In the first episode of the first season of Sense8, I was truly not ready for this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Sense8.
Trigger Warning: For talk of transphobia/transmisogyny, racism and racial stereotypes, police brutality, drug use, suicide, sexism.
Hello, friends! Welcome to the first of the five new shows that I’ve added to my schedule of Double Features here on Mark Watches. No one show was requested more than the first season of Sense8 by my lovely readers, and I imagine that, like any time I start a new show, I’ve brought in some new faces. Welcome! Here are some things you need to know:
1) Spoilers are not allowed in any form on Mark Watches. Please refrain from ever posting (in normal text) any sort of spoiler or reference to future storylines or developments while commenting on this site. This rule is probably a lot more strict than you’re used to, so if you’re warned about spoilers or if your comment is edited because of it, trust me. This is for a reason. Please visit the Spoiler Policy for guidance.
2) You may, however, post spoilers in rot13. You will inevitably see what looks like gibberish in the comments. We use rot13 to cipher all possible spoilers so that y’all can still have a conversation about each episode if you’ve seen the entire show. Please cipher all spoilers.
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And before we get started proper, I do like to be upfront about what little I might know about a show before I start it. I’ve got a rigid system of filters and blockers to help me avoid spoilers, but due to some things slipping by and conversations with people in non-online settings, I know the following things about the show:
- People like… sense things? About other people?
- Freema Agyeman is in it.
- There’s a ridiculous orgy at some point.
- Stuff happens and everyone ever has wanted me to watch it?
- The Wachowskis are behind it.
LET’S DO THIS.
I already know that this is going to be a challenging show to write about because it’s so dense and layered already. I’m a sucker for ensemble casts, and this one is ridiculous. At least eight major characters (I GET IT. THEY SENSE THINGS AND THERE ARE EIGHT OF THEM), plenty of supporting roles, and a central mythology that I barely understand: that’s all part of what makes up Sense8. On top of that, we get individual stories for the eight characters that are interrupted (influenced?) by the strange connection they have.
All of that is because of Angelica. I do love a pilot that drops me into chaos and expects me to figure it out on my own, and “Limbic Resonance” is not exactly the kind of script that hands me the answers easily. What I know is this: Angelica had some sort of power that allowed her to be connected to another person – whoever Naveen Andrews’s character is – and this power was highly sought after by… that one dude in glasses. (I swear, I’ll pick up on names by the end of the next episode.) Someone wants these people for their own needs, and of course, I have no idea why. In her final moments, Angelica seems to “activate” eight other people around the world, and all of them begin to bloom into the same kind of person she was. Why? Did Angelica want to spread her power to protect it?
I DON’T KNOW. But I’m trying to figure this out!
For the remainder of “Limbic Resonance,” we witness the birth of powers in the main eight characters. I loved that this was not like, for example, that thing that happens at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These powers are not activated in acts of grandiose absurdity. Each of these characters has a dream or a vision of Angelica’s death, and it’s so surreal that it’s easy for them to discard as nothing more than… well, a dream. However, the lives of each of these people starts to creep and bleed into others. Initially, I thought there might be a pattern to it, but I had to question that once characters – like Will, Riley, and Wolfgang – experienced more than one life at once. I figured that due to the narrative structure, each person was linked to only one other, but I don’t know if that’s true. Regardless, I’m barely into this show, so I know I’m probably wrong about everything. THIS IS WHAT I DO.
So is this power just the connection or is this just the beginning?
I think at least for this episode – and possibly for all those after this – that I’ll need to split up my review by character, just so I have a chance to address as much as possible. I actually thought Riley was Mary Elizabeth Winstead, since she reminded me of her character in Scott Pilgrim. I’m fascinated by her detachment and disinterest because it’s a huge juxtaposition to what we see at the end of “Limbic Resonance.” That’s also where we get the episode title, since that’s what Nyx promises her. It’s ironic, then, that this resonance happens independent of the drug she takes. But what does it mean? Why these people? Why Riley specifically?
I wonder, though, if her use of DMT was what made it possible for her to have the most dramatic experience with her new power. She’s the only character in the whole episode who travels entirely to another location and interacts with someone else. That seems significant to me! (I’m trying, I swear.) Unfortunately, the moment is interrupted by UTTER FUCKING CHAOS and EVERYONE IS DEAD and Riley is standing there covered in the blood of the four men who all just killed each other and WHAT THE FUCK.
I think approximately NO ONE is surprised that I enjoyed Nomi’s story more than anything else here. I actually experienced an intense sensation of longing for San Francisco while watching her scenes in the city, which is strange to me because I got so burned out by the place. I lived in Oakland for five years, but spent at least a solid three years (more or less) living with my partner at the time in the Castro. It was too real to me to watch these characters hang out in the Castro or lounge in Dolores Park or EAT BURRITOS. You wanna talk about realism, then you better acknowledge that we here in California eat approximately 400 burritos a month.
But there’s so much here that I not only adore, but respect. I am fucking floored that this show gave us a group of Berkeley feminists in Dolores Park, one of whom was openly transmisogynist towards Nomi, and NOMI’S GIRLFRIEND THREATENS TO COLONIZE HER FACE WITH HER FIST, AND I AM SO IN LOVE RIGHT NOW. Someone defending a trans woman??? OPENLY??? The first and only sex scene in “Limbic Resonance” is so queer IT HURT MY HEART. Who fucking does this???? And the best part is that it’s explicitly gay/queer, and the camera doesn’t cut away to not show anything like it always does whenever there’s a non-straight sex scene. Seriously, pay attention to how much affection is shown for heterosexual relationships compared to non-heterosexual ones. You’ll see a pattern.
Let’s also talk about that monologue/dance routine that Nomi witnesses. It’s heartbreaking and horrifyingly true. Y’all, a plotline that includes an explicit desire to respect the people who died for the LGBT movement we have now. Look, I’ve lost people to AIDS over the years, and I have friends who survived the horrible 80s and early 90s when people were treated atrociously by our government. (Fuck Ronald Reagan forever.) I just… how is this real???
He kind of felt like a counterpart to Riley, since both characters are not as explicitly emotional as most of the others. Well, perhaps that’s not quite correct. It’s pretty emotional to pee on the grave of your father, and his motivation for stealing from him post-funeral is extremely damn emotional. I may have misread this and Wolfgang’s father could have just been a thief who failed to open one of these safes before. Actually, the more I think about this, the more certain I am that Wolfgang was merely remembering the pain of his father’s laughter when he couldn’t sing during a school production. And that’s motivation enough to be better than one’s father, you know?
I think that along with Capheus, he received the least amount of screentime, so I’m very confused about what his own story is. Obviously, he’s a very famous actor in the telenovelas, one who’s stereotypically macho, and the appearance of Angelica fucked him up. But what’s with the sexual drive? Does he normally have a sex drive that intense, or did the influx of his new power cause that to happen? I’M CONFUSED.
So, this is where my opinion of some of the storylines begins to falter a bit. For the record, I had a blast watching this, and I’m very intrigued by it. But there’s some weird shit here, so we’ll start with Capheus, whose story is… well, so far, it’s a stereotype. I want to hope that Sense8 will do what LOST did, which was to plop a bunch of archetypes and stereotypes in front of us, and then slowly eat away at all of our perceptions of certain characters. For now? Capheus’s storyline doesn’t stray away from any of the Western perspectives of African culture. That’s not to say there aren’t slums in Nairobi, or that people don’t have the job that he does, or that there aren’t Kenyans who speak English. (What’s with everyone speaking it???) It’s just that every detail is so stereotypically familiar that, unlike half of the other characters’ stories, there’s no subversion whatsoever. What’s Capheus’s connection to the greater story? What’s going on with his mother?
Which is also my problem with what little we see of Sun. It’s not that these things don’t ever happen in Seoul; it’s that all we get from her is a story about a quiet Korean woman who is powerless amidst the sexism that surrounds her at work. It’s not an original story at all, you know?
An arranged marriage plot? Really? As I’m sure you can tell, it’s something that irks me because this show is so deliberately nuanced about some things, but three of the characters who live in predominately non-white nations are relegated to narratives that are so typical of these places. I dug Kala and her bubbly personality, and I found her incredibly handsome. But her storyline here is like… half of the Bollywood films I’ve seen.
Here’s the thing: it is entirely possible that I’ll have to remove my foot from my mouth after I watch the next episode because all of these plots will be subverted and such. I admit that! But the nature of Mark Watches means I have to comment on what I know thus far, and I don’t have much to go on, you know?
I’ve saved the worst for last because Will’s plot is an utter fucking disaster. I don’t even like it a little bit. Are you seriously telling me that in the year of our Lord, 2015, that the one cop who has a conscience is white? That his black / latinx / afrolatinx partner is the one ready to dismiss the entire south side of Chicago as an unforgivable war zone? That a little black kid in a gang would pull a gun on a white cop and then immediately ask for his help? That a black woman in south Chicago would deny that same black child admittance into a hospital because treatment got better once they started denying his kind? A black woman? Are you fucking serious? Black women have done more to fight racism and police brutality and gentrification than practically any group in America, and that is who the show chooses to act as an antagonistic force to Will???
Will’s plotline is, at best, an oblivious mistake. At worst, it’s a white savior story dropped in our laps during a time when we’ve never been more aware of the link between anti-blackness and policing. I hate every second of it, and unless there are significant strides made to change this, I am not even going to bother with this story. It’s atrocious.
The video for “Limbic Resonance” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon!!! MANY SURPRISES ARE IN STORE FOR YOU IF YOU SUPPORT ME.
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– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Kings, season 1 of Sense8, season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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