Though far from perfect, there was always something special about the first season of Sense8. In line with the Wachowski’s previous efforts, there was nothing quite like it and even when it rambled, it did so in a way that earned your attention (coincidentally, writing about the first season of Sense8 was one of the first things I ever wrote about at The Iris). The series didn’t always work but, when it did, it possessed a kind of unlikely spark that kept you watching.
If anything, the biggest obstacle for the series at this stage is the task of overcoming its own limitations. Although the first season blazed a fascinating path, it wasn’t really clear where the roadmap for the series was leading. By the time Riley (Tuppence Middleton) and Will (Brian J. Smith) floated off to sea, it felt like we had a good grasp of each member of the cluster and, for some of them, had even resolved their defining plot arc. Even as a fan of the show, I wasn’t certain it could maintain its own momentum.
Thankfully, the series does make some efforts to clean up the messiness. It spends a bit more time fleshing out the overarching mythology and builds on the soft-reset of the status quo that took place in “Happy F*cking New Year”. It’s still confusing in spots but coming out of the season, things are in a much better place.
Even in the early parts of the season, we get a lot more backstory for players like Jonah (Naveen Andrews), Angelica (Daryl Hannah) and Whispers (Terrance Mann) and once things get underway, we even encounter new clusters of sensates.
Another change worth touching on here is the recasting of Corypheus (Toby Onwumere). Onwumere acquits himself well here. He’s got a different sort of cadence but manages to find a similar rhythm to his predecessor when it comes to bouncing off his fellow sensates.
Again, it’s impressive how much success the Wachowskis (and series co-creator Michael J. Straczynski) actually have when it comes to finding new ground. About halfway through the season, one of the characters even touches on it directly and challenges the series to shake itself out of its comfort zone. It feels like the series is making a constant effort to shift gears and reinvent itself – and it’s a bet that pays off.
Both the ordinary and extraordinary worlds of the sensates expand here. Corypheus crosses paths with less drug-lords and more journalists. Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) descends into a bitter gang-war. Sun (Doonae Bae) finds unlikely allies both within and outside of prison. Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) accepts his sexuality and Riley (finally) gets to resume her career as a musician.
Nomi (Jamie Clayton) and Neets (Freema Agyeman) also continue to be the standouts within the show’s broadly appealing cast – but their best bits are better left a surprise. In comparison, Will continues to be a lit of a lame duck among the cast, but even he has his moments (when he’s not weighing down Riley’s scenes). Importantly, it feels like each characters plotlines evolve naturally out of what’s come before rather. For the most part, they rarely feel contrived.
Still – the show’s ensemble performances, sweeping score, incredible on-location cinematography and evocative visual language carry a lot of the same optimism and energy, even if these strengths are diminished a little the second time around. It’s not just that these parts of the show work, it’s that they work so well and in a way that you can’t find anywhere else. The script can get high-falutin at times but when the highs of human emotion are so high, it’s hard to complain too much.
With its second season, Sense8 manages to find both a fresh sense of direction and a tight grasp on what made the first infrequently electric. The series remains sprawling in scope, arcane in its mythos but compelling and full of heart where it counts. When it works, it downright magical.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The first two seasons of Sense8 are now available to stream on Netflix Australia.