Since the Wachoski sisters’ series released in 2015, Sense8 fans have had to savor a mere twelve episodes. The sci-fi drama follows eight strangers from across the world who experience a mental and emotional link. Because the show is filmed in eight different countries, the long-awaited second season will not be released until May 2017. As an interlude between the two seasons, the “Happy F*cking New Year” special began streaming on Dec. 23.
The special opens with one sensate, Kala (Tina Desai, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) swimming in the ocean by herself, with all the sensates, and with just Wolfgang (Max Riemelt, “The Wave”), her fellow sensate who is also her love interest. The soaring music (“Feeling Good,” Avicii) paired with the sharing of an exhilarating experience raised hopes for the rest of the special.
Unfortunately, that magic was not maintained throughout the two hours. While some scenes sparkled with common humanity and hit on powerful themes, the special overall dragged along and did not drive the plot of the series forward significantly. Though it is understandable to spend time catching up on each main character, especially with a long time since the release of the first season, watching the first hour felt like waiting for something to happen.
Sense8 has always relied more on an intriguing premise and beautifully executed production than on a clear, logical plot. While this approach is not atypical, especially for the genre, the lack of development of the antagonist has made it difficult to root for the sensates as a group. Their individual stories are well established and most have personal nemeses, but the collective evil that wants to exterminate them has been a vague concept to rally against. In the special, the main face of this amorphous evil, Whispers (Terrence Mann, “All My Children”) reveals that there are more people looking for the sensates.
While the villainous Whispers storyline improved as he is now an immediate danger to the captured Will, other personal storylines suffer in the special. Riley (Tuppence Middleton, “The Imitation Game”) loses her plot entirely to become Will’s caretaker. Though Will does need help for both his and the sensate cluster’s safety, this change does not mean the audience no longer cares about Riley’s complicated life as a DJ and relationship with her father.
Another sensate maintains his storyline but changes face. Recast from season 1, Capheus is now played by Toby Onwumere (“The Book of Dallas”) instead of Aml Ameen (“The Maze Runner”). The heavy handed dialogue acknowledging this change was an unwelcome bump against the fourth wall. While the special did not give Onwumere much material to work with, so far he seems to lack the same warmth that Ameen gave the performance.
The special succeeds, as this series always does, when it touches on larger issues and the essential commonalities of humanity. The dialogue was more explicit than it has ever been at connecting the show’s sci-fi premise to 21st century reality. As Kala explains to her new husband Rajan (Purab Kohli, “Rock On!!”), she struggles to deal with privilege and happiness when others are suffering. Kala hits on the difficulty of justifying the terrible realities of others less fortunate when one lives a comparatively excellent life.
Between Lito’s mother (Dolores Heredia, “Get the Gringo”) surprisingly accepting him with open arms after he has been outed, and the San Francisco queer community hiding Nomi (Jamie Clayton, “Hung”) and Amanita (Freema Agyeman, “Doctor Who”), the Sense8 special reminds of the power of support from family and friends at times when institutions and public opinion threaten.
Other memorable scenes include the cluster celebrating their common birthday in a crescendo of ecstasy across continents. Sun (Doona Bae, “Cloud Atlas”) shines in her scenes, especially when she shares her ideas about sex with a nervous Kala.
While Sense8 delivered its usual excellent fight scenes and emotional punches, the special was more of a nicely wrapped, but overly long, present to the fans than a substantive step towards a second season. Tided over until May, viewers can only hope that Sense8 will return to the stronger ground of its first season.