What I’m Watching: Alias Grace

Sarah Polley, who wrote the Canadian-Netflix coproduction adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, described it as a sort of counterpart to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation: where that show takes a look into a future where women’s rights have been stripped away, this one looks into the past where they didn’t exist in the first place. And while Alias Grace is structured within the framework of a true crime mystery, it’s this theme of the intersection of sexism and classism that really resides in its core.

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This poster defies witty commentary.

Though I’ve read it’s very faithful to the 1996 book it’s based on, Alias Grace in many ways feels like a take-down of the cheery way in which Downton Abbey portrayed the class differences between its characters. It always struck me as profoundly wrong in that show that Mary could be best friends with Anna, her maid, while also employing her at a level of wealth drastically beneath hers. In Alias Grace, this disparity is not glossed over, as central character Mary Whitney privately rails against the social and class system she lives in, idolizing rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie. And ultimately, Mary Whitney embodies a horrible reality of the time, all-but forced into getting an abortion after being impregnated by one of the men of the house and dying from it. As the same man, George, starts to go after Grace, she leaves the house to work for a new employer, leading to the murders which put her in prison.

So immediately it can be seen how so much of Grace’s life is shaped by the amount of wealth she’s born into: forced into working as a maid, where the power disparity forces her to leave for another house, where power struggles in turn result in murder. And in addition to being a factor of class, it’s also a factor of gender: Grace’s drunk, abusive father; the scummy George who leads to Mary’s death and chases Grace out of the house; Thomas Kinnear, who strings along Nancy in a way similar to how George did Mary; James McDermott, who probably initiated the murders; and Simon Jordan, who seeks to contextualize and understand Grace’s story but not necessarily on her terms. Even Jamie, who prior to the murders was the one man who seemed to like Grace in a non-exploitative way, grows fixated on how his testimony hurt her and asks her to repeat her trials in prison over and over, seemingly just for his benefit.

And so I think when, in the end, the exact story of what happened during the murders stays somewhat ambiguous–be it possession, multiple personality disorder, or something else entirely–it’s not only appropriate to the fact that Grace Marks was a real person and the exact story of what happened is unknown in the real world, but also to the fact that Alias Grace was never truly about the murders. The real injustice is not that Grace may have been falsely imprisoned, but that she existed in a world that trapped her simply for who she was born as, leading her to the situation of the murders in the first place. The jail cell she lives in for 30 years is only a literal manifestation of the prison that is society to working class women.

Alias Grace

The idea that the truth isn’t really the point is reflected in the way the show tells its story through flashbacks. Most of these are meant to be what Grace tells to Dr. Jordan, but some seem to be flashes into Grace’s head as memories come back to her, and some are based in others’ accounts of events or Grace bringing up a possibility as a rhetorical device. Additionally, Grace narrates the “present” scenes from the future in what’s revealed to be a letter to Dr. Jordan, meaning even that may just be a performance. This creates a compelling tension as the details, especially around the murders, are blurred, while the broad strokes all seem to be true. But, more importantly, it means the audience never gets to hear Grace’s story from herself, really–only as she narrates it to a male, upper-class listener. Her story is always obscured by what she thinks Dr. Jordan and society want to hear.

This is a theme that’s in turn strengthened by how the show touches on the fascination behind true crime stories and explores what it’s like for Grace as the center of other people’s interest. The way that Dr. Jordan becomes obsessed with Grace and finding the truth of what she did seems reflective of how society in general treats these sorts of cases, and in portraying him not as a noble hero but as a really rather messed up dude might criticize the way we view true crime stories. It also returns to the theme of not looking at the exact details of the salacious crimes that may or may not have been committed, and instead paying attention to the greater cultural context that led to such a story in the first place. Alias Grace is ultimately not about a mystery, or watching tragedy for its own sake, but about social injustice and the way in which it destroys lives.

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Premiere Week Fall 2017

UHHH. I genuinely did write this the week everything premiered (the week of September 18th, I think? Ahhh), but I took a pause to write about The Good Place and Madam Secretary and then life got busy and stressful and this sat in my drafts. Anyway, I’ve left out those two shows and will write about them at a later date.

Star Trek: Discovery

I only caught the episode of this that premiered on actual TV (the rest of the series is a streaming exclusive on CBS All Access), but I thought it was pretty good! It’s certainly a very different kind of Star Trek series from what we’ve seen before, but then so was Deep Space Nine and that wasn’t a bad thing (or so I’ve heard; I never watched past the first episode).

What really worked about the episode for me was that although it was gussied up with fantastic production values and some fancy sequences, at its core it was a plot about an unexpected problem and the characters trying to find a way to solve it in a way that mostly came down to arguing their different sides. Maybe it wasn’t as cerebral or philosophical as previous series, and it certainly had a stronger theme of insubordination and character confliiiict, but I still appreciated watching an episode of television that was focused on characters debating an issue.

What I’m not sure I like as much is how focused in on one character the episode was. The idea of the show is that Michael Burnham is not the captain of a ship but is the straight up protagonist, and I think that’s fine–but since this episode doesn’t take place on the primary ship of the series, there really wasn’t any time spent developing the crew. The ship’s captain, Michael, and the next highest-ranking officer were really the only characters in the episode (excluding the Klingons) and that felt limiting.

Still, I’m intrigued to see where the rest of the series goes, and while I probably wouldn’t have started the show without the main ship anywhere in sight, the first episode did set a fine enough basis for the rest of the series since it’s so centrally focused on Michael.

The Voice

I’d never watched The Voice before Monday and Tuesday nights, and before that the only reality singing show I’d ever watched was American Idol back in the Carrie Underwood era, so what most interested me here was the contrasts between the shows. I think American Idol in later seasons got more into contestants who were already in music-related careers, but back when I watched it it was still (as far as I remember) mostly filled with hopefuls whose careers hadn’t started yet. That combined with the a capella auditions gave it a much more down-to-earth feeling, plus a lot more shenanigans due to the lower bar to entry.

The Voice, on the other hand, is way more on the “people who can already sing looking to get a break” side of things (although I’ve yet to hear of any The Voice contestant hitting mainstream success), which makes for auditions that are a lot more interesting to watch since there’s already a baseline level of quality. The added element of the judges having to compete to fill a set number of positions in their teams is an interesting wrinkle, too, adding a bit more strategy and gaminess to the audition process.

Anyway I’m sure the world needed my years-late and uninformed comparison between these two shows.

The Brave

I only half-watched this but I’m not sure that really caused me to miss anything. Questionable politics aside (justified or not, watching the characters kill a dude and then move on like nothing happened creeped me out), this is a really dry procedural that somehow managed to feel underdeveloped both in its case of the week and in its characters. Pass.

This is Us

Half-watching this one, plus never having seen an episode before Tuesday’s season two premiere, definitely hurt my enjoyment of the episode, but man did this feel blah to me. The sentimentality seemed waaay too saccharine and the character conflict felt really dry and predictable.


Aaand there we are. That was really worth over a month of waiting, right?

What I’m Watching: GLOW

What I expected: an exaggerated, high-energy, soapy drama set behind the scenes of women’s wrestling in the ’80s.

What I got: an understated, pleasant, yet meaningful character drama following the creation of a women’s wrestling league, still in the ’80s.

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Why are we screaming again?

I mean, with those promo photos, who could blame me for wrongly assuming the show’s tone? But it turns out that, like the wrestling in the show, they’re just a flashy front to a complex, diverse cast of characters whose inner lives are portrayed with a great deal of respect.

The two most important of those characters are Ruth and Debbie. Ruth is trying to make a name for herself as an actress, but is held back by wanting more substantial roles and not being conventionally attractive (which I don’t think is actually true of the actress, but okay); Debbie, on the other hand, was a reasonably-successful soap actress but was frustrated by sexism on the set and retired from acting to raise a kid with her husband.

These establishing details put both characters in sympathetic places, which is good, but they’re also crucial to the show’s examination of just what kind of people would be drawn participate in women’s wrestling in the ’80s. As portrayed in the show, it’s primarily those who exist outside of the mainstream’s very narrow view of what women in media should look like and be: white, conventionally attractive, and subservient to male authority.

GLOW is at its best when it focuses on giving voice and narratives to these women, but unfortunately it’s a little mixed in how well it does that. Debbie is drawn to the wrestling production when she realizes it’s like a soap opera, but in this case it’s one that she gets to have some degree of creative control over. That creative control is not extended to the other women in the show-within-a-show, however, resulting in the women of color being forced to represent racist stereotypes.

These stereotypical characters might be historically accurate, I guess (although I’m not personally familiar with the real-life GLOW the show is based on), but it’s disappointing that the only reason Debbie really gets to have control here is because she’s the only one of the wrestlers who has mainstream success and is therefore the star. The women of color might be getting roles, but they’re still reductive and even harmful. The show does make efforts to have its characters point this out and express their discomfort with it, but these concerns aren’t given enough space to feel more than obligatory. There is a nice sequence, however, where Cherry goes behind the director’s back to swap things so she and the other black wrestler are the heroes of their double fight instead of the villains.

While the show-within-the-show does get bogged down in caricatures and stereotypes, the show itself is a lot more empathetic and respectful of its characters. All of the women are given meaningful, if sometimes light, characterization and character moments over the course of the season, which is impressive given that there are 14 of them. I do wish that the show had leaned a little bit more into its ensemble, though–one episode gives a decent subplot to Sheila that really digs into who she is, but a lot of the other characters aren’t examined as closely. Just a little bit more could have gone a long way toward fleshing out some of the more tertiary characters.

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Leaving the audience wanting more is hardly a terrible problem to have in this case, though, as my desire for more character moments is fueled by how good the moments we get are. The bulk of the show’s first season is spent focused on Ruth and Debbie, even more so on Ruth, following their personal struggles and conflict in the wake of Debbie learning that Ruth twice slept with her husband. The show does a really good job portraying the two’s fractured friendship, that weird space where they both care about each other a lot but now there’s this betrayal hanging between them that prevents Debbie from really letting Ruth in.

Ruth and Debbie’s plotline is also important to one of the show’s less prominent themes, where it goes into what it is to be a heel (the villain in wrestling). There’s a connection built between Ruth, who is arguably the “villain” between her and Debbie, and Ruth’s character in the ring, a Russian foil to Debbie’s American hero. The show remarks upon how a good heel is needed to make the hero look better and be easier to root for, but how the audience also, in a strange way, loves the heel. The exploration of this fairly universal storytelling concept is interesting, but unfortunately the way it relates back to the characters in the show is a little weird.

The first part of this weirdness is the framing of Ruth and Debbie, where Ruth is more or less the show’s protagonist. We spend the most time with her, she gets the most in-depth and complex character work, she is who we’re ultimately rooting for. And so because of this, she’s isn’t the heel in the story. The second thing is that she’s really not a bad person, making the focus on her “villainy” feel hollow. With the exception of sleeping with Debbie’s husband, Ruth doesn’t really do anything morally questionable–in fact, she’s one of the most responsible and mature characters on the show.

This creates a disconnect where a large part of Ruth’s plotline is about accepting the importance of villainy within a narrative and how she feels like she is that villain in her personal life, but that villainy is not actually present in her character. We’re never even given a particularly compelling reason for why she slept with Debbie’s husband, making her one bad act seem more like a contrivance than a character flaw.

While that theme did leave me a little wanting, it’s a small nitpick in what is otherwise a very compelling plotline. And I do really appreciate Ruth as the protagonist–she’s driven and passionate, but that passion sometimes manifests itself as a sort of dorkiness that makes for a really entertaining and easy-to-root-for character. I can easily see a version of the show where Debbie is the protagonist and I think it would have been lesser for it.

So, yeah, that’s GLOW. Not what I anticipated, but I think it was better for subverting my expectations to tell an almost gentle in tone, but still meaningful and nuanced, story.

What I’m Watching: The Good Fight

When I wrote about The Good Fight’s pilot, I hoped the show would maintain the high caliber of quality of the first episode set up. It was a tall order, one I’m not sure its predecessor The Good Wife ever managed for a ten episode streak, but, astoundingly, The Good Fight succeeded. There’s a drive, a sense of purpose and relevance, to the show that makes it in many ways superior to The Good Wife after just one ten-episode season.

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I like to think this is actually a room in some Chicago highrise that exists solely for generic cast photos.

First off, despite the high-class world the characters navigate, the show wisely keeps its characters as more-or-less underdogs. Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad, the central law firm, is predominantly African American, while Maia’s public reputation has been destroyed by her parents’ scandal and Diane has lost all her money in addition to her reputation. The clear societal forces working against the characters make their successes feel more triumphant and hard-earned.

This underdog theme carries over into the show’s cases of the week, which are surprisingly strong. In The Good Wife, the weekly cases became trite filler after the first two or three seasons, usually skimming from the headlines without any meaningful commentary or interesting plotting. The cases in The Good Fight, however, feel very purposeful, focusing on “little guy” individuals fighting against more powerful opponents and exploring social issues in a way that feels relevant and genuine rather than perfunctory.

The more serialized plotting is pretty good, too. There are three major running plotlines–an attack on the firm by the State Attorney’s office, Lucca’s relationship with a guy working at the State Attorney’s office named Colin, and the financial scandal–that all intertwine in interesting ways. It’s a testament to Michelle and Robert King’s (the creators and writers of both The Good Wife and The Good Fight) writing skills that they can still make these legal machinations interesting after eight seasons in this world.

I do, however, think that the first of those three plotlines was much more successfully executed than the others. Lucca and Colin’s plotline often felt separated from the rest of the show, and I would have liked something a little more substantive for Lucca. The show has positioned her as roughly analogous to Kalinda from The Good Fight in being kind of mysterious in her motivations and feelings, but that mysteriousness doesn’t work as well with Lucca since she’s one of the three main characters, not a part of the ensemble. This combined with her not actually being as mysterious as Kalinda makes it frustrating rather than intriguing to not know what’s going on in her head.

Meanwhile, the financial scandal plotline doesn’t have any flaws in and of itself, but the context–a scandal with mystery surrounding it setting up the first episode in a plot-driven show–makes it look initially like it’ll be a twisty, plot-heavy storyline, but instead it’s a more character-driven story designed to test and challenge Maia. And for what it is it works very well, but in a show otherwise filled with traditional twisty plotting, it comes across as incongruously simple and un-thrilling.

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It’s the strength of the characters, though, that keeps the less-exciting-than-possible storylines from feeling dull or too much like missed opportunities. Maia isn’t a particularly original character in her conception but she works well as an audience surrogate and the show does an effective job of making her sympathetic to the audience. It’s thrilling to watch when she has her first cross-examination and that’s all thanks to stellar execution on the writing and acting level.

As I mentioned above, I’m disappointed that Lucca’s inner life wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but she’s still a really engaging character, competent and brassy but while still being compassionate. And while I’m not sure there’s a lot to say about Diane since her character has had a lot of screentime in The Good Wife, she’s still a crucial and enjoyable part of the main cast.

The show’s other characters are also really good as well. The new characters at Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad (the main law firm) mesh well into the show’s world and I was super excited to see Marissa added as a series regular after recurring on The Good Wife for years.

Marissa’s place in the show does get into some of its more questionable subtext, though. It’s a good move to set the show in a mostly-black law firm, but immediately adding a bunch of white characters (Maia, Diane, and Marissa) into it feels iffy, and the way the show had them ingratiate themselves by using their privilege felt off in its execution. Rather than the vibe being “we’ll use our privilege to help you achieve justice,” it was more “look at how useful and great our privilege is, and doesn’t that make us better at performing the same tasks.” If the show had explored how some of the characters’ marginalized identities could be equally helpful in other contexts I think it would have come across better. The show on a couple of occasions has a white character deal with a racist for better results, but never, say, has a black character handle going into a mostly-black social space for better results.

I also didn’t love how the show handled Maia being gay, or rather how the show didn’t really handle it at all. For a show that is steeped in commentary on social issues, it’s really weird how completely absent any discussion of Maia’s sexual orientation is. None of the public backlash against her takes on homophobic forms that I noticed, her ex-boyfriend harassing her didn’t explicitly have any real homophobic bent to it, and Maia being a lesbian in a homophobic society was never brought up as a motivating factor in her pursuing a career as a lawyer. The show almost seemed to go out of its way to not explore gay identity and homophobia, which was disappointing since the show didn’t show the same avoidance when it came to racism, sexism, antisemitism, ageism, etc.

Despite those quibbles, though, I was really impressed by season one of The Good Fight. It’s an extraordinarily solid show and is a promising start to original programming on CBS All Access.

What I’m Watching: Season Finale 2017

Heyoo, this blog has officially made it through an entire season of TV! I had no idea when I started if I’d make it past a month or two, but somehow, despite how draining this fall-through-spring has been, I’ve still been interested in babbling about media. The summer’s probably going to be lighter on posts (although I might try doing some stuff about video games), but I expect to be back at it when the next season of TV starts up. Anyway, here’s the final rundown on the shows I watched:

Madam Secretary

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❤  my team of world-improvers!

This show felt a little listless coming back from the midseason break, like the writers weren’t quite sure where they wanted to take things. The primary serialized plot that ended up developing was with Henry’s investigation into an extremist religious group and that whole plotline felt pretty stale until the end.

Looking back at the list of episodes, though, the show still put in a bunch of good plots of the week, and it picked up a lot toward the end. A real standout episode was one right near the end of the season that started with a focus on Elizabeth’s assistant, Blake, and took turns over the course of the episode following each of the employees working for Elizabeth. It was a really neat idea for an episode and it was structured really well–each character gained focus as it was their turn to be instrumental to the plot of the week–and did a fantastic job of telling us something interesting about each character. And the season finale was a really good, not to mention timely, cap to the season.

Madam Secretary still sometimes veers too far into cheesiness or contrived storytelling (a plot about a political Romeo and Juliet was . . . a bit much), but when it’s on, it really packs a punch. And in the wake of the election, the show’s real-world parallels feels especially relevant which should help give the show life in season four.

Conviction

This one only came back for four more episodes in January and it didn’t really do anything to change my opinion of it. Conviction was hardly a masterpiece, but it was a solid procedural with good potential and some interesting, modern hooks. It’s too bad that the show never went anywhere in the ratings.

Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, Agents of Shield

I ended up dropping all of these due to my life schedule making me extremely tired on Tuesday nights. I probably would have kept watching them if not for that, but I can’t say I especially missed the latter two shows–The Real O’Neals totally failed to live up to its potential, and Agents of Shield was really starting to bore me. I’ll probably pick Fresh Off the Boat back up when it returns in the fall, though.

The 100

So this season was really good. After the overambitious season three, the writers pulled back in the complexity in season four (even as the stakes were raised), focusing on moral quandaries over political machinations. This resulted in a kind of weird situation where this season was definitely better than season three (and in some ways was probably better than season two, which started pretty slow), but because of the reduction in scale and shocking moments it in some ways felt underwhelming.

Part of that is for the better, I think, as The 100 really Went There in season two with the death of Finn and the eradication of Mount Weather, and trying to top that probably would have ended up feeling stale and monotonous. But one of the best things about season three was, as much as the execution was fumbled, the ambition to it, the amount of stuff going on at any given point. Season four being so much simpler made it easier for the writers to execute, but it also meant that the show took a step back in terms of scope which was a little disappointing.

Still, though, this season proved that even at its simplest The 100 is just really good. The moral questions the show dealt with were handled well and seeing the culmination of Clarke’s growth into a pragmatic leader was fantastic, if kind of sad to see given her early idealism. Meanwhile, Octavia continued her arc as one of the most interesting, unique characters I’ve ever seen period, a young woman who’s basically forsaken society but not in a Holier Than Thou way, but in an angry, vengeful way. A lot of stories might have used Octavia as a moral compass, but instead she’s just a brutally effective warrior. To then conclude this arc with her literally fighting for peace, though, was really cool, and continues to move her character in new and interesting directions as she now finds herself in a leadership role.

Although, I think there was definitely some iffy subtext with Octavia this season, where her growth as a white woman was fueled by the death of a black man, Lincoln, and the mentorship of a black woman, Indra, a character whose agency was pretty limited this season. I wish Indra had been given a bit more importance within the narrative to alleviate some of that.

The finale was really a capstone in the “simple but good” thing the season had going for it, as it had no big decision or twist or dramatic shock. It was presented from the beginning as “the characters have to prepare the ship to launch,” and while you knew things were going to go wrong, that was about all there was to it. And yet, the last twenty minutes of the episode were just as tense and exciting as previous season finales and the flashforward at the end left me incredibly hyped up. Who knows if season five will live up to my expectations, but after season four I’m really hoping it will.

The Good Place

This one also only came back for four more episodes (although it’s been renewed, unlike Conviction), but, damn. I’m not exaggerating when I saw that this is one of the all-time best stories I’ve ever seen in a TV show. The twist in the finale was a masterclass in shocking, game-changing plot moves that totally recontextualizes everything that came before it. It’s astounding that all of this is going on in a sitcom, and that something like this exists on network television at all, but I’m so glad it does.

I really should have done a winter finale for this and Conviction because I can’t remember much of my more in-depth thoughts on this show, but suffice to say that it is incredible.


And that does it for the season! It was a pretty good one all around, although my viewing got pretty light by the end. There are a few new shows that look interesting next season (although most are being held for midseason), though, so it should expand again next season. (I don’t know if that’s interesting information but I needed a way to end this post lol.)

The 100, Diversity, and Death: Second Edition

With the conclusion of The 100‘s fourth season I figured I ought to update my post on the show’s demographics and how those demographics intersect with character death. The previous post can be found here.

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This season four promo image is very thematically appropriate.

What’s New

The most notable difference between this and the first edition is that there are seven new characters counted from season four, and those, as well as new character deaths, have affected the numbers.

Additionally, whereas in the first edition I compared the show’s numbers to the GLAAD “Where We Are on TV” report for the 2015-2016 season, in this post I compare the show’s numbers to the average of what GLAAD reported for all seasons the show has been on air. I think this is pretty clearly a more fair comparison.

Methods

I used IMDB’s page listing actors who have appeared in The 100 and counted named characters who have appeared in four or more episodes for my analysis. I chose to make four episodes a minimum to ensure that characters on the list had significant screentime (as it would be unfair to compare a character who appeared in a single scene to a character who appeared in dozens of episodes). Also note that I used seasons one through four for my analysis.

Once I had gathered my list, I categorized the 53 characters on the following attributes: male/female; white/black/Latinx/Asian; and straight/gay or bisexual. I then determined the percentages of each demographic in the categories of: total; regular; recurring; dead; and alive. (This post focuses on total and dead characters, as in my opinion the other categories are not as significant.)

There were some characters whose actors appeared racially ambiguous and for whom I couldn’t find concrete information on how they identified; in these cases, I used my judgment to make a subjective determination that may have been incorrect. These characters, along with a few exceptions and other notable categorizations, are listed at the end of this post.

Findings

Total Characters

Total Characters Gender

60% of The 100‘s characters are male and 40% are female.

According to GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV,” the average gender makeup of series regulars on network TV since the season The 100 began airing in is 57% male and 43% female. This means that The 100 is slightly below average in representing women compared to other TV shows, and is notably off from real-world statistics in which women make up approximately 50% of the population.

Since the GLAAD numbers are for regular characters specifically, it’s worth noting that 69% of The 100‘s regular characters are male and 31% are female. Counting only regular characters who are alive,* the split is 56/44 in favor of male characters.

*This is worth doing, I think, as starting in season two the show has consistently each season killed one or two of its male regular characters and added a new one as if in replacement. It’s disappointing that the show hasn’t added female characters to fix the gender imbalance, but it does mean that in any given season the gender disparity is not as large as it is overall.

The rest of this post can be found under the read more.

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What I’m Watching: Sense8

Alright! Season two of Sense8 is here and the world is a little bit better.

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Nooo Wolfgang get away from Kala!

Senseis one of the most visionary, original TV shows I’ve ever seen. Shot on location all across the world with characters from seven different countries and incredible production value, not to mention highly-involved action sequences, there’s simply nothing else like Sense8 on TV, streaming or otherwise. The show just oozes creative vision and cinematic sensibilities and it’s awesome.

The premise of Sense8 is that eight people across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas end up mentally linked through some magic-y sci-fi stuff, allowing them to telepathically visit each other and share their skills, knowledge, and perspectives on life. And while there is some meta story going on, the first season especially pretty much focuses entirely on these eight characters’ different plotlines–Capheus as a bus driver in Kenya, Will as a cop in Chicago, etc.–and how their newfound connection allows them to better handle their situations. The show uses its sci-fi concept to explore the ways in which we’re connected as humans, how we have more similarities than we might think and how much our lives are improved by using our capacity of empathy. That message happens to be right up my alley and it’s one of my favorite things about the show.

I was impressed by how season two furthered the meta plot, though–where a lot of shows either overexplain or underexplain their central mysteries, Sense8 uses a sort of dreamy, vague method of exposition for its underlying story that allows the viewer to follow what’s going on without explicitly giving away anything. Additionally, the show expanded its mythology in other ways by introducing new sensates with their own agendas and relations to the nefarious BPO. The whole concept of the sensaste archipelago, allowing for indirect communication via a chain of connected sensates, was especially interesting.

I don’t think Sense8 is without faults, though. By having eight main characters and seven or eight concurrent plotlines, the show is unable to have a meaningful sense of structure–there’s simply no room for per-episode plots or a great deal of momentum to any given plotline when each character only gets an average of an hour and a half of screentime per season. This has the tendency of leaving the show without much underlying tension or drive, especially with how the show tends to give its scenes a lot of time to breathe. This works great with the action sequences, which can get really long and elaborate and intense, but can drag when the show gets conversation-heavy.

On the other hand, I do appreciate how fully the show utilizes its medium. The visual language of the show does such an evocative job of portraying a reality-breaking sci-fi concept that I don’t think it could work outside of TV or film, but no movie could handle this many characters and storylines. Combined with the aforementioned filmic qualities of the show in terms of cinematography and scope (which are easier to get when you’re filming on location, I imagine), it really stands out as a completely realized, masterfully-envisioned creative work.

Getting a little more specific, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the final half or so of the last episode of season two. It seemed to cover about 40 minutes of screentime in half that, leaving what should have been a really big moment–the sensates all meeting each other in person–as an aside in the rush to get to the final moments. I understand that the writers wanted to avoid feeling repetitious to the BPO break-in that capped season one, but I think there could have been a more elegant way to accomplish what they wanted.

Still, that’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and it was a pretty thrilling sequence even if it had some unfulfilled potential. There’s just nothing else like Sense8 and after two seasons the originality of the show isn’t even beginning to fade.