Just the other day, I was reading reviews about the new Wachowski movie Jupiter Ascending -spoiler alert: none of them were rave- and something striked me all along: critics don’t know how to handle their work anymore. I haven’t seen it yet, and I may never, but it doesn’t seem groundbreaking. And groundbreaking is what we expect from them every time, because that’s what they did with the Matrix saga, with V for Vendetta and even with Speed Racer to a lesser extent. They probably were too good too soon. And now we don’t see them for who they are but for who they were. They have a hard time surprising us again, finding new tricks, exploring new themes… but at the same time they still can move us deeply and marvel, the way few others do. These geniuses -‘cos that’s who they are- have so many things moving at the speed of light in their brain that sometimes it’s pretty hard for us to follow. And two hours of film are clearly just not enough to showcase all their ideas. Fortunately, their ambition is still intact. With Sense 8, their first TV series, they get the chance to prove it -Netflix is said to have given them all the freedom they asked for- and be groundbreaking again.
Whether you like their movies or not, The Wachowskis definitely know how to create a totally new and rich universe from scratch. With Sense 8, they do it again effortlessly, or so it seems. It’s not that different from what they have done before in the sci-fi department but it’s more grounded, more Cloud Atlas than Matrix. That reminds me of the feeling I had at the end of Cloud Atlas: what a good TV show it could have been! All those stories very unconnected were like several series put together to make a movie. The absolutely hilarious storyline in the nursing home was like a British sitcom for example. It was at the opposite of the rest tonally. But somehow, all of this worked (for the most part). Here, they have 8 central characters scattered all around the globe, each one of them having their own story to tell, in their own environment and atmosphere, and of course their own personal conflict to resolve. Some are more featured in the pilot than others; some are interesting from the get go, others will have to prove worth our attention later in the season. But all are connected and all overlap with another through voices, music, settings, objects… and thanks to telephatic abilities. From what I understood, no character will meet during first season. And the Wachowskis already have a plan for 5 seasons, no more and no less. It’s a very ambitious concept and storytelling, like a (very) enhanced version of Heroes, but without superpowers (for now anyway). Groundbreaking it can be.
As I said before, Netflix gave them some sort of unlimited budget to let their imagination go wherever they want and make the best show possible out of it. For the first time in history, they shot in 8 different locations, 8 cities (Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Seoul, Mexico City, Reykjakiv, Nairobi and Mumbai) , more than Game Of Thrones; only that is impressive. San Francisco is prominently featured in the pilot, some scenes were shot during the Pride, the Dyke march and the Fresh Meat Festival of transgender and queer performance. The most fascinating and emotionnally charged scenes come from the character of Nomi, previously known as Michael, that echoes the own story of Lana Wachowski, previously know as Larry. There’s a beautiful speech at some point about identity, gender and acceptation. Those certainly are some of the main themes of the show, with persecution, bigotry and fear, among others. As always, the Wachowskis add a religious layer to it all that will have to prove relevant. For now, it’s very intriguing.
It’s almost impossible to judge Sense 8 by its only pilot, since it works more as a long introduction to all of the characters than anything else, and it’s almost impossible to tell where we are heading because of the uniqueness of the project. I fear the Wachowskis want to tell more stories at once than they can handle, even if they have more time to do so. But their ambition, their boldness and the amplitude of their imagination must be underlined and rewarded. If eveything goes the way it should, Sense 8 may become the most fascinating and groundbreaking sci-fi show EVER. Pray of it.