In the tenth episode of the first season of Sense8, Will learns more of the sensates’ origin while the sensates themselves all have important experiences with each other. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Sense8.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of domestic abuse, homophobia, the Holocaust.
GOOD LORD, THIS SHOW. I have seen a bit of the Wachowskis’ work over the years, and it seems they gravitate towards themes of universal human experience. I think you can see that in The Matrix series or in their adaptation of V For Vendetta or Cloud Atlas. And this episode in particular asks us to question the nature of humanity through its title and through the experiences that the sensates go through. It’s also bookended with the worst of humanity and the best of it.
Isn’t it? We open with Wolfgang and the sensates walking through the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, and the words on the mirror ask us if the Holocaust is truly a reflection of who we are. The episode closes with images of the beauty and miracle of birth and the emotional resonance of the act. What’s in between? Some depravity, some joy. Some heartbreak, some resilience. Is that what it means to be human?
Will and Jonas
I really like the idea that the sensates are, technically speaking, a different species, one that threatens homo sapiens enough that there’s a group of people willing to exterminate them. This is not the first chance I’ve had to talk about this kind of narrative technique, so bear with me if I’m repeating myself. But I often find that metaphorical oppressions (like the one found in Sense8) are lacking in other fictional works. The problem is that inevitably, this new form of bigotry occurs to the dominant group within our world, so the work is actually quietly guilty of the same sort of bias that they’re railing against. But look at this goddamn cast, y’all! I’ve certainly had my issues along the way, but the show has given us stories in Nomi, Lito, Kala, and Capheus that demonstrate real-life oppressions while including them in the fictional one, too. Is it perfect? I don’t know that anything ever could be. The point is that the show is making a conscious attempt in this sense to give us a fuller story, and goddamn, it really works.
For a moment there, I worried that she wasn’t going to sign the court papers allowing her father to tell the truth. In a sense, I would have understood this. Sun had control in prison. Yes, she lost her freedom, but she gained something there, too. She found a purpose, even if it was just to help others survive the place. But I think that emotionally, she had the support of the other sensates in moving to her new future. She’s ready for the past to be the past.
Wolfgang and Lito
I’M JUST…SO UTTERLY THRILLED BY THIS. EVERYTHING ABOUT BOTH OF THESE STORIES IS SO SATISFYING AND RIDICULOUS. And y’all, I found it totally necessary that both Lito and Wolfgang got such over-the-top resolutions to their problems. Why? Because Lito was involved with both, and he’s an actor known for films that are just as absurd. Thematically, it made total sense to me, especially if you assume that each sensate is able to affect another based on who they are. When Wolfgang confronted Steiner and his gang, he was clearly well-prepared and skilled. As he said, fighting is what he does. So why does Lito show up?
Because lying is what Lito does. It’s foreshadowing for what comes later in this episode, though at the time, it’s kind of heartbreaking. Lito’s skill is lying not solely because he’s an actor, but because he’s had to construct a double life due to homophobia. It has become second nature to him. But his value goes beyond that, and I’m thankful to see his transformation within “What is Human?” I wouldn’t say that Wolfgang transforms, though I admit to being surprised by THE FACT THAT HE OWNS A FUCKING BAZOOKA. (Still a Buffy reference in my head.) The man simply stood up to a bully. By…blowing him up. WHICH IS VERY SATISFYING.
I think you can see the same theme within Lito’s decision to confront the bartender he was homophobic towards and then to get Dany back. The show BRILLIANTLY films all of this as if we’re watching a telenovela, and it’s a lovely spectacle to watch. I mean, it’s the language of Lito’s life. It’s what he’s done for years and years. Of course, flashy dialogue and one-liners doesn’t actually do all that much to stop someone like Joaquin from abusing people. That’s where Wolfgang comes in, because what he does do well is fight. AND HOLY SHIT, THAT UPPERCUT WAS A THING OF BEAUTY.
Ah, the trio is reunited, y’all. I’M SO HAPPY.
She’s not the only character here facing a huge decision, and perhaps that’s another way that this show asks us what it means to be human. Is it human to be selfish? Or to do what you think is best for someone else? Is violence part of being human? I found it appropriate that after having a very honest conversation with her father about Rajan, Kala finds herself in Capheus’s house. He’s not made a decision about what to do with Silas’s daughter, but he understands the predicament Kala is in, at least in a more emotional sense. Again, it seems that sensates in a cluster just instinctively know who to seek out when they need help.
Fireworks and Birth
Well, it’s not just help. The sensates visit one another to experience joy. There’s no other reason for Capheus and Sun to be with Will during Independence Day fireworks in Chicago except for the spectacle of it all. It’s a gorgeous sequence, and I like that there’s not some higher meaning attached to it. But it’s also a nice precursor to the birth montage, which is the first time all eight sensates are in one location simultaneously. It’s such an incredible sequence! The births are incredibly realistic, which I never see PRACTICALLY ANYWHERE. But there are also all these little tells that hint towards the life that each of these people will live. Riley’s father played the piano during her birth; Lito’s family were watching a telenovela; Wolfgang was born in water; Ganesha looked on as Kala was born.
GOD, IT’S THE COOLEST. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the hell happens to Riley at the end of the episode. She remembers the death of her own child and her husband, and then starts bleeding???? WHAT’S HAPPENING?
The video for “What is Human?” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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