TV: Sense8 (Season 2)

Throughout the second season of Netflix’s remarkable Sense8, I repeatedly marveled over its brilliant opening credit sequence, which may be one of the most powerful in television history. Watch it with the sound turned down, and it presents as a wild, frenetic celebration of the world in all its diversity, but once you add the music—a pulsing, ominous escalation—suddenly that wonderful world is facing dire threat. It’s a work of art, really, and couldn’t be more appropriate for our times: the rivalry of tolerance and blind hate, hope and fear, sense and nonsense that dominates our sorry political discourse. It symbolizes the strong, mindful messaging that makes Sense8 essential TV in an era of increasingly stiff competition.

Sense8 chronicles, in complex, mosaic fashion, the lives of eight individuals across the world who happen to be telepathically linked. They are “sensates,” a connected cluster of metahumans whose individual lives are challenging enough, but become even more complicated when it becomes clear they’re mysteriously connected. Season one explored this robust premise by gradually bringing the cluster together. Season two builds on the group’s legacy as they work together to stay free and survive, despite the efforts of a nefarious group called the Biologic Preservation Organization. BPO’s mission is to track down and scientifically exploit the world’s sensates, who—as it turns out—are more numerous than our heroes were aware. Indeed, our heroes encounter other clusters this season, full of sensates just as paranoid and frightened of BPO and its chief headhunter, Whispers (Terence Mann). With knowledge of their situation growing, and their comfort level with their sensate powers increasing, the cluster continues its struggle to support each other in the face of ruthless forces working against them.

Structurally, Sense8 is all over the map, and even the most enthusiastic viewer will most likely notice the show’s rough edges. Frenetic cross-cutting alternates with indulgent slow-motion. Eloquent speeches give way to clunky exposition. Touching sentiment clashes with exploitative violence, and the show’s depictions of international culture remains on the cliched side. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to watch this show without tripping over imperfections. Yet somehow the show just works, even when it’s not working. Perhaps because it paints on such a broad, metaphorical canvas, its flaws feel organic to the scenario. The world is flawed, is it not? I find it easy to forgive Sense8 its missteps because they feel true to message. In a big, beautiful, messy world, why shouldn’t we have a show that is equally big, beautiful, and messy?

If season two lacks the inaugural year’s joys of discovery, it still manages to conjure magical moments with stunning regularity, even as its many plot threads vary wildly in quality. This season’s episodes lean too much on some uninspired storylines: the daddy issues of Chicago cop Will Gorski (Brian T. Smith), a good girl/bad boy romance between sensates Kala (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), and expected fugitive hacker episodes for Nomi (Jamie Clayton) and Amanita (Freema Agyeman). It also struggles to find a role for Icelandic DJ Riley (Tuppence Middleton). But it’s also got inspiring sequences for Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), whose acting career takes dramatic turns, and Capheus (Toby Onwumere), whose notoreity in Kenya steers him unexpectedly into politics. Kala’s science and awkward arranged marriage to Rajan (Purab Kohli) finally start to factor into things a bit, and then there’s Sun (Doona Bae), who spends the year in the show’s most linear, action-packed subplot, wherein she tries to wriggle out of a murder frame and exact her revenge. Sun’s story is like an over-the-top, ultraviolent martial arts film nestled admits the science fictional intrigue, and while it contains some of the season’s biggest reaches, it’s also thrilling and emotional stuff.

All these crazy, disparate threads are woven together in a manner that shouldn’t always work, and probably doesn’t entirely, and yet the fact that it works at all is so logistically impressive that it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that with the exception of Lito, the sensate cluster is more full of types than actual characters. Somehow even that works, because as something of a telepathic gestalt being, they’re really all different aspects of one character. As those aspects interact, you find yourself cheering for them collectively as much as individually. One sensate’s triumph or tragedy is every sensate’s triumph or tragedy, and those moments of connection, commiseration, and celebration feel somehow universal, a coming together of disparate points of view in a common cause. Considering how fractured, polarized, and tribalist the world has become, the notion that there are people all across the globe who can care about one another, despite great distances and cultural barriers, is intensely powerful. Sense8 doesn’t get everything right, but I’ll forgive it just about anything provided it keeps sending that much-needed message. We need it now more than ever.

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