Sense8 Review: “Smart Money Is On The Skinny Bitch”/"What’s Going On?”

(Episode 1.03/1.04)

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<i>Sense8</i> Review: &#8220;Smart Money Is On The Skinny Bitch&#8221;/"What&#8217;s Going On?&#8221;

Who knew that a song as overplayed as 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On?” could still carry some emotional resonance, some 20 years after it became a hit? Especially when it’s used in a Magnolia-like fashion, with all the sensates in the show joining in a cross-continental singalong.

Just as the main characters are starting to understand the strange power they wield through this as-yet-unexplained psychic connection, we viewers are starting to feel the surprisingly dynamic qualities of this drama. It would seem that the lives of the eight people at the heart of Sense8 are intertwined in a kind of causal relationship that brings to mind equally knotty stories like Traffik and Syriana.

Before they were “born” into this new cluster of mental tethering, each one was bearing an impact on the lives of the others without even knowing it. Wolfgang is dealing in stolen diamonds that come from Mumbai, the home of Kala, the pharmaceutical rep and bride-to-be. In a small but surely crucial scene, she sits in on a meeting discussing fake drugs flooding the market and threatening the lives of the people taking them—people like Capheus’s mother, struggling to live while suffering with the AIDS virus. At the same time, it is revealed that Sun’s company in Korea has been embezzling money by devaluing the stock prices of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Now that there lives are going to be intertwined, surely all these random plot threads will start to come together, right? And then maybe they’ll work in how the other four characters are playing a part in this same organized crime/pharmaceutical clusterfuck we have unspooling before our eyes. Right? Right??!?

While they move us toward that big reveal, we at least are starting to see the power that the eight can wield over one another. As Jonas explains to Will, they need each other and can use their individual skills and knowledge to help their psychic friends. Thus, Sun’s abilities as a kickboxer come into play when Capheus’s bus is raided by a gun-wielding gang. And when Nomi is getting prepped for what would surely be a life-ending surgery, Will taps into her mind and helps her escape the hospital.

These two episodes also made great use of Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer. As you know if you’ve seen The Matrix and Run Lola Run, all three directors are amazing at filming action sequences, and bringing pulse-quickening thrills to even the most banal of cinematic experiences. They look to be having a blast bouncing between parallel storylines, each filmed with its own color scheme and mood, and connecting the dots in unexpected ways. So, when Capheus is getting surrounded by thugs, it’s Sun who appears in the dusty streets of Nairobi to knock them all down while she’s also dispensing with her rival in a boxing ring. Tykwer, especially, brings out his full arsenal of cinematic toys as he lets us follow Nomi’s dramatic escape, which hinges on Will’s cross-country help and a nice bit of chance. The cinematic flair that is being brought to episodic television these days is what is making the medium a serious rival for the attention of cinephiles around the world.

The trouble with this show is that I’m not entirely convinced that the right actors were hired for each role. The vast majority are doing a fine job. Tuppence Middleton looks appropriately shattered in the role of the Icelandic DJ Riley, and Jamie Clayton delves deep to bring some truth to Nomi, even as she finds herself as a pawn in some weird medical experiment. There was also a great redeeming moment between Kala and Wolfgang when, during the 4 Non Blondes singalong, they shared a surreal meet cute moment during which Tina Desai and Max Riemelt shined like never before.

All the other sensates have yet to really bowl me over, though. Miguel Angel Silvestre, in particular, acts with all the nuance that his character brings to his telenovela performances, and Brian J. Smith needs, at this point, to dial back the wide-eyed wonder and furrowed brow frustration that he bounces between. None of it is unwatchable, but in the hands of some more capable performers, their scenes could be even more exciting, funny and captivating.

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