Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Definitive Ranking of Sense8 's Sensates [Contributor: Anne]

As my professors demand of me all of my mind and most of my energy, I turn to television to sate my— let’s be real — inherent simple-mindedness. C’mon. I love The Vampire Diaries and spent a decent amount of my night watching “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” YouTube videos. My free time is as free as our country, built upon the inherent rights of life, liberty, and fun television.

What is fun television for me? This year, I’ve learned that it can be most anything, but one component mostly remains constant: my favorite shows, the ones I will spend an entire weekend watching? They are the shows with two seasons or less. These are the shows that permit me to engulf myself totally in a single world. It is like ordering a new dish at a restaurant: whether or not I like it, it will fill me up until I am ready for my next meal. This perspective has led me to shows that I would not otherwise watch or enjoy, in the pursuit of new tastes and individual treasures. What do Jessica Jones, Degrassi: Next Class, and 11.22.63 have in common? They are currently single-season shows, and I loved them all.

Another show that I have recently added onto this list is Sense8, which has been on Netflix for some time. More than anything, this choice was a necessity — like, only so much TV exists, you know? — but it was also a curiosity. Sense8 has been on Netflix but (if memory serves me) premiered with a litany of other shows I wasn’t super enamored with and premiered to mixed reviews.

As I finish Sense8 in my binge-watching spree — for the record, the show is a solid B (amazing premise and characters, okay plot, and often tiresome scenes) — I got to thinking about the characters. For those of you unfamiliar with Sense8, the show’s premise revolves around eight people around the world who are connected through an evolutionary mutation and must escape a larger conspiracy all while handling the problems in their individual lives. The conspiracy stuff is sort of interesting, but it’s the "individual lives" part that has always impressed me about this show. For me, it’s not the (gratuitous) action that defines this show; it’s the glimpses we get at these different people and how, truly, all of them need each other in some way.

Even though they are all important in a particular way, I still have my list of least to most favorite. It was bound to happen! If you’ve watched Sense8, I’d love to know your own ranking and reasoning. I will say that although there is a clear divide between “amazing” and “meh,” all of the characters are well-portrayed and necessary to the overarching focus of the show.

8. Riley

It would be impossible to have a show without Riley, the Icelandic DJ with a very, very traumatic past. She is the emotional center of the show and certainly one of the main protagonists. And in her defense, her life is a mess. More than any other character, Riley seems alone and unstable in her life, the one most in need of the sensate connection.

But honestly, (having just finished the season), most Riley scenes are projections of the artistic vision of the show more than they are a picture of any compelling character. There’s a scene early on where she walks the streets of London at night, singing in Icelandic. It’s beautiful and chilling, especially given the circumstances. But before long she is doing it again, and again, and again. Riley’s past prohibits her from overcoming adversity in an interesting way because her past is just so sad. It’s realistic, but it’s gloomy. Even Riley’s happier scenes lack any interesting insight on her character, because in those cases she just looks around with big eyes and an awed smile. Riley as a character epitomizes the most pretentious elements of Sense8; when she comes on screen, I know I’m going to get some glum exposition.

7. Will

Will is super-cute, but he is The Main Character, meaning that there is no time for him to be all that interesting. Yes, there’s some great stuff with his dad — one of my favorite scenes of the series involves Will’s Fourth of July celebration — but for the most part, Will’s purpose is to relay information to the audience about the sensate connection and the government. Where Riley is gloomy, Will is blank. He is a bridge for the other characters to connect more than he is a fleshed-out character himself. And while he fills that role valiantly, it is not the most exciting to watch. (The series starts out with some commentary on gang violence in Chicago, but that gets ditched before long.)

6. Wolfgang

Wolfgang has a lot of fascinating qualities. He is the only outright criminal of the eight. As a result of his history, he is cold and callous. His mini-story tracks a diamond heist and is saturated with action and violence, but what separates Wolfgang’s violence from everyone else’s is the dead look in his eyes while he fights. He doesn’t have the police intel that Will does, nor the graceful skills that Sun does, but he takes punches with hardly any reaction, almost mocking the assailant to hit him again. This bravura also extends to his successful courtship of Kala. A charming, naked German man — what’s not to like?

On the other hand, Wolfgang is the only member of the eight whose scenes made me feel nauseated due to their unforgiving violence. It’s fun to root for characters who are anti-heroes, who consider themselves monsters, but it’s harder whenever you actually agree that the character is a monster.

(Not to mention, I had a hard time understanding who Wolfgang was killing for what reasons, to be honest.)

5. Kala

Originally my least favorite due to lack of originality, Kala redeemed herself in the final episodes of Sense8 by, in my opinion, better reflecting the heart that the cluster desperately needs. Her problems are the smallest in scale and the most familiar/boring in storytelling — she doesn’t want to get married to the man her parents have approved — and she is never in danger the same way Will and Riley are. But in retrospect, having a character with familiar life problems is necessary for the show to remain grounded. Kala brings a respect for religion, love, and warmth to a violent show, and her presence elevates Sense8 beyond a sci-fi action series to a series about people. (Though, really, girl — Rajan is a far better catch than Wolfgang!)

4. Nomi

In a show like Sense8, a character succeeds if there is a successful balance between the larger conspiracy and the mini-story of the season, as well as strong, defining character traits and history. Nomi has these qualities in spades. She is hurt by her past, but is able to open herself to love so totally with her partner, Amanita. She recognizes that family isn’t always blood-related and defends those she loves with her sharp intellect and fierce loyalty. She has so many obstacles to overcome, particularly in the beginning of the season; by the end of the season,

Nomi has become a master of her circumstances in so many ways. I always have a soft spot for the hacker of the group, and Nomi is no exception. Scenes with Nomi, especially the quieter ones, were magnetic, benefiting tremendously from Jamie Clayton’s acting. All I would improve on is her relationship with Amanita. On one hand, there is comfort in the amazing relationship these two have with each other; it’s the strongest relationship in the entire show. On the other, seeing some flaws from Amanita, who is presented as this perfect partner who can do it all, could really sell the relationship more.

3. Sun

Sun is an immediate delight. In terms of skills, she is easily the most useful. She has a master’s in economics, was a higher-up at her father’s successful company, and can pretty much beat any number of people up with enthusiasm and grace. She’s sassy and resilient and strong, and any sticky situation with the sensates is most likely to be solved by her prowess. At the same time, Sun is vulnerable, scared, loving, vengeful — and these qualities make her so human. I loved her plot and am fascinated by where it goes next, but man, I wish that plot could exist without trapping her in the same place for so long. But I guess that’s what has to be done to prevent her from successfully gaining world domination?

2. Capheus

Capheus lives with his mother, who is dying of AIDS, in Nairobi. He is a (sometimes failing) bus driver who struggles to make enough to purchase his mother’s medicine. He is surrounded by gangs who believe in a “scalp one sister, scalp another in return” philosophy. And I feel like he gets beat up, like, a lot. His life is hard, not just on the grandiose scales that Sense8 frequently reaches for, but on quieter and more painful levels. He’s a guy that you don’t want to see anything bad happen to, and he’s a guy that has a lot of bad things happen to him.

But he’s (*sings*) unbreakable. Capheus’s positivity, his loyalty for those he loves, his human decency — it’s remarkable to see any person express themselves so optimistically, let alone one in Capheus’s shoes. And while Capheus’s life changes irrevocably — and violently, to be honest — with the introduction of the sensate bond, his mood does not change. He is like Kala, but he has so much less reason to be as warm as she is. That he is that way is a true testament to the strength of the character, and makes him a joy to watch and cheer for.

1. Lito

First off, Lito is the funniest of the sensates. Although his mini-story is turbulent and not so happy (he’s closeted, his beard’s ex is crazy, yadda yadda), as an actor, he brings the most joy to the show. His growing discovery of the sensate bond, for example, is expressed through PMS. His skill is his charm, used often to great success. His fighting skills involve throwing potted plants. And he kills when he tells a flirtatious bartender that his advances were “very effective.” He’s a hot mess, and not just because he’s hot. He is also by far the sensate you’d most like to get a quadruple shot of tequila with.

He is my number one not just because he provides necessary comic relief to a dense show, but because he has the ability to dish out some of the show’s most emotional moments, too. A late-in-season talk between he and Nomi at the Diego Rivera museum stands as a high point of the show for me; while Lito’s earnestness is often used to comic effect, in serious moments it provides the most straightforward and rich portrayal of any of the eight characters I’m watching. Lito is many things, and he would have been those things without the sensates. For the sake of Sense8, though, I’m happy he’s a part of the crew, as it is a total pleasure watching him.

What do you guys think? Do you agree with my rankings? Let me know!


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