Sense8 S02E03: Obligate Mutualisms
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Starring: Doona Bae, Brian J. Smith, Jamie Clayton
A review by Samantha Pearson
After the heart-stopping conclusion of its second episode, Sense8 season two takes a slower approach to events in episode three, Obligate Mutualisms. At least… at first.
Will discovers the whereabouts of Whispers at the end of Who Am I? and the beginning of Obligate Mutualisms shows him in a familiar interrogation room with Whispers, making demands of his higher-ups at BPO. Will is self-sure, bordering on cocky, because he knows that he finally holds the power.
Brian J. Smith is delightful in this scene. He plays up Will’s confidence and snark with an edge that reminds Whispers — and the audience — that though he’s calm and cool, he can still rip him apart.
The cluster celebrate this shift in power with drinks at Will and Riley’s latest hiding place in Amsterdam, while Nomi uses her hacking skills to help Will intimidate Whispers’ boss into cooperating with their demands. The scene ends with Whispers being dragged off by BPO security, which means — as far as we know — that he’s no longer a threat.
Will is able to go outside, then, without being drugged. Since he made eye contact with Whispers in Iceland in season one, Whispers has been hunting Will, Riley and the rest of the cluster relentlessly. It’s forced Will and Riley into hiding holes, forced him to use heroin to knock out his senses.
Now he’s free. Going outside is a celebration for all of the sensates, and the scene is appropriately bathed in golden light and soft, hopeful acoustic music. “All My Days” by Alexi Murdoch plays and they’re all given a moment to just breathe together, happy to finally have some success in the battle against BPO.
This episode is all about freedom, but as the title suggests, it’s also about survival. Obligate Mutualisms, by definition, are situations in which one organism cannot survive without another. For the sensates, that’s literal: these eight people have to pull together for their cluster to survive, because the loss of even one of them would devastating to them all.
In the plot structure of Sense8, there’s the suggestion that even more obligate mutualisms exist. There are homo sapiens and homo sensorium; there are the sensates and BPO, the company that seeks to hunt down and destroy them; there are Will and Whispers, simultaneously hiding from and seeking each other out.
As such, the slow, snarky, joyous atmosphere of Obligate Mutualisms‘ first few scenes doesn’t last long. They’re faced with a new battle almost immediately: helping Sun free herself from hitmen sent by her brother to murder her in prison.
Doona Bae is incredible in this episode. Sun’s happiness at Will being free is undercut by a yearning sadness that she herself is still stuck in a cell, but when it comes time for her to defend herself, she’s emotionless and cold. Her fighting style, which we’ve seen dozens of times, is powerful and quick. Sun uses her whole body to defeat her enemies and she has no mercy.
This fight sequence is terrifying. Every member of the cluster is affected: each time the would-be killers hit Sun with tasers, all of the sensates feel it. To people not in the cluster (Amanita, Bug, Jela and the passengers on Capheus’ bus), it looks like each of them is having a seizure. When Sun is strung up to hang, they all start to choke.
Sense8 often shows the whole cluster interchangeably in scenes. It’s incredibly distressing to see each of them strung up to die, especially knowing that even though Sun has these seven other people in her head, ultimately, she’s alone in a dark room with three men who want her dead.
Luckily, the sensates do exist in the world at large. Sun is rescued by another prisoner, and they both escape with the help of Nomi and Will. The former uses her hacking prowess to help defeat the security system and the latter uses his military knowledge to navigate the whole thing. Freedom and survival: obligate mutualisms abound.
Meanwhile, Wolfgang meets a sensate from another cluster who’s hell bent on seducing him. Lito realizes his career is going to suffer more than he expected from being outed, and he and his family move into a new space. And Will meets with Jonas, whom we haven’t seen since season one.
Obligate Mutualisms confirms that there are other clusters existing alongside our favorite sensates. Obviously, Whispers is homo sensorium, and Jonas is the last of Angelica’s cluster. Angelica gave “birth” to the main cluster at the start of season one (before killing herself). Jonas’ meeting with Will reveals that Will’s cluster isn’t Angelica’s first, and Wolfgang’s new acquaintance reveals that there are more sensates in the word right now.
BPO is so massive and resourceful because it’s attempting to track down more than just eight people who are psychically linked. That seems obvious, but the sensates have been trying to understand BPO, its size, and its mission since the organization went after Riley in Iceland. Likewise, they’ve been trying to understand themselves, and their species.
Jonas reveals that homo sensorium population estimates range from the thousands to tens of thousands, with numbers rising all the time. Any sensate can give birth to a cluster at any time in their lives, and homo sapiens are terrified of sensates because their communication is superior by virtue of the fact that they basically share a brain.
Certain homo sensorium work with the sapiens against their own kind — like Whispers. The question is, why? Obligate Mutualisms provides freedom for Will and Sun, as well as a ton of necessary background information for the plot to move forward, but the question of why anyone would betray their own species still stands. Jonas says that not everyone is happy to be reborn a sensate, but Whispers’ work with BPO seems especially malicious.
The episode ends with the meeting Will demanded with Whispers’ boss, the two of them meeting — alone — in an art museum. Although Will is out in the world, the warm, golden light that represented his freedom in that first scene is gone. We haven’t seen it since the cluster all hung out in Amsterdam after Whispers was dragged away. Sun’s freedom was painted in blues and grays, undercutting the fact that although she’s out of prison, she’s still on the run.
Likewise, Will can go outside without fear of Whispers finding him, but he’s still not totally free. The sensates still have to survive, and the colors in each scene of Obligate Mutualisms tell us how we’re supposed to feel about the things they’re doing in order to keep living. Flashbacks are painted in bright, warm light; Jonas’ informational meeting is well-lit, but neither warm nor cold; Will’s meeting with the BPO exec is dark and moody.
Given how the episode ends, the moodiness makes sense. The final scene in S02E02 seemed heart-stopping last week, but the final scene in Obligate Mutualisms made me literally scream at the television.
I’ll say this every week: watch Sense8. This episode is fast-paced and terrifying, but also incredibly informational. There’s an underlying sense of hope even in the darkest scenes. The more the sensates learn, the more we learn as an audience, and the more we can theorize for what happens next.