Eight people living in eight disparate countries, never having met before, one day discover they’re able to psychically communicate with each other. This is the concept behind Sense8, the flashy sci-fi drama from the Wachowskis. Its first season, released back in 2015, saw this ‘sensate cluster’ adjust to their new abilities and get to know each other. By the start of season two, available now on Netflix, they’re much more of a family unit.
This more settled dynamic allows the eight sensates to work together much more than before, sharing skills and knowledge and often working together as a full team of eight, which only happened at the end of the first season. This only enhances the show’s celebration of diversity, a worldview set in stone very close to the beginning of season two’s first episode (excluding the special which was released at Christmas). Simultaneously confronted by critical reporters, gay Mexican actor Lito (Silvestre) and Kenyan bus driver Capheus (Ameen) combine their oratory skills and courage, respectively, as well as the life experiences of the other six. “Who am I?” they both respond, “I guess who I am is exactly the same as who you are, not better than, not less than, because there is no one who’s ever been or will ever be exactly the same as either you or me.” It’s a powerful speech, and a mission statement for the series.
Going forward, season two continues the individual storylines of all its eight leads while making serious progressions in the greater arc about the sinister organisation looking to capture and control sensates. But more on that later. The strongest individual story is Lito’s, as he struggles to keep his career afloat now that the public is aware of his sexuality. It’s a sad story, but not without its uplifting moments as friends in and out of the cluster help Lito embrace his new identity. That scene at the São Paulo pride parade that’s all over the trailers is as cathartically joyous as it looks; such audaciously overblown sequences have a habit of popping up in the middle of Sense8 episodes and are part of its off-kilter appeal, though there’s nothing this year to quite match the first season’s telepathic orgy.
Other highlights include Nomi’s (Clayton) story later in the season, in which she must decide whether to go to a family wedding despite her mother’s disapproval of her trans identity, and Capheus’, in which he is asked to run for political office but knows that making a similar decision ended in his father’s death.
Some other stories aren’t quite as strong. Kala’s (Desai) struggle with her unhappy marriage lacks focus and Wolfgang’s (Riemelt) story gets too distracted from the power vacuum in Berlin’s underworld, though the growing romance between the two of them remains sweet. Sun’s (Bae) story is a largely played-straight revenge thriller of the sort you’ve seen in many films before, fun but not highly original. It can also seem that characters are overly perfect and there’s too little disagreement between the group; over-emotional Lito is the most flawed sensate, which correlates with his storyline being the strongest. Still, this does allow for a fun interaction when Lito’s at his lowest and goes to the severely stoic Sun for help.
The two we’ve not mentioned yet are Will (Smith) and Riley (Middleton), and these are the two busiest with the overarching story. As we join them, the evil Whispers (Terrence Mann) has a psychic grasp on Will; the only way Will can keep Whispers from seeing through his eyes is by blocking that link with drugs. Weakened as he is by this, he’s still a skilled detective, and there are some cracking deductive scenes as, like a psychic Holmes and Moriarty, both Will and Whispers put together clues from what they glimpse inside each other’s minds.
There’s much more to the greater story, too, as this season really expands the scale of Sense8. Their hunt for answers leads Riley and Will to meet sensates from other clusters and get a clearer view of how ‘homo sensorium’ exist across the world. One particularly intriguing new character is played by none other than Sylvester McCoy. Now, most of this show’s cast are reasonably young and very sexy. As charming as he is, Sylvester McCoy is a portly 73-year-old who, here at least, dresses like the dorkiest fisherman in the Highlands. We were quite hoping they’d play this up by having him bumble around playing his spoons in the background of an orgy. Though that doesn’t quite happen, his first scene genuinely is almost as ludicrous.
(In case any of that seemed harsh, we do genuinely adore you, Sylvester. Keep doing what you do.)
Back on topic… Sense8 is an odd one to give a review score to. There are a lot of holes you can objectively pick in it if you want to. But it’s filled with such joy, energy, and wackiness, and it’s one hell of a rollercoaster, if you allow yourself to be taken along for the ride. And importantly, in a world full of political pressures and nationalist nonsense, it’s a show that puts diversity and globalism front and centre and leaves you feeling that, whatever nationality, sexuality, or gender identity, we are all important. For that reason, it’s a thoroughly uplifting watch. Some won’t warm to it, but those who love it will really love it. We did, and we hope you do too.
SENSE8 SEASON 2 / DIRECTORS: LANA WACHOWSKI, TOM TYKWER, JAMES MCTEIGUE, DAN GLASS / SCREENPLAY: LANA WACHOWSKI, J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI / STARRING: AML AMEEN, DOONA BAE, JAMIE CLAYTON, TINA DESAI, TUPPENCE MIDDLETON, MAX RIEMELT, MIGUEL ÁNGEL SILVESTRE, BRIAN J. SMITH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (NETFLIX)