With the devastating news that Sense8 has been cancelled, now seems as good a time as any to cement its place in entertainment history. Whether the show gets a miracle renewal or pickup, who can say (though it is unlikely), this show needs to be recognised.
Sense8 is gone before its time, before it had even finished the story that they have been working so hard to tell. But like all great things, time is not always on its side. A celebration of what the show’s world, stories and representation meant to me, and why I think it is a legendary show, can barely be summed up in 8 reasons. But I’ll give it a try anyway.
1. Global Storytelling
How many stories can you name or even barely recall that took you around the world? How many transported you from Berlin to Mumbai, Iceland to Chicago, Seoul to Nigeria, London to Mexico and back again?
The feeling of watching each character in their homeland, feeling their emotional reactions to being transported round the world and into the hearts and minds of strangers. It reignited a wanderlust for fantasy that I have mostly only got from books.
Key to the story that was being told, Sense8 filmed on location in cities and towns around the world. Its global storytelling felt grounded in the reality of life, while adding the drama of great television. Few shows have accomplished what it did, if any.
2. Emotional Closeness
One of the greatest values that the Sensates share, and one that humanity itself craves, is emotional closeness. Given the ability to feel what the other members of their cluster feel, and share that emotion, was what brought them together. What made them a unit, such a close and tight knit group, was their drive for emotional closeness.
This isn’t to say that every character was warm and fuzzy at all times. But they were allowed to explore each of their own emotional vulnerabilities. The Sense8 writers and creators looked to the actors of the show to channel their own raw feelings into these unique characters. It brought them to life in a way that opened their eyes to acceptance and support in all its forms.
3. Diversity & Authenticity
Representation in art is one of the cornerstones for a greater society. It is my belief, shared by many, that we cannot expect to be the best versions of ourselves if we only see, interact and hear from those who are exactly like ourselves. Sense8 offered a glimpse, a small but varied set of windows to the lives of people we might never think to know.
What I eternally seek is diverse shows and casting that reflects the characters. Actors can be straight and play gay, they can be pansexual and play hetero, being convincing is all in the acting ability of the person. But historically straight, white people (mainly men) have really gotten all the visibility they could ever need. Which is why the representation in Sense8 was so commendable and exciting.
They may not have covered every letter of the queer community, they may not have had every single kind of person and body type in the show. But they did a damned lot better than a lot of shows. They even had a bisexual secondary character in season 2! If one of the actors came out as bi/pan then I’d be hooting and hollering for days.
But regardless of the actors own personal sexualities and gender identities, they all brought authenticity to the characters. From Jamie Clayton as Nomi, representing trans women and speaking the words of a trans woman and co-creator Lana Wachowski (along with Lily), to Miguel Ángel Silvestre giving Lito the duality of pain and love, through to the lack of literally any of the straight male actors/characters to say “no homo!” or act in any small way like it mattered, without being dismissive.
4. Compelling Characters
What some deemed to be slowness in the show, I devoured as meditations on character. Every moment of the show gave insight into these characters. Like watching people in the park, stopping to see families playing, couples walking, someone sitting and reading a book or laughing on the phone, we spent time watching these characters simply be.
I fear that if I did a small dive into what I loved about the characters and what made each compelling, it would end up deeply submerging, and that would only end with me writing the series out as a Wikipedia page. I will say this though, and its something I’ve said to people about the show since the first season came out. I would watch episode after episode, even if it was only each of them sharing moments, “Visiting” as its called, with each other. Even without the action, it is the characters that bring me back.
5. Visual Splendour
The global locations made for stunning backdrops, but what pushed the visuals to new levels of awe was the styling. The scenes often jumped between locations creating contrasts in weather, lights, even the sounds of the spaces. In season 2 especially, as the sensates grew closer together and joined together more often, we were treated to new and more brilliant shots of people disappearing behind one another, rising together, appearing side by side.
6. What’s Up
I couldn’t write about Sense8 without talking about the iconic season 1 scene set to 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up”. The song itself is enough to make your heart swell with emotion and thanks to this show, its taken to another level.
Each of the sensates hears the song and, such is the power of music, it brings them together. It a pure moments of bliss, friendship and joy, all set to cleansing lyrics. I can’t listen to it and not “scream from the top of my lungs, what’s going on”!
7. Showing Love
As infamous as the What’s Up scene, Sense8 was noted for showing love, specifically love expressed in sex, in the show. Not only did they get many a viewer hot and bothered, I can admit that I’ve been moved, but they gave us sex scenes that were all about sensation and love.
Every sex scene, between the same sex couples and opposite sex pairings, along with the group shared scenarios, were passionate but also infused with the closeness and trust that it must have taken to film them. Not many sex scenes have love as such an integral part.
And once again, none of the cast were shy about getting to grips with this on and off screen – see the wonderful Pride shoot from São Paulo in 2016.
8. The Sensates
I love each and every one of the Sensates, and they each brought something new, personal and special to the roster. In no particular order:
Lito – in Lito we got a struggle to be courageous. Wrestling with honesty, caged by fear, he went through what so many LGBTQ+ people go through in learning to be themselves openly. And he learned the hard way what the consequences of honesty in a harsh world can cost you.
Will – In many ways Will was the beating centre of his cluster. He wears his heart on his sleeve, does what is right regardless of his own safety. He’s basically a Gryffindor. Will would die to save anyone, especially those he loves.
Wolfgang – As Kala put it, some are trapped by circumstance and our own pasts. Tortured as a child by his father, Wolfgang is strong and quiet, but also brutally truthful and caring. We got to explore how Wolfgang found new family with his cluster, and of course with Felix.
Nomi – The core of Nomi is to be a rebel. She lives to love and learn, being a hacktivist was the epitome of her skills. But she is also transgender and while it doesn’t define her completely, it is part of her history and life, and she owns it.
Kala – She looks upon the world with hopeful eyes and an outstretched hand. She is supportive but never to a fault. Kala is reliable yet impulsive. Kala struggles with accepting her privilege, wrestling with accepting fortune when others suffer.
Sun – Wronged by her brother, broken by her mother’s death and difficult relationship with her father. Sun never forgot to love, but prided herself on needing no-one else to hold her up. She is driven and determined, humble and righteous.
Capheus – A smile can change someone’s day. This I am sure is Capheus’ internal motto. He is the everyman, but a special man, unable to see his own gifts and talents. He works, he helps and he laughs, bringing a smile to all he can.
Riley – Maker of music, she surrounds herself with energy. Family grounds her, and she struggles with personal demons. Riley has the strength of a mother, but the hardened heart of one who has lost her child. Yet she still finds love.