The biggest change in Sense8’s second season is that the sensates all finally know what’s up. So much of the suspense and excitement of the first season hinged on these eight strangers slowly, rhythmically realizing their connection to one another. The Wachowskis took their time unspooling the core of the show’s mythology, exercising considerable restraint up until episode six, when the iconic first telepathic orgy between the sensates went down. After that, visits between the sensates became more frequent. In season two, they’re visiting each other daily, they’re more comfortable sharing their abilities with one another, and they’re embracing their identity as not just one person but a cluster. Early on, such visits were incredibly rewarding to watch because of how rare they were. Now, Sense8 has to find other ways to keep this particular aspect of the story fun. After all, the sensates can’t have group karaoke or an orgy or a massive fight sequence every episode without diluting the power of those grand displays of telepathy.
The season premiere doesn’t feature any of those over-the-top sequences, instead relying on the more measured and delicately unfolding thrills that Sense8 thrived on in its earliest episodes. Even though the sensates know more about their bond, there’s still plenty they don’t know, leaving some of the show’s larger mysteries in play. Dynamic detective duo Nomi and Amanita are on the case, investigating a theoretical early humanoid species with psychic abilities, thought by some fringe evolutionists to have existed before they were wiped out by Homo sapiens. All along, the show has hinted that sensates are not necessarily a new stage in evolution but rather a very ancient one, and Nomi and Amanita get closer to some answers in this episode.
“What are we?” and “Who are we?” are the two biggest questions in the sensates’ lives, and those questions get echoed in a sequence that begins with Lito answering a persistent and abrasive reporter’s questions on the red carpet about his sexuality. At the same time, a reporter in Nairobi interrogates Capheus about his idolization of Jean-Claude Van Damme, leading to Lito and Capheus alternating words as they explain how movies shaped them, both describing the concepts of heroism and courage. The others join to fill in the gaps. Even though it isn’t an action-packed instance of the sensates merging and interplaying, it’s nevertheless an effective sequence, peeling back the layers to Capheus and Lito and forming an unexpected bond between them in their shared love for movies. Flashbacks also seep into the sequence as the sensates start questioning their identities, providing a succinct but organic recap of the previous season.
Sense8 tends to hit its thematic messages hard, underpinning the action of every episode with a clear philosophical idea or question. The through line this time is the concept of manipulation and deception. Whispers is still looking for Will and he uses his powers of observation against him, planting clues to make Will think he’s in London. But two can play that game: Will and Riley expertly trick Whispers into thinking they never left Iceland, even pulling Riley’s dad into the ruse although he doesn’t really know what’s going on. They’re actually living in Amsterdam, and their tricks buy more time for Nomi and Bug to dig up information about Whispers’ real identity. The hunted become the hunters, and by the end, the whole gang finally gets a glimpse of Whispers and the corporation he works for.
Almost every sci-fi show includes a shadow organization as part of its mythology, and almost every sci-fi show struggles to make that shadow organization sustainably compelling. Whispers was genuinely terrifying in the beginning of the show, but he has become a bit of a caricature of a sci-fi villain. Sense8 typically plays with different stock types: All the sensates seem to fit a certain type of character, but then some unexpected twists complicate them, making them more human and unconventional. That has yet to really happen with Whispers, although this episode does shed light on his involvement with Sara Patrell, whose disappearance is one fragment of the show’s labyrinth of mysteries. (It’s been unfolding since the very first episode when Will recalled seeing her as a child.) Looking for more answers about Whispers, Nomi, and Amanita visit Sara’s mother, who reveals that she has received many visits over the years from people who claim to have a psychic connection with her daughter, including young Will, Jonas, Angelica, and Will again right after he graduated from the police academy. However, she remains in the dark about Whispers’ involvement; he was Sara’s gifted program tutor, another one of his deadly deceptions.
“Lives, even as short as hers, can live on in unexpected ways,” Sara’s mother says, believing the sensates when they say they can see her daughter. Visiting Sara’s mom raises the emotional stakes of the sensates’ quest to bring down Whispers, while reminding us of the show’s complex and communal concept of identity: In the world of Sense8, memories and feelings do not belong merely to one’s self.