Though it’s been a joy to watch our sensates more easily and casually connect with one another since the Christmas special, there’s also been a danger of Sense8 getting too comfortable in its storytelling. Now that our central cluster is able to function so effortlessly as a unit, what’s left to discover beyond the not-all-that-interesting ongoing BPO conspiracy? “Isolated Above, Connected Below” reassures viewers that Sense8 still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve when it comes to its sensate storytelling. And that arrives in the form of a whole world of clusters our sensates have yet to meet. The show introduced Lila—the first new sensate not tied to the BPO stuff—back in “Obligate Mutualisms.” But this episode expands the sensate world by leaps and bounds. Our central cluster is recontextualized from a resourceful group on the run to one group in a sea of sensate clusters each dealing with their own problems.
To that end, we officially meet a whole bunch of new sensates, including an unnamed member of Lila’s cluster who has yet to make contact with our cluster. The episode also reveals that Puck, the Australian drug connoisseur Riley met in “Polyphony,” is actually a skeevy sensate too. But the biggest world expansion comes courtesy of a cautious homo sensorium who introduces himself only as The Old Man of Hoy. Sense8 makes the smart choice to cast an inherently likable actor as a character who (so far at least) exists primarily to deliver exposition. And the delightfully Scottish Sylvester McCoy (a.k.a. the Seventh Doctor a.k.a. Radagast the Brown) has a certain twinkle in his eye that makes it easy to forgive just how much world building he’s asked to deliver in monologue form.
Lila, Puck, and Mr. Hoy all emphasize the same thing: Being a sensate means living in constant danger and never knowing who to trust. There’s a chance that any sensate could secretly be a BPO collaborator, as Angelica and Jonas once were. And the best way to survive as a sensate is to keep a healthy sense of suspicion about everyone you meet, especially fellow homo sensoriums.
Since being a sensate is relatively new to our cluster, it’s really interesting to meet characters who have been living with the connection for so much longer. Mr. Hoy had his abilities activated over 30 years ago and was even involved in the creation of BPO in 1952, back when it was an organization designed to protect sensates rather than hunt them down. But while Mr. Hoy’s monologues offer up plenty of helpful details, it’s his behavior that truly shades in the sensate experience. Mr. Hoy is overly cautious when it comes to meeting other sensates; he visits Riley only from within a nondescript soundproof box so she can’t deduce his location based on context clues. Survival is his first priority, which is how he’s managed to avoid BPO for so long. But as he points out to Riley, surviving isn’t the same thing as living. And that’s why he ventured to her DJ show in the first place—to stop living in fear and to actually make the sort of connections that are so unique to homo sensoriums.
There are two absolutely gorgeous moments in the Riley/Mr. Hoy scenes that serve as a reminder of Sense8’s optimistic, limitless storytelling without feeling like a retread of anything the show has done in the past. The first is the moment Riley throws caution to the wind and shows Mr. Hoy her location, prompting him to return the favor and invite her out of his soundproof box and into his gorgeous home on the Scottish highlands. It’s a sequence that mixes emotional vulnerability with lush cinematography in a way only Sense8 can.
The second stunning sequence is the one that gives the episode its title. Mr. Hoy reveals the sensates have created a global communication network known as Archipelago—a form of information crowdsourcing they’ve been using since the Neolithic era. Because it’s basically an elaborate game of telephone, it leaves the various clusters “isolated above, but protected below.” And Mr. Hoy is able to use the network to pinpoint Whispers’ location within moments. It’s an entirely new use of the sensate connection and one that potentially opens up the show’s world in all sorts of exciting ways going forward.
Of course, despite how much time I’ve spent on it in this review, the Riley/Mr. Hoy stuff is actually just a small part of the episode. As Rowan smartly observed in his last review, Sense8 is always trying to serve three masters: Its individual character storylines; its ongoing mythology; and its cathartic scenes of sensate connection. “Isolated Above, Connected Below” neatly splits its runtime so that the first half of the episode focuses on the smaller scale character stories, namely Capheus taking things to the next level with Zakia and Wolfgang and Kala taking things to the next level with each other. Meanwhile the second half of the episode focuses on expanding the show’s mythology, which includes not only the Riley/Mr. Hoy stuff but also Wolfgang’s conversation with Lila as well as Nomi and Amanita’s vaguely confusing trip to the former site of Angelica’s cabin. Smack dab in the middle of the episode, however, Sense8 makes room for a big, cathartic sensate celebration too.
The São Paulo Gay Pride Parade sequence actually doubles not only as a celebratory sensate montage but also as a defining moment in Lito’s arc too. I will respectively disagree with Rowan’s suggestion that Lito’s story has been stuck in neutral this season. Last season, Lito’s storyline was largely about his desperate attempts to stay in the closet, which included briefly allowing Dani to return to an abusive relationship in order to protect his secret. This season, however, after having his sexuality revealed to the world, Lito must grapple with what it means to be an openly gay actor in a deeply homophobic culture.
Sense8 is thoughtful about the kind of impact coming out might have on Lito’s career. It’s not that he can’t find work at all, it’s that studios have stopped offering him leading man roles and are now pigeonholing him in supporting roles that are either tragic, gay, or both. But while he’s lost the mainstream support that once fueled his popularity, he’s also become a huge icon for the South American LGBTQ community. And that includes being invited to serve as the marshall of the São Paulo Gay Pride Parade, one of the biggest pride events in the world.
Lito’s parade speech is a lovely culmination of his coming out story. During his red carpet interview in “Who Am I?” Lito used broad, humanistic ideas to discuss his identity. He argued that his sexuality shouldn’t matter to anyone but himself, which is a completely valid point. But “Isolated Above, Connected Below” also recognizes that there’s a power in embracing labels as well as rejecting them. For the first time ever, Lito publicly announces that he’s gay man. Just as seeing two men casually kiss at a São Paulo restaurant brings Lito an immediate sense of belonging, he recognizes that openly embracing his LGBTQ identity is a way to make millions of other people feel less alone too.
From there, the São Paulo Pride sequence expands into the kind of lyrical montage that’s come to define Sense8. Though I agree with Rowan that there’s a danger of Sense8 getting a little too self-satisfied with its big sensate sequences, in this case the show absolutely earns it. The sensates’ celebration becomes a reflection of the joy Lito feels at publically embracing his identity and finding a community that celebrates him for it. And because it’s grounded in such a major character-driven moment, it doesn’t feel gratuitous like some of the big sensate montages can. Embracing the diversity of the human experience is baked into the core of Sense8’s DNA. And doing so in a brightly colored speedo at a huge pride parade is just icing on the cake.
- A correction from my previous review: Apparently Detective Mun isn’t the guy Sun first had sex with, but just another one of her competitors from that match (that’s why he recognizes her, but she doesn’t remember him). While it makes sense that Sun would’ve left an impression on multiple young men during that event, I maintain that from a storytelling point of view it’s confusing to place two important encounters at the same competition.
- If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary Sense8: Creating The World, which is all about the making of the show’s first season. Whenever possible the show tries to film at real events, including filming this episode at the actual São Paulo Gay Pride Parade. According to this IndieWire article, being able to film at the parade came together at the last minute and the whole thing had to be directed on the fly with no rehearsal time.
- Did I hear that wrong or is Amanita’s father situation literally the plot of Mamma Mia?
- Dani’s pride look is great (and very Dani), but Hernando’s rainbow beard is everything.
- So Riley made eye contact with a sensate at a random DJ set, but Lito didn’t run into any sensates at one of the largest pride parades in the world?
- On the whole I enjoy that Sense8 is so open about sexuality, but this is all I could think of during the Capheus/Zakia and Kala/Wolfgang sex montage: