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‘Sense8’ Review: The Human Stories of Netflix’s Sci-Fi Drama Make for a Strong Start

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The latest Netflix original series, Sense8, throws a lot at the viewer in its premiere episode with an overarching science fiction arc and eight powerful human stories, but somehow the Wachowskis pull it off. At the end of the hour, you’ll find yourself wanting to learn more about each of the characters and the worlds they inhabit. It’s the perfect feeling to get a Netflix binge started.

Sense8 may be a complex series, but its simple premise creates a solid foundation to understand everything moving forward. The setting is a world in which groups of eight people are linked together while physically communicating and sharing experiences.

Carrying the sci-fi side of the premiere (“Limbic Resonance”) is Angel (Daryl Hannah), Jonas (Naveen Andrews) and the evil Mr. Whispers (Terrence Mann). Angel opens the series lying on the floor of a building in incredible pain. Jonas appears to comfort her as she prepares to awaken the psychic connection of the next cluster of eight. A third member of their group, Mr. Whispers, appears and seems to have some evil plans of his own. Jonas promises to protect the next cluster, and as Mr. Whispers physically enters the room, Angel is in with a clutch of armed men and shoots herself.

Angel’s death triggers the awakening of the new cluster’s connection, and the lion’s share of the premiere is spent meeting the eight individuals who, unbeknownst to them, are now tied for life. The new cluster consists of Chicago police officer Will (Brian J. Smith), Capheus (Aml Ameen), a bus driver living in Nairobi, an Icelandic DJ named Riley (Tuppence Middleton), safecracker Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), Kala (Tina Desai), a woman in Mumbai about to marry a man she does not love, movie star Lito (Miguel Angel Silverstre), Sun (a Seoul businesswoman) and a trans woman blogger living in San Francisco named Nomi. The stories and worlds of these individuals jumpstart the series’ narrative.

Each character has past issues connected to the roles within their home communities. Will has to deal with the tensions between the police and the criminal element in Chicago, while Sun is forced to deal with the role women are placed into within her culture (in spite of her executive position in the family business). Wolfgang competes with his violent and dangerous cousin, who is also a thief, and Capheus’ family problem stems from his sick mother. It’s a safe bet that this storyline will get much more complicated when Jonas and Mr. Whisper’s organization comes into contact with our main characters, and if it follows these threads, it could be the start of something amazing.

Another plot line within the premiere is the examination of the cluster’s connection as it forms. Jonas, Mr. Whispers and Angel seem to have control over their connection — appearing and disappearing at will — but the new group clearly has a lot to learn. Right before Angel’s death, she appeared to each member of the new cluster, and they all have visions of the event. Subsequently, they begin to have strange experiences (sounds mostly) from other members of the cluster. Will hears Riley’s DJ set while he is trying to sleep, and Kala is convinced she hears the rain, but it’s coming from the cemetery where Wolfgang was attending a funeral. Some instances are more troubling, like Wolfgang hearing the sirens of Will’s cruiser during a heist, and it’s not until the end of the episode that tensions begin to escalate. Riley is given a drug by a new friend, and the resulting high allows her to see each member of the cluster’s world in a much fuller sense.

When Will discovers the place where Angel killed herself, he comes face to face with Riley. Unaware of what they have achieved, Will basically tries to interrogate her while Riley is just amazed that she is seeing America for the first time. She quickly disappears when her physical surroundings become hectic, but it gives viewers a taste of how they will interact throughout the series. Apart from being a unique way to have international characters communicate, the potential from a visual standpoint is endless.

The first episode of Sense8 could have easily been a choppy mess, but instead it introduces eight unique people with distinct and interesting lives. While the characters are unaware, the episode’s opening scene shows viewers just what these guys are in for. The personal stories take precedent, but the sci-fi elements fit nicely into the narrative, and the risky introduction works in the Wachowskis’ favor.

Alamin Yohannes (@alamoh_) is a born and raised New Yorker and recent college graduate. There hasn’t been a television show to date that he wouldn’t at least try out, and he’s currently somewhere watching TV, writing about TV or searching for next great show.

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