Welcome to the future of storytelling, or rather, an accurate depiction of the world in which we are all living.
Sense8, the original series on Netflix written by The Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, achieved something significant. It proved to Hollywood that we don’t need affirmative action in media, but rather compelling roles that accurately reflect the world.
From the studios’ producing the small-screen science fiction drama (which I don’t know if science fiction is the proper genre- paranormal, perhaps?), to the web-based medium in which you watch the series, to the globalization of the cast and cinematography, and finally to a story that uses a full brush to paint with all the colors—Sense8 makes a subconscious effort to show us the future of characterization in storytelling. It’s an important series on the footnote of culture because it finally leaves stereotypes behind. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all creeds and cultures, from all genders and orientations, and this series showcases that without feeling like college recruiting brochure spotlighting diversity.
Sense8 is a deep, complex, action-packed romance that plays with the ultimate question—why are we here and what the hell are we all doing? However, our eight protagonists in the series have the special ability to read one another’s mind. They visit each other in their thoughts, can feel what each one is feeling, and even take over and control the physical actions of the person’s mind they are visiting. They don’t know why or how they can do this, but they know that all eight of them are connected and the story follows each one on a voyage of self-discovery and hidden secrets. Of course, in an effort to increase the action and drama, they’ve all banded together to uncover the conspiracy behind their special talent and figure out why people with this telepathic skill are being killed off.
The quality of Sense8 is superb. The writing is complex and thoughtful, the cinematography is beautiful and accurately represents locations throughout the world, the soundtrack is meaningful and moving, and the casting and acting is convincing. This series is a big production that easily rivals any of the new shows on the premium subscription channels, such as HBO or Showtime. However, even as progressive and pioneering as those networks can be at times, I still don’t think they would have ever touched Sense8.
The characters are too real for the networks and the show didn’t take any political stands to “justify” its pioneering cast. It’s not a “gay” show, it’s not a show about blacks, it’s not a feminist anthem, and even though there are gay, black, and strong female characters, that’s not necessarily the point of the series or the demographic they were looking to appeal to. It’s about people and culture from all over the world, and how on the surface that may seem like significant differences—but when you get into the mind and feelings of the individual, we’re a lot more similar than you’d think.
That’s not to say that the series is perfect. To me, it seemed like 12 episodes for the first season was a bit too long. The show started out with bang and you were immediately brought into their world and filled with immense curiosity. However, the middle episodes seemed to lull and instilled, and re-instilled, this universal commonality between the characters. The writing was good during these moments, but I didn’t feel it progressed the overall plot in a meaningful way—especially when you spend the majority of the series confused and are required to allow the story to develop to reveal major plot points. I suppose these episodes enriched the backstory of each character and strived to build the emotional connection, but I have heard of people dropping the series around Episode 5 or 6. Keep pushing, you’ll be rewarded.
What I did enjoy about Sense8 is that it smashed conventions. Women can be good at computers, transgendered people provide much more value to the world beyond “owning” their identity, gay men can be masculine and powerful, tiny Korean women can make fantastic action heroes, black men aren’t all thugs, and not all people battling addiction or substance abuse are degenerates. The cherry on top, beyond all of these real-world issues that we all face, is that none of that matters. The story, the premise of the series, stands on its own. These characters simply are who they are, and they just happen to carry these labels that society has placed upon them. It doesn’t make them any more or less capable.
The Wachowski’s are film making geniuses that have created some of best stories of our generation. From Bound, to the Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending, not to mention their vast catalog of graphic novels, they have filled the zeitgeist with pioneering cinematography, special effects, and compelling narratives. When I started watching Sense8, I didn’t know that The Wachowski’s had created it—it just looked cool. Beyond that, before writing this I didn’t even know that the Wachowski Brothers were now a brother and sister duo and that Larry, or now Lana, went through gender reassignment. The point being is that also doesn’t matter. That has no bearing on the quality of their work, the legacy of their films, or affect how I enjoy the new stories they create.
Admittedly, I’m naive when it comes to divisional societal issues. Not that I’m not aware of them, or don’t have friends that fall into these sub-genres of life—myself included—but I don’t give much weight to a lump of people. Simply put, I don’t care or see it as a badge of honor. Who you are to me is much more important than what you are. There’s a simplicity and purity that comes from that—merit being attributed when it is earned; such as being a good person. What and who you represent comes in a much distant second.
With that said, watching two men all sweaty in a love scene doesn’t offend me—I appreciate what that does for the truthfulness of the story, and, shockingly enough, I’m still able to walk away as an intact straight individual. In fact, I “like” it because it adds a deep sense of realism that is desperately lacking in our modern storytelling. I don’t seek out gay cinema, but I love truthful storytelling and realistic romance. I like when creators are honest with me and don’t underestimate my intelligence. A good story is a good story, regardless where it comes from.
The reason I even bring it up is because I fear that Sense8 has been pigeonholed into something that it isn’t. It’s not a “We Are The World” singalong of diversity or a preachy mildly interesting plot that’s secretly trying to push deep political agendas. It’s just a unique series that gives us realistic characters from across the world and throws them into a physiological action thriller.
Don’t pass on Sense8 because the hipster at the coffee shop is always raving about it. While it may take you out of your comfort zone at times, at least it does it with honesty and integrity. It’s not being “diverse” for the sake of diversity, but because there’s no other way this particular story could have been told. On the backside of that, if Sense8 inspires or gives courage to writers to create characters that may not poll well in a focus group, fantastic. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of Hollywood treating me like toddler.
Sense8 has already been approved for a second season and is currently under production. You can stream season 1 from Neflix today and get caught up for season 2, that is anticipated to released in August.