As Sense8’s first season nears its end, clear moves are being made to wrap up many of the stories. The Netflix production model remains opaque, but it seems that shows are renewed seasonally, so the creators had to function under the assumption that this could be a one and done season. This raises the question of what will happen in season two, but also the more important one of how far the Wachowskis and Straczynski were willing to go to deliver a contained narrative. Knowing that there will be more episodes of Sense8 coming, some of the pressure on the finale is released; if the show fails to stick the landing after an uneven first season, there are at least ten more episodes to rebuild good will. During its penultimate episode, however, Sense8 season one is dying how it lived: some amazingly well shot action sequences bookend a narrative on gender roles that caroms between refreshingly progressive and puzzlingly rote.
The main focus of the episode is the resolution of Capheus’ story, but not before Nomi gets back into the hacking game with a little help from the sketchiest of all hacktivists, Bug. It was an inspired choice to not make this character a turncoat; I kept waiting for him to give the signal for the FBI to come crashing through the door. The betrayal might be coming in the next episode, but for now it’s nice to think that the Wachowskis are still able to subvert action tropes while working within them. The end of Capheus’ arc and the Van Damn bus finds the Wachowskis and director Tom Tykwer in more familiar territory, choreographing a frenetic car chase preceded by a surprisingly violent machete throw down. As Sun works out her nihilism/sibling aggression and Capheus deals with his bus pirate problem once and for all, it dawns on the viewer that this is some pretty graphic content played mostly for the coolness factor.
This sequence also makes Sun, Capheus, and even the good Officer Gorski partners in a mass murder. For some reason this didn’t come up last week when Wolfgang blew up an entire car of people, but perhaps that’s because he was introduced as a criminal and continues to function as one. Capheus, Sun, and Will have been moral characters up to this point and their implication in some pretty horrific violence brings up some real questions of who the heroes are in our narratives. This might be overthinking the series a touch, but Straczynski and the Wachowskis purport to make thoughtful entertainments; it would be a shame to see this go unaddressed.
Sun’s violent outburst was shocking in its intensity, but was at least, given her double reversal of fortune, understandable and holding to the character. More interesting was that her reaction hit many of the same beats given to male action stars. These are the kind of scenes that Charles Bronson or a pre-crazy Mel Gibson would knock out of the park, and Doona Bae does better than hold her own with the same material. Her aid of Capheus was not driven by righteousness; she was channeling her survival instincts into pure, unfiltered retribution. This immediately makes Sun a more interesting character and partially redeems some of the hackneyed gender comedy she was forced to play earlier in the season. Not to retcon some truly clunky plotting, but all the time spent on Sun’s lady issues starkly contrasts with her masculine reaction to being betrayed. The Wachowskis’ work has always had a place for the exploration of gender dynamics, and Sun is filling the role here.
This again leaves us with Riley, who it seems will function mainly as a McGuffin in the final episode. Though there is a need to bring most (still not seeing how Kala brings much to the group) of the characters together on the big quest to end the season, it is just so flat that the big quest turns out to be “rescue the cute blonde.” Heroes already did this plot ten years ago, and a huge amount of action entertainment relies on having a woman put in jeopardy. In a series that has challenged viewers on many fronts, it seems like a cop out for Sense8 to end so conventionally. Hopefully the Wachowskis and Straczynski will pull another reversal, or viewers might just get an hour of hide the Riley.