Monday, June 8, 2015

Sense8: A Visual Literature

The Wachowskis have a penchant for creating works of art that resonate with me deeply. It's been some time since a TV show has had as profound an effect on me on an emotional and visual level as Sense8. After reading some of the critiques of their newest creation, I felt a little inclined to write up some of my thoughts about it. Instead of focusing on what specifics from what critics say (most notably that it is both plodding plot-wise and pushing the gay agenda), I instead would like to primarily focus on analyzing why elements of the show are the way they are, and how the various elements viewed by some as plodding, actually help to lay the foundation for what is to come.

Sense8 is developed like a novel involving a multi-plot narrative, similar to how Game of Thrones is written. Often times, this is an important narrative device in that it allows for the development of individual story arcs within the overall plot structure of the story. This effect was also achieved mildly with some of Jesse's asides in Breaking Bad, although not to the same degree as this. What this also does is allow for a certain amount of realism in such a fantastical story. When the eight protagonists are suddenly "reborn" as sensate, as it's termed in the show, they are in the middle of their every day lives. It would be illogical to immediately jump into the throes of a string of fight sequences right after that point.

In the opening episode, the story quickly shuffles from one of the eight to the other while aspects of their individual lives bleed into one or more of the others'. This effect is a visual representation of what the characters are feeling. With the exception of Will and Riley, they had gone most of their lives not experiencing any sensate sensations, and now, suddenly their thrust into their cluster's lives without any warning or any provocation on their parts. As the show progresses, and they each gain control over their newfound gifts, the transitions become smoother for the viewer as well. Which leads me to the conclusion that the show is designed to make us experience what the characters are going through instead of being spectators. It's an effect used in literature too. The idea that as a writer, you need to make the reader feel the emotions that your characters are experiencing, taste the food they're eating, smell the cinnamon muffins baking in the oven while warm air wafts through the window on a summer day. Because the Wachowskis are using different media, however, they have to find another creative means to try to make the viewer experience the effects of what the characters are going through.

This radical departure from the common, perfunctory nature of TV and movie story-telling may seem to some irrational or too scattered to make sense, but I think that's more of a statement about viewers than about the TV show. We're so used to seeing visual story-telling produced in the same, perfunctory manner, that when something breaks apart from that mold we automatically look at it with either disgust or dislike, and reject it all together. Is it really because the show is too disjointed, or because we're not willing to give it the time allow reorganization within the story?


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