Sci-Fi Saturday Netflix Review: Sense 8

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I recently finished the first season of Sense 8, a sci-fi show created for Netflix by J. Michael Straczinski and the Wachowskis. Since I don’t have a Star Wars post today, I figure why not give it a review. The concept of the show is interesting. Eight people scattered around the world suddenly develop the ability to communicate telepathically and share one another’s knowledge and skills. Of course it doesn’t take long to find out they’re going to be hunted by a big bad who has similar powers.

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The Concept

The main characters are sensate, which can man any number of things in fiction. In this case it means the eight protagonists can share one another’s headspace in strange and fabulous ways. Their telepathic link works as s sort of bilocation. They don’t just hear one another’s voices in their heads, they can actually project themselves to the same location as other members of the group. They can even “let one another in,” a sort of consensual possession which leads to some truly weird sexual encounters before they learn to control their powers properly, and to a few awesome fight scenes. If you judge it according to the standards of typical American television, this show is w-a-a-a-y out there, people.

Here are a few things I liked and didn’t like about the show.

The Good

1. The acting and characterization are the best parts, and the casting is good. The characters, once you get to know them, are compelling.

2. The camera work is brilliant at times, and gives the series a cinematic feel, which is a strength with a piece of speculative weirdness like Sense 8.Sense8Logo

3. Lots of non-heteronormative characters are depicted in believable, loving relationships, and physical intimacy between same sex & transgender couples is actually depicted in the screen. This is a big one. The show is much more sexually explicit than I like my tv to be — definitely not something to watch while the kids are awake. But for the most part, the show gets this one right.

4. There’s a comic shout-out to the Matrix early on in the series that absolutely cracked me up. You’ll know that one when you see it.

The Not-So-Good

1. Sense 8 suffers from one of the problems Game of Thrones does: loads and loads of characters separated geographically and dealing with their own subplots. I never felt like I was seeing enough of any one character. I almost gave up halfway through the first episode, which introduced all eight, because the first 40 minutes is an incoherent mishmash of opening subplots and the incoherence feels deliberate to me. The show (sorta) brings it all together in the last ten minutes of episode 1 and ends with a good hook, which is why I kept watching. This way of organizing a long story works much better in print than it does on tv.

2. The pacing is uneven. Especially in the last half of the season, there were long stretches where I was thinking “ok, I don’t want to see this scene until you tell me what it has to do with the main storyline. And can we please get back to the action now?”

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3. Despite the fact that Sense 8 deals well with LGBTQ relationships, stereotypical tropes abound in the characterization. Why does the Korean character have to be an underground kickboxer with anger issues and a wise sensei? Why does the German character have to be a tall, blonde criminal from an abusive family? And *EGAD* one of the American characters is a second-generation Chicago police officer with a soft heart.

Add in a pixie woman from Iceland who deals with a horrific tragedy by retreating into the London club scene, drugs, and dangerously unhealthy relationships, and well. That’s half the cast. Scattering your main characters around the world and making them diverse is good, but building them from standard, predictable tropes takes a some of the shine off. I will say, though. This wasn’t an issue for me while I was actually watching. Could be that I’m not as sensitive to this stuff as I should be. Could be that the characters are well-drawn enough to compensate for the problem. Your mileage will vary with this one.

4. The show goes a bit overboard with graphic depictions of childbirth. Now, I’m not squeamish about anatomy and such depicted in film, and at least the producers worked hard to make it realistic. But I’m talking frontal shots of bloody, crowning heads. Seven or eight of them. Everyone has their limits with this sort of thing, and Sense 8 exceeded mine.

5. The ending falls flat. I was thinking for the first nine episodes that the story was building to a truly interesting moment, but that just never materialized. The finale is a standard “rescue the princess from the castle of the evil overlord” episode. It’s cleverly-enough done, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen. I want more out of a show with this much potential.

6. And finally, the big one. In terms of deciding whether or not to give another 12 hours of my life to this program, should Netflix decide to order a second season, this is what gives me the most pause. The whole story relies on extranormal phenomena, but just how, exactly, the characters’ powers and weaknesses work is not explained adequately.

Sense 8 risks running into the same problem Lost did. I like entertainment with fantastical elements, but I want to know the rules of the paranormal game up front so I can adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t want to get two or three seasons in and find out things don’t actually work the way the authors led me to believe they do, or to end up feeling like the producers of the show are using the fantastical stuff to sidestep the need to actually resolve plot lines.

The Verdict

Watch this show if you enjoy at least two of these: utter weirdness, contemporary sci-fi with a dystopian twist, or Big Sexy Drama with martial arts and explosions thrown in. But don’t expect too much. If you’re looking for straight action adventure from your Netflix and a satisfying storyline, give Daredevil a try first. I’m on to Marco Polo myself. I think that one has real potential, but then, I’m a sucker for period fiction.

I’m developing a rating system for my reviews, and I’ve not settled on what to use in place of stars, nor created graphics. On a five-point scale, I rate Sense 8 a 3.5, and 1.5 of that is solely for the acting, fight choreography, and camera work.

Thanks to Hannah for discussing this show with me and convincing me to give it a chance. I find it worth watching and writing about, and I am interested to see what Hannah comes up with if she decides to post about it once she finishes the season.

Hulk: Future Imperfect – A Comic Classic Review

What’s the greatest threat for the Hulk, the strongest one of all? Or even for Bruce Banner, the smartest one of all? I mean, he’d likely survive a nuclear apocalypse, and be left behind with the cockroaches and whoever might have hidden out…

Hulk Future Imperfect 2There’s a story in the comics where just such a turn of events happens. As the strongest survivor of World War 3, the Hulk by right of conquest becomes the Maestro. And so we find the Hulk’s greatest threat – his own cruel future self.

The Maestro is the creation of Peter David, one of the best known writers of The Incredible Hulk series (and my personal favorite author). In a two-part comic called Future Imperfect, the Hulk is recruited to head to the future and defeat the Maestro. As the only one who possibly could.

They duke it out physically, where the 100-years-older Maestro is nonetheless stronger, having absorbed so much radiation. Of course, it’s still a pretty good fight…

Puny Banner

The Maestro is stronger, and he wins the fight, taking Hulk prisoner. At that point, the battle turns internal. The Maestro wins the mental battle as well – as they fight over whether the death of the Hulk would alter the timeline. The Hulk doesn’t give in to try this desperate play.

Time Travel Theorizing

The other battleground is internal, as the Maestro knows the Hulk and what he might want. He also has the arguments and simple proof that the Hulk eventually gave in – and became the Maestro. So the third battleground is temptation. The idea that the Hulk could join the Maestro, and that together they could rule, and as the strongest ones, take whatever they wanted.

Strongest One of All

The future that was painted was interesting. It reminded me a lot of The Incal and I was surprised to see it wasn’t Moebius doing the art. It’s a full-on dystopia (literally called Dystopia), with a lot of new slang and a lot of horrible things. The Maestro, in particular, is ridiculously chauvinistic and most of the women in the society might come to be his possession. It’s good of the Hulk to come around and beat him…

Dystopia

It also has one of those great sorts of future scenes that often show up in visions of Marvel’s future: a room full of the paraphernalia of dead heroes and villains.

The Hall of Dead Heroes

Future Imperfect is a fascinating little comic, so if you’re looking for something to read that will make you really root for the hero to overcome the villain, check out this classic!

All images from Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, copyright Marvel, and captured from the Marvel App.

Blogging A to Z Day 20: Qun

Iron Bull, a Qunari character I have talked about on Comparative Geeks. Picture from the DragonAge Wiki

Iron Bull, a Qunari character I have talked about on Comparative Geeks.
Picture from the Dragon Age Wiki

The Qun is a concept from the Dragon Age games that “defines the role of everyone and everything in the society of the Qunari” (Dragon Age Wiki). The Qunari are not a race, but a group of anyone who follows the Qun. In the Dragon Age games, the Qun is introduced as a foreign concept to most races and often looked down upon due to its strict nature. One of the tenets of the Qun is that everyone has a place and a purpose. Meaning that your nature defines your role in society and you know that this will always be your role; it defines how you are meant to live your life. Other fictional worlds have sort of touched on the concepts presented in the Qun, but the Qun takes it to a whole other level. The Qun is more than just a way of life; it is life, it is every decision, choice, and path that you walk.

This creates some very interesting clash of cultures because most of us – as in the society of Dragon Age – believe in the idea of freedom of choice and random circumstance. In the Qun your path is chosen practically from the beginning and there is not a question of your job, life goals, etc. You follow the Qun and that is all that matters. Where most see chaos and look for hope in things such as the Chantry, the Qun sees the world functioning as a fine machine where everything works together. They find solace in the thought that everything in nature has a place in the world and that that nature determines the path you follow. Now you do have a choice, but to fight against the path that nature has defined for you is to choose suffering.

One of the more interesting ways that this conflict is played out is in Dragon Age 2. A group of Qunari end up stranded in Kirkwall after their ship crashed. The turmoil that builds due to the Qunari’s presence in the city is palpable. Some see the Qun as an affront to the dominant religious order, the Chantry, and the Qunari feel that the city suffers because there are many who do not understand their place in society and the world. Others actually want to join the Qun because they see the peace that can come from knowing one’s place with absolute certainty.

Now where this thought breaks down are with those who are raised in the Qun, but eventually show magical abilities. From a  young age you are raised for a specific purpose, but when magic awakens this interrupts this process and breaks that order. Mages and magic upsets the balance that the Qun ascribes to and therefore any who are discovered to be mages are bound, so that they cannot disrupt this order.

“Struggle is an illusion. The tide rises, the tide falls, but the sea is changeless. There is nothing to struggle against. Victory is in the Qun.”

Extract from the Qun (Dragon Age Wiki)

This post was by @CompGeeksHolly of the Comparative Geeks, where you can find other posts about Dragon Age, like this one. For more A to Z posts, check out Comparative Geeks!