Sense8 recap: 'If All the World's a Stage, Identity Is Nothing But a Costume'
On most shows, romantic story lines require conflict to stay interesting. You can only spend so many seasons watching Jim and Pam flirt and fall in love on The Office, and once two soulmates are an item, writers often have to throw in contrivances to give them some drama (I’m looking at you, April Nardini on Gilmore Girls). For all its silliness and camp, Sense8 is that rare show that affirms solid, healthy relationships. In Nomanita and Litonando, we’re treated to visions of queer people who support and adore each other, without any trite love triangles. And with Will and Riley and Kala and Wolfgang, the growing bonds feel exciting, rather than threatening.
“If All the World’s a Stage” may be the least BPO-heavy episode of the season. It feels like a part two to “What Family Actually Means,” in that it gives two or three of the cluster the chance to face defining moments in their personal lives — no big bads necessary. This week, Lito and Capheus stepped into the spotlight, but not before the rest of the sensates got to bond.
Kala is nearly finished replicating the psy-blocker pills, and she’s curious to see how Riley and Will are faring after the death of Will’s father. But she’s really got a more pressing question on her mind: What’s it like for them to be together in person? Though they’re speaking through psychic channels across the world, she and Riley might as well be two girlfriends getting drinks. “I never understood the word presence until we were together,” Riley says. And then, Tuppence Middleton gives in to a luminous smile so well deserved for her character. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Kala can’t wait anymore. She and Wolfgang finally confront their feelings in his grim key shop and on her divine roof. With a setting magic-hour sun behind them, they rub fingers, lock eyes, and kiss. That the two have chemistry is undeniable, but it’s so much richer this season now that Kala has really grown into herself. She even sneaks a few barbs his way, criticizing his tendency to solve problems by shooting people. “By the way,” she says, “the jury’s mostly still out on whether it’s a good solution for anything.”
Kala tells Wolfgang that if she lost him, her life would have no meaning. He’s tired of waiting and tells her that they have to meet. But she won’t have him in India, and Berlin is no longer safe. So they’ll run away together — but only after she tells Rajan. I really hope that telling him doesn’t involve opening Ajay’s extremely ominous present. As for where Kala and Wolfgang go, may I suggest that they hang out with Will and Riley in London? They could walk around, have four-way sex, plot to take down an evil shadow government conspiracy: just couples’ bonding.
Lito’s also at a turning point in his life, waiting to audition for Kit Wagner, a seemingly all-powerful gay screenwriter/producer. And, of course, he’s played by Andy Dick. I would kill to know what that phone call was like between Dick and Lana Wachowski. In typical Sense8 timing, Sun shows up in the middle of the audition, desperately in need of help. She’s been put in a pink wig and lined up with rows of identical servers (very Papa Song’s from Cloud Atlas) for her brother’s big gala. This is her one chance to take him down, and she can’t be exposed until the right moment. When the excessively maniacal events manager asks her to make a sidecar, she calls on Lito to save the day.
With love for his soul sister, he blinks out of the audition to make “the world’s best sidecar,” which involves lots of twisting and shaking from Miguel Ángel Silvestre. How much can I love this man? But by the time he sits down to resume his audition, he’s lost it. Luckily, Sun returns the favor and calls on her present truth to give him the line he needs. “I have always been alone,” she says, “even as a child. I am afraid I will always be alone because I don’t know how else to be.” Nailed it.
Lito, Hernando, and Dani head to Wagner’s house for a Hollywood pool party that makes the one in La La Land look pitiful. There’s shirtless bartenders and even Marc Jacobs, who for some reason is the costume designer on this indie romance. Marc and Kit don’t think Lito looks right for his character in Iberian Dreams, and they proceed through a silly makeover montage set to Goldfrapp. Does Miguel Ángel Silvestre — arguably the hottest man alive, who wears a wardrobe that I covet desperately — really need a makeover? By the time it’s over, he looks like a gay porn Newsie.
But regardless, he’s a star, and he finally gets to meet his romantic opposite in the movie, Blake Huntington, played by Cheyenne Jackson (this is becoming a roll call of former RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judges). It seems that everybody’s smitten with Blake, and he even charms Hernando with some intellectual observations on Lito’s roles. I hope he sticks around to either throw Dani a bone or join a naked party in the Mexican sex condo.
Lito visits a smartly dressed Capheus, all suited up for his first big speech as a political candidate. “You’re looking very good,” Lito adoringly grins at him. They’re both feeling out of place in their new looks — this isn’t really them. Look, it’s no secret that I’ll wish for any physical contact between the sensates at any time, no questions asked. But besides my desire to see Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Toby Onwumure go at it, I felt like not letting the characters show each other some physical affection was a wasted opportunity. The orgy scene in “Demons” opened the door for the cluster to fully lose themselves in one another. Just because everyone is more or less coupled off doesn’t mean that they can’t share love. Aren’t those sorts of boundaries for the sapiens?
Lito sits out on the beach, trembling with fear that he’ll be proven to be a fraud as soon as the movie comes out. But the angelic Hernando reads him perfectly. “There’s nothing more frightening than having a dream come true.” Hernando reassures his soulmate that he is indeed a good actor and invites him to strip down and join him in the water. They reenact the beach scene immortalized in From Here to Eternity, but this time, instead of two straight white people fumbling around in the sand, we have two smoking hot Latino men in thongs making divine love. I don’t care if my stepmom says that the sex on this show is “too much”; this is a sweeter, richer, and higher-budget fantasy than I’ve ever experienced as a gay man. It should be celebrated.
Meanwhile, Capheus shows up at his rally, which is packed with hundreds of supporters. It’s the kind of set piece that only the Wachowski braintrust could pull off — and one high budget enough that you’d never see it on a Marvel Netflix show. As he heads to the podium, Capheus finds himself at a loss. But the darling Jela shows up to rescue his friend. “Just drive the bus.” And with that, Capheus is off. Toby Onwumure does a great job with his speech, keeping it shaky and subtle without it slipping into the grandstanding of a seasoned politician.
And he’s got his cluster by his side, all proud of how far he’s come. He talks about how he and Jela are both of mixed heritage. “These are facts that he and I have never talked about because for us they have never mattered.” Things couldn’t be going better for Van Damme.
That is, until the rally explodes into a riot. Suddenly, he’s being escorted away alone by security. And for some reason, he’s only got a groggy, drugged-up, depressed Will to help him through. But the chaos is too much for Will, and he’s barely able to yell, “It’s a trap!” to Capheus before the security whips out a knife. With Sun and Will’s help, Capheus gets out mostly unscathed and is taken into a car by Boss Man.
It’s a wake-up call for Will. With Capheus in a car at gunpoint, the rest of the gang knows that Will needs to step up and stop moping. “Right now, we need you,” Riley says, echoing Will’s speech to her in Iceland from season 1. “I need you.” Will and Riley have fully switched places at this point, with her acting as the group’s paternal figure, heading out on daring adventures, while he stays home and considers suicide. But Will won’t be down any longer. “It won’t happen again,” he says. You’d think his buddies would be a bit more forgiving, considering the fact that he may be addicted to heroin, just lost his father, and hasn’t seen sunlight in months. But apparently tough love works for empaths as well.
Will reassures Capheus that he’s safe — the gun is on safety — and Boss Man informs him that even though he works for Capheus’ rival, Mandiba, he’d rather be in business with Van Damme. This thing isn’t going to end well.
Our grizzled ex-cop gets up and takes a hard look in the mirror, where he finds Sun. Will shaves, looks like his boyishly hot self again, and greets Riley warmly when she returns. “I missed my cop,” she says. “He missed you.” Welcome back, Will!
As for Sun, she’s about to cross the line, and she’s waiting for Will to stop her. But he — along with the rest of the cluster — knows that if she can’t get her brother to talk, then it’s a battle to the death. But they’ll do their best to try for the former. It’s nice to see Lana Wachowski, J. Michael Straczynski, and even the rest of the cluster affirm that Sun’s story has been the most compelling of the season, and that as the arguable breakout star of the show, she deserves this moment heading into the finale. “One way or the other,” Wolfgang says, “we end it.”
The family wrap their hands over Sun’s fist and pledge to stay by her side. “We take everything that matters,” a hardened Kala says, “we push all of it into this, and we fight for it.” If most of the finale were to focus on Sun’s final showdown with her brother in place of more BPO drama, I doubt there’d be much complaint from fans. After a strong season that’s focused on the bonds of the cluster, the season finale would do well to follow the tone of “If All the World’s a Stage.” Keep it personal. Keep it sweet.