In ‘The Matrix’, the classic movie of 1999, humans are enslaved by machines for being used as battery-like sources of energy. In the new series by Netflix, Sense8, which is pronounced as Sensate, it seems as though the planet has been taken over by Tinder. Andy and Lana Wachowski, the brains and geniuses behind the ‘Matrix’ movies, have joined hands with J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) for making a transcendental action-adventure drama that’s laced with some romantic overtones. Time and space are defied by an unknown force in Sense8 for connecting eight strangers who apparently have just two things in common; good looks and youth.
It isn’t too much of a stretch to think a dating app is being used by an extraterrestrial, who is moving from different continents and just swiping right on eight spectacular people in exotic and alluring settings. The show’s 12 episodes were streamed on Friday by Netflix, which snake through Mexico City, Seoul, Mumbai, Chicago, London, Berlin, San Francisco and Nairobi. Sense8 is sublimely silly, but has been shot beautifully. However, it is not as much thrilling as ‘The Matrix’. Some of the sensibility and style is similar to ‘Cloud Atlas’, a time-spanning movie released in 2012 that had been directed by the Wachowski with Tom Tykwer.
As far as television is concerned, it bears some likings to NBC’s series ‘Heroes’, ABC’s series ‘Lost’. However, it is a bit more cosmopolitan with snazzier work by the camera and a lead character who is especially popular at the moment. Played by Jamie Clayton, Nomi is a transgender blogger who is also a reformed hacker in San Francisco, although she prefers to be called ‘hacktivist’. Like the other seven Sensates, Nomi experiences a terrifying vision that enables her heart to start feeling, seeing and talking to other people in distant locations.
While the show movies on from one character to the other in quick bursts, Nomi’s storyline is explored more deeply in the first few episodes as opposed to others. This involves the fact that she is estranged from her family, has an ongoing affair with Amanita (Freema Agyeman) and her contribution in San Francisco’s Pride Celebration. This makes a lot of sense because Lana Wachowski is transgender, who at the time of the making of ‘The Matrix’ movies, was known as Larry. Jaime Clayton herself is a transgender. In fact, along with ‘Orange is the new Black’s actress Laverne Cox, she is amongst the first few to play such a prominent role in a television series.
Nomi’s journey of liberation and self-discovery has been told rather eloquently and is most definitely timely with the growing interest in gender identity, which has reached high boil since Bruce Jenner’s revelation as Caitlyn Jenner on Vanity Fair. Nevertheless, as opposed to other backstories, Nomi’s adventures move at a greater intensity and slower tempo. Stories of other characters are revealed through elliptical narrative flashes. A lot of introductions have to be made when there are eight character in eight cities so the exposition is more effective when moving at a faster pace.
Sometimes, the fluidity of the interconnectivity of characters is so high that one scene just bleeds into another. However, the slow-motion action sequences called ‘bullet time’ that became famous in ‘The Matrix’ aren’t used by the filmmakers. Instead, they blur the edges of reality rather artfully. A live chicken received by Aml Ameen’s Capheus in Nairobi as payment for bus fare ends up at the desk of a businesswoman in Seoul named Sun (Doona Bae). In Mumbai, food at a fancy engagement party is extoled by the guests and in Berlin Max Riemelt’s Wolfgang experiences a sudden craving for Indian food while in a postcoital daze with a girl.
The show is opened with the characters’ first-shared vision. In a burned out-church, a woman named Angel is giving birth and dying while being coached by two sinister males coaching her and they keep coming and going like apparitions. Angel is played by Daryl Hanna, which could be a mistake as she boasts the same tangled hair and startled expression we saw in the ‘Splash’; she could end up sprouting a mermaid’s tail. At first they remain unawares, but the eight people who see Angel’s vision are being hunted.
Jonas, played by Naveen Andrews from Lost, is a psychic guardian-stalker, who is watching over the eight characters and seems to be in their corner in a strange battle of good and evil. This otherworldly battle may have a dash of military-industrial or government conspiracy. A different cultural niche is tapped by each storyline. We see a gay and closeted hammy telenovela star in Mexico City named Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre). There is an idealistic cop in Chicago named Will (Brian J. Smith) and a disaffected and goth-dressed Icelandic D.J in London called Riley (Tuppence Middleton).
We also see Tina Desai’s Kala, who is an Indian and isn’t sure about marrying a rich fiancé who is absolutely adored by her parents. A Bollywood dance number is included in her introduction. The exotic backdrops and the personalities of the characters are a match, but the juxtaposition of different characters and settings make Sense8 fun and unsettling. It takes some time for the stories of the characters to blend. The third episode has one of the more exciting moments when a character possessing secret expertise in martial arts is suddenly transported to a fight in another part of the world for assisting someone in dealing with a group of thugs.
While ‘The Matrix’ had been a furnace blast of adrenaline and cyber-violence, Sense8, in comparison, is basically a slow dip into chimerical fellowship and dreamy conspiracies. The show does things that happen in movies; you can see action scenes and sex scenes along with brief, if not, regular conversations amongst the characters. There is also a chill in the spooky entanglement, but not a lot of comedy. It cannot be denied that the Wachowski have vision, whether it is half-baked or sophisticated.