[This is a review of Sense8 season 1, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
In ‘I Can’t Leave Her,’ the season 1 finale of the Wachowskis’ sometimes beautiful, sometimes confounding, but nevertheless emotionally rewarding new sci-fi drama Sense8, you get the feeling that you’re watching the beginning of something, not its end. The episode concludes the season with a long aerial shot of the eight Sensates aboard a boat, escaping the clutches of the still-mysterious Mr. Whispers, who has looked into the eyes of would-be group leader Will (Brian J. Smith) and been granted access to his every thought and action. As a result, Will is drugged to the gills, effectively kept comatose, so that Riley (Tuppence Middleton) can physically facilitate their escape – all while the remaining Sensates look on, ready to lend a helping hand.
For a series about the idea of eight characters sharing a consciousness, forcing one of them into a sustained state of unconsciousness is a unique place to leave things. Should Netflix renew Sense8 for a second season (and I hope that it does), this will make for an interesting corner for the narrative to work its way out of. And considering the effort it took in order for the first season to even get to this point, any sort of continuation would be appreciated. For all the fun that the series eventually managed to weave into the latter episodes, the climax was really the launch of the series more than anything else.
‘I Can’t Leave Her’ brought all the Wachowskis’ visual tricks to the party, delivering an engaging rescue mission that utilized the interwoven character structure to the fullest degree. Built around timely edits and meticulous camera pans, the episode’s action sequences were the sort of thing many viewers likely thought they would be getting when the series was first announced. But really, it was only within the last four episodes that the device at the heart of the show began to deliver the moments that really made it worth watching.
For one thing, when Will, Nomi (Jamie Clayton), Capheus (Aml Ameen), Sun (Doona Bae), Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), etc. are engaged with one another, jumping from body to body, location to location, to make use of their particular skills in a one situation or another, Sense8 really comes to life. Like Harrison Bergeron without the weights and other impediments on his body holding him back, Sense8 becomes a lively, attractive television show, capable of astonishing things, when it’s not burdened with sluggish expository dialogue.
Case in point, Will’s one-man (seven-person) raid on the BPO facility in Iceland is the exact opposite of the listless, heavy-handed dialogue that permeated the first hour. Swiftness is the name of the game here, as rescuing Riley, with the help of his fellow Sensates and the questionable assistance of Jonas Maliki (Naveen Andrews), becomes the method through which all the ideas that have been swirling around over the past eleven episodes finally coalesce into a stunningly executed and thrilling sequence. Add the presence of Mr. Whispers (Terrence Mann) to the equation, and Sense8 has built itself enough late-game excitement to keep those who managed to hang on through the first few hours engaged and wanting more.
But really, the way the season was built, and the new starting point on which the story ends, leaving the audience wanting more isn’t a matter of their desire to experience it again, or to dig deeper into the mysteries that were uncovered over the course of 12 hours. Instead, the desire for more stems from the fact that season 1 took so long to get going, the journey of the eight Sensates feels truncated, like we’ve only seen a quarter of what would have normally made up the first season of a television show.
As such, the finale underlines the series’ inherent plusses and minuses as much as it serves to provide a reason for viewers to tune in, should season 2 become a reality. Like the show itself, ‘I Can’t Leave Her’ is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. The composition of the Sensates’ mission is often times as gorgeous as the Icelandic scenery in which much of the episode unfolds, but it also feels frustratingly one-dimensional at times. It is thrilling every time Sun pops up in a hairy situation, because of the physicality the character has come to represent over the past eleven episodes, but, in a way, the repeated use of Sun as the group’s resident ass-kicker boils the character down to a single element that goes against the notion of the series also being an intimate, character-based drama. Sun’s story is effective at times, but it also feels so far removed from the role she plays within her cluster, it becomes easy to fear this otherwise dynamic character will never rise above being a simple plot device.
Additionally, although Mr. Whispers finally becomes the Big Bad he promised to be in the premiere, so much of what transpires around him is maddeningly opaque. Because the bigger picture remains relatively obscured, it’s hard to tell exactly why Mr. Whispers is a menace. Sure, he wants to wipe out the Sensates, and seemingly has the resources and unique abilities to do so, but his reasons for wanting to eradicate them aren’t developed enough for him to feel like anything more than an obstacle, rather than a true threat to their existence.
If the goal of the season finale was to demonstrate what the series could one day become, then mission accomplished. Like the characters sitting in the boat at the end, the series now has a sense of purpose and an idea of where it is going. Knowing what Sense8 is hoping achieve from a narrative standpoint will help make the necessary adjustments needed to make the series better that much easier to realize. In the final few episodes, we have seen what the series can be, now the Wachowskis and their collaborators need to find a way to harness that energy and make it a more consistent facet of this fascinating and wildly ambitious series.
Sense8 season 1 is available in its entirety on Netflix.
Photos: Murray Close/Netflix