Last year ahead of its second season, Sense8 produced a Christmas Special. Here’s my review.
Sense8 is a Netflix Original TV series created by The Matrix’s the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski. It takes some of the ideas the Wachowshis explored in The Cloud Atlas about inter-connectivity and builds them into one huge, overarching story. Without revealing too many spoilers from the first season, eight people from around the world born at exactly the same time are psychically and emotionally connected, and when their link is activated, they all start experiencing flashes of each others lives. After a few early ropey episodes, the first season got stronger and stronger, and had some truly meaningful, exhilarating, and funny, moments.
The strength of the show was the sheer diversity of the characters it portrayed. As well as the headline grabbing transgender San Franciscan Nomi (Jamie Clayton) and a secretly gay Mexican actor Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), there was Chicago cop Will (Brian J. Smith), an East Berlin locksmith Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), Kala (Tina Desai from The Exotic Marigold Hotel), Korean underground kickboxer and daughter of an important businessman Sun (Doona Bae, who was also in The Cloud Atlas), an Icelandic DJ called Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton, probably the biggest name in the main cast) and my personal favourite Capheus, a Kenyan busdriver who is an obsessive Jean Claude Van Damme fan. Capheus was played by Aml Ameen in the first season, but Toby Onwumere has replaced him going forward.
Although the first season was released all at once, it did progress like a regular show . As we got to know the characters better, each had their own issues that was mirrored in the others’ lives, and used their individual strengths to help each other. Sun’s ass kicking skills, Will’s tactical awareness, and Wolfgang’s lockpicking got some members of the group out of some tricky situations, but other times it was Nomi’s emotional strength or Lito’s acting that was needed.
“A Christmas Special” picks up from the events of the season finale, and sees most of the group in hiding. In its usual way, the episode sees the characters experience the important events of each others’ lives, which here involve Lito being outed, Kala facing her upcoming marriage, Wolfgang being tempted by offers from the criminal world.
If you stuck with the first season of Sense8 through its first season, you will find this episode has many of the same strengths and weakness. In fact, it feels almost like a re-tread of a lot of the same ground. There’s a romantic scene turns into a psychic orgy involving all of the Sensates and their partners, and a couple of fight scenes that sees one person fight off numerous opponents while using the other Sensates’ skills. These are scenes we saw in the first season, and they had more impact the first time around – but I don’t think there are any other TV shows that can do those types of scenes. And that is what makes Sense8 a special show.
The paparazzi scene that sees Lito being bombarded by shouted questions and flash lights is really well done, with each Sensate seeing their own version of insulting graffiti. Capheus is a joy as ever, and he probably gets the best line when his friend mentions he is looking different (recasting actors will do that) and he replies with a simple “new barber”. It feels like he is being set up for a big storyline in the upcoming season, with people coming to ride his bus (a newer, bigger Van Damme) to get the strength and hope Capheus showed.
There are the usual issues. Due to my ingrained hatred of all things hipster I find Nomi and Neets (Freema Agyeman) pretty annoying a lot of the time, and their “why can’t people see that it’s hot” reaction to Lito being outed seems out-of-place. There are some slow moments as we spend time with characters not really doing much, and some stories feel less important than others. Surviving murder attempts while rotting away in a jail does not equate to having doubts about the man you are marrying. And I wanted more Van Damme. And Naveen Andrews!
Still, “A Christmas Special”, or “Happy F*cking New Year” as it is called now, is a very interesting 2 hours of TV. It sets up the upcoming season, and there’s also a nice It’s A Wonderful Life reference thrown in, which then reappears towards the end in a slightly less sentimental way.
If you didn’t watch Sense8 (or gave up on it after a few episodes like I almost did in both seasons) I would recommend you get involved. At times it can be a bit preachy, and sometimes the San Fran philosophy that Nomi and Neets live by bleeds into other areas where it doesn’t quite fit too well, but rather than just being an “important” or “worthy” show, it really is a very enjoyable series. The second season again took a while to get going, but again built very well, expanding the world that should have been explored in future series, before financial concerns caused it to be cancelled. However, it has been resurrected for 2 hours finale after a huge fan reaction caused Netflix to partially reconsider, and we can hope that the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski get to finish their story as they want.
But in a way, this could be the perfect introduction to the show.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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PS As a little treat for reading all the way to end, here’s the moment that hooked me into the show. Out of context it might seem cliche, but it really is brilliant
A previous version of this article appeared on TheSnootyUshers.com in January 2017.