On the heels of the intoxicating, impenetrable pilot, “I Am Also A We” brings a much more fully-realized version of Sense8 to the table. Narrowing its scope a little helps – for the most part, Capheus, Sun Bak, Riley, and Wolfgang are left in the background, their brief moments interspersed among the much longer, intimate scenes we spend with the other half of the “sensates,” as we learn they’re called in this episode. It also lacks in some of the expository load that the pilot had to endure through; with that extra space, Sense8‘s second episode really gets to show off some wit and heart – and its those elements that really begin to connect, rather than the obtuse serialized plot existing on top of it.
Here’s what we can gather about the plot externals so far: Angelica (Daryl Hannah) “rebirthed” the eight sensates right before taking her life, in the presence of Jonas Maliki, who purports that he’s trying to help the new sensates, even though every organized law enforcement agency is after him. His ethereal presence in a few scenes – most notably when him and Will go on a trippy, episode-ending car chase – helps give some scope to what’s happening to these eight people, even if “I Am Also A We” remains dedicated to keeping those larger details in the dark for the time being (by the amount of times we hear the name Dr. Metzger, we can assume Nomi’s doctor has something to do with all this). It’s still not quite as gripping as the smaller, emotional moments of the episode, but these dramatic swells are more entertaining and a little more focused than they were in the pilot.
“I Am Also A We” is not a stronger hour because of these moments, really: where the episode begins to reveal the series’ potential is in its smaller explorations of human connection – or in many places, the simple lack thereof, like that between Nomi and her family, some of whom still insist on calling her by her birth name, Michael. Some of these stories aren’t exactly treading new ground – the reluctant woman in an arranged marriage to a sweet man she can’t seem to fall in love with, nor the actor is fighting off his co-star’s advances because of his closeted sexuality are stories we’re unfamiliar with as an audience. And yet, Sense8 brings a different aura to these explorations, showcasing new dynamics in the topography of familiar territory with this overarching element of connection – or more specifically, understanding.
So much of the conflict early on in Sense8 comes from a simple lack of understanding (save for Wolfgang ripping off people, or whatever is going on with Riley). Will and his father, Kala and her soon-to-be husband, Nomi and her mother; the list goes on and on, but the story remains the same, even if we’re exploring the eight strangers seeing themselves on balconies or in mirror reflections. These people are struggling to see things from another point of view, which is closing them off to an entire line of thought. Even Nomi’s terrible mother is given an attempt at empathy; to be intelligent is to have the capacity for empathy, and that exploration of humanity is packed to the brim in each scene of “I Am Also,” even in scenes that seem completely disconnected from each other.
Those sensibilities (no pun intended) are what draw viewers (including myself) to series like Rectify and Enlightened; it’s not because two out of the three shows quote Equinox, or contemplate the nature of human identity and purpose. It’s because they are fundamentally about the tenants of humanity, our connection to each other, and how modern life and priorities have come in the way of that. Distracted by our selfish endeavors, we often forget that our journey is not singular, but shared by others. Nomi’s titular quote speaks to that very overtly, but much of the hour explores this in surprisingly subtle ways.
It makes for a very encouraging hour, one that benefits from a focus the pilot just couldn’t afford; I hope that Sense8 takes this approach more often than not moving forward, because the longer we can spend time at a scene, the more engrossing the cinematography gets. I can’t say enough how much shooting on location adds to the intimacy of Sense8‘s direction; little touches like those can turn a glossy series into something much more emotionally satisfying, and there are hints abound in “I Am Also A We” that Sense8 might be able to deliver that as it continues to grow.
[Photo via Netflix]