TV Review: Sense8 (The Series Finale)
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On paper, Sense8 has always sounded like an incredible concept: 8 strangers scattered across the world who are telepathically linked due to being a new species of human known as homo sensorium.
There was so much potential for exploring new voices and cultures, especially in the hands of the Wachowskis. Such is the series’ popularity, that there was an outcry when Netflix announced it was cancelling the show after its second season, leaving viewers wondering what became of the eight lead characters.
However, this one-off 150 minute reprisal, though designed to provide a solid conclusion for avid fans, only continued to expose the weakness in the execution of this fascinating idea for me.
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The finale picks up where Season 2 finished, with the German safe-cracker Wolfgang (Max Riemalt) separated from his ‘cluster’ by the evil Whispers (Terrence Mann) whose raison d’etre is to destroy all sensates and erase them from the world. Having said that, I found myself having to google key plot points to remind myself exactly what had happened at the conclusion of season 2; this is one series which really would have benefited from a catch-up summary at the top of the episode, because it is confusing.
Whilst some of the direction is amazing – witness the way in which we move from place to place to visually represent the telepathic connections – this, coupled with the opening flashback to a previously unexplored Wolfgang-backstory, makes for a disorientating opening. Furthermore, the plethora of supporting characters often compete for their own moments and overshadow our sensates.
Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), for example, is reduced to a caricature, whilst his boyfriend and their best friend contribute more to the sensorium vs. sapiens war. Capeheus (Toby Onwumere) and Riley (Tuppence Middleton) also struggle for screen-time, with the latter only really afforded it through her relationship with Will (Brian J Smith).
The focus in this finale, apart from the battle for their lives, rests more upon whether the sensates will get their romantic happy endings, particularly in the cases of Nomi and Amanita (Jamie Clayton and Freema Agyeman), and Kala (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang. In the case of the latter couple, this is further complicated by Kala’s husband arriving in Paris, where he is introduced to the strange world his wife has found herself within. The complications within this threesome are resolved almost as an after-thought at the end of the show, in a very Sense8 fashion...
A stand-out scene, for me, is when our heroes engage in ‘Trojan horse’ tactics in order to gain access to the headquarters of BPO, the nefarious organisation Whispers works for. Here, action and comedy comes together well to bring some real life and energy to the show. It’s short lived and descends again into sentimental concerns when one of the eight is shot, but is a flash of what this series, and finale, could have been with a little more finesse.
It’s that finesse and subtlety which has been lacking in Sense8 from the beginning. Whilst the characters have been from diverse backgrounds, they often fall into stereotypes, with a Kenyan bus driver working with corrupt politicians to secure AIDS medication for his mother, and a South Korean woman who combines a hard head for business with a flair for martial arts.
Yet even these storylines have more or less vanished by the finale, with the battles of the cluster collectively privileged over their individual struggles, something which undermines the ever-present Message of the Show: that everybody should be loved for who and what they are. Then, suddenly, abruptly, it's over, the war finished not by any of our heroes but a character whose loyalties have been in doubt since Season 1: the very epitome of a deus ex machina. Dangers over, the scene changes to a rather nonsensical Eiffel Tower wedding, where all of the sensates and seemingly anybody they've ever known are brought together, utterly accepting of this new species.
And then, of course, we come to the show’s preoccupation with sex. Fans need not fear: the show’s USP – its extended, somewhat graphic group-sex scenes – is alive and well if you can sit through the entire episode. Kala’s husband remarks upon how he never imagined these things could happen, the last line of dialogue providing the takeaway message: the main perk of being a sensate who can call upon their cluster’s individual powers as and when is needed, is actually the intense sexual experiences you can have together.
The overriding feeling I have always had whilst watching Sense8 is just sheer disappointment that such a great concept has been so tritely executed. With this finale, that disappointment is replaced by apathy and, frankly, relief that this really is the end. Sense8 is available to stream on Netflix now.
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