Sens­ing more to their sci-fi vi­sion

The Wa­chowskis’ stylish Net­flix se­ries ‘Sense8’ is both story and an ex­pe­ri­ence.


“Sense8,” pro­nounced “Sen­sate” — which ap­pears in its en­tirety Fri­day on Netf lix — is the first tele­vi­sion se­ries from the Wa­chowskis, An­drew and Lana, who made the “Ma­trix” movies, “Cloud At­las” and “Jupiter As­cend­ing,” among other works of high-f lown science fic­tion. Co-cre­at­ing co-writer J. Michael Straczyn­ski, whose cred­its in­clude “He-Man and the Masters of the Uni­verse” and “Baby­lon 5,” is their in­side guide to mak­ing TV.

The Wa­chowskis like to Think Big, and their se­ries, like their movies, is not im­mune to pre­ten­tious­ness or pon­der­ous­ness, nor to a cer­tain fa­nat­i­cal stylish­ness that can in­ter­pose it­self be­tween the viewer and the viewed. (You may find your­self rue­ing the day that slow mo­tion was in­vented.) And yet some­thing hu­man and daffy breaks through to the light.

It be­gins in a ru­ined church awash in post-pro­duc­tion blue light, where Daryl Hannah’s mys­te­ri­ous, sexy mother-fig­ure at the end of her rope un­der­goes a vi­o­lent trans­for­ma­tion, or trans­for­ma­tional vi­o­lence, that (I guess, maybe, prob­a­bly) ig­nites the ex­panded con­scious­ness of the se­ries’ eight main char­ac­ters. (Ergo: “Sense8.”)

This octet of sym­pa­thetic res­onators are a Chicago cop (Brian J. Smith), an Ice­landic DJ work­ing in Lon­don (Tup­pence Mid­dle­ton), an In­dian woman un­hap­pily en­gaged to be mar­ried (Tina De­sai), a held-back Korean banker (Doona Bae) tak­ing out her frus­tra­tions in mar--

tial arts, a Nairobi bus driver (Aml Ameen) car­ing for a sick mother, a trans­gen­der blog­ger in San Fran­cisco (Jamie Clay­ton), a clos­eted Mex­i­can movie star (Miguel An­gel Sil­vestre) and a Ber­lin safe­cracker (Max Riemelt).

They are all hav­ing dreams and see­ing vi­sions; some­times they see through one an­other’s eyes, some­times, by some col­lec­tive un­con­scious mech­a­nism, they have the skills they need to get out of a tight spot. Not by ac­ci­dent, all are young and ex­tremely good-look­ing.

Among TV se­ries, its clos­est cousin is prob­a­bly “Lost,” an­other epic of mys­ti­fi­ca­tion and fate whose mean­ings are murky but whose mo­ments are surely ren­dered — an im­pres­sion am­pli­fied by the pres­ence of the ear­lier show’s Naveen An­drews as some­one who knows some­thing. He is po- ten­tially the san­sei of “Sense8.”

Will it make sense, this “Sense8”? On the larger scale, it ap­pears headed to­ward a familiar sort of face-off in which slowly com­pre­hend­ing, ini­tially re­luc­tant he­roes must de­fend them­selves against and even­tu­ally take down a cold­blooded ma­chine that re­quires their de­struc­tion — a di­chotomy that en­com­passes hip­pies ver­sus straights, young ver­sus old, gen­er­ous ver­sus the self­ish, com­mune ver­sus cor­po­ra­tion, David ver­sus Go­liath, Neo ver­sus the Ma­trix.

More im­me­di­ately, it does things that movies do, with prac­ticed ef­fi­ciency. There are ac­tion scenes, there are sex scenes, there are a few scenes in which char­ac­ters have a more or less regular if brief con­ver­sa­tion. There is the re­li­able chill of spooky en­tan­gle­ment at a dis­tance: a charac- ter in Mumbai feels the rain in Ber­lin, a chicken in Nairobi sud­denly ap­pears to a char­ac­ter in Seoul.

“I’m get­ting mar­ried, not lobotomized” one char­ac­ter says, as an­other may be in ac­tual dan­ger of one. There are stabs at hu­mor, but — although it could use a few more chick­ens — com­edy is not what you will watch this se­ries for or get from it.

Shot on lo­ca­tion in Lon­don, Seoul, San Fran­cisco, Chicago, Reyk­javik, Mumbai, Ber­lin, Nairobi and Mex­ico City, the se­ries looks great if some­times also like an Ap­ple ad. The well-used lo­cal color an­chors the loopy tale and fills in the blanks for the char­ac­ters, most of whom are for the mo­ment only (well-played) sketches.

They will have plenty of time to de­velop, if they de­velop, this be­ing es­sen­tially a 12-hour movie — twice the length of all three “Ma­trix” films com­bined — and, at that, only the first vol­ume of an in­def­i­nitely longer saga. The global set­ting also al­lows the Wa­chowskis to fold in homages to Mex­i­can melo­drama and (charm­ingly) Bol­ly­wood mu­si­cals.

It wants to be an ex­pe­ri­ence as much as a story, and for bet­ter or worse, it is — mostly bet­ter. I more than kind of liked it. And what­ever you think of the Wa­chowskis’ vi­sion, whether you find it sim­plis­tic or so­phis­ti­cated, half-baked or heavy, they do have one.

Mur­ray Close Netf l i x

“SENSE8’S” Naveen An­drews and Daryl Hannah por­tray mys­te­ri­ous char­ac­ters.

Mur­ray Close Netf l i x


char­ac­ter ig­nites the height­ened aware­ness of a group of strangers in “Sense8.”

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