachowski siblings and  J. Michael Straczynski (how can you go wrong with that trio?) and the trailer looked great. All things considered, though, the first episode failed to impress me. But was "Limbic Resonance" a lesser series premiere or was my enjoyment of it hampered by misleading expectations?

Let's start at the very beginning: the opening scene is great. Daryl Hannah is crazy suicidal, giving psychic birth to eight strangers, psychically accompanied by Naveen Andrews and a psycho white collar. The scene makes full use of the mythology of the series, with clever bits like Whispers arriving right when Angelica pulls the trigger. That establishes right away that Angelica wasn't hallucinating, the men inside her head were real. Rewatching the scene with a better understanding of what's going on is pretty satisfying.


After the episode is done with the setup and a quick dream sequence, it proceeds to introduce the characters' everyday lives and the little changes that their birth as sensates has caused. This is where the episode becomes hit and miss.

Most of the attempts at comedy fail. In fact, it's Lito's story that takes "Limbic Resonance" from interesting to boring. I know that sounds harsh, but that was my perception my first time through and it didn't change on this rewatch.

Luckily, the episode doesn't devote a lot of time to Lito and it bounces back. Other characters whose journeys are also only briefly introduced are Kala, Capheus, Sun and Nomi. Kala gets the most unoriginal story: she is engaged to a man she doesn't love. Capheus, the most stereotypical: he is a poor African man with an ill mother. Sun is immediately an interesting character because Doona Bae has a captivating screen presence, but we learn more about her surroundings than about herself.

The discussion of problems like misogyny and LGBTphobia is usually heavy handed, and this is noticeable from the get-go. We have barely met Sun and there is already a one-note sexist man disrespecting her womanness. I wouldn't be surprised if an anvil saying "WE ARE ADDRESSING SEXISM" had popped up on the screen. I eventually got used to the series' preachy ways, but there are still moments when the writers could have used more nuance and subtlety.

I enjoyed the introductions of Kala's, Capheus' and Sun's stories more on this second watch, because now I know who these characters are and they have grown on me. But if I judge what "Limbic Resonance" presents on its own, it's not enough. This isn't solely this episode's problem, though. Kala's story will remain somewhat pedestrian for most of the season and Capheus' will continue to be a collection of stereotypes, so what "Limbic" offers is nothing but a prelude of what's to come for them.


Out of those who get less screentime, Nomi is the sensate who fares better. There is no plot for her, there are barely any seeds of a plot to come, just a collection of happy scenes that tell us exactly who she is and the life that she has, and it works. Nomi is a trans woman who has a loving relationship with another woman, Amanita. They have such a perfect connection with each other that sometimes it borders on sugary, but I don't mind it. When Nomi is insulted with a transphobic slur (at Pride, no less), Amanita defends her, and that's where Sense8 focuses: on how much Amanita is there for her, and how much she loves Amanita for that.

The three characters to whom more screentime is devoted also fare better, especially the leading lady, Riley. So let's talk about Wolfgang and Will first.

Wolfgang is a quiet German thief, whose seriousness is counterbalanced by the goofiness of his partner in crime, Felix. The most important information we learn about Wolfgang is that he loathes his father. There is a quick flashback to his childhood that shows him stage freezing and his father laughing at him. It's a pivotal moment that shapes Wolfgang's journey. In present day, he is determined to crack a safe that his father was unable to, and by the episode's end, he gets it done. Now he can laugh back at his old man.

Will is the typical American hero, the white cop who saves the black kid. The story is a bit basic (and IMDb informs that if a hospital receives federal money it can't deny emergency medical treatment), but at least the episode doesn't shy away from discussing the racial issues it tackles. Will is asked how he is going to feel when the kid gets better and kills a cop, and even though he provides no answer, it's quite clear that Will has a moral compass that guides him to make the right choice. What the boy does from now on is not on Will. Sense8 presents a stark contrast to the real world, where black kids are shot and killed left and right, and there is something really beautiful about the positiveness that the show displays. When Sense8 doesn't represent how the world really is, it's busying showing how it should be.

Riley has the best arc of the premiere. She is a DJ, a broken soul and has the worst boyfriend. She makes an unexpected bond with Nyx, a drug dealer with incredible sensibility, who looks right past her detachment and touches her heart. It's never established that he is a sensate – he dies before we get to find out – but the writers use him to introduce the main theme of the show: connection. His scene with Riley near the end is the strongest of the episode, the type of scene that Sense8 excels at: two people sharing a moment of deep, mutual understanding.


Nyx gives Riley a drug that sends her mind straight to Chicago, to the church where Angelica gave birth to her eight children and killed herself. Will is there at the site, and the two sensates meet for the first time. Riley is fascinated, Will is cautiously curious, but neither of them understands what is really going on, and before they can figure it out, she is pulled back to London. All hell breaks loose when Jacks, Riley's boyfriend, turns the table on Nyx to steal his money. The men end up killing each other, leaving a baffled, scared Riley completely lost and alone, and closing the episode with a cliffhanger that is chilling enough to make us want to watch the next hour.

Bits and Pieces

- Each sensate lives in a different city. San Francisco, Chicago, Mexico City, Mumbai, London, Nairobi, Seoul and Berlin.

- Will dreams about a girl who asks for his help. In the dream, Will is also a kid.

- Lito, who is a famous actor in Mexico, says that his heart belongs to another person. "Person" is the keyword.

- Capheus is a bus driver (the name of the bus is "Van Damn"), and has a friend and business partner named Jela.

- Sun is a high-ranking business woman in her father's company. We see her brother Joong-Ki for two seconds and it's enough to tell that he is the worst.

- Amanita is a really cool name.

- I love the little things that pop up out of nowhere and drive the newly born sensates crazy. The music from the club Wolfgang is at driving Will crazy; Kala hearing the sound of rain when it's a sunny day in Mumbai; that precious chicken from Nairobi that appears at Sun's desk... And there are many others.


- Sense8 has a beautiful soundtrack. This episode blessed us with "Kettering", by The Antlers, a song that has played in several genre shows.

- Nyx was very respectful to Riley. I appreciated the way he asked to remove her headphone before doing it.

- There are a few similarities between Angelica and Riley that will be explored throughout the season. For now, their physical resemblance anticipates that: they are both white women of very pale skin, they both rock platinum blonde hair and Riley's loose shirts mirror the dress that Angelica was wearing when she died. Also, Angelica killed herself, Riley has scars on her wrist.

- Had Angelica lived, she would have brought her eight children into the loop of the sensate world. Obviously, the writers had to kill her off so the main characters would walk into the adventure with no guidance, which makes better TV.

- Every episode title is a quote from the episode itself. That doesn't always leads to great titles, but "Limbic Resonance" is a pretty cool one.

- I wonder now if Netflix advertised Sense8 properly. They focused a lot on the thriller elements of the show, when the show itself is more focused on the human aspects of its tale. Maybe a trailer similar to those of Cloud Atlas and The OA would have sold the idea of Sense8 better?

Quotes

Jacks [re: Riley]: "She can spin for a girl, can't she?"
Nyx: "She can spin. Period."

Nyx: "He said you had a vision."
Riley: "No, it was too many drugs."

Nyx [re: a drug]: "When people take it, they see their birth, their death, worlds beyond this one. They talk of truth, connection, transcendence."

Diego: "Maybe you were astro-projecting, like Doctor Strange."
Will: "Why would I expect anything different from you?"
Diego: "Officer Strange."

Nomi: "I'm not crying because of her, I'm crying because no one's ever defended me before."

Diego: "Of all the partners, I end up with a Mulder-wannabe."

Nyx: "I used to be like you. Like an exposed nerve of a broken tooth. I used anything I could to insulate. Music, books, booze. Anything I could to keep myself separate from the rest of the world. Eventually I felt protected, you know, I felt safe. But also, I never felt so completely alone."

There is a lot to like in Sense8's first episode, but there are also significant flaws. The package is beautiful (it's a Wachowski production after all), but the substance does not always measure up. So I'm going to give this one two and a half out of four pride dildos.
--
Lamounier

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Sense8 didn't grab me during the first season. I initially found this episode confusing and overly dramatic. But when I went back and rewatched it, knowing the characters much better, I liked this first episode a whole lot more.

The second time through, I particularly liked the safecracking introduction to Wolfgang, and the visit to Ganesh by Kala where she explained her fiance problem. Wolfgang and Kala are probably my favorite characters of the eight, although I can't really say why. Maybe I just connect to the actors.

Lovely review, Lamounier.

Juan Alberto Roche Rodríguez said...

Great review Lamounier, thak you!

Im so happy you guys are finally reviewing the first season of Sense8. I love this series and I personally was hooked from the beginning. I think the main reason is that I like all the main characters. That doesnt happen to me often, to connect with every single main protagonist of a series. I think that is a unique convination of good writing and character building and amazing actors.

One of the things I love the most about this show is something what you said, about how they not only show you how cruel and complicated the world is but how it could and should be. How beatiful and full of love. This days I found that the most popular shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Walking Dead or Mr. Robot for example, while amazing in their one way, tend to show a very grim and cinic view of the world and the human condition. In that regard I found Sense8 refreshing and unic. Nothing wrong to see people that among the hardships of life still find the time to have fun, been happy and loving and support of each other. Is quite hopeful.

Can't wait to read the rest of your reviews.

magritte said...

Looking forward to the season 1 reviews! Honestly, though, the best part of the first episode for me was the opening credits sequence which is mesmerizing.

Lamounier said...

Thank you, guys.

Billie, I agree that knowing the characters already helps a lot.

Juan, I love darker shows, but Sense8's optimism and positivity are refreshing. I keep reading of people who fell in love with the show because of these aspects (and then mourned after knowing it had been cancelled).

magritte, the opening credits are indeed terrific, I forgot to mention them.

Alyx Dishan said...

Do you know where that excerpt is from when there was an interpretive dance set to a soundtrack of testimonials about the AIDS crisis that Amanita and Nomi watched? TIA ��