“Sense8” recap (1.9): When The Bough Breaks


Please forgive me for making the most obvious statement of all time, but here goes: I write about television for a living. I’m aware that makes me one of the most inexcusably lucky people on Earth, and I do my best to keep my gratitude high and my grousing to a minimum. But inevitably, in the course of my duties, I have become somewhat inured to the highs and lows of the TV viewing experience. Especially after all the times I’ve had to come to this website with the body of a dead queer character in my arms and try and make sense of it. I’ve learned to build a little protective wall of ice around my heart. I’ve had to. But I built it hoping for it to be melted.

There are few things in life I love more than losing myself in a story, in exposing my heart to the pain and joy of it. It took me a long time to get there with Sense8, partly because I wasn’t sure I could trust its creators. But this episode didn’t just melt my heart—it went at it with an icepick, and left me sobbing nearly as hard as Lito. When my sister came home from work and found me like that, she said “So, that’s a good thing?”  And through the tears, I said, “Yes. That’s a very good thing.”

Okay, so first of all, I take back every bad thing I ever said about Riley. I mean, not the stuff about her music or fashion sense or tendency to give other people’s money to the homeless, but the stuff about her not having it as hard as anybody else. As an astute commenter pointed out last week, while the other sensates are just now having their lives exploded, Riley’s was destroyed a long time ago. My understanding (and forgive me if I miss anything, but following Riley’s narrative can be like trying to read a comic strip by MC Escher), is that Riley was warned to get out of Iceland at a young age, by a woman she thought was an elf. (Which is not that weird, btw. In an oft-cited 1998 survey, 54% of Icelanders said they believed in elves.)

Upon her return to Iceland, the woman makes contact again, and it turns out she is not a fairy but a fellow sensate. In the show’s mythology, Iceland is not just the hip new vacation spot for moneyed millennials, but a hotbed of psychic activity. BPO (the Evil Empire represented by Whispers) employed this lady to find potential sensates, so they could be eliminated. When she located Riley, she did what anyone would do, and told an eleven year-old girl that she was cursed and should leave the country ASAP. Of course, for Riley, that did a number on her mind and made her blame herself for what happened in the mountains. So what happened in the mountains, exactly? ONLY THE WORST THING EVER. You see, Riley fell in love and married young, to a boy with kind eyes who rode into buildings on his horse.


They craved a simple life and a large family, and Riley had just given birth to her first daughter when they were in a car crash that took the lives of her little family. So that’s why she went to London and that’s why the drugs and that’s why the music so loud it drowns out her thoughts. Because Riley already had the fairy tale and lost it, and has been a ghost haunting the ruins of her old life ever since. We learn this tragic tale when Riley goes to visit their graves, with Capheus tagging along for the ride.


Capheus: This reminds me of my little sister. I lost her, too.

Riley: Oh, she died?

Capheus: No, but my mom had to give her up for adoption, so pretty much the same thing.

Riley: Um…

Capheus: I mean, life, death, adoption. It’s all just a continuum, you know?

Riley: Um.

Not that trauma is a competition, but perhaps the reason Will and Riley feel such a strong connection is their shared scarring. Will never fully recovered from seeing Whispers slice up the brain of that little would-be sensate when he was a kid. It keeps him up nights, and during one of those nights he makes contact with both Jonas and Riley. On the daisy chain of connectivity, you can only see sensates who are either in your cluster or only connected to you. (I’m glad we’re learning the rules one at a time, or I would have gotten lost a long time ago.) So in this case it goes: Jonas—Will—Riley—Ilsa the Icelandic Lady.

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