Review: Wachowskis’ ‘Sense8’ on Netflix is a stylish if still murky vision

Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“Sense8,” pronounced “Sensate” — which appears in its entirety Friday on Netflix — is the first television series from the Wachowskis, Andrew and Lana, who made the “Matrix” movies, “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending,” among other works of high-flown science fiction. Co-creating co-writer J. Michael Straczynski, whose credits include “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “Babylon 5,” is their inside guide to making TV.

The Wachowskis like to Think Big, and their series, like their movies, is not immune to pretentiousness or ponderousness, nor to a certain fanatical stylishness that can interpose itself between the viewer and the viewed. (You may find yourself rueing the day that slow motion was invented.) And yet something human and daffy breaks through to the light.


“Sense8": In the June 5 Calendar section, a review of the new sci-fi series “Sense8" on Netflix said that a character played by Naveen Andrews, an actor familiar from an earlier, similar TV series, “Lost,” is potentially the “sansei” of “Sense8.” The intended word was sensei, “teacher” in Japanese.
It begins in a ruined church awash in post-production blue light, where Daryl Hannah’s mysterious, sexy mother-figure at the end of her rope undergoes a violent transformation, or transformational violence, that (I guess, maybe, probably) ignites the expanded consciousness of the series’ eight main characters. (Ergo: “Sense8.”)

This octet of sympathetic resonators are a Chicago cop (Brian J. Smith), an Icelandic DJ working in London (Tuppence Middleton), an Indian woman unhappily engaged to be married (Tina Desai), a held-back Korean banker (Doona Bae) taking out her frustrations in martial arts, a Nairobi bus driver (Aml Ameen) caring for a sick mother, a transgender blogger in San Francisco (Jamie Clayton), a closeted Mexican movie star (Miguel Angel Silvestre) and a Berlin safecracker (Max Riemelt).

They are all having dreams and seeing visions; sometimes they see through one another’s eyes, sometimes, by some collective unconscious mechanism, they have the skills they need to get out of a tight spot. Not by accident, all are young and extremely good-looking.


Among TV series, its closest cousin is probably “Lost,” another epic of mystification and fate whose meanings are murky but whose moments are surely rendered — an impression amplified by the presence of the earlier show’s Naveen Andrews as someone who knows something. He is potentially the sansei of “Sense8.”

Will it make sense, this “Sense8"? On the larger scale, it appears headed toward a familiar sort of face-off in which slowly comprehending, initially reluctant heroes must defend themselves against and eventually take down a cold-blooded machine that requires their destruction — a dichotomy that encompasses hippies versus straights, young versus old, generous versus the selfish, commune versus corporation, David versus Goliath, Neo versus the Matrix.

More immediately, it does things that movies do, with practiced efficiency. There are action scenes, there are sex scenes, there are a few scenes in which characters have a more or less regular if brief conversation. There is the reliable chill of spooky entanglement at a distance: a character in Mumbai feels the rain in Berlin, a chicken in Nairobi suddenly appears to a character in Seoul.

“I’m getting married, not lobotomized” one character says, as another may be in actual danger of one. There are stabs at humor, but — although it could use a few more chickens — comedy is not what you will watch this series for or get from it.

Shot on location in London, Seoul, San Francisco, Chicago, Reykjavik, Mumbai, Berlin, Nairobi and Mexico City, the series looks great if sometimes also like an Apple ad. The well-used local color anchors the loopy tale and fills in the blanks for the characters, most of whom are for the moment only (well-played) sketches.

They will have plenty of time to develop, if they develop, this being essentially a 12-hour movie — twice the length of all three “Matrix” films combined — and, at that, only the first volume of an indefinitely longer saga. The global setting also allows the Wachowskis to fold in homages to Mexican melodrama and (charmingly) Bollywood musicals.

It wants to be an experience as much as a story, and for better or worse, it is — mostly better. I more than kind of liked it. And whatever you think of the Wachowskis’ vision, whether you find it simplistic or sophisticated, half-baked or heavy, they do have one.



Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)