Friday, December 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Sense8: A Christmas Special' Serves as a Fine Reintroduction to These Characters and Plots

Netflix's Sense8: A Christmas Special

The journey continues as these eight singular hearts and minds weave in and out of each other's lives finding deeper connections, learning darker, more desperate secrets about one another and struggling to identify with more than just oneself.

Sense8: A Christmas Special operates much more as a two-hour premiere to the second season than as a holiday special. It largely just reintroduces the audience to the world of the show and the various plot elements that will be important in the new season. The special doesn't even mention Christmas until the 90 minute mark. The holidays are important during that final portion of the special. This is a show that can get away with doing a holiday special such as this. The holidays are a time of the year where human connectivity is suppose to mean something. The show has always explored what it means to connect with other people. The eight sensates were thrust together. Their lives have changed ever since their cluster was born. It's gotten a whole lot more dangerous for some while it has brought others closer to their personal truth and happiness. It's such an ambitious show that really captures emotion and connection well. So ultimately, this special works for underlying those themes and reminding the audience of just how special it can be in the process. But there sure is a whole lot of plot to keep track off as well that will more than likely be important in the upcoming second season - which is coming out in early May 2017.

This special also sees the show at its most self-aware. In the early going of the first season, the show was beautiful to look at but also complete gibberish that didn't make any sense whatsoever. The complicated mythology was still a main fixture throughout the season. Those serious threats are still important for the overall show. But the show featured such a phenomenal command of technical craft. It's an ambitious series being set and filmed all around the world. But it's also just great when the show can do a montage that features all of the sensates experiencing the same events and emotions together. Those are the moments where the show truly comes alive. And there sure are a lot of montages in this special. In fact, there may be too many of them. And yet, that's what makes the show so special. It knows how to depict human connection in such a raw, sensual and exciting way. It can be a whole lot of fun just watching the sensates celebrate their shared birthday. It can also be so hot and seductive watching all of them connect through sex. But it can also be overbearing when they all come together to listen to the latest cover version of "Hallelujah" - which should really stop being used for montages in TV and film. But again, these are just simple moments that show just how technically proficient and engaging the show is capable of being.

Of course, the story needs to be important and compelling as well. In the first season, it was always clear that each main character represented a different subgenre playing out within this world. Sun was in a prison revenge setting. Wolfgang was in a heist thriller battling criminal elements. Kala was in a romantic angst story. All of the sensates had their own thing. Some were more successful than others. Sun, Lido, Wolfgang and Capheus largely work in any context. They are fun and entertaining in their own worlds. But they are just as powerful and engaging when interacting with others in their cluster. It's so fascinating watching them form connections with the other sensates. It's powerful listening to Capheus describe Sun as a spirit to his friend. It's also insightful that Nomi can understand and sympathize with what Lido is currently going through. Those connections are wonderful. But the romantic angles within the cluster continue to come across as forced. Kala was easily the least necessary of the main characters. Yes, she's a scientist and that can come in handy from time to time. The show didn't really use her though. She just spent her time isolated and pining for Wolfgang when she's actually getting married to someone else.

Similarly, Will and Riley work better when they are interacting with other people in their cluster. They are now the only two who are physically in the same place. And yet, their story is largely full of doom and gloom. That's not surprising at all considering where the show left off in the first season. It was a dark ending that promised that things would only get more complicated and intense for the main cluster. Will and Whispers saw each other. That means they can now visit the other whenever they feel like it. Of course, Whispers has a drug that can block other sensates out of his mind. Meanwhile, Riley is pumping Will full of heroin to render Whispers out. It's still a story fundamentally about Will here. Riley really doesn't do anything except give Will drugs. Sure, her DJ skills are finally used by others in the cluster. But that's just one moment in a montage. It's nothing more than that. So, that's not really setting her up for success. Plus, it's clear that whatever happiness or peace the two of them may find together will easily and quickly be corrupted by Whispers. He can strike at any moment. And thus, the two of them need to make the most of these brief moments. That's an interesting component to add to the story this year. It's just unclear if that will work well with everything else going on.

But again, this special is just full of so many fun moments. It starts with all the sensates just going swimming together. A simple task like that now means something more profound. That's especially true considering how complicated all of their lives have become because of this new connection. And yet, they've really come to understand that they need to be there for each other. In the first season, the show was erratic with who was interacting with each other. As the season progressed, it became more necessary to have moments where the skills of all the cluster were necessary. But now, it's truly profound that all of them appear to support to Sun during a battle for her life even though she barely needs their skills to survive. It's in that moment that shows that these people truly aren't alone anymore. They have each other. They have several other people who know exactly how they are feeling in any given moment. That was terrifying at first. It can still be too. But now, it's moving on to something more meaningful and special. And thus, it's continuing to change their lives even more because they are connecting with people all over the globe.

Some more thoughts:
  • Sense8: A Christmas Special was written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski.
  • Sun and Wolfgang are such an interesting pairing because they are always the ones called upon during fights. They know it and accept it. But they need the help too when facing off against people who want them dead.
  • Toby Onwumere replaced Aml Ameen as Capheas this season. The show is delightfully aware that the audience knows this. It purposefully comments on it during his first scene in the role - keeping his face in the dark and then saying he got a haircut.
  • Is the show trying to suggest that Will is a good cop simply by showing how corrupt police forces around the world are? Every version of law enforcement wants one of the sensates gone.
  • Sun takes refuge from being able to see the world through the other sensates. But her life in prison is just as busy despite solitary confinement. Nomi may be planning a hack to get her out but Sun is all about taking revenge on her brother. 
  • Nomi and Amanita are on the run as well. They are also helping Riley and Will avoid detection from Whispers. And yet, if the government knew Amanita was helping Nomi, wouldn't someone think to check her family? They don't seem to be very safe there - despite a happy Christmas celebration.
  • Does Whispers actually kill Will's father? If so, that's a bleak moment for this special. Plus, it's heartbreaking because Will can see it but is powerless to do anything about it. 
  • Everything related to the Van Damn is hilarious. It's a joke that works every time. However, the comedy was really forced when it came to Kala's whole story with her husband. Her concerns just aren't as important or serious as everyone else.
  • Lito, Hernando and Daniela continue to make such a fun character dynamic. They support each other despite the uncertainty of Lito's career. But that moment with his mother was truly special and heartwarming as well.
  • Naveen Andrews and Daryl Hannah still just pop up at completely random times. Angelica largely exists to haunt the cluster that she gave birth to. It's a reminder of where they came from and how dangerously this new existence will be. Meanwhile, Jonas continues to be tortured and give exposition to Will about the threat from Whispers.
  • The next 10 episodes of the second season debut on Friday, May 5. This special served as a great reintroduction to these characters, the world and the stories. And now, I'm super excited to see where the show is planning on going this season.