Sense8 S02E04: Polyphony
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Starring: Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Max Riemelt, Tina Desai, Toby Onwumere, Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith
A review by Samantha Pearson
Sense8 S02E04 jumps in exactly where Obligate Mutualisms leaves off. The episode, titled Polyphony, sees Will forced to disarm emergency personnel as the art museum is evacuated following the slaughter of a BPO exec and another, unknown sensate assassin.
The attack is orchestrated by Whispers, who was briefly imprisoned in the last episode but is now, apparently, back. That means Will can’t stay where he is for long, because whatever Will sees, Whispers can see. It’s a terrifying realization, especially following an episode that’s all about escaping cages for Will and Sun.
Despite the darkness of what’s happening, Sense8 still provides some comic relief.
The absolute best reaction screenshots come from this scene in Polyphony. Riley, in an attempt to distract the emergency personnel so Will can leave unscathed, channels Lito’s acting skills and breaks down screaming on the museum floor.
Miguel Ángel Silvestre has an incredible range of facial expressions, all of which come into play in Lito’s scenes. Because Silvestre is an actor playing an actor, there’s a meta quality to scenes where Lito is acting that is always very tongue-in-cheek. Silvestre handles these scenes — as well as Lito’s more down-to-Earth, human moments — with style and grace.
Following the evacuation, the cluster agrees that it’s best of Will and Riley get out of the city and move on to another safe house. He has “blockers” — small, black pills that Whispers takes to hide from Will and other sensates — from the BPO exec. No one in the cluster knows what they are or how they work, but presumably they’re formulated to turn off the part of a sensate’s brain that allows them to connect telepathically with other sensates.
If they work, Will can at the very least stop relying on heroin to hide from Whispers. The pills seem significantly safer than shooting up every time Whispers crawls into Will’s head, and more controllable.
Also following the evacuation, Wolfgang tells the rest of the cluster about Lila Facchini, the sensate he met in Obligate Mutualisms. He believes she can be of help to them in their crusade against BPO, though the others tell him to be careful about trusting her.
Shifting the focus to Lila contributes to the larger plot by beginning to introduce our main cluster to others. It also focuses on the emotional struggles of members of the cluster that season two, thus far, hasn’t spent a lot of time on. Specifically, Wolfgang and Kala, as well as Capheus.
The title of the episode — Polyphony — is a commentary on the fact that even as the sensates coexist in their cluster, they all come from very different backgrounds and worlds. The dictionary definition of polyphony is “a style of music composition employing two or more simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines”. Though they essentially share a brain, the way they live is never going to be comparable.
The emotional core of this concept is explored, aptly, in the (mostly romantic) relationships between characters.
Max Riemelt’s subtleties absolutely rule in Polyphony as Wolfgang attempts to navigate his feelings for (married) Kala, as well as the sudden introduction of Lila. As the latter tries to seduce him, presumably for nefarious purposes (despite the fact that he thinks she can be helpful), the former tries to deal with her persistent romantic feelings for him in spite of her marriage.
There’s nothing quite like a love triangle between three people who communicate telepathically. Wolfgang can share mental spaces with Kala and Lila, but Kala and Lila cannot connect in the same way. It makes things… complicated, but fascinating to watch as he tries not to give too much away to either woman while he’s conversing with both.
Watching Riemelt in these scenes, especially opposite Tina Desai (whose eyes are so big and dark and vulnerable that it sometimes physically hurts to watch her), is fascinating. Wolfgang keeps everything tightly locked up, but with Kala, things slip. With Lila, things also slip, but it’s the difference between love and lust, as well as trust and suspicion.
Lila tells Wolfgang, point blank, that there is no way to hide from BPO. She admits to making a deal with them and tells him, “Figure out what you want and decide how far you’re willing to go to get it.”
At this point, it’s unclear what Lila wants, but the line serves as a stark commentary on Wolfgang’s relationship with Kala, which neither of them seem able to quit despite repeated attempts. It also holds weight for events later in the episode, as we start to put together the pieces of how Angelica came to work for BPO.
From this point, the episode delves even further into exploring the world outside of the main cluster. Nomi comes clean about being a homo sensorium to Bug, Capheus realizes he holds social and political sway as “the infamous Van Damme”, and Lito realizes his deep connection to Jonas’ cluster. Sun reconnects with an old rival in an incredibly unexpected way, and the whole cluster begins to dive deep into their sensate mother Angelica’s past, including her work with BPO and its consequences (then and now).
Polyphony relies heavily on music to tell the story, making the episode title also very literal. The first emotional scene between Wolfgang and Kala is narrated by Above & Beyond’s “Good for Me”, intercut with a scene of Sun doing yoga on the roof. Later, when Kala and Capheus are both caught in violent protests and Amanita tries to escape the FBI agent hellbent on catching Nomi, Ben Howard’s “Small Things” builds the tension.
Sense8 ends this episode in possibly the most horrifying way so far this season — with the violent death of Jonas at BPO’s hands. His death will surely have horrible consequences for the main cluster, as they’ve relied on his guidance and intel since the first season. Can they have that same level of trust with another sensate?
Given everything that we’ve learned about homo sensorium and the ways in which they cooperate with homo sapiens for the sake of themselves, rather than other sensates, suggests that our main cluster shouldn’t trust anyone but each other.
Keep! Watching! Sense8! Sorry for that spoiler at the end of this recap, but I’m also not sorry at all. Watch the show and then it won’t matter at all!