Sense8 Review: “Art Is Like Religion”/"Demons”

(Episode 1.05/1.06)

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<i>Sense8</i> Review: &#8220;Art Is Like Religion&#8221;/"Demons&#8221;

About halfway through the best episode yet of Sense8, it finally dawned on me what an exceptional experience this series is for viewers. In each hour, we are getting a chance to see eight different cultures that encompass various races, sexual orientations, and worldviews. We get everything from a lucha libre contest in Mexico City, to a look at the legal system in South Korea, to a luxurious wedding in India, to an unflinching look at the underbellies of Chicago and Nairobi. The show also handed some pretty amazing acting opportunities for local thespians in each part of the world it films in, a chance to get their faces in front of millions of people through Netflix’s servers.

It’s an almost perfect reflection of the weird connection that has been given to the eight main characters. Bouncing between continents like us, it gets as delightful and confusing and shocking as if it were actually happening.

These two episodes used much of the time to build the bonds between these people in often intense and emotional ways. It would appear that these sensates link up not only when one needs help, but when two or more of them are sharing similar emotions or wrestling with the same concerns. When Sun had to reckon with the terrible decision of sending herself or her brother to jail, Capheus appeared to debate the issue through the lens of his own difficult choice: work with a known gangster who can get him medicine or watch his mother’s health decline. Later, when Sun is locked up, along comes Riley, who is also reeling from the aftereffects of a crime she didn’t commit.

This came across much more potently and cinematically when the majority of the sensates shared an intense sexual experience together. As the Wachowskis put it together, the scene brought the characters’ bodies together to intertwine in this beautiful, erotic tableau. The walls of their sexual preferences melted away and they were all on and at each other… even though it was really just Lito and Hernando, and Nomi and Deets getting it on. The sequence used editing and pacing and music to build the intensity higher and higher until a glorious collapse. Pretty incredible stuff.

That, in part, helped make the sixth episode, “Demons,” such a memorable one. The hour was filled with impressively staged moments, particularly when pairs of the sensates would find a deep connection for a brief moment. The camera would circle around them, and with each edit, we would get bounced between the characters’ locales. Like the fine actors many of them are, each person held true to the tone and feeling of the dialogue no matter where they were, location-wise.

The Wachowskis are even allowing for a bit of possible romance between four of the sensates. The electric attraction that Wolfgang and Kala feel for one another was explored in a humorous but pointed way, with the German, completely naked, showing up to interrupt the Indian woman’s wedding. And there he was again, the next day, laying in her bed and trying to seduce her as best he could from 4,000 miles away. Will and Riley’s budding relationship was played out in a much more chaste, and very adorable fashion, with the added touch of a quick telephone conversation between the two. That, of course, had to be abandoned due to their shared voice bouncing through each other’s heads. The possibility of either of these couples meeting up in person seems remote right now, but I really want to see how the world of Sense8 would respond to such a face-to-face.

As invested as I am in the fate of these eight characters, the actual plot of the show is taking a big backseat to these moments. I don’t really care about the fact that Wolfgang’s uncle might be hip to the fact that his nephew ripped off a bunch of diamonds, or Will getting closer to the murder investigation, or Nomi coming to understand whether she’s actually super sick or not. Watching these eight characters play in this strange arena of the mind that they find themselves provides more than enough dramatic peaks. I doubt I’ll be saying the same thing in six more episodes as the plot becomes more clear.

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