I am not just a me, I am a we.
By Bradley Donalson
Science fiction has seemingly taken over as the genre to beat in pop culture today. Comic-book adaptations have smashed box-office records and infected network television. Epic fantasies involving dragons, the undead, time-traveling Scots, and more have devoted followers who claw and spit to defend their domain—and pity the person who reveals plot details before issuing a spoiler alert.
While the genre is nothing new, with roots in literature that trace back to J.R.R. Tolkien and beyond, the modern cinematic styling of science fiction has been heavily influenced by siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski, the screenwriters and producers perhaps best known for The Matrix. They have teamed up again for Sense8, a new Netflix-exclusive series that aims to push the boundaries. Sense8 centers on the lives of eight random characters from around the world who gradually discover that they are “sensates”—individuals who are mentally and emotionally connected to each other in clusters, able to speak to each other from any location as if they were in the same place, and who access each other’s skills and knowledge.
The series begins with a bang . . . literally. The opening sequence sets a sinister tone as an older sensate, Angelica (Daryl Hannah), gives birth to a new cluster, awakening their latent sensate abilities. She shoots herself before she can be taken in by the dark sensate Mr. Whispers (Terrence Mann)—but just before she pulls the trigger, she sees the eight individuals who become the new cluster: Chicago police officer Will (Brian J. Smith), closeted Mexico City movie star Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), Korean business woman Sun (Doona Bae), Nairobi bus driver Capheus (Aml Ameen), San Francisco trans lesbian and hacktivist Nomi (Jamie Clayton), Indian pharmacist Kala (Tina Desai), Icelandic DJ Riley (Tuppence Middleton), and German thief Wolfgang (Max Riemelt).
As the eight characters begin to connect with each other, they have flashes of each other’s emotions and sensations. As Nomi and her girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman) enjoy some pre-Pride bedroom activities, Lito becomes distracted on a movie set by his erection. While Riley is spinning at a club in London, Will gets annoyed at the music coming from a neighboring apartment that turns out to be empty. When Wolfgang is standing in the rain at a funeral, Kala goes to find an umbrella on a sunny day. The connections only get stronger as the series goes on and they begin to see and talk to one another—and eventually start to share bodies.
This comes in handy when Angelica’s love, Jonas (Naveen Andrews), explains that they are being hunted by Whispers and his worldwide organization. It is never really made clear why Whispers is hunting other sensates, but they nevertheless must run from him. The genetic quirk of being a sensate is enough for him to hunt them.
Unlike most sci-fi, Sense8 is not about the characters’ special and unique powers. This story takes a slower pace, focusing on the interactions among people who are completely different. By showing people being forced out of their comfort zones, the show allows for a discussion of relevant issues of the day. Imagine an atheist and a true believer sharing the same experiences. Or a closeted gay man sharing his mind with an out and proud trans woman living in San Francisco during Pride. Or a cop and a drug addict living with a common brain.
Sense8 provides a unique way to look at what makes people who they are. Do the circumstances of someone’s birth create the person that they become? Or is there something more important that comes from connecting with other people? Sense8 opens the door for that conversation.
See it on Netflix (netflix.com).
Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.