When the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski collaborate, you know you’re in for a treat to the senses. The basic premise of Sense8 is wild: humans are evolving the capacity to form small “clusters” that share memories, experiences and skills across vast distances, telepathically dropping in on each other’s lives, walking in each other’s shoes.
That premise is used to challenge the viewer to embrace diversity in all its forms, while telling the story of one such cluster and its fight against the inevitable attempt to halt or hide the evolution of the “sensates”.
Meanwhile, the members of the cluster also have to deal with prejudice and drama in their own lives. Trans woman Nomi Marks faces rejection and abusive comments by her bitter, hateful mother; actor Lito Rodriguez has to face coming out as gay in Mexico; bus driver Capheus Onyango deals with organized crime and corruption in Kenya’s Kibera slum.
The show is unflinching in its portrayal of life’s richness and diversity. Recreational drug use, group sex, polyandry, gay and lesbian relationships, and much more all on proud, prominent display. Its in large part the show’s willingness to explore the emotional depths of these experiences that makes it such a remarkable piece of entertainment, owing perhaps to the creative freedom afforded by working on a Netflix production.
Gratuitous? Not really — the core theme of the show is empathy (as symbolized through the psychic connection between the “sensates”), so it makes sense that it would use its large canvas to paint a world where prejudices can and must be overcome. If anything, the show barely touches on themes like disability, mental illness, religion, or many other characteristics that are used to divide and stigmatize.
The only real problem with Sense8 is its plot. The actions of the “cluster” are often difficult to follow, owing to quick jumps and the confusing mechanics of how “sensates” communicate with each other. The bad guys are simplistic and their motivations shallow. As in most TV shows, hacking is portrayed as some kind of magical superpower that lets you take over any computer system within 5 seconds. Some scenes, such as a confrontation during a wedding ceremony in the second season, are cringe-inducing due to ridiculous dialogue and plot.
These are forgivable problems, and the show is still a lot of fun in spite of them. It has gained a significant online following, and while we’re unlikely to see more than the two seasons that have been produced so far, Netflix has at least committed to producing a finale (the last episode ends on a “to be continued” moment).
It’s a unique show in many respects and has many beautiful, glorious moments. Filmed in locations including Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, Reykjavík, San Francisco, and Seoul, it is vibrant with energy and life. Watch it, just prepare to be confused or to cringe now and then, and not because of the lovely, diverse cast or the group sex. :)