SLIP/view: SENSE8 – Episode 1

The WACHOWSKIS bring us another mind-bending sci-fi allegory filled to the brim with philosophy.

SENSE8 is the latest mad scientist experiment from THE MATRIX duo. And it’s a lot better than much of their previous efforts like JUPITER ASCENDING and CLOUD ATLAS.

They created this crazy new series along with the help of Über talented director Tom Twyker (RUN LOLA RUN) and fanboy favourite writer J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI (BABYLON 5, THOR, WORLD WAR Z).

This NETFLIX series re-imagines reincarnation among several other religious and philosophical beliefs.

The story basically goes likes this: several characters discover they share a mysterious connection. Their senses overlap at times, where one person experiences what another across the world experiences. They share more then senses, they share knowledge and perhaps even a connected soul.

Like a lot of other Wachowski work, SENSE8  feels like a live-action anime.

Japanese animated films don’t shy away from thick philosophical examination and dense mythologies. The Anime genre is also overly stylized, filled with action that defies the laws of physics.

While there is a lot of exciting moments, thriller elements, and action scenes, SENSE8 is really full of ideas – like the Wachowski-developed V FOR VENDETTA.

There is so much to think about with this series. Mysterious elements perforate each separate story-line, alongside the shrapnel of philosophy. 

* this review is intended for a MATURE audience *

It seems like SENSE8 might be packaging the philosophy of the collective consciousness with Buddhist beliefs of inter-connected-ness. Like THE MATRIX before, the philosophy isn’t heavy-handed and boring, it’s woven in with mystery and action. Ideas brew under the surface, but never drown the viewer. 

Let’s breakdown the storylines for the first episode of the very compelling and super intriguing new Netflix series SENSE8.

Atmosphere coats every surface of the opening sequence. We are stylishly guided into this strange new world.

DARYL HANNAH awakes on a bare mattress in a dilapidated  building. She has drugs and a gun at her bedside. A mysterious stranger arrives by her side. It’s NAVEEN ANDREWS (Sayid from LOST) and these two share senses. Another man arrives. Naveen can’t be seen or heard by him. Hannah somehow communicates with both.

Right away, we are drawn in by mystery. Our mind races to fill in the blanks. Something spooky is going on. Before we can catch up, Hannah blows her brains out.

And SENSE8 starts… with a bang.

It seems like her sacrifice(?) somehow birthed a number of Sensates into the world. Strangers across the globe suddenly share a strange connection. Their  worlds blend and cross-over.

What starts as haunting visions of Hannah’s suicide quickly turns into a quest. These strangers start to jump into one another’s minds, experiencing the world through  different eyes.

Let’s rundown the Usual Suspects, our Sensates… There’s a top DJ, and a safe-cracker in the UK, an actor, a cop, and a lesbian couple in the USA, a bride to be in India, a business woman in Seoul, a bus-driver in Naroibi.

The DJ tears up a club with her set. The Sensate effects kick in, as she hears the ticking of a safe cross-over from another’s life. She doesn’t know how to react, like most of the Sensates early on.

We get some pseudo-science explanation with DMT (a spiritual mind-expanding drug) to help balance the supernatural stuff. Thankfully, we don’t know much early on. SENSE8 slow-brews its mystery at a deliberate pace. 

The episode cuts back and forth between storylines… Soon enough, we learn more and more about their lives.

Turns out DJ’s boyfriend is involved in the Underground. And I don’t mean the London Subway. I’m talking about a violent drug-dealer. The episode ends on the DJ’s with a John Woo TRUE ROMANCE shoot-out. 

The DJ experienced some senses from another’s life: a safe-cracker. He races against the clock to hack into this super safe full of diamonds.

The tough guy exterior cracks during break-time. He turns on the tele and checks out his favourite singer in a Reality TV competition. We get a glimpse into his memories. He wanted to be a singer himself. Looks like he left that dream behind.

Will he turn away from crime? Maybe tomorrow, because he just cracked that safe and now he and his buddy have a bag full o’ diamonds.

Briefly… We meet a Latino actor with a stylish psych-out. At first it seemed like he was a ruthless vigilante gunslinger, until the director yelled, “Cut.”

We met a Nairobi  bus-driver who idolizes Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s struggling to make ends meet. His competition, The Bat-Van, steals most of his customers.

His loyal sidekick provides a lot of laughs like, “Don’t worry, Jean-Claude watches over us.”

A customer pays him with a chicken, and we transition over to Seoul, Korea as a chicken sits on an office desk. Cue our intro a puzzled new Sensate, a business woman – who think she just hallucinated.

We also quickly met a hesitant bride to be in India. Her story will develop more in upcoming episodes.

There’s a lot of characters to balance, so we’ll have to be patient and attentive viewers. I like it when a show trusts us like this. SENSE8 wants us to participate, and not just blindly watch the screen.

One storyline that got a lot of screen-time was a lesbian relationship in San Francisco. We meet our lovers in the midst of passion. This is a scene that will definitely get your attention – for better or worse.

This bold, brave, and daring sequence highlights a lesbian sex-scene. Realism adds to the bravery (and certain controversy) as DR.WHO actress Freema Agyeman made me go DR. WTF?! I’ve never seen a strap-on love scene on screen before… cough... in traditional media.

I don’t think this moment was done for shock value. I think it’s a sign of the times. It’s called progress.

Part of progress is the viewer gets steamier sex scenes 😉 Even that actor character was turned on with his Sensate powers activated.

There is a focus on sexuality with this storyline. SENSE8 seems to be about stepping into someone else’s shoes.

A contemporary hot-topic is equality for the LGBT community. It’s great to have this ignored demographic represented in main-stream entertainment.

The shared minds and bodies is a good parallel concept to discuss societal issues.

SENSE8 also uses flashbacks to tell us the story. We get to see our lovers at a Pride event of the past. A memory when our Sensate’s girlfriend defended her. No one’s defended her before, so it means a lot.

I get a feeling, with these shared senses and skills, our hero will get to defend her girlfriend later on… with someone else’s fighting ability.

The other main storyline focused on our cop. His senses cross with the DJ and the safe-cracker at different times. He’s had a vision of Hannah too. He told his partner, but he just blows it off, calling our hero “Officer Strange” like the Marvel character.

Before he can deal with that, he must deal with a wounded gang-banger. The moral dilemma here is that if he saves the kid will he kill a cop or someone else one day? Officer Strange takes the high ground and brings the wounded teen to the hospital.

These storylines will continue to develop each episode. The characters are intriguing. The mystery is compelling. SENSE8 is complex enough it could stretch across the season and keep its momentum.

Intricately woven storytelling compliments the stylized visuals. Although full of big ideas, SENSE8 is never boring. It’s filled with excitement and action. 

Stay tuned for a review of the next episode. Coming soon…

What do you think?

DR.WHO actress Freema Agyeman

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