Content warning for violence, attempted suicide, car crash. Spoiler warning for spoilery spoilers.
Wolfgang wraps up his vendetta. Nomi uses her hacking skills to help Will journey to Iceland to rescue Riley. Riley is being held captive and unconscious in the BPO facility in Iceland by the extremely creepy Whispers. Each member of the cluster helps Will bust Riley out of the building; Lito uses his power of charisma to find out where Riley is being held, Sun beats the ever loving crap out of the guards, Kala concocts a drug combination to revive Riley. Capheus jacks the getaway vehicle and Wolfgang drives it into a helicopter. Non-stop action!
There’s a fantastically awkward exchange between Lito and Will, communicating for the first time since the epic orgy scene.
“Do I know you?” Will asks Lito.
“Yeah. We had sex.”
“Oh, uh, hey.” Will turns eight thousand shades of red but is also probably remembering the very best orgasm of his entire life while Lito smoulders at him.
Nomi then pops in between them. “We’re on a clock here, fellas.”
Riley’s backstory is fully revealed and it is tragic. No wonder the woman has flashbacks and has attempted suicide, her husband and newborn both died on the same night in a terrifying snowstorm despite Riley’s best efforts to keep them alive. She was stranded on a mountaintop cradling her dead baby until, apparently, Yrsa alerted the authorities. And just what is Yrsa’s deal, anyway? Is she telling the truth about BPO and trying to protect Riley or is she just cruel? And why does she keep telling Riley to kill herself?
Sense8 season one wraps up with a lot of violence, zero mysteries explained and a crap load of questions. Who is Whispers? Why does he want the brains of Sensates? Should we trust Jonas? We don’t even know what the Sensates are. It feels as though Sense8 wasn’t expecting to get renewed for a second season and hastily wrapped up the episode with a cheesy scene where the entire cluster sails off into the sunset. But at least they’re all together, brains intact!
One thing Sense8 particularly excels at is revenge fantasies: young Wolfgang murders his abusive father, Sun gloriously beats up her brother, Lito takes down Daniela’s abusive boyfriend, even Lito experiencing Sun’s period is a kind of revenge fantasy. Who hasn’t wished for dudes to be able to experience the heinous suffering of menstruation?
Revenge fantasies allow the story to subvert tropes and are emotionally satisfying. Part of what makes Sense8 so successfully feminist is that it acknowledges then upends the many cliches viewers have been putting up with for so long. When Daniela discovers that Lito is gay and has a boyfriend, it was a moment when the story could have devolved into a soap opera of hurt feelings and betrayal but instead became an exhilarating and adorable story about a woman who loves to watch gay men have sex and the gay men who love her enough to let her watch.
When Nomi becomes a Sensate and develops symptoms that seem psychotic in nature, Amanita could have left her because it was too much or too weird but instead embraces her neurodiversity and loves her even harder. When Sun goes to prison it could have been a horror show of privation and humiliation but instead becomes a commentary on patriarchal oppression with moments of warmth and humour. There are many moments in the series where Sense8 kicked tradition in the teeth with a glorious roundhouse, smashing expectations while giving us all the feelings.
Sense8 is also successfully feminist because it attempts to be inclusive without resorting to tokenism. Of the eight Sensates, seven are cis-gender, one is trans. Two are queer although all are now (yay!) pansexual. Although they are all able-bodied one has a mental illness that is realistically portrayed. Half of the cluster are people of colour and so is much of the supporting cast.
FEMINIST MOMENTS THAT MAKE THE EPISODE
Kala’s science background finally comes in handy. She’s spent much of her lab time crying so it’s particularly gratifying to see this quick-thinking side of her. “I may not know how to use my fists but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fight,” she says before science-ing the shit out of spices and kitchen supplies to make a homemade bomb, rescuing Wolfgang from certain death.
The sub-plot with the car is totally hilarious. Amanita deliberately chooses a fancy red sports car for Will to drive in Iceland. It’s very meta to use such an ubiquitous symbol of masculinity as a plot device when you discover why Amanita chose that car for Will. Needing a distraction to get Will into the guarded BPO facility, Nomi tells Will to stop the car, pop the trunk, find the oil line and then break it.
“That’ll destroy the car,” Will says, confused.
“I know,” Nomi says. “It was Amanita’s idea, it’s why we picked this car.”
“Men cannot stand to see a beautiful car in trouble,” Amanita says.
“It’s some kind of primal instinct. Look at you, you’re hesitating,” Nomi says.
“It’s a really nice car,” Will protests.
Reluctantly, Will wrecks the car then drives it into the BPO parking lot where he practically tap dances into the building because all the security guards are standing around numb, mourning the death of a fancy red car that’s pouring smoke. Amanita and Nomi were dead on when they concocted this plan, knowing that nothing would distract a bunch of dudes more than the annihilation of a fast red car.
“Such a shame,” one dude says to another while Will ambles past them.
When Will tries to reassure Nomi that Amanita is safe, Nomi shoots back that Amanita is in a lot of danger as the partner of a wanted fugitive.
“In my book, safety’s always been highly overrated, ” Amanita replies sultrily as your dream girlfriend.
Sun is so spectacularly bad ass you almost want the show to add more people to the cast for her to beat the crap out of.
“Oh shit, four guards,” Will says, assessing the security outside Riley’s room.
“Is that all,” Sun replies. “If he thinks he can stop us, he’s going to need a lot more men.” She then casually wrecks a bunch of giant dudes without breaking a sweat.
When Will sets off to save the day, it feels false to what we’ve come to expect of Sense8. It’s a typical “save the sleeping princess” trope; Riley is literally unable to wake up, deep in the grip of a flashback.
It’s a cliche plot device to have a man spurred to action by the love of a woman and the need to take care of her. In many stories, the hero is a man who has lost his wife and/or child and this narrative prop allows him to forge his path and overcome obstacles. Riley has lost her husband and child and overcoming that pain gives her the strength to extricate them from their perilous situation.
Will jeopardized the safety of the entire cluster when he accidentally made eye contact with Whispers, who can, for no reason we are ever given, climb into your brain if you look into his eyes. Will takes himself out of the game by rendering himself unconscious. Unbeknownst to Will, he’s driven their getaway ambulance onto the mountaintop where Riley lost her baby, triggering a flashback so intense Will experiences it as well. With Will knocked out, it’s up to Riley to get them off the mountain and away from BPO. If she can’t fight her way through the pain of her flashback, Whispers will find them and through them, the rest of the Sensates.
In a reversal of that trope of “save the sleeping princess,” Will becomes the sleeping princess and Riley the hero who saves her cluster from Whispers’ creepy clutches.