So this is deliberately a fairly spoiler-free review without too much detail and only vague references to specific events. I might have something more in depth coming later but for now this review exists as a brief snapshot of what I thought overall and to quickly answer the question of ‘Is Sense8 worth watching?’
Sense8 is the new Netflix exclusive series from both the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski. Being a fan of both camps, I was looking forward to Sense8 but having avoided all the press and the buzz I wasn’t sure what I was walking into. Well it’s now been almost a week since I finished the 12-episode series and I’ve been thinking about it every day since. So yes, it’s good, very good.
Sense8 is classed as a sci-fi show but anyone expecting lasers, aliens or murderous robots needs to readjust their expectations. Although the creative team have hits like The Matrix and Babylon 5 under their collective belt, this is very low sci-fi and could even be classed as a soft super hero story at a push. Ultimately what Sense8 is about is the mental connection that forms between 8 previously unrelated people around the globe, in 8 different cities. The series follows these 8 people as their understanding of this link develops and begins to affect their turbulent lives.
Sense8 does a wonderful job of introducing you to these characters and steadily revealing more about them, so I won’t spoil anything here, as the less you know the more you’ll get out of it. But I will say it’s a very strong set of characters. No two characters are alike and every one gets their own story to deal with. What’s most impressive though is how damn likable they are. The characters aren’t all action heroes or geniuses as you might expect, but they are remarkably human with their own vulnerabilities and skills that round them out into very engaging characters. The problems the cast have to navigate are sometimes just social issues, but I cared about these characters so much these scenes were just as tense to watch unfold as those when their lives were in danger. Essentially, pull out the sci-fi and this is still a group that I’d happy watch for hours.
Although Sense8 does have some action scenes the show is arguably at its best when the characters are interacting in a calmer setting. There’s an incredibly powerful scene later on where two characters simply sit and talk, with one character sharing a painful memory to give clarity to the other’s suffering. The subject matter in particular is handled with careful sensitivity but brutal honesty, it was incredibly moving to watch. This is just one scene but it highlights precisely why Sense8 is so good, to put it in blunt terms: it’s just plain better than most TV. Sense8 is bold, it ignores conventions of sci-fi TV and directly deals with themes like religion, sexuality, the meaning of family and even gender without pushing those topics into sub-plots or resorting to metaphors. Instead Sense8 takes care to address these themes and weaves them masterfully into the narratives of the cast. Although some of the subject matter gets more love than others (identity is a very powerful theme but religion is maybe not given as much attention as it could have) they enhance the show far beyond its premise and it makes it something really special.
Despite the serious and powerful subject matter Sense8 does know when to have fun too. Multiple moments had me laughing during the times when the show tries to lighten things up. Mostly though it is a fairly serious piece of TV, however the tone is always steady and none of the lighter moments feel ill placed. Everything is carefully balanced and I never felt as if the pacing or the subject matter was becoming too jarring, which is impressive with a main cast this big.
Perhaps most impressively Sense8 manages to feel like one cohesive story. Despite snapping between 8 storylines, which are taking place in entirely different places, it always feels like the show is moving in one direction, with one purpose and one goal. Everything really does feel connected even if it’s sometimes just thematically. By the end of the series you feel as if you’ve experienced a cohesive first part in what will hopefully be a multi-season run of a wider story. I’d be absolutely distraught if Sense8 wasn’t picked up for another season because although there is a conclusion to this season, there’s plenty more mileage left in this story and I’m itching for more.
I absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend Sense8 without any reservations.