The ambitious, creative undertaking that was season 1 of Sense8 was like scratching an itch you didn't know you had. An imperfect, complicated, at times exaggeratedly preachy but nevertheless emotionally satisfying saga about a group of eight disparate people who are part of a "cluster" of Sensates – an ambiguous neural network that allows them to communicate, feel, and participate in the lives of those within their special cohort despite vast geographical distances between them – season 1 had all the telltale markings of the Netflix all-at-once model of streaming television.
Like its fellow binge-able series Sense8 was created in its entirety before debuting on the service back in 2015. That meant it came to audiences blemishes and all, with no chance for mid-season adjustments that might help smooth out some of the show's rough edges. Those irregular elements were still on display during the recent two-hour Christmas Special, intended to bridge the impossibly long gap between season 1 and the upcoming second season, but there were also hints that during the time it took co-creators Lana Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski (Lilly Wachowski chose to sit season 2 out) to put the special and the new batch of episodes together (an understandably time-consuming, globe-trotting endeavor), the series had become more aware its strengths and its shortcomings, leading to a leaner, more focused narrative in season 2.
But that's just one of the many things you should be ready for when the series returns:
Season 2 Introduces a Welcome Change in Direction
The change in direction is mainly a course correction. Given how expensive the series is, and the logistical and technical challenge that exists in creating a season of Sense8, it's understandable that the Wachowskis and Straczynski would have pushed season 1 to a place that felt both like an ending (albeit a depressing one) and a cliffhanger as season 2 was no sure thing. The season concluded with Brian J. Smith's Will Gorski having inadvertently made eye contact with Terrence Mann's enigmatic Mr. Whispers, thereby opening his mind (and his cluster) to the villain. Concerns that Will would live out his days in a drugged-out state, constantly fearing the arrival of Mr. Whispers were maintained during the Christmas Special, leading to the question of whether or not the creators had written themselves into a particularly troublesome corner.
The show doesn't work when one of the main characters is essentially rendered comatose or remanded to a state of repetitious intravenous drug use whenever he is conscious for more than five minutes at a time. Season 2, thankfully, takes steps to address Will's condition and the invasive threat of Mr. Whispers early on, making both the center of the narrative's focus in way that also kick starts the overarching plot of the new season, sending it into a more propulsive direction moving forward.
The Plot is More Focused
Along with addressing Will and Mr. Whispers, season 2 takes aim at what might have been the biggest problem with season 1: the plot was a little difficult to discern at times. In the midst of getting to know each of the main sensates, their individual circumstances and problems, and the phenomenon that brought them together (much less the seemingly inconsistent rules of their connections and communications), the first 12 episodes struggled at times to establish a concrete plot that went beyond the "shadowy conglomerate wants to eradicate the people with special powers" trope.
Season 2 doesn't necessarily extend the story beyond the confines of that device, but it does aim to explore more of how Sense8 makes an otherwise common narrative unique to the circumstances of its equally unique characters. As such, the plot seems more focused on the larger conflict at hand, even when it's reaching across the globe, listening to characters wax philosophical or simply allowing them a brief moment to live in and attend to their private lives.
It's Still Overwhelmed Sometimes With Big Ideas
As was the case with the first season, everyone from Nomi (Jamie Clayton) to Kala (Tina Desai) to Lito (Miquel Ángel Silvestre) and even Jonas (Naveen Andrews) are all still prone to making speeches about themselves and the world around them. In the first go-round, the penchant for pontification sometimes left Sense8 feeling like it was missing out on pleasant subtleties that could make for more fascinating character drama – especially since the series has such a fascinatingly diverse cast of characters to choose from – rendering many scenes one-note explorations of big ideas and messages that the Wachowskis and Straczynski were so intent on conveying.
That's still present to some degree in season 2, as the show takes time in nearly every episode for characters to expound personal beliefs about freedom and choice and the universal nature of the human condition, which can sometimes bring the plot to a screeching and unnecessarily halt. But with the groundwork of the series and its distinct worldview firmly in place following season 1 and the Christmas Special, the overwhelming nature of the big ideas Sense8 so frequently wants to tackle is lessened – or is at least repositioned so that it doesn't entirely derail the plot of the episode in question.
The Characters Interact More
The first season spent plenty of time with characters' individual plots, essentially turning each into their own mini movie. The same basic principle applies in season 2, but more and more, each character's storyline hinges on the participation of the other members in the cluster, while the overarching conflict begins to seep more and more into the individual stories in unexpected and welcome ways.
Because Sense8 hinges on the idea of the connectivity of its eight main characters, their interaction has to be almost constant. In the early part of season 1 the interactions were like a light switch being turned on and off. Korean martial artist Sun would show up when someone needed a throttling, Lito would lend his acting ability to tell a convincing lie, or Nomi would provide technical support from behind her keyboard. In season 2, the character interaction is less like the a light switch and more like someone left the tap on, allowing the all-important interaction to flow constantly and to provide some interesting matchups that go beyond the mostly one-on-one collaborations of the previous season. The new batch of episodes also make more use of the group as a whole, allowing everyone to share the same experience at the same time, which is what the show's all about anyway.
There's a Lot More Action
Season 1 didn't lack for action sequences. Nomi's flight from the authorities in a crowded San Francisco neighborhood demonstrated once again the Wachowskis' knack for delivering imaginative, absorbing set pieces. But, as with many other elements, season 2 seems intent on spreading that action beyond just the usual suspects of Sun, Will, and Wolfgang. Early on, it seems as though more characters are given the chance to be proactive in their clusters' survival, while at the same time, those who have proven their ability to handle themselves physically are given increasingly challenging opportunities to do so.
All in all, Sense8 season 2 continues to be that messy and beautiful series left you wanting to see more back in 2015.
Sense8 season 2 will be available in its entirety Friday, May 5 on Netflix.