‘The Matrix’ Trilogy blew minds and completely changed the way action movies were watched and filmed. It was a seminal movie for, not just Hollywood, but for the world in general, as the limits of what can be shown on screen, as well as the complexities of story that an audience is willing to watch, were pushed beyond it limits. The films and its subsequent sequels were some of the highest grossing films of all time, and invoked much critical reception, but in the positive and negative. While the first film was considered groundbreaking, the sequels were seen as straying from that original source material. But despite this, the films have entered the annals of cinematic history as being much debated, loved and rewatched in the 16 years since their release.
Most importantly, ‘The Matrix’ catapulted the careers of its creators and directors, the Wachowski siblings. Since then, the filmmakers have been credited with movies that have become critically acclaimed and revered by studios and audiences alike. The minds behind the scandalous comic book adaptation ‘V For Vendetta’, and the logistically impossible movie to make ‘Cloud Atlas’, continue to surprise by taking their brilliance to an entirely different medium, with ‘Sense8’, released exclusively on Netflix in June, 2015. Collaborating with another innovative filmmaker, J. Michael Straczynski, creator of another classic science fiction show, ‘Babylon 5’, the Wachowskis brought to life their vision of an unique science fiction concept that explores topics that the genre has rarely touched upon.
A Sensational Concept
Sense8 is a science fiction drama centered around eight main characters, from different walks of life, all over the world. One events causes them to become inexplicably linked, emotionally and psychically, causing each other to share feelings, knowledge, skills and languages with one another.
The series mostly shows how these characters deal with such life altering experiences, while also dealing with a common threat that seeks to destroy them all. The show opens with a mysterious woman, played by Darryl Hannah, ‘giving birth’ to these 8 characters, metaphorically of course, but linking their minds together, before her own violent death. The rest of the show focuses on these chosen few and their reactions to these new abilities, and how good or bad they may end up being in the long run. The major conflict of the series lies in another man with similar abilities as theirs, tracking them down, in an attempt to study and neutralize them. So the ‘Senates’, as they are known, have to somehow work together, with the help of another Sensate, in order to protect themselves while dealing with these new abilities, and understand their place in this brave new world now.
The Sensates Themselves
To consider the first reason of ‘Sense8’ to be solely a science fiction show would be a mistake. While dealing with concepts that are truly of the science fiction genre, the first season decides to establish its characters more, by being almost an extended introduction to this universe and it’s many lead characters. The show works as a character drama first, with the sci-fi elements being relegated to the background, appearing only two or three times in majority of the episodes. While the rest of the episode, focuses on each character’s life, their back story, their motivations and how, who they are, will factor into their new life with these abilities and being part of a cluster that goes beyond themselves. It’s a riveting show with many lead characters all with uniquely interesting lives that work to create an engaging and exciting show that is relevant even thought the science fiction aspects. A more significant character of the show can be considered Will, played by Brian J. Smith, who can be remembered by sci-fi fans from his stint on ‘Stargate: Universe’, and more recently, on the current the ABC drama ‘Quantico’. Will is a police officer in Chicago who, after his experience of Hannah’s death, begins to investigate the circumstances of her death. Being a police officer, allows the character of Will to be more proactive in his reactions to becoming a Sensate, and essentially makes him a thread that is pulled through the narrative. Will is also one of the first people to whom Jonas introduces himself.
Jonas is played by Naveen Andrews, who is no stranger to sci-fi characters dramas, given his time on ABC’s hit series, ‘Lost’. Jonas is basically the caretaker of this group of Sensates, as he tries to guide them through their journey, protecting them from the man after them. Andrews is amazingly coy and mysterious himself as he helps Will, but his ultimate goals are still wrapped in mystery, given that he is a captive of the organization hunting down the other Sensates. Through Jonas, Will, and the audience, find out about other Sensates and the rules of this world; how they communicate, share experiences and everything else that these characters are initially oblivious to.
Dabbling With Sexuality, Identity Issues & Religion
‘Sense8’ can be further praised for its very courageous depictions of real world social issues, included within a show that is otherwise more of the science fiction genre. This is what cements the story as more of a character piece, as the conflicts and plot points of these characters, have little to do with their abilities, but more to do with who they are, as people. The show boldly presents characters and their struggles, that can very easily be related to in the real world, by an international audience.
If forced to chose, Nomi would easily be the show’s 2nd lead character after Will. Played by Jamie Clayton, Nomi is a transgendered woman, a former hacker and blogger, who is under threat of a lobotomy for her abilities as a Sensate, fuelled by a mother who refuses to accept her as a woman. Nomi’s story is hugely unique and progressive, as her story initially starts of as a matter of the parental confusing and lack of understanding that almost ever transgendered person possibly goes through in their own journey, before it weaves back into the story of the show. Clayton herself a trans woman, is wonderful at capturing the helplessness and pride of a transgendered woman. Nomi’s story connects mostly with Will, as her hacker past allows her to directly aid Will in rescuing one of their own. Another progressive social issue is depicted through the eyes of Lito, played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre. Lito is a successful action film star in Mexico, a veritable sex symbol for women, who is also a closeted Homosexual. His career hinging on his status as a macho heterosexual, Lito’s pain is showcased through him constantly hiding himself from the world, and the claustrophobic fear of being exposed that comes with it. While not a major player in the over all story, Lito’s story is still influential as it features a lot of identity issues and never objectifies his love story as being deviant or anything other the respect that two people in a relationship have for one another. His story is also one of the most fun in the entire series.
The Netflix Model Strikes Again
Allowing ‘Sense8’ to be on Netflix, creates a freedom that the show would not have experienced on network or cable TV formats. While obviously the explicit sexual content and graphic imagery would not lend it self to network TV, the format and storytelling narrative would not have worked for Cable TV either. ‘Sense8’ takes ample time to create an identity for itself as a show, and does this through a steady pacing of character development through its eight leads. Each episode slowly grows into a cohesive narrative only by the end of the season, and not before. It’s a slow burn of intrigue, as the season doesn’t initially hook the audience with any outrageous action sequences or gratuitous pandering for ratings. It’s not until the last episode of the series, that the narrative draws to a boiling point, but even the ending of the season itself leaves a lot unsaid, but in a very satisfactory manner. This manner of long form storytelling would not have succeeded in a week by week release, as audiences would have grown tired at the slow and steady pace, causing the show to suffer from low rating. ‘Sense8’ is a story best experienced on its own terms.
Less Wachowski More Straczynski?
In recent times, the Wachowskis have been criticized for their more outrageous worlds and characters, most recently being the box office and commercial failure that was ‘Jupiter Ascending.’ The Wachowskis are seen as such uniquely gimmicky film makers, that ‘The Matrix’ could be considered their most subtle film to date. Given that, it’s almost surprising to see how restraint and held back ‘Sense8’ is as a show. This could be more due to the influence exerted by the co-creator J. Michael Straczynski, who is known for writing more character driven films such as ‘World War Z’. In a way, ‘Sense8’ features the best of the Wachowskis, but excluding the worst of their other works. ‘Sense8’ has been renewed by Netflix for Season 2, and now that the conflicts of the individual characters have been dealt with, here’s hoping that Season 2 delves right into the thick of things as we get a better understanding of what Sensates are, and how these characters will save themselves from the threat that still exists.