Sense8

This is one of those “Oh! I just watched this incredible thing and I gotta tell you about it!” posts. If you’re feeling a bit media-saturated and would rather just wait until the female Doctor is unveiled in the next Christmas special, I’ll understand if you want to skip this post.

So:

Sense8 is the series that I just watched and I gotta tell you about, mainly because I don’t think it’s received the attention it deserves. I think the reason folks have not gotten into it is that, as reported by almost everyone who’s reviewed Sense8, the first three episodes are slow-moving. We know the premise already, let’s get into it! But by the fourth episode the potentials begin to gel, and it becomes a compelling story.

That central premise is an old one in SF, but has never been presented visually in this form before: A group of eight people (the sensates) become telepathically linked with each other. At first it’s a matter of them seeing and talking with one another, then they learn they can share each other’s skills.

The mythology surrounding this idea is also fairly conventional: They are not the only sensate cluster. There’s a shadowy organization bent on controlling or eradicating the sensates. Some clusters are in hiding, others are collaborating with the enemy.

If Sense8 can be described in such conventional terms within the genre, why is worth watching?

  • The series was created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the sibling team responsible for the film The Matrix, and J. Michael Straczynski, best known the TV series Babylon 5. They bring their full stylistic talents to this series. The action sequences sparkle in a way that I can’t bring myself to spoil, except to say that they adopt a visual language to show how the different sensates’ skills blend together.
  • I’ve watched enough media to know when I’m being emotionally manipulated. However, the Watchowskis and Straczynski know how to sell those moments. The first major sequence in the series is a group karaoke shared among the sensates in the fourth episode. They don’t entirely understand their connection yet, but you become immersed in their shared joy. If your heartstrings aren’t pulled by that when you watch it, then Sense8 is not for you.
  • Speaking of shared emotional sequences: The telepathically-linked group orgies. Nope, don’t watch the series for that if you can’t take the karaoke. Really. No orgy without karaoke.
  • Speaking of orgy sequences: The frank handling of gender and sexuality. One of the sensates is a trans woman; another is a closet gay actor. Their feelings and identities are treated just as seriously as any male-female relationships depicted in the show.
  • Did you get my reference to Doctor Who in the first paragraph of this post? Then you might like to know that Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones in the 10th Doctor era, plays the girlfriend of one of the sensates; Sylvester McCoy, the 7th Doctor, shows up the second season. The show definitely has Doctor Who street cred.
  • For even more genre cred, Jamie Clayton, who plays one of the sensates, supplies the voice of the character Jien Garson in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bae Doona, another sensate, was in Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending. Let’s not forget Darryl Hannah, from the films Splash, Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, and My Favorite Martian. Now that I search through Wikipedia entries, I see that Tuppence Middleton was also in Jupiter Ascending. So let’s just say: plenty of cred!
  • There’s more: the quality of the cinematography, the use of world-wide locations, the acting talent.

Both seasons of Sense8 are available on Netflix. Unfortunately, Netflix cancelled the show after the second season, probably because the cost of the series (on the order of $9.5 million per episode for the second season) was too high given the viewership. However, due to fan demand, there will be a two-hour series wrap-up in 2018. And there’s still a possibility that, if viewership increases, Netflix will consider extending the series… hence this blog post.

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the renewal story: The porn site xHamster wrote to the Watchowskis suggesting that they’d be willing to continue Sense8. It’s probably just a publicity stunt. In general, though, it’s an intriguing idea. There are some SF stories, such as Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, that might be (ahem) too visually challenging outside of a porn site. But, as I understand it, xHamster would not be an appropriate venue given their pejorative stance towards transgendered people.

Bottom line: See Sense8. Even if it remains forever incomplete, it’s still compelling viewing.

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