Sense8 Review

Sense8While not an Asian drama, the Netflix original series Sense8 does have Hallyu actress Bae Doo Na as one of it’s central characters. Since she’s living in Seoul we get to see a lot of Korean actors we’re familiar with (Yun Yeo Jeong/Yoon Yeo Jung, Hong Suk Chun, Cha In Pyo, Lee Ki Chan, Lee Kyung Young). So the story revolves around eight strangers who one day start seeing and experiencing each others surroundings and feelings. They are what people call sensates and it appears they may all share the same birthday. Sensates are birthed in clusters. You can communicate with your own cluster without having ever met them, but you can only communicate with outside sensates if you make direct eye contact.

Overall, the series was good. I marathoned it quite quickly. That being said, there were definitely parts I didn’t like. I am never a big fan of what I call gratuitous sex scenes, but hey, it’s a streaming drama with no restrictions really. And…if you have enough smoking and f-bomb drops it really just seems forced and trite to me. But that’s just me. One thing that I didn’t like is that almost everything was in English. You’re in India, Africa, Korea, and Germany besides having characters in the UK and the US. Why not have them do their own language all of the time? With the forced English, those with heavier accents (mostly in the Korean scenes) actually seemed more awkward. Even though they were acting well, the speech did not flow naturally. I would have been happier with the native tongues and subtitles.

And, if we’re being honest, the whole basis of the series is actually not new. There have been books and movies before that covered people with a psychic or some such bond who are able to experience and feel what the others are feeling. But since it is a hugely overused plot aspect, it wasn’t boring or typical in any way. In this drama who have our sensates who were birthed as a cluster by Angelica (Daryl Hannah) who kills her self to save them from Whispers (an evil sensate who hunts down and kills the others for whatever nefarious purposes). Jonas is essentially her virtual lover. He’s played by Naveen Andrews and at times his character’s motives are ambivalent, but I think he’s really not a bad guy. He’s doing his best to protect this cluster from Whispers.

We have a cop with a rebellious past, a DJ with a heartbreaking history that led her into a world of drugs, a transgender who had surgery to become a woman, a gay telenovela actor who is afraid to be truthful about his sexuality, a repressed Korean woman who is an underground kickboxer, a pharmacist who is about to be married to man she does not love, a positive bus driver whose mother is dying of aids, and a safe cracker with serious daddy and family issues. It’s a wide spectrum of characters and the Wachowski brothers did want to tackle some characters you never usually encounter in this drama, but I actually don’t think they did a bang up job with the subject matter in some aspects.

There were times I would have liked more of a focus on the sensates and their connections they are experiencing with each other, but some characters had more real life stuff going on and only had a few small occurrences and interactions with the others. That detracted a bit from the series. It made it kind of weird when the people with the least amount of interactions with the group pop in and are suddenly helping them and saving the day. It felt like a bit of a stretch. I was also a bit sad that our Korean main character had to kind of be a token martial arts master. Really? Way to think outside of the box.

That being said, it wasn’t like the characters’ real world troubles weren’t interesting. Several of them were dodging the organization out to kill them while learning more about them while others were just dealing with other stuff. Sun struggled to keep her promise to help her father and worthless brother and eventually has to take the heat for a crime she did not commit. Lito had to deal with his true identity threatening to be exposed, Capheus had to struggle to get the drugs his dying mother needed, and Wolfgang had some serious family issues to address while the sensate he’s falling for is trying to figure out if she should go through with a marriage she does not want. Those stories weren’t boring, but sometimes the focus was so intent on them that going back to the underlying danger didn’t quite flow well.

But all in all, I did like this series and I hope it does get a second season as it is quite the ending. But, I suppose if they wanted to leave it like it is, it’s enough of a satisfactory one with our cluster managing to come together and escape the evil Whispers.

8 comments

  • theradioactivesamurai

    Agreeing with a lot of your points here, particularly:

    There were times I would have liked more of a focus on the sensates and their connections they are experiencing with each other, but some characters had more real life stuff going on and only had a few small occurrences and interactions with the others. That detracted a bit from the series. It made it kind of weird when the people with the least amount of interactions with the group pop in and are suddenly helping them and saving the day. It felt like a bit of a stretch.
    > YES. YESSSS. I think this is also why the series felt like it dragged for me. It was good and each of them are quite interesting, but their connections were hard to get into simply because it wasn’t highlighted enough. Maybe because they could sense the sincerity of the feelings or something?

    I was also a bit sad that our Korean main character had to kind of be a token martial arts master. Really? Way to think outside of the box.
    > Yes!!! Aaaa. Sun’s a great character and all and I believe that her being a martial artist contributed to the way her character is (appearing solid, strong, etc) but would’ve been interesting seeing something else, too.

    But having said all that, I also found myself getting attached to the characters, particularly Capheus and Sun. It’s a good show overall.

    • I do like Sun. She’s all tough and bad ass and yet she does have that demure business side and Capheus was just adorable! He was like the cute little puppy of the group that you couldn’t help but love and his reactions to drinking English tea and seeing an airplane through Riley was amazing. He gave some of the most sage advice and did try to follow it himself. And…I admit to loving our brooding German Wolfgang. With a father like he had, it’s no wonder the boy retaliated like he did.

  • I liked it a lot! And I knew there was a possibility of a second season, I wasn’t expecting everything to be resolved in the first 12 ep. I definitely complained about the extensive use of sex scenes too but one. The “sensate” orgy was just way too funny! Those poor sensates in their daily lives trying to contend with all those sensations and experiences! Ha! I’m probably one of the few that wasn’t surprised or upset with the extensive use of English. We live in a society where there a so few people willing to read subtitles; however, hearing some of my favorite character actors making such an effort to speak was a great experience. I had never seen Lee Ki Chan before but his command of English was like someone who grew up here in the US. I’m really looking forward to the next season. And one more thing, just about every character was stereotypical. Another thing I was glad to see as it wasn’t just one character but all; and all had serious issues (okay, an arranged marriage was probably the least)

    • Oh, since it was a series, I wasn’t expecting any great plot resolution, but it’s an ok resolution if it doesn’t get picked up again. Oh, I had to laugh at the orgy, too! I remember when our Mexican Soap Star is all like “we had sex” and our Chicago cop just didn’t know what to do.

      I wasn’t surprised as you are right about the whole subtitle thing, but still I would have liked a bit more in the native languages. I think he’s fluent in English. He’s done a lot of traveling in Europe for his music I believe. I didn’t know he did acting, too. I thought he was just a singer.

      You are definitely right about all the characters really being stereotyped. It was definitely interesting to see the issues and the hardships each character came with even if certain characters got lots more focus than others.

      • Yes, maybe with a second season they will focus on the other characters; however, the more I thought about it maybe the country’s filming was limited and they decided not to do studio scenes.

  • I stopped after episode 3 for the reason you mention: the lack of focus on the connection between the sensates. I don’t know if it’s the editing or if the story was written with the scenes in that order b/c some sequences did feel like they should have been introduced earlier (and not as flashbacks) or later on down the plot. Anyway, it resulted with a lot of screen time for the ones living in America and Europe. Those living in Africa and Asia almost felt like random characters that would pop up out of nowhere and you’d be like “oh yeah, I had forgotten he/she’s also in the story” b/c it didn’t feel like they’d have a “deep heartbreaking” backstory like the Westerners had… Matter of fact, it’s not about of how much screen time you have. I get they wanted to do a large-scale project and film on location so they didn’t have much time to actually film a lot of scenes, but that’s exactly my point. If those characters couldn’t have much screen time, their first scenes should have been more intense since the characters in the US and in Europe were the ones setting the pace about the main plot.

    I was really not impressed by very cliché settings for the Asian and African characters, but what I didn’t like was mostly the “how”. The character in Korea being a martial arts expert, the character in India is getting married to a man she doesn’t love (please, tell me we find out later on he’s a bad guy and she has good reasons not wanting marry him and her storyline isn’t just the educated Indian girl who is oppressed by tradition and falls for her Sensate European connection?) and the character in Africa who lives in poverty, his mother is dying from AIDS, but he doesn’t lose hope and keeps fighting… I’m very wary of Western productions that try to portray African people in Africa and aim to go for an “ordinary life” plot. I mean, I’m wary also when they try an historical theme BUT when it’s about an historical event, there are still ways for the foreign audience to TRY to have an objective and critical opinion on whether it’s historically accurate or not and if it’s not, if it bothers you or not as a viewer. Considering how little representation (or any representation) there is about African people in Africa, if you go down the cliché road with Africa=AIDS, poverty and violence, then let’s try to be intense. Then again, I stopped after episode 3, so maybe his storyline goes deeper in further episodes. Here’s an example of what I mean about reverse intensity and the sequence order: Capheus’ first scene could have been when he buys the medecine (you don’t know what it is or whom it is for), then he gets robbed, then he goes home and we have a touching scene because we understand it was for his dying mother, then we see him talking about his bus… Same goes for Kala: what if we started with the meeting scene, then the engagement party, then her praying scene when she clearly acknowledges she doesn’t love her fiancé.

    As for the fact the non-U.S characters speaking English for no specific reason other than “we don’t want to use the subtitles but we want scenes without Westerners to make it more believable somehow that they speak among them in English and not in their own language”, I think there were plenty of settings that could have created a more natural flow and give a less cliché feel to the representation of non-Western characters. Maybe things are better after episode 3?

    So I think all the cultural stereotypes were a deliberate approach to stay close to what a Western audience is used to, but I also think the story doesn’t go as far as it could have go to…. I wouldn’t say “break the stereotypes” but at least to play around with them without a Western audience feeling disconnected or lost about these characters that don’t have stereotyped struggles like the Indian woman who doesn’t want to get married, the smart Asian woman who pretends to be calm but is a fierce fighter, the poor African man who is risking his life every day for pricey medicine for his mother dying from AIDS…

    When I played what ifs, here’s what I came up with: what if Capheus was a famous Nairobi DJ who is in a dilemma because he’s offered the opportunity to travel around and be an international DJ or to stay to take care of his mother who is dying from AIDS? OR what if he was a famous DJ who somehow ends up witnessing a murder and he needs to flee the country?

    What if Kala was a transgender woman who found love with a man. They want to marry, but his family refuses or her family is tracking her down to kill her? OR what if she was a transgender woman who found love with a woman and her family is trying to lock her up in a mental institution?

    What if Sun was a thief? She’s on the run, but she can’t help showing up here and there b/c the free fights are the only moments she really gets adrenaline from? OR what if she was a thief, had a bad relationship with her now deceased father and makes the mistake to steal from a bad bad rich mob-like guy?

    And I can go on and on about each character that would have the storyline of another one and I think it would still be an interesting story? Lol, well, it would be to me. I will still keep trying to finish it b/c I don’t like not knowing the ending and all my ramblings after watching just 3 episodes sound less valid since I haven’t watched the whole series.

    • I know it was sad that they played up stereotypes so much. I didn’t dislike the series on a whole, but there are ways it could have been so much better like you said. They could have pushed through the stereotypes instead of embracing them so much. I think when we had our Sensates connecting, having them speak in English made sense because they were each speaking in a language that wasn’t their native tongue because of the connection, so just using English is okay. But in their home countries where you know English isn’t the everyday language, it was irksome.

      I finished watching the series, but there was plenty of scenes I thought they could cut to make it tighter. We had such a huge focus on our latin lover with some things and all those montages of self destruction could have easily been cut out. We didn’t need as many as they gave us. It was a bit sad when you did have more of a focus on a certain section of the group while others faded more into the background or had smaller screen time. Each sensate does get looks into their own stories, some way more than others.

      • i will finish it one day… at least before season 2 is uploaded online :p

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