Sense8: A Christmas Special review
Ahead of season 2 of it’s original series Sense8, Netflix have released a feature length Christmas special that serves as a bridge between the first and second seasons. In true Sense8 fashion, the one off installment is one hell of a rollercoaster that takes place over a few months time. Viewers witness the cluster celebrate their birthday, briefly mention Thanksgiving, finally arriving at Christmas about midway through the episode, and ending rather abruptly at the new year. At times it feels muddled, moving between emotionally heavy themes and customary montages of a gleeful birthday dance, an impassioned orgy, and holiday festivities. While the plot didn’t advance all that much, it gave a clear explanation as to where each character is currently, serving as an effective set up for it’s sophomore season. Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
While this installment didn’t feel quite as inspired as anything in season one, I feel as if being overly critical would be to nit-pick something truly special. Sense8 is unique in it’s exploration of human connectivity and the personal struggles of individuals from dramatically different walks of life. It may not quite reach mind-bending status, but it is most definitely thought provoking. In many ways the characters seem larger than life, yet are flawed and struggling enough to feel entirely realistic. This instalment shows each of them at their best and at their worse.
Will is in hiding from Whispers, using heroin with Riley’s aid as a means of keeping his adversary at bay, much like Angelica did in season one. This has varying degrees of success throughout the episode, as Whispers gets close enough to communicate with Will on several occasions, but has yet to find his physical location. He does however manage to emotionally torment Will by getting to his father and using him as emotional leverage in an attempt to draw Will out. Jonas also makes brief appearances and attempts guide Will, but is being held by the shady faction that’s hunting the Sense8’s. The motivations of Whispers and those he’s connected to are still unclear at this time, but will hopefully get explored further in season 2. Angelica also appears in Will’s drug induced visions, in most of which she’s tempting him to kill himself in order to be free. Will’s scenes are emotionally charged and at times difficult to watch, and it will be compelling to see how things transpire for him in the coming season. Riley has no real story of her own outside of assisting Will, which is the most glaring flaw of the episode.
Lito and Hernando’s relationship is outed by the tabloids and they struggle to cope with the fallout. They’re publicly ridiculed, evicted from their apartment and lose all of their possessions, but manage to cope and move forward with the support of Dani. Additionally, Lito’s handlers wish him to reconsider coming out, but he no longer wants to live a lie. However he fears his mother’s opinion more than any other consequences, and they all go to her home for Christmas. His mother’s reaction is rather theatrical, but is ultimately pure resolution and a glowing endorsement of support and unconditional love. Lito’s sequences are easily the strongest of the episode.
Nomi and Amanita are in hiding from Agent Bendix and forced to flee their latest safe haven and take refuge with Nomi’s friend Bug. Nomi receives an email from her sister asking her to be the maid of honor in her wedding, but fears that her parents would sell her out. Despite Bendix closing in, their struggle doesn’t seem as grueling as that of the other characters. While their scenes are good, they aren’t nearly as emotionally charged as other characters and the current state of affairs seems more of an annoyance to them than an actual threat. It’s difficult to determine if this was by design or if it was glossed over by the writers, but it felt as if there could have been more substance there.
Sun is still in solitary confinement, and is coping with the emotional fallout of her father’s death and being betrayed by her brother. She seems to be in a constant state of flight or fight mode, but gets through with the support of the other women prisoners who help her in small ways throughout the episode. She has a change of lawyers twice in this installment, the second team having been hired by her brother to kill her, however she defeats them with the aid of her cluster. Despite attacking the men sent to kill her, she’s ultimately released from confinement and rejoins the other prisoners. Although her endeavor has somewhat of a resolution, something about her journey in this episode fell a little flat. However, it’s elluded to that the other Sense8’s are seeking a way to free her, so hopefully a change of scenery will better sever her story in the future.
Capheus and his friend Jela attempt to repair their bus so they can get back into business, but fail miserably and the bus explodes. On his birthday, crime lord Silus gifts him a new bus, however he’s reluctant to accept. Ultimately he decides to do so, but wonders if there will be a price. Business is good, but he remains skeptical when Silus pays a surprise visit despite the man declaring his good intentions. Not much progress is made with his story, though despite his reservations it’s made clear that he’s still a hopeful person and believes in people. Moreover his mother’s health is improving and his relationship with her remains strong.
Kala is struggling with her marriage to Rajan, primarily with the physical aspects of the relationship which have yet to transpire. Her husband confides to her mother that they have not yet slept together and she becomes extremely agitated stating that she feels trapped. At his request she then attempts to explain, and she tries to disclose her connection to her cluster (which felt something like Hurley trying to explain the island to his mother on LOST). Meanwhile she’s still conflicted about her attraction to Wolfgang, and keeps connecting with him at inappropriate times. While this scenario is entertaining, it’s also bewildering. Her connection to her spouse seems minimal, yet by the end of the episode she’s making a genuine attempt at having a happy marriage while her and Wolfgang are still toying with one another. It’s not clear what the writers are trying to convey here, and Rajan feels very one dimensional and primarily focused on the sexual aspect of their relationship. Hopefully Kala’s future sees some sort of resolution with this scenario because it’s becoming a bit redundant.
Meanwhile Wolfgang is dealing with Kala’s rejection by hooking up with random women in between making confessions to his comatose best friend Felix, who eventually wakes up in this episode and proves to be it’s highlight. After killing his uncle last season, Wolfgang’s aunt and her business associate pay him a visit in an attempt to convince him to take over his uncle’s territory, stating that if it’s left unclaimed a war will start. He forms a loose alliance with an opposing crime boss and that’s just what happens. The cluster comes to his aid, but his decisions are questionable considering they put Felix in mortal danger after he just came out of a coma. It will certainly be interesting to see where his path leads in the coming season.
As is customary with Sense8, there were numerous scenes where the cluster connect with and aid one another at key moments. While these scenes were compelling, they mostly lacked the gravity and conviction that they held in the first season. However it’s difficult to truly criticize the episode, because even though it felt disorganized and was admittedly weaker than I’d hoped, it still managed to work overall and somehow hit all of the key emotional elements that I’ve come to expect from this series. The montages made me giddy even though they were overdone and drawn out, and there were moments that were emotionally crippling, plus an array of emotions in between. Some of the musical choices were questionable, but the score was good and the casts performances were strong. It may not have been perfect by any means, but I’m certainly anticipating the upcoming season more eagerly that I was before viewing this installment.
Image credits: Netflix