“I wish I was a zebra”
‘Smart Money is on the Skinny Bitch’ built on the framework of episode 2 by delving into the histories of the ‘fringe’ characters of Sense8, such as the so-far under-utilised Sun and Van Dam. The plot developments are still little more than overtures to explore the eight Sensates, rather than progressing the over-arching storyline. However, when we are given an episode like “Smart Money is on the Skinny Bitch,” it’s hard to pick flaws in the overall direction of Sens8. It builds up to a superb finale that crystallises the connection between our Sensates, that delights and thrills in equal measures.
Both Sun and Van Dam have been on the edge of Sense8; their scenes coming across as little more than a reminder that they are part of the series. However, they were front and centre here, as their past impacted on their present to highlight their characters. We were given a flashback of Van Dam’s childhood that overalapped a similar conversation in the present. Van Dam, in both conversations, wished to be a zebra. As a zebra, food would not be a problem. However, in the flashback, his father says that the only problem would be a lion. It’s a conversation that emphasises Van Dam’s rut in life. He only wants an easy life, but still hasn’t realised that an easy life is something of a myth. Even simple animals don’t lead easy lives. Van Dam struggles to find medication for his mother’s AIDS (at the same time that Kala is at a lecture about fake AIDS medication…).
Similarly, Sun’s past comes back to haunt her in a flashback. Her mother asks her to take care of her brother, above all else. In the present, Sun flicks through a folder of files presumably containing something that haunts her. At the same time, Gorski picks up a red folder containing a picture of a missing girl (the same one Gorski talked to his father about in episode 2). Sun is repeatedly avoiding phone calls from Mr. Teong, a banker of some sorts. Her father refuses to talk to her. It leads to Sun stripping free of her daily stresses and going all Kickboxer on us…
“The audience is you. What they know, you know”
Through the flashbacks and the subtle visual storytelling, it is becoming apparent how (if not why) our sensates are linked. Their relationships to their parents defines their lives, mostly in a negative fashion. Van Dam risks his life to chase after criminals who rob his mother’s medicine. The theme is taken to another level when Wakim tells Lito that one of his favourite movies scenes is one of Lito’s; a scene where Lito (as an unnamed character) kills his father in his sleep. Is their past vital to the over-arching plot, or just to their character development? That’s something that we can only find out. But for now, it’s it giving our characters multi-layers and a purpose for existing.
Up to now, the sensates ability to sense each other has not helped them out. The final stretch of this episode is a brilliant depiction of how our sensates can psychically link to together in a time of need. More specifically, it was Van Dam in need, as he chased after the criminals who took his mother’s medication. Sun goes down to an underground fight club, which looked and sounded like a small sequel to Tron: Legacy (in a good way!). She prepares to fight a ripped bloke who doesn’t want to fight a skinny bitch. At the same time, Gorski is at a police shooting range. Gorski, followed by Sun, both mentally swap places with Van Dam to help him out. “He is Van Damme,” a criminal spits after Van Dam (well, Sun) kicks the stuffing out of his henchmen. It’s frustration relief for both Gorski and Sun, but a life-or-death situation for Van Dam.
“I follow you anywhere”
Gorski has been the main thread throughout the three episodes, but his story expertly intertwined with that of Sun’s and Van Dam’s to focus on their trials and tribulations. While the first two episodes were enjoyable enough, they were mere introductions to how Sense8 will tell its story. While we still are not sure where the story is heading, “Smart Money is on the Skinny Bitch” dragged us into Sense8 with a thrilling, action-packed finale. We now know a little more about Sun and Van Dam, just enough to whet our appetite. The intrigue grows and grows, but as always, there is always the voice inside my head that whispers “will it be worth it?” Well, if this episode is anything to go by, then yes, it will be worth it!
VERDICT: 9/10. A gripping episode that built and built to a pulse-pounding finale that showed the strengths of the sensates, and by proxy, the strengths of Sense8.
(Click here for my review of Sense8, Season 1, Episode 2: I Am Also A We)