‘Sense8’ spoiler-free review: Netflix’s new sci-fi series from the Wachowskis

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The term ‘Marmite viewing’ is sometimes bandied around too easily. However, it’s hard to avoid how accurate a description it is for Netflix’s new sci-fi series, Sense8.

From the minds of The Matrix creators, Lana and Andy Wachowski (who most recently gave us the utterly bonkers Jupiter Ascending), this is a show that you will either love or you will hate; there’s no inbetween here. That simple fact makes writing a review quite difficult because it’s a show you really need to make your own mind up about.

Filmed in Chicago, San Francisco, London, Iceland, Seoul, Mumbai, Berlin, Mexico City and Nairobi, Sense8 is a show that needs time and it’s a show with as many flaws as there are redeeming qualities. It just depends whether you think the redeeming qualities are worth sticking through 12 episodes for and, personally, I think they are.

The basic premise of the story is that around the world there are people who are psychologically and emotionally linked. These people are called sensates (meaning aware) and they are split into small groups of 8 called clusters.

As the show begins, 8 new sensates are ‘reborn’ and the early part of the series revolves around them first becoming aware of their newfound connectivity with each other. It’s an interesting concept, but it is very complicated and I found myself having to re-watch certain parts to really my head around it.

Sense8 looks and feels very much like a Wachowski production. It’s shot beautifully with the action shifting seamlessly from Nairobi to London then onto Mexico City and Seoul and San Francisco. In terms of locations, it’s fantastically ambitious and I think that it works because of this. At times it’s a visual feast with the different settings providing a wide snapshot at the different cultures and societies the world has to offer.

The Wachowski siblings’ fingerprints are evident all over the production and this comes across in the script which is, at times, unfortunate. Some of the characters’ language is as corny as it gets and this ultimately affects how you look at them. It’s hard to feel much affinity towards certain characters because they just don’t sound real.

Also, because there are essentially 9 or 10 main characters we just don’t spend enough time with some of them to forge any kind of real connection early on. Saying that, there are a few times when the flaws are turned on their head.

Lana Wachowski is transgender and it’s fairly apparent that Nomi, a transgender ‘hacktivist’, is her voice on the show. A speech from Nomi about the relevance of San Francisco Pride in Episode 2 is so obviously Lana, but a writer’s passions coming through on screen is no bad thing at all.

In a time when transgender issues are being brought into the mainstream, it’s great to see a transgender character written with so much heart. Nomi, incidentally, is played by real-life transgender actress Jamie Clayton, which is also great to see. Also, incidentally, her girlfriend is played by our very own Freema Agyema, appearing a very different character to Doctor Who’s Martha Jones!

Sense8 is a slow burner which is perfectly suited to Netflix’s viewing style. It’s hard to imagine how it would work over a 12-week linear broadcast and the show really rewards binge watching.

As of writing I’m currently up to the fifth episode and there have been some truly standout moments so far. A sequence which sees all of the sensates singing along What’s Going On, despite being miles away from each other, is one in particular.

Apparently, the Wachowskis have conceived Sense8 as a five season show and this comes through. You can tell that there’s a whole mythos just bubbling under the surface and the mysteries are numerous.

There are times when it perhaps gets too baffling for its own good, so don’t expect everything to make sense. Because we don’t really know the rules about being a sensate, we don’t know how much the sensates know or understand about what’s going on!

Sense8 has the potential to be a truly landmark series and I’ve advise viewers to give it a few episodes before you make your mind up – and don’t attempt to compare it to anything you’ve seen before. Sense8 is very much its own beast!

All 12 episodes are available to watch now on Netflix.

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