7.9

Sense8 Review: “Death Doesn’t Let You Say Goodbye”/"What Is Human?”

(Episode 1.09/1.10)

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<i>Sense8</i> Review: &#8220;Death Doesn&#8217;t Let You Say Goodbye&#8221;/"What Is Human?&#8221;

Forgiving the campier more over-the-top elements of this series has been a necessity. Or at least, it was imperative to let them be overshadowed by the good-to-great stuff that was in each episode. Unfortunately, the scales have tipped far too dramatically into the florid, going so far beyond the pale that it’s going to be hard to watch the last two episodes of the series with the same curiosity and anticipation I was feeling before.

I think it began right at the moment in “What Is Human?” when Wolfgang decides to trade what’s left of his stash of diamonds for his and Felix’s safety. Instead, it turns out to be a huge plot to enact revenge on his nemesis Steiner. The overacting of Christian Oliver (the gent playing Steiner) was bad enough. Then the shootout started, leading Wolfgang to pull out a rocket-propelled grenade from his trunk to blow up his enemy’s car before it could drive away.

It came out of absolutely nowhere. In not one episode prior did we get any sense that Wolfgang was good at anything other than safecracking. Apparently he was hiding the ability to be a superspy, rolling over his car and putting a bullet in the chest of everyone around him—and with zero help from any of the other folks in his cluster.

The episode just kept going off the rails after that. Inspired by Wolfgang’s actions, Lito decides to rescue Daniela from the clutches of Joaquin. It culminates in a big dramatic showdown that was shot as an homage to/parody of John Woo or the big budget telenovelas that Lito is always shooting. Has every scene with Lito and his polyamorous partners been as pulpy and ridiculous as this? I don’t think they have, but having the show become this wannabe Sergio Leone nonsense only sullies the fine storyline that was coming before it.

That all pales in comparison to the complete and utter bombastic and unnecessary closing montage, however. As Riley settles into watch her father perform with the symphony, the edits start popping with each member of the cluster shown sitting and grinning at the music. Then for each one, we get flashed back to the moment of their birth. Not when Angelica connects them for the first time but their actual births, complete with crowning baby heads, c-section incisions, blood, placenta, and all. What the everloving fuck, Wachowskis (and I’m guessing co-writer J. Michael Straczynski)? I’m a fan of cinema and TV’s more discursive side, but this felt almost gratuitous.

Really, these two episodes felt like the fattiest of the series. We are getting a glimpse into these characters coming to terms with how connected they are while also piling on the tension of wondering when Whispers is going to return and whether Jonas is on the level. The balance just couldn’t hold as every other plot point just felt like the writers were stretching it out to fulfill a 12-episode order.

Worse, when they do manage to find moments of greatness, they poke a small hole in it and the air starts leaching slowly out of the scene. A great example is when Nomi and Lito meet up for the first time. He’s in the Diego Rivera Museum lamenting the loss of Hernando and she arrives to comfort him. They recount these pivotal moments in their lives, starting with Lito rhapsodizing about his first date with his partner. He’s in awe of Hernando’s intelligence and gets so carried away that they retire to the bathroom to fool around. You can hear the needle entering the scene when Lito laughably describes going down on his future partner as “taking holy communion.” Again, that would be easy to wave off, were it not for a genuinely moving story that Nomi tells in response, about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a bunch of awful teenage boys. The heart of that scene felt like it was resonating with beats from Lana Wachowski’s life, but the ridiculousness of that bit of Lito’s dialogue just kept hovering over the whole thing like a fart in a car.

The only thing that came clear that I didn’t really put together before is why Riley and Will, and consequently Kala and Wolfgang, feel such strong connections. They are essentially falling in love with themselves. It is, as the mysterious Icelandic woman Yrsa says, purely narcissistic. It’s part sensate connection, part genuine attraction, and part reflection of the best parts of themselves. Surely the center of these relationships will not hold.

There were other big reveals (Riley was married before and both he and their baby died) and bits of forward momentum (Sun’s father decides to take the rap for the embezzlement) but the messages got muddled as the Wachowskis indulged in genre exercises, shots of a fireworks display over Chicago, and forcing their prosthetics department to come up with a lot of fake bellies and babies to be shown in nauseating detail. I’ll be filing these ones away as a two-episode intermission and sticking it out for the final two hours of Sense8’s inaugural season.


Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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