The limbic system is a part of the human brain responsible for emotion. And in physics, “resonance” refers to the phenomena of one system being driven by another system. So the title of the premiere episode sets the stage for a show that co-creator J. Michael Straczynski has described as a global story about human transcendence told by what Lana and Andy Wachowski have said we should consider more of a twelve-hour movie than a traditional television show.
In what is probably best described as the first chapter (rather than episode) of Sense8, then, we are mostly introduced to the main characters and are only given a glimpse into what actually binds them together. This is mostly effective because there are eleven more episodes for a story to play out and it doesn’t matter much if we don’t care about what happens to the people involved. So we meet everyone and are given glimpses into what drives their lives, even as some get significantly more screen time than others.
The episode opens with Daryl Hannah’s Angelica in quite a bit of pain on a urine-stained mattress in an abandoned church. She’s desperately trying to bite into what appears to be a York Peppermint Pattie. Suddenly, Sayid from Lost Jonas (Naveen Andrews) appears and tells her “it has to be now.”
“I see them,” Angelica says as someone else appears behind her. But just as we realize Jonas isn’t actually physically there with her, we realize this new guy isn’t either. This man has been looking for her, but the York Peppermint Pattie has presumably allowed her to hide from him so far.
The man verbally taunts her… as she tells Jonas she loves him, the man asks whether Jonas knows she is lying. Then, as the man actually rounds the corner to appear in front of her for real, Angelica pulls a gun and kills herself.
Look, obviously I was joking about the York Peppermint Pattie. (We later find out it was some kind of drug.) Nevertheless, we all know what happens when you bite into one, right? You get the sensation… of climbing to the peak of a mountain!
In other words, you get the sensation… of being somewhere and somebody else.
Somebody like Will (Brian J. Smith) a Chicago police offer who watches Angelica kill herself in a dream. Electronic dance music plays next door as he goes about his morning routine and, having enough of it, he goes next door to ask them to turn it off but the apartment is empty.
Somebody like Riley (Tuppence Middleton), a DJ who is playing the music Will hears at a dance club in London. She complains of a migraine brought about by “too many drugs” but keeps the vision of Angelica’s suicide to herself.
Somebody like Sun Bak (Doona Bae), a businesswoman in Seoul having visions of Angelica’s suicide as, a world away, Mexican actor Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) has trouble remembering his lines because of what his director calls “visions of suicidal angels.”
Somebody like Capheus van Damn (Aml Ameen), who is leaving the side of his mother’s bed for a day of work driving a bus in Nairobi, as Kala (Tina Desai) looks for an umbrella in India for a non-existent rain that is actually falling in Berlin at a funeral for the father of Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt), while Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a transgender woman living in San Francisco, has sex with her girlfriend in an attempt to alleviate her headache… the same kind of headache still plaguing our DJ, Riley, in London.
Riley is outside of the club talking to a group of guys—one of which she seems to be quite familiar with, the other two recently introduced—and they’re talking about premonitions. One of the men recounts how, when his nieces were in trouble, his sister “just knew,” even when she wasn’t there physically. He says this is due to “limbic resonance” and has to do with a brain-chemical called DMT. Scientists talk about it being part of an eco-biological synaptic network. People take it and see their birth, their death, worlds beyond this one. They achieve transcendence.
As that is happening, back in Mexico, Lito is looking in the mirror beating himself up about forgetting his lines when a nun knocks and enters. A fellow actress, she wonders if she did something wrong all while being quite clear she’s available to help him… feel better. But he’s having none of it. “My heart,” he says, “belongs to another.”
In Berlin, at the funeral, Wolfgang is told to go pay his respects to his father, Anton Bogdanow, and he does so by pissing on his grave. Wolfgang and his partner are later told by a rival that the rival has something planned that will make their dicks shrivel.
Meanwhile, in Nairobi, van Damn is struggling to get people in his bus. His partner is holding up a sign that says “8.” A rival bus with a fresh “Bat Man” paint job passes and taunts them, and someone gets on the bus and tries to pay using a chicken…
…which suddenly appears on the desk of Sun in Seoul. Frazzled, she shakes it off, and we’re back with Riley in London in the midst of another vision of Angelica. Riley would rather just go home with her headache than hang out with the three guys, but one of the guys insists that the stuff he’s talking about (drugs!) is exactly what she needs to feel better.
But suddenly, Riley appears to be in San Francisco eating lunch as Nomi, the girl from San Francisco, and her girlfriend. Two men dressed as fairies—purple and green—dance by, and the fairies give them drugs in the form of brownies. “You’ll never be the same again,” they say, and the girls eat them. In a flashback to her first Pride Day, Nomi recalls meeting her girlfriend, who becomes the first person to defend her as a transwoman. Nomi cries because no one has ever defended her before, and tells her girlfriend “that is the day I knew I’d always love you.”
In Mumbai, we learn Kala is to be married to a man who is interested in her, whom her parents love, who is perfect for her in every way except for one little fact: she does not love him.
Back in Chicago, Will is talking to his partner while on patrol. Having presumably told him about “sensating” around the world, his partner suggests perhaps he is astral projecting like Doctor Strange. Strolling through the neighborhood as police, they talk about feeling the hatred of people they refer to as gangbangers. It’s natural, like dogs hate cats, his partner says. “Remember what they did to your dad?” Just then, they get a call about a shooting in progress and go to respond.
Back in Berlin, Wolfgang and his colleague are talking about his father, who died being unable to crack an uncrackable safe. As they are breaking into some kind of secured location, they come upon… an uncrackable safe. His partner wants to just drill into it but Wolfgang wants to prove himself by being able to crack the safe his father couldn’t. As he begins to work on it, he hears sirens in the distance. The sirens, it turns out, are actually happening in Chicago as Will’s car rips through the streets en route to the shooting. Arriving at a run down building, they find a young kid has been shot, and just as they’re about to help him, the kid pulls a gun. Will still wants to help the kid even after he sets it down, but his partner tells him that no ambulance will come fast enough to “Chi-raq.”
As Wolfgang continues to work on the safe in Berlin, his partner checks his watch: they have 58 minutes. Wolfgang gets up and turns on the TV, needing a break. They watch a few minutes of Euro Talent Spotlight while, back in Chicago, Will and his partner are racing the kid to a hospital in their police car. Will and the kid share a story about their fathers, while, in Berlin, Wolfgang has a flashback involving his own asshole father, who laughed at him on stage when young Wolfgang forgot the lyrics to a song. With this memory of his father, Wolfgang goes back to work on the safe.
Will makes it to the hospital with the kid, but the attending nurse won’t take him. She says he will probably not make it, and even if he does, “if he goes on to kill someone else—let’s say a cop—how are you going to feel about that?”
Back in Berlin, the alarm goes off. Time’s up. Wolfgang is still at work when a car pulls up outside. His partner is ready to go, but Wolfgang pulls it off… he’s cracked the uncrackable. Collecting their loot, they book it out of the building just as the other guys get there… the same guys who told Wolfgang about their plan that would make their dicks shrivel.
Good luck, guys!
In London, Riley’s friends are passing out smoking whatever it is they have. She has her headphones on and is trying to mind her own business, but the man she seems to have a history with coaxes her to take some anyway. Her eyes dilate… things get choppy… and the scene cuts to white.
Riley is now in Will’s place, driving away from the hospital. She starts to spin and soon she’s on a marvelous beach descending into a cave as a little girl, and she smiles, and Will tells his partner to stop the car. Will/Riley tells his partner “this is where it happened… this is where she killed herself.”
Entering the building, Will’s partner continues to bitch and moan and eventually leaves Will alone. As Will puts his hand on the urine-stained mattress, he sees Riley as a separate apparition. Will asks if she knows what is going on, and she says she doesn’t even know where she is. When Will tells her she’s in Chicago, she gets really excited because she has never been to America. As an exuberant smile comes across her face, she’s pulled back to London by gun shots. Someone is yelling “open the fucking safe!” The guys who were passed out are actually wide awake and want the rest of the drugs. They blame Riley as they tell her they’re doing it for her, so that she can get to America and start a new life. Just then, more gun shots ring out and soon she’s the only person left alive in the room, covered in blood.
The Wachowskis have said that the show will explore issues that have been traditionally ignored in science fiction, like politics, identity, sexuality, gender, and religion, and I was happy to see evidence of this right from the start, even if it was a bit heavy-handed at times. This show’s strength will be found in the character-driven stories revolving around those issues, and Sense8 will undoubtedly be at its finest when each character seamlessly weaves in and out of each other’s lives.
I’m eagerly moving on to the next chapter. But first I have to close the window… brrr… that cold crisp mountain air sure is distracting.