Sense8 recap: What Is Human?
After two exposition-heavy episodes, Sense8 is finally ramping up for its finale. The last two episodes involved a lot of contemplation, with each of the sensates mulling over the tough choices they have ahead of them and grappling with all the potential consequences. Those episodes felt a little stagnant, as if there wasn’t enough story to sustain 12 episodes. Thankfully, Sense8 is back on track with “What Is Human?,” an episode that finds that balance between over-the-top genre show and insightful character drama.
Part of the reason that “What Is Human?” is so successful is that it’s largely focused on the show’s best story line. The genre film and relationship drama that is Lito’s life is the liveliest plot within this show, the one that embodies just about everything the show has to offer, boasting fun action sequences and a whole lot of heart.
I’ve mentioned a lot that Sense8 clearly has the qualities of a genre TV show. That means that it knows it’s occasionally ludicrous and ridiculous and cheesy; that’s all part of the fun. What’s interesting is the way in which the show makes an argument for the value of genre TV and film. Genre films or television are sometimes seen as “lesser” art, as reducing the human experience to a bunch of clichés. Sense8 argues that there’s still tremendous value in those clichés, that they get at something universal.
Take, for instance, the prominent role Jean-Claude Van Damme films play in the show, and how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan The Barbarian is the film that shaped Wolfgang and Felix. Both of these films play a role in the lives of some of the sensates, giving Capheus and Wolfgang courage. What Sense8 is saying is that there’s value in genre films, b-movies, and all the art that’s considered of lesser value than something “serious.”
It’s a message that runs through much of the Wachowskis work, and this episode, directed by the sibling team, is perhaps the purest distillation of their aesthetic and thematic sensibilities yet. There are rocket launchers and slo-mo shots and cheesy dialogue about destiny, but it’s presented with love, not any sort of irony or distance.
That focus on genre tropes makes for some of the most thrilling scenes Sense8 has crafted so far, both of which involve Lito and Wolfgang helping each other out. First, Wolfgang is meeting with Steiner in order to return the diamonds to him. He just wants Felix to be safe so he agrees to give the diamonds back in exchange for a free pass.
When he hands over the diamonds though, Steiner begins to beat him. Wolfgang has thought ahead and strapped a gun underneath his car, anticipating that Steiner would get him on the ground. He’s not close enough to grab it though and Steiner is moments from killing him. He wants to know how Wolfgang got in the safe and he doesn’t accept that he cracked it. He wants Wolfgang to tell him what really happened; otherwise he’ll shoot him in the head.
NEXT: Lying is what I do best
What follows is perhaps the best visitation scene yet. Lito, still distraught and in his underwear, does what he does best. He analyzes the scene like a movie and reacts. He tells Wolfgang that he needs to tell Steiner something he wants to hear in order to create space. Wolfgang says he can’t do it. “May I?” replies Lito.
Lito tells Steiner that Felix got the combination from another man after sexually pleasuring him. Steiner laughs and laughs, calling Felix a cocksucker with true viciousness, a small moment that exemplifies the way words can vilify certain groups of people. This gives Wolfgang just enough space to grab the gun under the car and start opening fire.
Wolfgang manages to kill most of the men, but Steiner gets in his car and starts driving off. Wolfgang came prepared though, so he pulls a rocket launcher out of the trunk of his car! It’s ridiculous and amazing, and Wolfgang blows Steiner to smithereens.
That shootout acts as a catalyst for Lito to get his life in order. He’s jacked up on adrenaline after doing what he does best, which is lying. He’s reckoning with himself and his choices, and after a talk with Wolfgang decides that he must be courageous, that he must get back to who he was.
So he goes after Daniela. He pulls into Joaquin’s driveway, the camera panning around Lito as he exits the car, the slo-mo making sure we all know he is the embodiment of cool. As cool as Lito looks, it turns out he can’t fight; after all, he’s an actor! He barely manages to get a punch in, and his entire offense amounts to throwing potted plants at Joaquin.
Before long though, Wolfgang shows up and returns the favor. He takes over and expertly beats Joaquin down. “Fighting is what I do best,” he utters after Lito thanks him. With Daniela saved from her abusive relationship, Lito is free to head back to Hernando.
It’s great to see the three of them back together again, with Lito having fixed his mistake and shown his devotion to both Hernando and Daniela. It’s a wonderful payoff and represents one of the only times nearly a whole episode has been devoted to a single sensate. The others make an appearance, but this episode is largely about Lito.
Rather than end on that happy note, the episode ends on a bittersweet one. The Wachowskis direct a beautiful scene where Riley, and therefore all of the other sensates, listens to her father’s performance, the music causing her to re-live her own birth. There’s a shot of Riley’s mother giving birth, her father somewhere else but playing the piano through the phone, a friend holding up the receiver to Riley’s mom’s vagina so that Riley can hear the music as she’s born.
The rest of the sensates all experience their own births, and it’s a montage that’s pure Wachowski, equally funny and earnest. We see Wolfgang’s mother during a water birth and Nomi’s mom during a C-section. The Wachowski’s don’t hold back, showing childbirth in all its messy and beautiful forms.
The scene is touching, but it ends with Riley experiencing when she gave birth to her own child, and then the moment (presumably) when she lost her child. There’s the image of Riley holding her baby, then a cut to her crashing her car in the mountains. It’s another small reveal of what happened to Riley, her mother, husband, and child. Blood streams down her face as she faints and the episode cuts to black. After two episodes of rumination, it’s nice to have Sense8 back. “What Is Human?” is the season’s most exciting, compelling episode yet.