Sense 8: The Good, The Bad, and How It’s Ultimately Worth Watching

Borrowed from tunefind.comGenre: Sci-fi/Drama

 Synopsis: Eight people all born on the same day are suddenly connected to each other, able to communicate across great distances and access each others’ skills. As they learn to use this connection, they’re being hunted by a powerful organization. But it’s really all about who they are, and how they lean on each other, and how they learn from each other.

Series: First season is 12 episodes.

I’ve Watched: All of season 1.

Verdict: Interesting and unusual, though it ends in a kinda disappointing way. Still totally worth the ride.

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Timing-wise, it’s ironically appropriate that I watched this show between Pride week and 4th of July. I had no idea that would so strongly coincide with the time of the actual show, in-universe. So that was kinda cool.

I’ve heard others saying that Sense8 started off slow, but I liked it from the beginning. And I don’t think the style of storytelling changed as the show progressed, either. So if it started slow, then it also continued being slow for its entirety. All that changed was that we knew the characters better, and had more time to become invested in them.

I do really like the characters in this show, which is a requisite for getting into the series. The story is character-driven, and depends heavily on the characters to carry the show. Talking too much about the characters would probably constitute as a spoiler–they are way more important than the plot–so I’ll try not to do that. But I do want to note that the performances by the actors are generally powerful and many of the relationships the characters have with each other are endearing. And I particularly loved how Nomi’s character demonstrates that being strong and sensitive can–and possibly should–go hand in hand.

Having such a diverse main cast is great, though we still have a ways to go. There were both good and bad things when it comes to representation, but I think this is an improvement overall. I tried to look up more discussion on this, since I might miss problems outside of my person experience, and here’s a few things I found: Should You Watch Sense8? The Answer’s About as Clear as This Show’s Plot and SENSE8 AND THE FAILURE OF GLOBAL IMAGINATION. Both of these are more positive than the titles suggest, I promise–they talk about both problems and successes in the show.

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So I liked the first two episodes. I got into a bit of a slump around episode three, when I became tired of the style and lack of focus on the plot. But then there was just enough plot put in to hold the entire premise together and keep me enjoying it. Until the last two episodes of the show, which I expected to draw all of the disparate threads the show had been following into some sort of satisfying conclusion.

I did start to get nervous earlier than that, when I realized that there was so little time remaining for the show to bring everything together and it was still building on those loose threads that seemed to have little to do with each other. But then, I was enjoying the character arcs and unusual style enough to trust the narrative. That trust was misplaced, but it did allow me to maximize the time I spent liking the show, before I finally realized it wasn’t going to have a good closing.

Sense8 starts off well enough, with a series of vignettes about each of the characters establishing who they are and what context they exist in. As they start seeping into each other’s lives, we’re drawn into the daily struggle that each of them face. The show continues in this style pretty much from start to finish.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I was genuinely interested for the majority of the season. It is worth noting that the plot takes a backseat to these character establishing moments, something that I thought was fairly well done in its own right. It’s just that the plot itself is fairly disappointing as compared to the rest of the show. As such, focusing on the character moments and making the plot such a subtle force is actually playing to the series’ strengths. However, said plot is still responsible for eventually getting us somewhere, for taking all of the things we learned about the characters and bringing them together in a meaningful way. And it…doesn’t do that.

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For most of the season, I liked the show, though I didn’t love it. It was only towards the end that I became actively disappointed with it.

The moment I started noticing things going wrong was when out of nowhere, we suddenly get an impromptu kung-fu movie scene. After every instance involving death or the threat of it in the show had been treated as terrible, suddenly the character who’s been shown to value life the most only avoids being responsible for a mass slaughter on a technicality. With the actual agent of that mass slaughter being a character whose experience with violence involves kickboxing matches. Violent, yes, but hardly the equivalent of massacring everyone in the room. I just don’t understand why these people’s lives are treated like they don’t matter.

There was another previous scene which was almost over-the-top in its violence, but I bought it because it involved a character who had a lot of experience with violence in the real world. He was a criminal, and he was likely already a killer so far as we knew. So I bought this kind of thing from him (though I am confused about the police being a non-issue, given the country it’s taking place in). But this scene, which involves protagonists who had never killed anyone before casually engaging in slaughter–what? How does that make any sense?

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And from that moment, I realized that the show was trying to wrap up its individual character arcs in preparation for a final conclusion. I had liked the character vignettes, but I had the expectation that they would go somewhere and tie into the plot. A lot of them didn’t.

There are eight main characters, and I had the expectation that they would all have a significant impact on the plot. That isn’t true. And if it isn’t true, why are there so many main characters in the first place? I don’t want to see any of them cut, especially as cutting out the least essential characters from the plot line would make the show less diverse. Which is interesting in its own right. But I do think the character arcs could have been handled differently, and the ending could definitely have been different.

Then the entire climax of the show is a quintessential damsel-in-distress story line, and the moment that it stops being that, we skip to the end. Weirdly formulaic ending for a show that isn’t supposed to be.

Oh, and I also totally did not get the childbirth song. Just saying.

It’s a good thing that this show is experimenting with less standard styles–we can always use a bit more variety in our media. It’s also a good thing that the cast is so diverse. I just wish the show had wrapped up in a way that was more satisfying. I wish it was as radical as it thinks it is–though that still leaves it ahead of most TV. Still, I’m glad I saw it, and I would probably watch a second season.


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