What if you found you’re mentally linked to seven other people you never know existed? A science fiction story in the mainstream media with this kind of diversity is a rarity even at this day and age—bonus points, this show is even character-driven. From the first glance, Sense8 has intrigued me.
Sense8 is an American web television series from Andy and Lana Wachowski (who you might know from The Matrix or rather the recent Jupiter Ascending) and J. Michael Straczynski. It is produced by Netflix and the whole season had been available to stream since June 5th, 2015. Sense8 explores subjects that the writers feel tend to be missing from science fiction: politics, identity, sexuality, gender and religion. The title itself is a play of the word “sensate”, meaning “aware”.
It focuses on eight strangers with different cultures and set of skills from all over the world, who suddenly have a vision of a violent death of a woman called Angelica—and found themselves to be reborn as sensates, automatically acquiring capabilities of communicating, sensing and using each other’s knowledge, language or sets of skills. While they try to make sense of this new powers (and all the while trying to deal with their own problems and/or storyline), they are greeted by a man named Jonas who also have the same ability, who warned them that a man called Whispers is hunting them down to tap to their psychic link and capture them all.
Sense8 isn’t a perfect show. It kicks out really weakly; the pilot is almost both senseless and directionless, almost like it isn’t sure where to begin, where to make sense of the story. But as the episode progresses, as the characters became more developed and their relationship overlapped to each other, it seemed like the writers and the directors had finally found the ‘soul’ of the story: the characters and their relationships they create. The main plot’s strength never improved throughout, and it is treated like a ribbon to tie the characters together than an actual conflict that is going on the series. It is the individual stories and how they overcame it together that carries the whole series; and even with the twelve episodes, you still find many potentials could be explored further, many opportunities for new seasons.
This story tells you you’re not alone in this world, that you will always have someone else. Each characters are given individual problems and time to explore it, and character growth as they overcame such problems. There is one character that I’m confused because it seemed like they don’t have any problem—but at the end, everything became clear. More of the things I like from this show is how real and authentic the emotions that the characters feel and how cool the effects are when the characters are overlapping and helping each other—it’s a nice touch that could ruin the entire flow of series if it isn’t portrayed well, but Sense8 had both successfully portrayed it and made it look nice.
I may repeat: Sense8 isn’t a perfect show. But where else in the screen that you could find a science fiction show with this kind diversity? Which explores religion and sexuality, and is trans positive?
The other weaknesses of Sense8, beside the plot, is how it sometimes grazes the stereotypical line, especially when they’re representing another cultures: like the sexism Sun faced and how Kala’s parents were happier to see her marry rather than graduate university. But this is a quality that could be corrected and fixed as the new season progresses, and I do hope the writers of this story listens to the output of people from these cultures so they can improve in the future. After all, even if your story is character-driven, the weakness of the plot will disturb the viewers’ enjoyment.
Sense8 also faced the problems Marvel films often face: the villains. Whispers itself seemed like a caricature rather than a real baddie, and he is never explored further in this season that he seemed like a background character rather than antagonist.
I may repeat: Sense8 isn’t a perfect show. Their focus on character building made the pacing a little bit slow for taste. But where else in the screen that you could find a science fiction show with this kind diversity? Which explores religion and sexuality, and is trans positive? With this kind of originality and ambition?
Maybe there is, but let’s support this one, too, so it can improve in the future. So there’s more of stories like this for us.
You can watch Sense8 on Netflix.