Sense 8 is one of television’s most ambitious shows. With eight main characters and storylines spanning four continents, the show is a tremendous undertaking by Netflix. This is reflected in its astonishing $9 Million budget per episode. The actors in the show must constantly step in and out of each other’s lives, resulting in a world-tour production process. There are so many places for the show to go wrong, and yet somehow Netflix managed to pull it off- especially in the visual category. Case in point, Season 1 Episode 4 is visually stunning and cinematically effective, containing one of the most jaw dropping scenes in all of television.
The show has a very unique style, partly due to the nature of it’s story, and partly due to it’s intent focus on capturing the human experience. The main characters are a special species of human that has evolved to share each other’s emotions and experiences. This lends itself well to the major theme of the show: what does it mean to be human? The cinematography and production reflects this. The intro to every episode is long. Over two minutes. During this time, broad establishing shots ripped straight from Planet Earth capture cities, mountains, oceans, people, and everything in between. None of the characters in the show make an appearance in the intro. Instead, the show opts to give a broad overview of Earth and the people on it. By prefacing every episode with this, the show ensures that the viewer understands the broader context of the show. It may be about eight people, but it’s really about the experiences that we can all relate to, regardless of who we are or where we are from. Sense 8 is a show for the world.
When the show begins, one notices that shots in Sense 8 are long, often going seconds without dialogue and lingering on the faces of the main characters. The performances of the actors are put under a microscope in the show. There are many close ups and intensely emotional scenes, interspersed with little relatable moments.
In S1E4, we begin to see how each of the characters are beginning to blend into one another’s lives. It starts small, cuts between locations occur at moments when characters are in similar positions. This allows the show to perform the ultimate breaking of the 180 rule: cutting to a different continent. Scenes take place thousands of miles apart but are linked by the characters in them, seamlessly blending locations and characters through smooth cuts and clever compositing.
Above: Sense 8 season 1 episode 4 delivers a beautifully shot testament to the joy of living.
This all comes to a head with the scene I referred to as “one of the most jaw dropping scenes in all of television” above. The scene begins with Wolfgang being pressured into doing karaoke. Simultaneously the show shows us Riley escaping a rough night and going out in the early morning to listen to music and clear her head. As Riley begins to play “What’s up” by Four Non Blondes, we see each character slowly begin to hear the music. As they do, they each start to sing along. The camera seamlessly cuts from location to location as each character, in various states of frustration, begins to sing along. The music swells as the eight people begin to break into a happy, shower-style, singalong. The shots increase in their grandness, with Kala dancing on a rooftop overlooking an Indian city at dusk, and slowly comes back down to a less ‘cinematic’ and more relatable shot of Wolfgang and Kala dancing in a colorful bedroom. It’s emotional, beautiful, complex, and still relatable- capturing the raw joy of simply being alive.