Nomi almost gets lobotomized while Capheus enlists the help of kickboxing expert Sun.
While Sense8 presented a scattered narrative in its first two episodes, the third, “Smart Money’s on the Skinny Bitch,” is a much more cohesive effort. By this point it’s clear that the show is willing to let its plot threads unravel at a slower pace than perhaps many other shows of this nature—meaning genre shows that lean on action-packed episodes and big cliffhangers.
The cohesion comes from the fact that “Smart Money’s on the Skinny Bitch” focuses in on just a few of the sensates. It’s a strategy similar to the one on Game of Thrones; there’s no way every episode can catch up with each and every character, so splitting up the episodes into character-specific story lines allows for more depth to the storytelling.
The third episode is the series’ best because it feels like the first episode to really build narrative momentum. Nomi is still in the hospital and her circumstances are growing direr by the minute. Sun is clearly in trouble, but with whom and what for? Lito is feeling pressure not only in regards to keeping his sexuality a secret, but also a potentially dangerous situation with Daniela, who’s ex-boyfriend is now in the picture and, judging by his neck tattoo and propensity for talking about slitting a man’s throat, isn’t exactly the type of guy who seems understanding.
The stakes for each of these characters are starting to take shape. For many, the stakes are life and death. While not a lot happens with Nomi in this episode, that actually works in the story line’s favor because it allows for a palpable sense of dread to set in. We see a dream sequence, courtesy of Will, where someone is lobotomizing a patient while a young Will looks on alongside another child (who turns out to be Sara Patrell, a missing girl from years ago). It’s Will sensing what will happen to Nomi if he doesn’t help her, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
That dread extends to the hospital scenes with Nomi, where she’s locked in her room due to the (apparently) legal control her mother and the doctor have over her. She’s force-fed pills and treated like an animal; Jamie Clayton does masterful work in these scenes as someone who’s not quite sure whether she’s losing her mind or not, but knows deep down that something wrong is being done to her.
Before long Nomi is carted into surgery, but just as she’s about to be put under, a fire alarm goes off. Someone lit a fire in part of the hospital and the fire department is evacuating just to be on the safe side. There’s a callback here to Nomi’s partner, Amanita, who told her that she’d burn the hospital down before she let the doctor’s operate on her. Still, we never see Amanita set the fire, so there’s the possibility that there’s some sensate tampering going on here. Either way, it’s a relief to see Nomi get another day and that sets up what’s sure to be some sort of escape plan in the next episode or two.
NEXT: Van Damn gets a little help from the Skinny Bitch
After getting very little time with Sun and Capheus in the previous episode, “Smart Money’s on the Skinny Bitch” spends a lot of time diving into the lives of these two characters. It’s a smart move, especially considering that so much of the first two episodes focused on Will and Nomi. This is a solid ensemble, so it’s great to see them all getting time on screen.
It helps that the both Sun and Capheus have thrilling stories this week, resulting in an action-packed brawl that ends the episode (more on that in a bit). Capheus’ motivations in this episode are clear. He has a mother dying of AIDS at home and he’s set on procuring drugs from someone local because the ones he’s receiving right now are only making her worse; this is tied in with a meeting Kala has at a pharmaceutical company where the head honchos talk about how various companies are “watering down” their drugs in order to drive bigger profits.
Capheus’ search leads him to a sketchy downtown dealer, but he ultimately gets what he wants. Driving back to his house though, in the wonderfully named Van Damn, he’s attacked by a gang who take not only his pills, but also steal money and jewelry from everybody aboard the van. Capheus is devastated and momentarily prepared to just cut his losses.
This is life or death for his mother though, and that inspires him to go after the thieves. Everybody on the bus abandons him except for one woman who’s wedding ring was stolen; “it’s the only thing I have left of him” she says as Capheus steps on the gas.
When he catches up to the thieves and runs them off the road, it’s clear that Capheus has started a fight that he can’t possibly win. He’s beaten to within an inch of his life, blood pouring from his mouth as he confronts the fact that he can’t save his mother. That’s when his sensate power (are they powers? I don’t know what else to call them at this point) kick in and he taps into Sun’s skills, as it turns out she’s a secret underground kickboxer!
Back in Seoul, Sun leaves her office in a hurry after numerous urgent phone calls from a mysterious Mr. Jeong. Sun is in some sort of trouble, likely having to do with that meeting her brother forced her out of in the first episode, so she’s escaped the office and is, as one does, looking to smash some faces in. While in the ring against a male opponent who totally underestimates her, she sees flashes of Capheus bleeding in the ring. “Help me,” he says.
Thus begins the episode’s climactic scene, where Sun not only beats her in-ring opponent, but also transfers her skills to Capheus, who turns into a kickboxing legend and disposes of the members of the Superpowers gang. If that all sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. But it’s also a lot of fun. The first three episodes of Sense8 have done a good job of tackling serious subject matter (like gender, identity, and sexuality) with nuance, yet also reveling in the amped up genre elements inherent in sci-fi and action television.
It’s a precocious balance to be sure, but it’s been deftly handled so far. The fact that the episode ends with a compelling action sequence, which the Wachowskis certainly have a penchant for, signals forward momentum for the show. The sensates are starting to tap into one another in meaningful and increasingly obvious ways. Their powers are growing while their story lines are deepening. That makes for exciting and engaging television, no matter how ludicrous the plot may sound.