Wednesday, May 31, 2017

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Sense8' - Season 2

Netflix's Sense8 - Season 2

The entire second season of Netflix's original drama series Sense8 was released on May 5, 2017. And now, I'm finally going to post some episode-by-episode analysis of the new season.

This has been such a busy month for television. May is always that way. All of the new prestige shows from April are still airing new episodes. Most of the broadcast network shows are coming to an end for the season. Plus, there are the upfronts where the networks are pitching their plans for the next year. It's a crazy and chaotic time. Moreover, there have been personal things that have kept me from getting to a number of shows over the past month. Streaming has suffered the most because Netflix and Amazon release entire seasons at once. It's overwhelming and the episodes have just started to pile up. But now, things are starting to calm down and I'm willing and able to finally provide some coverage. I won't be able to do full episode reviews because that would take up too much time for episodes that debuted a little bit ago. So, I hope you enjoy these brief reviews of every episode of the new season of Sense8.

202: "Who Am I?"
Will and Whispers each race to piece together the other's location, while Lito heads to his first movie premiere since the photos leaked. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski

The Christmas special was essentially the first two episodes of the new season. They did a strong job in re-introducing the audience to the themes and emotions of the show. So, it was very cerebral and full of montages. It was very effective as well. This episode focuses more on the conspiracy plot. That's a story that has been simmering in the background for a long time and hasn't overwhelmed the show yet. It's still largely just Will, Riley and Nomi who are focused on it. The others appear when their skills are needed. But most of the time, they are in their own personal stories. "Who Am I?" ends on a very powerful note of Will and the other sensates being able to figure out where Whispers is before he can track them down. It's a powerful sequence that shows that this cluster is very strong and cunning together. Whispers is a formidable enemy who is effectively hunting them down as well. But this hour does a strong job in showing just how crafty the main sensates can be as well. Elsewhere, the Sara story wasn't that remarkable last season. But it apparently has more importance because so many of the characters have seen this young girl. It's moving to see Nomi and Amanita visit Sara's mother and share their experience with her. It shows just how simple and effective this show can be when it focuses on human connection. The interview sequence is fun too even though it's the show very much wearing its heart on its sleeve. B+

203: "Obligate Mutualisms"
The Sensates make contact with a key figure in BPO. Ripped from her prison cell, Sun sends out a plea for help. Wolfgang meets an intriguing stranger. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski

This hour is just thrilling, intense and fun to watch. Sense8 has really become one of the best action shows out there. That sequence where Sun fights the fake prison guards is so stunning. The choreography is impressive. It takes its toil on all the characters - including the other sensates as they deal with this near death experience as well. Plus, it's just really cool to watch her use that rope around her neck to swing herself into action against her captors. The subsequent jail break is very impressive as well. This show is succeeding a lot in its second season so far because it's creating these moments where all of the sensates need to come together and use all of their skills in order to survive. After awhile, that could become dull as the show would only be building to those moments. But right now, it's still very effective because there's still so much going on elsewhere. That forward momentum is key. Wolfgang meets a new sensate who has nothing to do with the main cluster or BPO. Yes, she's too much of a femme fatale in this episode. But it's a promising development that should shine a light on the the world outside of this main conflict for other sensates. And finally, that last moment with Whispers killing the man seemingly in charge of BPO is so shocking. It shows that the main cluster really doesn't have as strong a grip on the situation as they previously thought. So, Whispers is still going to be the main enemy they have to deal with who can still get into their heads so easily. A-

204: "Polyphony"
Kala and Capheus are caught in the middle of angry protests. Lito looks into a journalist's disappearance and uncovers new info on Angelica's cluster. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by James McTeigue

This episode builds to a much more conventional storytelling ending. It closes with the shocking death of one of the supporting characters. In this case, it's Jonas. His death is then suppose to reverberate throughout the rest of the story because it shows just how lethal and dangerous this world can be. And yet, it's hard to care because Jonas has been such an opaque and bland character. Plus, it seems unlikely that this is the last we've seen of him - especially since Anjelica is still around despite dying in the series premiere. It's a little too impersonal and mechanical. The rest of the hour isn't that though. It does such strong work in making the personal connections between the characters and the world around them. It offers a strong take on the various issues around the world. How they are different but are based in similar things. That montage with the riots in Kenya, the protest in India and Nomi alone on the boat is phenomenal because it shows just how close, isolating and chaotic all of these experiences can be. Meanwhile, Lito's pursuit of the truth regarding Raoul's disappearance feels personal instead of just a new layer to the main conspiracy. It has to do with BPO and other sensate clusters. But Lito having a connection to the story makes it land in a way that is significant and moving. The same can also be said of Sun's story. She's moving into a new world. She still gets to be a badass fighter. But it's also important for her to have a heart and wear it on her sleeve with everything that she does. That's what makes her emotional goodbye to her friends so moving. B+

205: "Fear Never Fixed Anything"
Bug hits on a solution to Nomi's legal troubles, new cracks begin to appear in Kala's perfect life, and the Sensates consider a bold change of plans. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by James McTeigue

This is the first episode of the season that didn't totally work. It's purpose is largely to say that the cluster won't just run and hide following Jonas' death. It's all about each of them finding the courage to continue forward. That's the big framing device for that final sequence. And yet, that plan just seems a little too ridiculous. It puts Riley's DJ skills at the center of the narrative for the first time ever. It's a plan to reach out to other sensates in the world. It works too. It just seems a little too far-fetched with too much risk involved. The threat from Whispers is very real this season. But it's starting to get very repetitive. With the various personal stories, Sun's continues to be the high point. It's great watching her punch a TV and intriguing to see her get a potential ally in the detective she beat up twice already. The other personal stories felt a little too broad and one-note. The hacker stuff with Nomi just feels a little too dated and conventional. It's basically the world of hacking a decade ago instead of the nefarious entity it has become in 2017. Meanwhile, Lito's story seems to be in the same place it was for all of last season. The personal dynamics are great. But it's still about Lito figuring out if he should embrace his private life in public. Things are pretty static with Wolgang and Lila as well. Elsewhere, Kala's husband is unsurprising a shifty guy likely involved in corruption. And finally, I have no idea what's going on with Capheus' story. The actor transition still may be affecting the story because I'm not as engaged with it this year as last season. But that scene with him talking to the male journalists is just awful and seemingly pointless. B-

206: "Isolated Above, Connected Below"
While Capheus enjoys a welcome surprise, Lito makes a splash at a high-profile event. Riley works to gain the trust of a Sensate she saw at the rave. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski

Well, now I feel silly for saying that Lito's arc has been too static and repetitive. This episode is amazing for him. The celebration at the pride parade is just so emotional and moving. It's the pinnacle of what his entire story has been about. He's opening himself up to the world in a way that is genuine and scary. But also rewarding and uplifting in a completely new way. It's so empowering to watch. It has such a strong and infectious energy to it as well. It's the show once again being very powerful with its approach to LGBT stories and how they play out on a global scale. That's the first significant component of this episode. The other is basically an exposition dump in regards to the overarching mythology. With Nomi, it's a little too confusing. With Riley though, it's extremely unique and powerful. Last season was all about the cluster discovering each other and learning about the skills that they all have. And now, it's about expanding this world of sensates. They are learning just how vast and connected their species really is. BPO affects all of them. But it's invigorating to see the many ways this connection changes the human experience. It's been fun to see the addition of so many new sensates this year. They are inherently fearful and skeptical of anyone new they connect with because they could be a BPO spy. But once those guards go down and they can truly reveal themselves, it continues to show just how much this series appreciates the connection of the human condition and the beauty that always surrounds us in this world. B+

207: "I Have No Room in My Heart for Hate"
Will asks an old friend for help as Riley embarks on a risky journey. Kala makes a troubling discovery. Sun has an intense encounter in the cemetery. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by James McTeigue

There are a number of really emotional homecomings in this hour. The middle of this episode is so effective because it's the show making sure the personal stakes are apparent for these characters. It's Will apologizing to Diego for leaving under mysterious circumstances, Capheus talking to his mother about his new political status and Sun visiting her parents' graves. All three are very effective scenes that happen right after each other. The Sun story in particular is really beautiful to watch. The cluster has to rely on each other because they are frequently all alone and being hunted in this world. They can all relate to the scared fearing of all of this going away in an instant. So, it's moving to see them come together as Sun figures out her plans for revenge and justice. But it can also be confusing as well because there are so many different feelings and opinions. This hour may have more wheel-spinning in the personal stories than other episodes. But it's still quite entertaining and moving to watch. Plus, the conspiracy stuff builds to another effective cliffhanger. Riley in Chicago is a strong story. It's not a homecoming for her but it is Will reconnecting to his past in a strong way. She gives that to him. And now, they may have a location for Whispers. But before any of them can act, Jonas reappears. It's not surprising that he returns outside of dream flashbacks. But what he wants now could be entirely different than what he previously did for the cluster. B

208: "All I Want Right Now Is One More Bullet"
A familiar face comes back from the dead, a depressed Lito turns to Sun for comfort, and Lila lures Wolfgang into a trap. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Dan Glass

At this point in the season, the bond between the main cluster is so strong. They work well together as a group. But this season has been missing more of the individual moments that can be completely random in the character pairings but very effective. This episode has a couple of them. It's humorous to watch Lito and Sun together. But it's poignant because they get each other to accept something that they can't fully grasp with their situations. And then, Will and Kala have a moment. It allows Kala to talk to someone objective while also being a strong moment of reaffirmation that everything will ultimately be okay for all of them. It's these moments where the show can still be truly surprising. It's perhaps looked at the cluster too much as a group this season. It's all building to that big cluster vs. cluster battle in Berlin too. It's a different type of action set piece for the show as well. The audience sees all of the cluster in that scene. Normally, the action only reveals a new character when their skill set is required. Or it cuts away to show them being impacted by the fight in their individual lives. So, it's strange and a little weird to see all of them in that scene getting punched right alongside Wolfgang. But it's still pretty effective. It sets up a dynamic with Lila that is easy to understand compared to the Whispers mythology. She has become a full-on villain for the cluster to face. Meanwhile, Whispers and Jonas are still shrouded in too much mystery. B

209: "What Family Actually Means"
A family wedding stirs up more trouble for Nomi. Dani goes all out to land Lito the perfect role. One of the Sensates faces a devastating loss. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski

Will, Riley and Nomi have largely had to forego personal stories this season in order to give more screentime to the main conspiracy with Whispers. They are the three frequently at the center of it while the others in the cluster get to have lives outside of it. And yet, the effectiveness of this episode has very little to do with that ongoing mystery despite Will, Riley and Nomi being at the forefront. It's instead one of the most cathartic and devastating episodes of the season. It succeeds because of those personal and emotional moments. Yes, it could be criticized that it's hard to feel about these minor characters in Will and Nomi's lives when they haven't been seen in so long. And yet, Nomi at her sister's wedding is phenomenal to watch - first during her big toast and then when Amanita gets to expose that the FBI agent didn't bother to check the updated system. It's so rousing to watch and so heartwarming when her father refers to her by the right gender. And then, things are absolutely devastating when Will learns his father is dying. He's been so caught up in trying to find Whispers. But none of that means anything in the end. Right now, it's just important to be by his father's side to say goodbye. It's not a perfect moment. He has to experience it through Riley. But it's still sweet nevertheless. Meanwhile, Dani has been more visible than these parents but doesn't have that much more depth as a character. However, it's still fun to see her give Lito the break he desperately needs right now. B+

210: "If All the World's a Stage, Identity Is Nothing But a Costume"
Sun moves ahead with her undercover mission, while Lito heads to Hollywood for the audition of a lifetime. Capheus prepares for his first big speech. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Tom Tykwer

Sense8 at its heart is a celebration of the human condition. How the world puts up these divisions but the human spirit is interconnected and full of love and passion. It's what makes this series work. It's not the overly complicated conspiracy. It's great that that has taken the back seat in these last two episodes. Because right now, it's much more important to see the various members of the cluster hit their emotional peaks in their personal storylines. It's all about a core identity crisis as well. Lito and Capheus don't feel like they belong in their current lives. With Lito, it's an achingly beautiful sequence because Lito has to rely on the one voice that isn't in his head to help him cope with what his life has become. That scene on the beach with Hernando is simply one of the best scenes the show has ever done. With Capheus, it's less effective because the story itself has just been so bland. Capheus has been purposefully passive in this story. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's something lacking even though the violence that breaks out at the rally is a really effective sequence as well - especially with Will trying to warn Capheus that it's a trap. Elsewhere, it's great that Kala finally commits to wanting to be with Wolfgang. That romance has been static for a long time. And yet, the sexual chemistry is still there to make it very tantalizing. And finally, it's great to see all of the cluster come together to help Sun get vengeance against her brother. She's wanted this for so long. And now, everyone is completely focused and ready to help her with this heist. Of course, it's all likely to go wrong because the conspiracy will probably rear its ugly head in the finale somehow. A-

211: "You Want a War?"
At the gala, Sun braces for a showdown with her brother. Soon a dire new threat sends the Sensates scrambling to save another member of the cluster. Written by Lana Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana Wachowski

This season of Sense8 has approached things with a bigger and better mentality. The first season was all about exploring these new connections in the main cluster with the entire group not even appearing all together until the very end. This season all eight were together a bunch of times as the show created new reasons for all of their skills to be utilized. This approach also expanded the complicated mystery with Whispers and BPO. As such, there was the hope that it would be better explained this season. It wasn't. It was still just as complicated and confusing. That's a letdown because right now it's just a generic conspiracy that is meant to bring some terror to the main cluster. It's effective in doing that but it's hardly the show at its best. It's still terrifying to watch as Wolfgang gets taken and is tortured by Whispers. But it's also the show clearly setting up a new story for another season. One where the entire cluster is in the same physical location. That's a great sequence. But it doesn't entirely feel like resolution to the story that happened in this specific season. The finale probably starts with its best material because Sun's story has been so excellent this season. It's fantastic to watch her inside this gala trying to get to her brother. It's not that focused on martial arts. So, it's not one of the best action sequences the show has ever done. But it's fun to see Kala get her action hero moment while it's funny to think of Sun as the Terminator. However, the resolution to this story is more muddled than it needed to be. Again, it's the show extending something so it can have a story in another season. But all of the stuff with Sun's brother should have been wrapped up now instead of just teasing a mysterious new political figure. But I can't fault this finale too much because of that great proposal scene between Nomi and Amanita. That's the biggest emotional moment of resolution in this finale and it's simply tremendous. B