Is the show’s plot moving ahead at a reasonable rate yet?
Yes and no. In episodes 7–9, Sense8 finally shifts back to Angelica Turing, the Sensates’ “mother,” and the Biologic Preservation Organization (BPO), an evil government group that seems to exist to study and manipulate the world’s Sensate population as if they were living resources. So we get some answers about Angelica the BPO in episode nine, which makes it hard to say that the show’s pacing isn’t still completely all over the map. Episode nine also features one of the show’s most tender moments: Lito meets Nomi and shares with her Hernando’s enchanting take on Diego Rivera’s paintings. But it’s hard to ease into this scene. When Nomi says, “You must be Lito,” it’s tempting to skeptically reply, “Yes, I am Lito, the guy who has not been involved in the show’s main story line since our group’s psychic globetrotting orgy. That Lito.”
There are still too many subplots in Sense8, and while it is becoming easier to let that slide, there are also a couple moments in episode nine that make it clear that some of the show’s major plot developments occur simply because they have to in order to keep the plot moving along. Lito’s story is a prime example. He is essentially pressured to come out of the closet, for two awful reasons. First, Daniela’s jealous ex-boyfriend Joaquin discovers smartphone photos that Daniela took of Lito and Hernando having sex. This causes her to make a deal with Joaquin, and leads her to be battered by Joaquin in exchange for his silence. This bargain disgusts Hernando, who consequently dumps Lito. So Lito is forced to consider coming out of the closet because the two people he cares about have abandoned him, not because Lito feels it would be a healthy decision that would make him feel good about himself.
Lito’s story is a good example of the ripple effect that the show’s all-over-the-map plotting has had on the development of its various subplots. If Lito’s story wasn’t so segregated from the other Sensates’ stories, it might not feel so arbitrarily cruel. But episode nine ends with Lito thrashing around in a dry Jacuzzi, trying to use a gun-shaped lighter to commit suicide. That last plot point is as serious and seriously abused as rape in cheap melodramas that want viewers to feel all the feels for their characters. Sense8 is supposed to be about empathy, but it often takes the easy way out and rushes some plotlines along while others languish. Which is why Lito hits rock bottom in the space of a single montage.
Why is that such a bad thing?
Fine, fine. One could argue that series co-writers J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis’ greater interest in the scenes that lead up to Lito’s breakdown is a sign of their show’s aspirational attitude. Why dwell on dark stuff when one can get it over in one scene and then move on, right? That’s a fine sentiment, but in practice, Straczynski and the Wachowskis short-change one of their series’ most charismatic characters. Lito’s story is one of the strongest in Sense8, and not surprisingly, one of the most well-developed. Rushing this character towards a momentous decision feels petty and cruel when it should be something moving and inspiring. When Lito pouts about how “fake” his career and life is, I believe he’s only putting himself down because he has to advance one aspect of the show’s plot along a little faster.
This is especially disappointing since Straczynski and the Wachowskis try to show empathy towards Dr. Metzger in episode seven, right before they kill Metzger. This admittedly feels like backpedaling after Metzger tells a nurse to clear all of his appointments so he can perform an emergency lobotomy on Nomi (this happened a few episodes ago). Still, the urge to show that Metzger is not just E-vil is a noble one, so it’s nice to see him earn a little sympathy when he scrambles around right before Niles Bolger, a lobotomized Sensate, kills Metzger (he pointedly cries, “You’ve killed us all,” signaling the creators’ shift in sympathy). Rather than seeing Metzger’s duality as a cop-out, viewers can treat his complexity as a sign that Straczynski and the Wachowskis feel that nobody deserves to die for making mistakes, not even a tool like Metzger.
With this in mind: It’s very disappointing to see Lito treated so poorly. It would be bad enough to see him pressured to come out of the closet because people he cares about are suffering for his insecurity. But it’s worse to see him driven to take his own life because his feelings of self-loathing are only brought out by external pressure. The threat that Joaquin poses and the pain that Hernando’s flight causes are legitimate sources of drama, and I fully expect Lito to come out of the closet in a way that satisfies him. This is, after all, exactly what Hernando alluded to when he, Daniela, and Lito previously attended a luchador wrestling match and Hernando talked about the one thing that holds us all back from “being at peace” with ourselves. Joaquin is the black-masked luchador that Lito sees in that scene, a parallel that is literally reestablished when Joaquin breaks into Lito and Hernando’s apartment in episode seven wearing a black luchador mask.
But again, Joaquin is just forcing Lito’s hand. We see that in the episode-nine scene where Lito curses an aggressively flirtatious gay bartender and exclaims, “I’m not a faggot.” Lito’s clearly in denial, and not just because he’s afraid his career will tank if Joaquin outs him.
Still, when Hernando leaves, Lito gets the wrong message: Come out of the closet, or else the people you love will suffer. This just isn’t right. If Sense8 really is about humanity’s evolution through increased empathy, then Lito shouldn’t be blackmailed out of the closet. At that point, we’re assuming that tough love and pride are ultimately more important than personal comfort and safety. I predict (and this is without having seen episodes 10–12 yet) that Lito will come out of the closet, and rewarded for his courage with bigger roles, maybe even Hollywood roles. But if that happens, he will be rewarded for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
But aren’t you just splitting hairs at that point? How could the Wachowskis represent such a deeply personal conflict without forcing Lito out of his comfort zone? Making him make the right decision for the right reasons would be awfully hard to dramatize, no?
That’s a question I think Nomi’s story can answer. Nomi and Amanita’s quest to bring down the BPO is, along with Capheus and Sun’s story, currently one of the most well-developed stories in Sense8. Scenes where Nomi reunites with Bug and then bonds with Amanita were wonderful, and dramatically energizing. Nomi’s subplot is not perfect, since Amanita’s bloody-tampon gag suggests a weird, body-specific kind of broad humor that doesn’t jell well with the rest of the show’s finer feelings, especially in light of the earlier cringeworthy scenes where Sun and Lito bond over Sun’s period. But Nomi is finally behaving in such a way that she’s earning her status as the show’s figurehead. In that sense, it’s gratifying to see Nomi greet Lito in the Diego Rivera Gallery, since Nomi seems most capable of listening to Lito. She’s also been the character who most actively pushes the show’s plot along, as in the terrific episode-eight chase scene that climaxes with Capheus executing a dangerous stunt in a compact car — just to ferry Nomi away from BPO agents.
During that chase sequence, you don’t have to think about how well the show’s characterizations work against the show’s main themes, or wonder why XYZ characters are missing. You can just enjoy Nomi’s flight on two simple levels. First: The scene begins with Nomi connecting with Sun and Will in a way that suggests the Sensates’ are finally reaching out to each other in ways that aren’t strictly accidental (like when Will previously saved Nomi from being lobotomized). Also, the chase scene’s brick-and-mortar action filmmaking (directed by Daniel Glass, who, sadly, only has one director credit in season one) is equally terrific. Seeing Nomi reach out to her cluster and find Capheus ready and able to help her is intellectually satisfying, but seeing him ditch his pursuers is viscerally thrilling.
So … still 3 stars, I see. Is this just because of Lito? Because that’s pretty much all you’ve talked about, dude.
Well, Lito’s story is the most disappointing aspect of episodes 7–9, yes. There’s a big gap between expectations and execution here, one that’s not helped by the scene where Lito lovingly describes going down on Hernando to Nomi and makes his experience like something out of a bad harlequin romance. Sorry, but watching Lito say, “I took him into my mouth like I was taking Communion,” and then seeing Nomi reply with, “That kind of kiss changes you,” is … well, it’s disappointing! Sense8 is charmingly sincere, but its clunkiness can sometimes severely undercut its otherwise earnest progressivism.