Sense8 recap: Art Is Like Religion
Through its first four episodes, Sense8 has been pretty heavy. Sure, there’s a celebration of the human spirit at the show’s core, as I mentioned in the previous recap, but much of the plot has dealt with angst. Mortality, oppression, robberies, loveless marriages, inner-city poverty; Sense8 has spent four episodes putting its characters through the ringer, showing us where they come from and the dire circumstances they’re all in.
In contrast to those first four episodes, the fifth, “Art Is Like Religion,” is the most joyous and jubilant episode so far. It’s not just the action scenes, which director James McTeigue (who was an assistant director on the Wachowskis The Matrix) shoots with unhinged glee, but also the current of liveliness that runs through the entire episode.
Sense8 has been on a steady build from its first episode, taking its time establishing its narrative and vision. That patience has lead to a narrative that’s reliant on character building, since there’s very little plot in the first few episodes. Now, with the characters firmly established, Sense8 can let loose. Everything from here on out is firmly grounded in these characters. It makes the increasing amount of “visiting” in each episode a thrill to watch, the viewer left wondering what pairing will appear next and how each of them can help one another.
“Art Is Like Religion” sees the sensates visiting each other in more natural and obvious ways. Nobody, other than perhaps Will, really understands what’s happening to them, but they all seem to be aware that whatever’s happening, it’s part of a bigger plan, something beyond them. They’re starting to embrace their powers and explore what they mean.
It’s a welcome change of pace; so many pieces of fiction about humans gaining supernatural powers spend a lot of time showing the characters at first resisting their new powers, or angrily struggling to understand what’s happened to them. The Wachowskis have no time for that, instead barreling forward, the sensates showing wonderment, not skepticism, with their newfound visiting abilities.
If there’s one person struggling with their visiting in this episode, it’s Lito, who’s part of the episode’s most outwardly comedic story line. Early in the episode he experiences Sun’s period cramps and hormonal changes. When he gets to the set of his latest film, he’s meant to seductively stare down a woman as she descends the stairs. Lito breaks down crying though, telling the director that in the moment he realized the fleeting nature of beauty.
“I’m just feeling a little emotional today,” he says before freaking out on his drive home, where Sun joins him in the front seat while he screams at everyone in traffic, all while Hernando tries to calm him down over the phone. The whole scene is played for laughs, and while a man going through hormonal swings brought on by a period could be very base humor, it works here, mostly due to how evocative and unhinged Miguel Ángel Silvestre’s performance is.
Later, Lito’s visiting actually pays off, as he and Will essentially join forces to be badass gunslingers. Will’s chasing down a young kid while Lito is working through the climactic shootout of the film. He goes full-on Neo in The Matrix, flying, diving, and bending backward to dodge bullets while he guns down one assailant after another. It’s a thrilling scene, partly because it’s wonderfully meta. We’re watching a choreographed television fight scene of a choreographed fight scene for film; we even see the cameras and the wires attached to Lito. There’s that, and then the fact that it’s just a beautifully shot sequence. Scenes like this show that Sense8 is also willing to have a lot of fun alongside it’s more complex thematic explorations.
NEXT: The Spirit of Jean Claude Korean Lady
Where Lito needed Will to execute his scene with appropriate vigor, Capheus once again hopes to channel Sun when he’s confronted by a gang while delivering the backpack Silas gave him in the previous episode. He summons the spirit of Jean Claude Korean Lady (his words), winds up for a jumping roundhouse kick and…falls flat on his face. I guess Jonas hasn’t told him yet that you can’t force visiting; you have to let it happen.
The gang gets away with the backpack, but Capheus, ever the optimist, tracks them down. He smashes the car window with a rock and snatches the bag; he runs away and brings it to the address that was written down for him. It’s there that Silas is waiting for him. The whole thing was a test to see how dedicated Capheus was. Silas pulls out two coconuts from the backpack and says that any man who risked his life for this was someone he wanted working for him. Thus, Capheus gets the drugs he needs for his mom, procuring them without ever needing a visit from Sun and her kickboxing abilities.
While these story lines are fun, there’s still palpable sadness running through some of the episode. First there’s Nomi, who’s still unsure what’s happening to her. She finds out that unmarked cars are going by her apartment every few hours and the assumption is that it has something to do with Dr. Metzger. Later, her and Amanita find their apartment completely trashed, as if someone’s come looking for something. Nomi may no longer be trapped in the hospital, but it’s clear the walls are closing in on her.
The other sadness comes in the form of Kala’s wedding ceremony. She’s finally marrying the man that she doesn’t love (even though he rides into the wedding on a motorcycle). Her encounter with Wolfgang from the previous episode still haunts her (in a good way). When she’s in the final stages of the wedding ceremony, dread clear on her face, she sees Wolfgang standing there, completely naked after having just stepped out of a pool in Berlin.
Kala, after getting a glance at Wolfgang’s penis—a rare occurrence of the female gaze—faints, as does Wolfgang. Everyone, including these two, ends the episode in a different place, and I’m not talking about visiting. Lito has regained some confidence and seems genuinely happy at home while cuddling with Hernando and Daniela. Wolfgang is not only naked, but perhaps exposed, as a villainous mobster named Steiner might be on to him. Kala may or may not be married, Sun is likely turning herself in to the authorities and taking the fall for her brother’s crimes, and Capehus, while certainly helping his mother, may be in for more than he bargained for with Silas.
Riley is the only one who remains stagnant, but even that’s not completely true. Her interaction with Capheus from earlier in the episode is beautiful and charming, the two of them bewildered as they experience each other’s cultures. Riley can’t believe the heat of Nairobi, and Capheus is excited to see London, the home of Harry Potter and English tea.
That’s the human spirit coming out again. “Art Is Like Religion” delivers its fair share of action-packed moments and does more than enough heavy lifting in terms of establishing how the choices some of the characters are making, especially Sun and Capehus, are going to affect them down the road. The episodes best moments though are those shared experiences, the visiting moments. They embody the optimistic spirit of the show and work to offset its darker moments.