Sense8 recap: What's Going On?
With each new episode, Sense8 gets more action-packed and more tense, the slow burn of the narrative increasing in pace. At the same time, the mythology of the show — the world building necessary to establish what the sensates are, how they came to be, and why we should care about them — is slowly taking form. There’s suddenly a connective tissue revealing itself not only in the form of “clusters,” which Jonas explains to Will while in solitary confinement, but in the form of drugs and pharmaceutical companies.
That overarching narrative that was missing from the first few episodes, the one that explains why these eight individuals are suddenly connected, is a bit more present in this episode. It’s clear that pharmaceutical drugs are part of the connection between them; Sun works for a company that has embezzled money, potentially from these pharmaceutical companies, one of which Kala works for.
Elsewhere, Capheus (a.k.a. Van Damn) is trying to get AIDS medication for his mother. After his kickboxing display in the previous episode, there are certain men looking to hire him. Silas, a suave drug lord of some sort who uses the local military to secure a meeting with Capheus, asks him to deliver a bag to a specific location by midnight.
Capheus initially balks at the idea of working for Silas, but the drug lord reminds him that finding legitimate medication in Nairobi is no easy task. He shows Capheus a briefcase of the drugs his mother would need, and Capheus relents, signing on for the assignment.
He’s not the only one making shady deals. Wolfgang and Felix, still fueled by adrenaline after pulling off their heist, organize a meeting with a man they believe can offload the diamonds they’ve stolen. They meet in an alley — the one that doesn’t smell like piss — to discuss the transaction. As their businessman says though, an alley is no place to discuss issues of money, so they relocate to a library.
There, Felix does most of the talking, as he’s wont to do. The man admits there’s a great risk in trying to sell the diamonds because he knows where they came from and therefore who will be coming to look for them. Still, he can’t turn down the opportunity. He buys half of the diamonds from the two, giving Wolfgang and Felix enough money to go buy a bunch of shoes (seriously).
What’s nice about these scenes, where the sensates are negotiating nefarious deals, is that they’re not shot or written in a way that’s dark or gritty. Genre television is meant to be fun, and these scenes are just that. Sure, they’re tense and have serious implications, but they’re also structured in a way that feels light, even optimistic.
In fact, that’s the thematic through line in the show so far: optimism. There’s a beautiful celebration of the human spirit and experience at the heart of Sense8. There are ups and down, kickboxing fights, embezzlement, and closeted sexuality, but that’s all part of what it means to be human. There’s the good and the bad, and Sense8 celebrates both.
NEXT: Will, Nomi, and a cross-coastal escape
That celebration of the human experience is exactly what makes Kala’s storyline work so far. It’s the lone outlier in the show, the one story that feels the least genre-esque. While every other storyline is filled with drugs, shootings, and life and death stakes, Kala’s biggest threat is marrying a man she doesn’t love.
But I’d suggest that this enforces that humanistic thread; Sense8 is saying that the lack of love is as devastating to a person as worrying about their dying mother or whether they’ll get killed during a dangerous heist. It’s the lack of control that’s the most frightening, no matter the personal stakes.
Much of the episode is about choice and control. Kala has little control over who she marries, and apparently very little control over the wedding, as everybody talks over her during the planning, the cost of the wedding getting higher and higher with each spoken word. Then there’s Sun, who has a choice to make about whether or not she’ll turn her embezzling brother into the authorities — thereby destroying her father’s company — or take the fall herself and save the company.
Still, it’s not much of a choice: it’s rooted in the fact that her father has never felt close to her, and that lack of control is devastating to Sun, who spends most of the episode taking lengthy drags on cigarettes, knowing that she’ll take the fall.
Nomi is the most significant victim of a lack of control though. She’s strapped to her hospital bed when the surgeon decides he won’t wait until the next morning to conduct the operation; he’s going to operate now. As usual, Jamie Clayton does wonderful work here portraying a woman who’s trapped in a corner, who’s lost all control.
The scene is not only emotionally stirring, but also culturally poignant, as Nomi’s lack of control over her body can be read as a comment on the way trans women are objectified (the way the media or everyday people feel entitled to comment on and police trans women). Just look at the negative reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover; trans women’s bodies (and women’s bodies in general) are viewed as public property, as fodder for debate and criticism.
Prepped for surgery, Nomi must relinquish control of her body once more, this time for her own benefit. With Nomi in trouble, Jonas confronts Will and explains what’s been happening to him. He tells him that Angel gave birth to eight sensates, and that they can all share knowledge, language, and skills with one another. They’re part of a cluster that intuitively connects with one another, and those outside the cluster, like Jonas, can only connect physically. It’s what allows Will to talk to Jonas in solitary confinement, to feel how cold the walls are.
Jonas stresses that Will needs to save Nomi, that he has to allow “visiting” to happen, that forcing it doesn’t work. Once back in his car, Will lets the visiting happen and taps into Nomi. He breaks free of the handcuffs that have Nomi chained to the surgeon’s table, a nice callback to his rowdier days as a cop’s son.
Nomi takes over from there, and with a little help from Amanita, escapes the hospital. The whole scene is set to “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes, and it’s a sequence that’s reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, where all the characters are singing along to the same song. There’s Van Damn in his bus, Lito lying in bed with his boyfriend and his beard, Riley with her headphones before Nomi shows up, and of course Wolfgang singing sweetly to Kala across continents. It’s a beautiful scene, one that drives home the theme of celebrating the human condition.
No matter the hardships, no matter the circumstances, we always have other people. This is especially true of these eight sensates. They have each other in a deeper, more meaningful ways than any of them could have expected. Sense8 is clearly just ramping up, just getting into the thick of the action. That’s exciting, but what’s more exciting is the optimism and celebration of the human spirit that’s taking off at the same time.