Queer TV

Sense8 Speedcap 2.1 We Are The Walrus

Hello and welcome to the second season of Sense8 recaps, here in their new home on the The Dart. I’m going to try something new with these recaps this time around, so bear with me a moment while I explain it.

In the past few years, Netflix has given us, the TV viewing public, a lot (The Stranger Things kids, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda’s vibrators, the first two seasons of Orange is The New Black, etc.). But in introducing the “bingeing” model, releasing entire seasons all at once, Netflix has also taken something away: the ability of critics to keep up. Traditional recaps just don’t work for Netflix. If I were to write one Sense8 recap per week, by the time I finished, the cultural conversation would have moved on. (To my mind, that is to the conversation’s detriment, but I’ll save that rant for another time.)

In order to keep pace, I’m going to recap this season of Sense8 the same way I watch it: as quickly as possible, without sacrificing my own enjoyment. To that end, I am also trying to restrict the length of each recap to under 1000 words, a goal which we can all laugh at together when I’m posting a 3000 word behemoth at three in the morning, half drunk and weeping freely.

ME BY EPISODE NINE.

With all that said, let’s jump right in.

So we last saw our sensates during the Christmas special, during which not much happened other than a lot of feelings and some wholesome group sex. As it stands:

Lito is coping with the personal and professional fallout of his public outing, and leaning heavily on the love of both Fernando and Daniela.

Sun is still in prison, where she has, to quote the Royal Tennenbaums, “failed to develop as a painter.”

YEAH MAYBE JUST STICK TO THE MARTIAL ARTS, HONEY.

Kala is rich but sad! And maybe still a virgin? I don’t know. Kala needs to do something interesting real quick.

Capheus has a new head but this is the last time we shall mention it.

Wolfgang is still moodily bisexual. He and Felix got in a gunfight in the Christmas special that seemed like a pretty significant plot point but is never really addressed.

Nomi and Amanita are perfect and hiding out on Bug the hacker’s houseboat.

Riley is caring for Will, who she must keep in a heroin-induced haze so Whispers doesn’t find them.

Season two begins with a confusing dream/memory sequence in which Will sees himself (but not really himself, some other dude whose body/consciousness he’s sharing) in a lab run by Whispers. Under the observation of a lot of white men in tuxedos, like a proper supervillain summit, Whispers uses Evil Science to force Will/Not Will to kill a perfect stranger. Most surprising of all: Whispers Evil Assistant is none other than Angelica, the sensates’ mysterious mother. (Sidebar: did you know that in real life Daryl Hannah is dating Neil Young? It’s weird but they seem happy.) We had some hints last season that Angelica betrayed the sensates in some fundamental way, but I guess we’ll be learning more about that in the episodes to come.

Anyway, Will and Whispers keep popping in and out of each others’ consciousness for the duration of the episode, each trying to figure out where the other one is hiding out. Whispers is like “I know you’re still in Iceland because you’re eating fresh Icelandic yogurt and I can hear seagulls!” But in actuality, they’re in Amsterdam, being wilier than I gave either of them credit for. Riley is merely playing Icelandic seagull sounds on her iPod, and her father brings her shipments of fresh yogurt, weed, and ukulele tunes whenever his schedule permits.

MAN, MY DAD WON’T EVEN PAY FOR MY CELL PHONE.

On the offensive, Will figures out that Whispers is in London, thanks to his Sherlock Holmes-ian knowledge of Power Outlets Of The World. Armed with this information, the cluster has soon figured out the name of one of Whispers’ associates, and Whispers himself is forced on the defensive.

As I’ve said, we’re operating with a small word count today, so suffice it to say that very little happens to Sun or Kala this episode, except that Sun manages to have a better attitude about being imprisoned than Kala does about having a rooftop swimming pool and a husband who has forgiven her for breaking his penis.

OH SO YOU’RE A NURSE TODAY, HUH? NOBODY NEEDED ANY BOMBS MADE?

Wolfgang, meanwhile, is just doing his Wolfgang thing of dancing vigorously at Berlin nightclubs, while conveying an attitude of determined nihilism.

UGH I ALMOST FELT A SMILE COMING ON, HOW HORRID.

He’s accompanied by his BFF Felix, and they are shortly accosted by the owner of the club, who checks out Wolfy in a “more than friends way,” though whether he wants to jump his bones or shoot him to death is hard to say. But I guess we’ll be seeing more of him, because within five minutes, he gives the nightclub to Felix. I rather think that Felix has the business acumen of stoned guinea pig, but I still bet that nightclub will be fun as hell until he runs it into the ground.

Next up, Nomi and Amanita are holding up remarkably well, despite the pressure of life on the run. And lord, I need that. I have written a bible’s worth of words about how viewers have to accept ups and downs in televised queer relationships, but Nomanita is my personal exception to that rule. I will tolerate no harm to either of them.

IF ONE OF Y’ALL STUBS A TOE, I WILL GIVE UP ON BREATHING.

The two of them have recently taken an interest in a theory of evolution which posits that homo sapiens crowded out a different strain of humanity that communicated via telepathy. (Humans apparently had the edge because they were able to lie.) They also track down the mother of the little girl with whom Will telepathically communicated as a child. This lady has no problem whatsoever with believing that multiple strangers have been communicating with the stray vibrations left by her daughter. It turns out that Angelica also visited her back in the day, and was sent by Whispers himself. So now we have two lines of inquiry leading us closer to the show’s ultimate villains. But in my weakness, I almost just wish Nomi and Amanita would lay low and stop looking.

Finally we have Capheus and Lito, whose stories parallel for the first time. Lito, you’ll recall, was recently forced out of the closet when a gangster released several compromising photos of him and Fernando. This week, he attends his first movie premier post-outing, with both Fernando and Daniela in tow.

WEEEE’RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.

But Lito’s night quickly takes a turn for the worst when he is accosted by a reporter eager to pounce on his recent scandal.

Meanwhile, Capheus is approached by an attractive journalist armed with a somewhat overdeveloped sense of moral righteousness.

HI I HEARD YOU LIKED SOMETHING AND I’M HERE TO TELL YOU WHY THAT’S WRONG.

The two of them, Capheus and Lito, are interrogated simultaneously. Lito is called to answer if he is in fact gay, and if so, why he lied to his fans. Capheus is taken to task for having the audacity to have a white movie star adorning his van.

In answering, they switch places, and all the sensates join in the chorus. They say, as one, that as humans they take strength in stories, and connect to a shared humanity that transcends labels. The thing is, even though Capheus and Lito’s answers seem beautifully interchangeable, the questions they are being asked are not.

Lito’s side of the equation is much easier to address. We can all agree that Lito’s sexuality has nothing to do with his ability to be a good actor. We can also agree that the Wachowskis, as the creators of the Matrix trilogy who later came out as trans, are more than qualified to speak to the experiences of navigating fan expectations, especially in the cult of masculinity.

Things are much less cut and dry with Capheus. The specific question he’s being asked, regarding the appropriateness of choosing a white hero, is easily disposed of, and it’s also emblematic of a certain strain of Twitter discourse in which one may deliver the coup de grace to any conversation by declaring its subject racially problematic. But using the easily dismissable Van Damme criticism as a straw man for every criticism of Sense8 is foolish on several levels. For one thing, leaning meaningfully on the fourth wall to call out your detractors is a bad look, period. It was bad when Ryan Murphy did it on Glee and it’s bad now.

For another, it points to a continued unwillingness on the part of the Wachowskis to take this kind of criticism in stride, and accept that it is an inevitable part of being a white showrunner telling racially diverse stories in 2017. That doesn’t mean telling those stories isn’t a worthy project, just that getting feedback about it (both well-reasoned and otherwise) is a feature of the landscape we live in today.

And today is a really challenging time for a show like Sense8 to exist. On the one hand, we’d all like to be living in the world this show imagines, in which race, place, gender, and sexuality are only so many beautiful adornments on our fundamental shared humanity. But what ruffles people’s feathers is when that optimism is used to gloss over the world as it actually is, and cheerfully writes off both cultural difference and structural inequality as part of the rich tapestry of life.

Later, the journalist character herself cops to having treated Capheus unfairly, and even asks him out on a date.

HEY I’M SORRY I CROSSED THE LINE BETWEEN CALL-OUT CULTURE AND DRAGGING CULTURE BUT ANYWAY I AM WEARING MY CUTE SHIRT NOW.

But the date itself gets kind of problematic, when the journalist alludes to having seen “horrible things” with a frustrating vagueness, expecting the audience to fill in the blanks of what atrocities a Kenyan journalist might have borne witness to. This scene, and this show, would be so much better served with specificity, respecting the difference of these characters just as much as their sameness.

Not for the first (or undoubtedly the last) time, I feel compelled to observe that Sense8’s biggest problem is its habit of letting its boundless compassion and deep sensibilities far outpace its intellectual rigor. But we’ve got a whole season left to work through Sense8’s strengths, weaknesses, orgies, and spontaneous outbursts of song, and I am deeply excited to go through it together.

I will get you the next recap as soon as I can. (This one only ran 800 words over the goal, so we’re doing well so far.)

1 Comment

  1. I am so happy that your Sense8 recaps are back! (We once spoke, very briefly, via twitter about how much I appreciate your thoughtful, compassionate writing in you recaps and about this show in particular.)
    I very much share your desire for Nomi and Amanita to be OK FOREVER. (Same goes for Hernando and Lito. I identify deeply with Lito because I too am ridiculous and dramatic.)

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