Sense8 Recap: A Toast to Courage


Fear Never Fixed Anything
Season 2 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Murray Close/Netflix

The Sense8 characters often express self-awareness about being on a television show. In season one, they would gasp and point out that it feels like they’re living in a show or movie, the events around them too magnificent to be real life. It was a cute wink, specifically because it isn’t overbearing. In “Fear Never Fixed Anything,” Bug suggests “e-death” as a solution to Nomi’s captivity. As he’s expounding the plan, Amanita tells him to cool it with the pregnant pauses. Bug, indeed, seems more like a television character than a real person, and that’s the point. He’s the techie straight out of a sci-fi B movie, and the writers have a lot of fun with him.

But Bug isn’t as funny as Sense8 seems to think he is. I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe he has grown from the transphobic jerk we met in season one, or if we’re just supposed to forget about all that entirely and accept him as Nomi and Amanita’s zany partner in crime, but Bug has never quite worked — and it’s becoming more obvious now that he’s around a lot more. Although Nomi filling him in on the sensates made for one of Bug’s best character moments, proving him to be a real, trusted ally, the character still exists mostly just to land laughs. Unfortunately, the show’s sense of humor shines more brightly through other characters.

Lito, particularly because of Miguel Ángel Silvestre’s acting, is one of the show’s most comedic characters. The casual way he puts up with people constantly quoting his own movies to him is just one of the many ways Lito is completely ridiculous in an endearing way. Silvestre has brilliant timing and delivery, and even though there’s darkness and intensity to Lito, especially when it comes to the unraveling of his dreams as a result of his coming out, there’s a pure sense of humor behind the character. In “Fear Never Fixed Anything,” his story line becomes particularly meta: As he, Hernando, and Dani dig through scripts, he learns that casting directors only think he can play tragic gay men or overly sexualized gay men. He doesn’t get to be the hero anymore. He’ll only get to be the gay sidekick … who often dies by the end. Yep, Lito is getting his first introduction to being typecast, and it’s unfolding on a show that largely avoids boxing its actors into stifling, stereotypical roles.

Lito’s and Bug’s paths cross when Bug takes Amanita and Nomi to “the guy” who is going to help Nomi achieve “e-death.” (It’s a theoretical concept utilized by government agencies when they need to disappear someone, leaving no trace of their existence online.) The meeting place is a movie theater that is (inexplicably) playing one of Lito’s old movies. Bug, Amanita, and Nomi meeting with a masked man in the middle of a movie theater and having a full conversation about top-secret information as if no one around them can see or hear? That demands too much suspension of disbelief.

The masked man turns out to be a member of Anonymous, furthering the show’s connections to real-world politics. The meeting is intentionally over-the-top, the masked man extremely self-aware as he speaks in alliteration. But it’s almost too much. At times, Sense8 tries not to take itself too seriously, which injects the show with levity, but it overcompensates here, taking us out of the moment completely.

Overall, “Fear Never Fixed Anything” lacks coherency. It opens with the sensates mourning Jonas, but blows past his death instead of allowing the ramifications to reverberate throughout the episode. Lila tries to seduce an uninterested Wolfgang in a scene that plays out as an excuse for some more full-frontal nudity. Whispers joins Will on a bench in London, talking about architecture but not really talking about architecture. Sense8 does this a lot, using art or architecture to unfurl some sort of parallel to the sensate experience, or more recently, the quiet war between sapiens and sensoriums. Whispers touches on immortality, giving Will the same speech he once gave Angelica. “Sapiens live in a world designed by their own fears,” he says. Sometimes Sense8 gets a little lost in its heady monologuing.

Capheus also wanders aimlessly through the episode. He goes to visit his journalist friend Zakia, and a bunch of men in the office give a roundabout and offensive explanation to Capheus that he shouldn’t waste his time with her because there’s a rumor she’s a lesbian. Capheus also gets a visit from the Democratic Reform Party who want him to run for office, even though just last episode, he noted his distaste for politicians. Capheus’s arc so far this season is a bit confusing, especially because his relationship with his mother has always been a strong part of the show and we barely get to see it anymore. I’m trying to give Toby Onwumere a fair shake, but he has yet to show the emotional range of Aml Ameen. Even if that has more to do with the writing than his actual performance, he undeniably lacks that infectious joy that Ameen’s Capheus so brilliantly vibrated with.

Over in Seoul, Sun finally gets a respite from having to fight for her life, instead hiding out at her trainer’s home where she’s reunited with her dog. Speaking of infectious joy, Sun is full of it for most of the episode, rubbing her face on her very loyal dog, slurping noodles, and enjoying the sun. (Doona Bae is underappreciated for her comedic abilities, isn’t she?) Sun’s fun is interrupted when the news shows an interview with her wormy brother, going on about how the woman who purportedly has gone on a murder spree since escaping prison isn’t the same big sister he knows. She punches the television, and her trainer says he would have if she didn’t. Thankfully, Sun has more than just her cluster on her side. The people she’s closest to believe her and see her.

Kala feels seen, too, when her dad observes her discontent in her life with Rajan. The sensates share a feeling of being trapped: Lito feels imprisoned by the new roles presented to him; Nomi hasn’t been able to leave the boat; Will is still haunted by Whispers; Capheus feels pressured to fill a position that goes against who he is (while also stifled by outsiders’ perceptions and diagnoses of his city); Wolfgang can’t break free from a life of crime; Sun isn’t truly free until she eliminates her brother; and Kala’s stuck in the life she thinks she’s supposed to be living, married to a man who makes her feel very little when she’s used to feeling so much as a sensate. They all have their individual reasons for feeling stuck, all of which are exacerbated by their collective feeling of being trapped by B.P.O. By the episode’s end, there’s a little bit of release. Nomi successfully “dies” so that she can live freely, and Will has a breakthrough that briefly gives them all a sense of being in control.

While “Fear Never Fixed Anything” struggles in its first few acts, everything comes somewhat together toward the end. Lito pays a visit to the bartender he kissed before his decision to come out and learns that the bartender went home that very night and had the courage to propose to his boyfriend. Courage has come up a lot this season, and the sensates make one final toast to courage in the bar with Lito as they prepare to make their biggest power move against B.P.O. yet. Will realizes that the strength and reach of B.P.O. must mean that it’s a more even playing field than they think: There are many more sensates out there, so they just need to find a way to reach them. Will decides they’re not going to hide anymore, and “What’s Up” by the 4 Non Blondes starts playing, a song that means a lot to the sensates and a lot to viewers by proxy. The first time the song was used on the show, it marked the moment when all the sensates really felt their full connection to one another.

Now, the specifics of their plan are not the most coherent. Riley uses her connections to secure a club show in front of a huge crowd with the rest of the cluster there with her, which is … somehow intended to attract other sensates? Unless “What’s Up” is a sensate siren song, it’s unclear how this plan is supposed to work. But Riley gives some little speech about wanting the crowd to feel seen and believed, then she also throws in an “I love you” to Will. Riley remains one of the underdeveloped sensates, even given the prominence of her backstory at the end of last season. While the rest of the sensates have pretty straightforward skills, hers seem to be music and knowing a lot of people in the drug world, which come in handy only once in a while. So it is nice to see her DJ skills as a key part of this grand plan, even if that plan is a little nonsensical.

On the other hand, sensates do seem able to identify other sensates, as evidenced by Lila. So they’re just banking on a few being present at the show and making themselves known. They do find one, but the show is shut down shortly after, and Riley and Will make their escape from Whispers in a boat, which all feels a little too easy. Sense8 has a lot on its plate at any given moment, but it’s usually better about its balancing act, weaving multiple genres, moods, and storytelling devices together with more cogency. “Fear Never Fixed Anything” starts and ends well, but the connective tissue falters.

Sense8 Recap: A Toast to Courage