Even by ensemble drama standards, Sense8 has a big cast. There are, obviously, the core eight actors who comprise the cluster, but the show also has plenty of other important players, like Freema Agyeman, whose Amanita is a crucial character despite lacking the abilities of a sensate.
Amanita’s humanity is her greatest asset. Her and Nomi’s relationship is not only romantic but perfectly normal, which is incredible because of Nomi’s complicated psychic abilities. (It’s also uplifting because lesbians and trans women often are portrayed as tragic characters with doomed or otherwise unfulfilling romantic lives.) Amanita and Nomi have something special, a radiant and constant love for one another. But Amanita stands on her own, too. From the moment she accepted Nomi’s abilities as something to embrace and nurture rather than fear or question, I knew she would be a special character who transcends expectations.
In the last episode, Amanita expresses genuine concern for Sun and then genuine relief when she escapes. The stakes are just as high for her as they are for Nomi. In “Polyphony,” she gets excited when she spots Riley. She also revels in Wolfgang’s reveal that another sensate has visited him: “There are more clusters! I knew it!” She might not be a sensate, but she feels some of the emotions Nomi does, she cares about the others in the cluster, and she expresses empathy for all of them. Through Amanita, Sense8 suggests that the sensate experience is something that any of us can relate to. The love she feels for Nomi is similar to the connection between the sensates, amplifying her empathy.
When Amanita hops on her motorcycle to outride the resurfaced agent who’s been after Nomi ever since she went into hiding, the stakes are extremely high. She doesn’t have to be a part of the cluster to be a core part of the show — we’re invested in her fate, too. That’s why I became very worried that something bad might happen to her during that getaway. For one, I’m just far too used to television killing queer women. But also, Sense8 masterfully evokes specific and potent feelings through strong performances, evocative camerawork, and tight editing. Shared emotions and sensations are a huge part of the sensates’ lives, and Sense8 reinforces that by encouraging viewers to feel what the sensates feel.
As Amanita makes her escape, Kala returns to the temple for the first time since her father-in-law was stabbed. She finds the place overrun with passionate protesters who see her as the enemy for her closeness to Rajan, the man leading the anti-idolatry legislation to suppress religious freedom in the area. At the same time, Capheus encounters an angry throng of people pleading for clean water from the businessman who unjustly raised prices on a resource people can’t live without. “Water is life,” Capheus says, a phrase used by many activist groups but most recently during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. “One truth, our truth,” the religious groups chant at the temple in Mumbai. There isn’t necessarily an ideological connection between the two groups, but both break into chaos at the exact moment Amanita frightens Nomi by saying she’ll lose the agent and takes off on her motorcycle. Nomi, Kala, and Capheus all feel helpless and overwhelmed in that moment, while strong direction from James McTeigue paired with full-body performances from Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, and Toby Onwumere evoke the characters’ shared, suffocating anxiety.
Palpable, meaningful sensations are also brought forth in Kala and Wolfgang’s earlier encounter in the episode. As Sun does tai chi on the roof in yet another one of the show’s majestically lit exterior scenes, Kala and Wolfgang slowly make their way to one another. “Why is it like this? Why is it so hard?” Kala asks him. They seem like broad, cliché questions, and yet they embody all the tension that exists between them. The scene reflects the sad, pressing friction that exists between two people who feel an intense connection and yet can’t be together. Wolfgang wants Kala to be happy, and he believes that means he has to keep his distance, especially now that he’s even more embedded within Berlin’s criminal network. Sense8 doesn’t just give its characters convincing emotions, but makes them pop off the screen and into our heads and hearts, pulling us closer into the cluster.
Even when it comes to the sex scenes, everything is shot in a way that evokes specific sensations. Lito visits the father of Raul Pascal, the member of Angelica’s cluster who disappeared in Chicago and interviewed Lito before his disappearance. Flashbacks to that interview show Raul seducing Lito, who was still in the closet at the time but eventually gave in to his overflowing desire. It’s palpably steamy and invigorating.
But Lito’s trip does more than just titillate. He learns more about B.P.O., Whispers, and Croome, building on the season’s central mystery. Raul was working on a story about B.P.O. before he disappeared, getting closer to the organization’s inner workings, which cost him his life. Whispers was working on a way to control other sensates, something we got a glimpse of last episode when Croome was killed. But shortly after Lito gathers this information, B.P.O. makes a power play that shows they still have the upper hand over the sensates: They force the other sensates to watch as they kill Jonas. His death isn’t that surprising, given Naveen Andrews’s lead role in the upcoming CBS drama pilot Instinct, but his departure thrusts the sensates into a heightened war with B.P.O. The message is clear: They’re next.
Of course, B.P.O. isn’t the only enemy. Sun’s presence on the show has grown since season one, especially now that she’s out of prison — and that has allowed Doona Bae to flex more than just her fists. Sure, she has a super-stylized and badass fistfight on the roof in the rain, with a detective who turns out to be the boy she beat in a match as a teenager and later slept with. But Bae also gives a tender, touching performance throughout “Polyphony.” As the friend who helped her escape puts it, Sun is a fighter with the heart of a baby bird. All of the sensates run up against outside perceptions of who they are or who they should be. To many, especially the men in her life, Sun is a coldhearted bitch, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She’s soft, she’s loving, and none of that diminishes or even necessarily contradicts her fighting abilities. Juggling so many characters is a tough feat, but Sense8 treats each one with depth and specificity, matching the show’s narrative complexity with multidimensional characters.