A look at the new virtual reality craze of the genre and a review of the latest chapter in the Sense8 story.
The age of television is changing almost every second, with new ways to watch, new content to watch and new people to create what we watch. Despite this widespread notion of diversity and variation, stories are still boiling down to one form or sub-genre if you wish to call it so, one that transcends boundaries, blurs your perception of reality and allows you to escape into a fantasy, imagined, possibly even re-imagined world of the un-real or even real, but is too progressive and futuristic for the human mind to comprehend (even when we are now in 2017) Fantasy and Science Fiction have been dominating our small screens for a while now, with shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Red Dwarf and The X Files. Today’s, lets say, “version” of these forms/sub-genres are more rooted in the archaic or the historic like Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful and Outlander, and then you have the supernatural creatures joining the race with The Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf and True Blood. While these examples remain in good spirits, whether its because they are still broadcasting or being kept alive in fans’ memories, other forms of these popular styles of television have surfaced, and they are like no other. Like I said, we are in 2017, and technology is still developing and advancing to new heights, and one of the biggest gadgets to come out of the market recently has been virtual reality, a massively blurred conception that has already made its way into the stories of a TV drama, in the example of Westworld.
Now this was a brief history of fantasy and science fiction television, with a lot of name-dropping, but the one show I am going to discuss here has not been mentioned yet. It complements a previously addressed sci-fi notion, it is helmed by what some may call sci-fi royalty and it adopts a freshly incoherent and untraditional method of storytelling. Sense8, created and written by the Wachowski’s, Lana and Lilly and J. Michael Straczynski, is a Netflix-distributed drama centering around 8 strangers from different corners of the world who find themselves connected in visions, within thoughts and through actions. It is the ultimate sci-fi; destroying what you think you know, distorted reality, expansive extent of ones imagination type of story, and it is insanely good. If you loved The Matrix, then I suggest you watch – 12 episodes and a Christmas Special. I estimate half a day and you will be done and waiting impatiently for season two…in MAY. If you couldn’t tell already, my impatience is wearing thin. I need my Sense8 fix despite just watching the Christmas Special.
Now, about that so-called ‘special’ episode, I was under the impression that season two itself was to be released in place of it. A cheeky Facebook reveal told Sense8 audiences that we must wait 5 more months to delve deeper into the lives of the sensates and how they will overcome the adversities of their powerful connection. A Netflix original is an exciting venture for so many reasons, the progression of streamed entertainment, the freedom of creativity and the downright sass of not having to abide by bogus censorship laws. But, alas one thing overshadows all the good things…the wait. Some say the wait is needed to build the adrenaline for the story’s future, while others rip their hair out the second the end credits roll, wanting the next chapter right that second. I am absolutely, most definitely the latter.
Enough context, exposition and downright ranting.And here begins the review of the Sense8 Christmas Special…
After I finished season one, my mind was blown away by the interesting, unfathomable yet exciting aspects of this TV show. With all its larger-than-life content, it still managed to have heart. Sensates felt a romantic connection, they felt the power of their consciences, they learnt how to handle their connection and all the while they carried on with their own lives, highs and lows in all their glory. There was a story. The Christmas Special picked up where season one left a selection of enigmas and ambiguities, but I found the only significant beats of the 2-hour long episode was Will and Whispers’ tense standoff towards the end, which ultimately acted as an empty basket with the tiniest egg to be cracked in May’s second season, well he hope at least. The rest of the special was unnecessary festive partying, sex and yet another giant orgy. Do we learn anything important and different about the sensates and the progression of their story, possibly?
The sensates are paired up in this episodes; Kala with Wolfgang, Sun and Capheus and Riley and Will, with a small relation between Nomi and Lito. By forming these duos, the story is able to run smoothly especially when it is confined to two hours. Each pairing takes on a theme or motif to push their stories along; Kala and Wolfgang’s toxic love story, Sun and Capheus’ friendship, Riley and Will’s isolation and Nomi attempts to help Lito in his coming out and the repercussions. Sun and Capheus present a beautiful image of friendship, most notably being there for a complete stranger with whom you strangely connect, a similar storyline to that of Nomi and Lito. Lito suffers at the hands of regressive attitudes in terms of his sexuality after he comes out as gay. These 4 characters present a warm shift from the tumultuous journey Will is undergoing after being seen by their maker, Whispers. They act as the best friend who is willing to be the shoulder their friend can cry on, or in this case, they are the mind the friend can escape to. And that is one of other reasons why this show appeals to its audiences, because as a viewer you can watch the escapism from reality both on your screen, forgetting that you yourself are doing the same thing.
Having said that, I’m not sure escaping into the turmoil of Kala and Wolfgang’s toxic relationship is the best way to take your mind off things. Anyhow, lets discuss…Kala is married, Wolfgang is silently pining for her like the typical man he is, she doesn’t want to lose her virginity to her basic, but sweet husband and when she tries to, she drops into Wolfgang’s mind as he is in the middle of sex. If sex scenes weren’t awkward already, have them make conversation with a nervous bystander, no, its not even a tasteful sex scene, more like soft porn, no actually probably just regular porn. (This is where the lack of giving a shit comes in handy, no to censorship, yes to that 18 and above rating that MUST be abided by) So while Kala tries to seduce Rajan, she awkwardly chats to her former love interest while his one night stand moans naked on top of him. Once you move past the sheer shock of it, the scene is actually quite funny and significant to why Kala and Wolfgang will, sadly, never be able to be a couple. She is vanilla and he is an amalgamation of every other flavor, though I’m still rooting for them after that cute snow fight scene.
Moving on to the next pairing that takes center stage…Will is suddenly a junkie! Will was the good, sweet, fly to Iceland to save some random chick in his head, kind of guy. Although, at least the writing hasn’t strayed too far towards motifs characterized by vice as we are still on the right page with the follow-up to Will being seen by Whispers. They have really tugged on the strings with the spiral his character is tumbling into, good son/cop forced to hide his mind from an Omni-present lunatic by losing it to the blurs of heroin. A sad, brutal path, but artistically written and portrayed. I didn’t appreciate Riley’s role as becoming lost in Will’s lucid states either, she was so lost at the start of season one, we were introduced to the reason behind her lost persona and that gave her some power to then help Will as he realized he will too be lost to a higher force of supremacy. But the Special sees her drop too far down into that guiding light role, she almost becomes his keeper, the woman caring for his needs, providing him with intimacy, drugs and constant reassurance so he doesn’t lose his mind to Whispers. It is admirable to an extent, but the unexpectedness of this change in character remained present in my mind. Now I understand one can only transform characters and develop a story so much within a 2-hour special, but lets hope Riley and Will can escape the haze of their secret Icelandic shack in the second season.
Aside from keeping in theme with the progression of the story, this Christmas special adheres to its title very much – the celebration of Christmas and New Years Eve. Despite being a show embroiled with heavy sci-fi elements and notions, the story allows the sensates to sit down and enjoy the festive holidays with their loved ones, remembering that as long as you are with someone or a group of people who are their to love, guide and support you, life is good. They find it within their families, in different ways; Capheus, Lito and Nomi who considers Amanita’s loved ones as her own, Riley convinces Will to talk to his dad, Wolfgang’s best friend finally awakes from his coma, Kala has a warm moment with Wolfie and Sun finds comfort in her cellmates. While the holidays does bring people together, this special also made for entertaining TV and the progression of the story into season 2. The special still ends on a sour, cliffhanger style note with Wolfgang at the heart of a gangster brawl, summoning the help of his fellow sensates before uttering the now probably infamous words: ‘happy fuckin’ new year.’ Of course, it can’t end all happy and wondrous; it is a Sci-fi TV Drama at the end of the day. So for my final verdict, there is only one thing left to say…May couldn’t come any sooner!