Sense8: It’s Not about Them, It’s about Us

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

The Wachowskis’ mind-bending series Sense8 made a brief return to television this past holiday in what was billed as a “Christmas Special.” But the world is a very different place than it was when the series premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2015, and the cast and crew make the most of it.


Much has been made of the fact that once again the principals of the show wind up in a writhing nude tangle with kisses and caresses being shared freely irrespective of gender. But the lyric playing in the song underneath their interaction (originally a quasi-hippie hit from 1971, redone by Jetta), undercuts their shared affection with a reminder that not everyone wants the kind of new age the Sensates represent — especially Donald J. Trump, who spent the last two years telling Americans that they weren’t interconnected, that anyone other is someone dangerous and suspicious.

Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies
Tell me where is sanity?
Tax the rich, feed the poor, ’till there are no rich no more.
I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do;
So I leave it up to you.

The Sense8 Christmas Special is special, and worth repeat viewing as much for what’s not depicted as for what unfolds onscreen. The same riddles that set the show in motion all remain: Why are these eight people, all born thousands of miles from each other at the exact same moment, a part of each other? How is it they can inhabit each other’s minds, appear to one another in rooms across the globe, and while being intimate with their own partners in their own little corners of the world, suddenly be transported to a place where they are all able to share the same exhilaration that great sex provides? Why, to their own mystification, are they able to touch and be touched, kiss and be kissed, and reach orgasm with a gender that was not their avowed sexual preference?

Great questions all, and none of them resolved as of yet. Instead, audiences are treated to a few more tantalizing questions and a perhaps intentional pumping of the brakes in terms of plot motion. Not a lot happens to the Sensates in the two hours of the special. We now know that Will (Brian J. Smith) and Riley (Tuppence Middleton) are holed up somewhere, while Riley tries to keep Will pumped full enough of heroin that he doesn’t reveal their whereabouts to their nemesis, Whispers (Terrence Stamp).

We know that Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Hernando (Alfonso Herrera) are facing a blast furnace of public scorn after photos of them making love are leaked to the public — which only makes sense for a Latino action star making macho movies in Mexico City. Sun (Doona Ba) remains in prison for crimes she did not commit, while the brother who framed her and killed their father runs the enormously successful family business. We know that Kala (Tina Desai) has finally married her wealthy heir to a pharmaceutical company, and has yet to make good on the expectations a honeymoon implies.

We also learn that Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), having killed his underworld kingpin uncle, is now having to decline offers to take his place — most often at gunpoint. We know Capheus (now played by Toby Onwumere) gets much needed financial relief, and something of a mixed blessing, at the hands of the crime lord whose life he saved during the first season. And finally, we know that trans computer wizard Nomi (Jamie Clayton) is still on the run with her rainbow-dredded girlfriend (Freema Agyeman) with the pair staying barely a step ahead of those who would capture and lobotomze her.

While that’s enough plot juice to power many a show through an entire season, these events play out like flashes in a fever dream, and what most critics miss, and most fans seem to understand is this: Sense8 is about character, and the plot is at essence a vehicle for developing an understanding of what these people mean to each other, when they come from such different cultures, walks of life and value systems. As such, the show is a thinly-veiled allegory for the crossroads where humanity now finds itself. Are we the bombers of Paris, Brussels and San Diego? Are we the disgruntled Bernie and Hillary supporters? Why do we raise children whose first impulse is to shoot those they feel threatened by? How did the Trump message to build a wall, deport those who don’t look like us, and be wary of “bad hombres” resonate well enough to get him elected?

That’s why the show is better for the questions it asks than the answers it provides. Through the Sensates, who are living their lives in Nairobi, Mombai, Berlin, Iceland and England, Chicago, Seoul, Mexico City and San Francisco, we can see ourselves: disparate, certainly. But there is a thread of common humanity that binds us all. Everyone from Confucius to George Lucas has addressed that idea, and the Wachowskis have dealt with the topic before as well in The Matrix trilogy. There is a collective agreement that “common humanity” exists; laws are predicated on its assumption, to say nothing of the world’s religions. The important question being posed by the Wachowskis, however, is this: how far does our humanity extend? Not as far as we know into the world of Sense8 where telepathy and teleportation exist. But perhaps further than we’re able to see here and now. And certainly further than the xenophobes who will soon be calling the shots at the highest levels of government.

I’ll be following the new season of Sense8 (set for streaming in May) with great interest. Which of humanity’s impulses will win? The age-old desire to protect one’s territory, or the quest to reach out in search of new interconnections?

More Sense8:
Sense8 Star Miguel Ángel Silvestre: Gay People Are My People

Sense8′s Miguel Ángel Silvestre Sees a World Beyond Borders

Hate Group Leader Promoted, Sense8 Preps Exit, Peace Corps Fires for HIV?

Sense8’s Swan Song, “Avenging” Brothers, and Gay and Gray Today

The Wachowskis: Two People We Love Behind Sense 8

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Last modified: August 1, 2018