Crank up your empathy-metre

Rushed by necessity but conceived as a pure labour of love, the rescued-from-the-ashes-of-cancellation finale of Sense 8 makes the best of an unfortunate situation

One of the landmark films of the year – or at least, among the most noticable of the bunch for sheer marketing hype and corporate prowess – was Avengers: Infinity War. But many – this critic included – would be more than happy to do away with the common descriptor of ‘film’ or ‘movie’ to describe such a book-ending franchise behemoth. Because, as has been pointed out by many, the crossover superhero event – really just a hero’s journey with the hero swapped with the villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin), by stealth – felt like an entire season’s worth of TV mushed into a three-hour-plus movie.

The hardcore fans will, of course, not care, and those converted by Marvel’s franchise machine by now will surely, just agree to go along with the impressively choreographed (but also, undeniably and incredibly exhausting) ride.

But those after a more cohesively “filmic” experience – that is, those used to movies telling them a flowing, digestible story that leaves no ‘remainer’ once the lights go back on – will be left a bit disjointed by the whole experience. Because even if you’re accustomed to the Marvel way of doing things, Infinity War serves as the ultimate mission statement for that multimedia company’s approach to storytelling.

The point is that while Marvel have confidently weaponised this, the Netflix series Sense 8 – conceived by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) and J. Michael Straczynski – was forced to scrunch down its final moments under the same yoke. To wit, the series – concerned with the plight of telepathically-connected empaths across the globe fending off the machinations of a nefarious organisation intent on literally picking their brains – risked getting snipped down prematurely after the news that it would be cancelled came out in the wake of the release of its second season last year.

Perhaps owing to the fact that diversity is baked into the very concept – the show’s protagonists encompass all of the world’s continents and virtually every race and sexual orientation – fan outcry led to the show being at least partially resurrected. And earlier this month, it was allowed to have a prolonged parting shot, with a two-hour-plus bumper finale entitled ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’.

But despite being jumbo size, the pressures of having to pack what was clearly an entire season’s worth of plotting into a single episode are clearly felt as you sit down to experience the world of the ‘sensates’ one more time. The revelations come thick and fast, as does the clip of the story, leaving little room for the series’ trademark digressions and longeours – which remind us that this show is as much about the very nature – and benefits of – empathy between human being, as well as it’s about the ‘X-Men lite’ story skeleton that underpins it.

Picking up right where the season’s previous episode left off – even the most ardent of the show’s viewers may require some recapping – the episode sees our sensate ‘cluster’ wracking their collectively fused brains in an attempt to rescue their comrade Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) from a sensate-harvesting compound run by the team’s arch-nemesis, Milton Bailey ‘Whispers’ Brandt  (Terrence Mann) and the nefarious BPO organisation.

Perhaps the biggest seam that shows as the episode spirals into its terminal rush to the climax concerns with just how pulpy the proceedings are. From its inception, Sense 8 has gained recognition – and even won awards – on the basis of being a beacon for representation in an industry that has only all-too-recently become ‘woke’. It remains the key selling point of the show, so much so that one often forgets the hand-waving, dimestore fiction devices that are holding it all together. It’s particularly when the show finally gets around to wrapping up the loose ends of its submerged backstory – particularly, the strands involving Daryl Hannah’s maternal Angelica and Naveen Andrews’s ambivalent mentor, Jonas.

But these niggles can be forgiven, as this final episode still dedicates its highly rationed time to allow for some bonding sessions with our ‘cluster’. And as will come as absolutely no shock to anyone even remotely familiar with the show... yes, an orgy does cap it all off.

The verdict

Necessarily rushed and lacking the kind of emotional impact that fans have come to expect, the series finale of the Wachowskis’ Sense 8 is notetheless an enjoyable enough way to wave these characters off after the axe of cancellation hung over their heads for the better part of a year. In a lot of ways, it’s a show that teaches empathy – something sorely needed in today’s international geopolitical climate. Sensates, take a bow.

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