A rare wild Pennykins appears! The Pennykins uses “Lesnaresque Appearance Schedule”!
Hello folks. Sorry for my rare chime-ins on the Pulse, but my deteriorating health limits how much I can do these days. So rather than kill myself trying to force out multiple weekly stuff and burn out, giving you less than my best, Widro and Babos agreed I can just submit stuff when I have something really good to say and if they like it they’ll run it.
Now, I’d just finished binge-watching the Wachowskis’ new Netflix original series Sense8 when I wrote this review, and given that, (so far as I’m aware), I’m the only Pulse staffer who is a homosexual woman of transsexual/intersexed life experience, both of which are major themes of the series, I figured I’m probably the best pick to cover it. But before I get to the srs bzns and talk about the show as a whole, I MUST get a bit of fangirl squeeing out of the way first.
*clears throat and inhales deeply*
OMFG a tv show with a well-written non-cheap-joke trans woman character played by AN ACTUAL TRANS WOMAN and her trans-accepting devoted lesbian girlfriend is MARTHA EFFING JONES!!!!!
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, on to the nitty gritty.
Here There Be (Mild) Spoilers!
Sense8’s debut season premiered on Netflix Saturday. The series is written and produced by Lana & Andy Wachowski, of The Matrix fame, and J. Micheal Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, and directed by the Wachowskis. It’s a sci-fi fantasy story about 8 completely different people all around the world from varying walks of life who are born again as an evolved species of human called Sensates after their Sensate “mother”, (Daryl Hannah) psychically gives birth to their evolution by sending a psychic wave out into the world to find and trigger the dormant Sensate genes in 8 people who were all born at the exact same moment. She then kills herself to protect them so the series villain Mr. Whispers, (Terrence Mann), a corrupt Sensate who seeks to capture and lobotomize other Sensates to use as puppet weapons, can’t use her psychic link to her “children” to find them. Her suicide in an abandoned church in the south side of Chicago Illinois is the first shared experience the newborn sensates see.
Lana and Andy Wachowski
The sensates themselves, (in the order the photo below shows them), are;
- Will Gorski, (Brian J. Smith), a young cop in Chicago with the weight of his cop dad on his shoulders haunted by memories of a sensate child who vanished when he was a child who reached out to him,
- Riley “Blue” Gunnarsdóttir, (Tuppence Middleton), a DJ from Iceland living in London because she believes she’s cursed and all her loved ones in Iceland would die horrible deaths had she stayed there,
- Wolfgang Bogdanow, (Max Riemelt), a low-level thief somewhere in Germany determined to outdo his dead abusive father’s greatest failure by cracking an uncrackabe safe and landing a score that will let him and his best friend get out of the criminal life,
- Lito Rodriguez, (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a gay Telanovella and action movie star in Mexico desperate to keep his homosexuality from ever becoming public knowledge,
- Nomi Marks, (Jamie Clayton), a political blogger and former black hat hacker in the Castro district of San Fransisco about to participate in her first Pride as a parade entrant with her perky Rainbow Brite-esque girlfriend Amanita, (the afore-squeed about Freema Agyeman bishes!!!),
- Sun Bak, (Doona Bae), a businesswoman and underground kickboxing BAMF in Seoul, South Korea whose father and brother treat her like an afterthought,
- Capheus, (Aml Ameen), a kind-hearted cheerful bus driver in a small rural part of Nairobi, Kenya, who is struggling to pay for legit AIDS medicine for his dying mother in a market flooded with watered down counterfeit drugs, and finally,
- Kala, (Tina Desai), a pharmacist in Mumbai, India struggling to sort out her feelings about her impending marriage to a man she isn’t sure she actually loves,
Alright, with that out of the way, let me offer a few content warnings with as few spoilers as possible so that you’re as best informed as possible before you decide to watch it.
First of all, remember this is Netflix. It’s not a cable channel or a tv network, so it can gleefully get away with things even HBO and Showtime won’t do. There IS full frontal nudity involving multiple sexes and genders. You WILL see penises and vaginas, wet strap-ons, childbirth, and very vibrant sex scenes which leave little to the imagination and involve gay and lesbian pairings. Because of these same lack of limitations and censorship, you will also see VERY graphic violence, including stabbings, amputations, violent beatings and a boatload of blood. This is NOT a show for the squeamish.
Secondly, if you’re uncomfortable with gay and lesbian relationships and sexualities being presented as perfectly normal, without being sensationalized, or trans women being depicted as actual 3-dimensional human beings instead of being the tacky cheap comic relief “man in a dress”, this is NOT the show for you. Also; shame on you, you have issues.
Nomi with her girlfriend Aminita
Living life as someone society tends to dump on is a strong recurring theme in Sense8. Lito is a coward, putting his image as the hot manly action hero above all else while using he and his boyfriend’s best friend Daniela, (Eréndira Ibarra), as his admittedly willing Beard. Sun is willing to go to jail to spare her distant father the shame of having her idiot brother’s embezzling exposed because she’s just a lowly unimportant woman with no respect in South Korea’s still very misogynist society. Nomi struggles with a religious mother who adamantly refuses to use female pronouns or stop dead-naming her, (dead-naming is when you intentionally disrespect a trans person by using their birth name instead of their chosen name, to invalidate their identity), who remains stubbornly convinced that the whole trans thing is just a phase.
Over the first few episodes, the sensates are all introduced organically, in scenes that show who they are in their every day life, until they begin seeing each other and sharing their memories and emotions and experiences. At first they’re all understandably freaked out, assuming they’re hallucinating, but over the series they grow into each other until they’re popping in and out of each others’ spaces at will, each sharing their unique talents when the others in their group, (called a “cluster” in the show), need them to help protect each other both from Mr Whispers and his organization and from unrelated threats in their own lives.
Sun takes over Capheous’ body to kick gangsta ass
Sun frequently shares her years of martial arts training to help her cluster survive situations they’d otherwise get beaten up or killed in. Lito is a gifted liar, both as an actor and as a closeted gay man, and uses that silver tongue to talk his fellows clusters into places they need to be. Will is a cop and knows how other cops and criminals think, and can help his cluster get around tight situations. Wolfgang is a lifelong criminal and survivor of child abuse who’s willing to cross lines the others won’t. Capheous is an excellent driver who can help in times when knowing how to barrel roll a car on purpose and still drive away intact is a handy skill. Nomi’s hacker skills help the others around security issues, and Rana’s science degree in pharmaceuticals comes in handy in emergencies for obvious reasons. And Riley? Riley seems to be the bruised broken soul of the group, giving the others calm and sound advice when they’re struggling.
I can’t say much beyond that without going into heavy spoilers, so I’ll end by critiquing the actual quality of the show itself. The cast is excellent. These people are acting circles around a lot of the bigger name actors on tv these days. The writing is also excellent. The fast-paced action parts never seem token or superfluous, and the slow-paced drama parts never feel like they’re dragging or holding the story back because they engage you. The character growth as they all come to realize their shared connection is done really well, and the way they become familiar and close with each other feels organic and natural. They don’t all have a lazy static eureka moment where they catch on all at once. They each have their own theories on what the hell is happening and come to accept it in their own time and their own way.
Will and Sun about to save Nomi from being arrested for Mr. Whispers.
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The series was shot all over the world rather than the usual “Tonight the part of Los Angeles will be played by Vancouver BC” most shows go for these days. The Wachowskis put some serious money into this, and took full advantage of the differing locales.
And it’s the little details that matter. even tertiary characters you only see a few times feel real and important. And casting an ACTUAL trans woman to PLAY a trans woman is a huge step, given the backlash caused by insensitive and badly written trans women played by cis male actors over the past few years. (If you don’t quite understand why this is important, imagine how pissed off you’d be if Will Ferrell put on blackface and got all of Will Smith’s parts. A cis man playing a trans woman is the transgender version of blackface.)
Nomi hacking for the cluster
In the end, this is a truly excellent show that sadly not everyone will enjoy, whether it be due to squeamishness towards the violence or the nudity and sex, or because of personal prejudices against LBTG people, or something as simple as maybe it’s just not the type of show you’re generally into and you prefer sitcoms or police procedurals. But if you’ve got an open mind towards different kinds of people, and a strong stomach for the violence, (though to be fair, as graphic as the violence is there’s not an overload of it), I wholeheartedly recommend it.
PS – For the Pulse Wrestling crew; keep an eye out for cameos by La Parka Negra and Sin Cara midway through the series when Lito, Hernando and Daniela go see a Lucha Libre show together.
Tags: Fantasy Sci-Fi, Gay, J. Micheal Straczynski, Lesbian, LTBG, Netflix Original, Sense8, The Wachowskis, Trans