‘Sense8’ Connects Science Fiction, Human Experience

Sense8
Courtesy of Netflix

With original hits like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix has proved itself capable of producing quality storytelling. “Sense8,” an ambitious series created by siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (the minds behind “The Matrix”) and writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski (“Thor”), is undoubtedly the latest show to prove this trend.

“Sense8” follows a diverse ensemble of eight strangers scattered across the globe: there’s a young, idealistic Chicago cop named Will (Brian J. Smith), a transgender woman named Nomi (Jamie Clayton) who lives in San Francisco and was once a prolific hacker, an optimistic bus driver and Jean-Claude Van Damme enthusiast from Nairobi named Capheus (Aml Ameen) and a brilliant South Korean businesswoman who moonlights as a merciless kick boxer named Sun (Doona Bae).

There’s also a closeted gay actor named Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) who stars in cheesy Mexican action films, a fiercely loyal but explosive German safe-cracker named Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) who comes from a violent family, a talented Indian chemist named Kala (Tina Desai) who doubts her engagement to her boss’s charming son and finally, a talented Icelandic D.J. named Riley (Tuppence Middleton) who has fallen in with a bad crowd in London.  

Instead of opening the series with any hints about the show’s premise, the first episode jumps into the middle of things by beginning with a woman in a white shift dress lying on a dirty mattress in the middle of an abandoned building. Suddenly, there are two men at her side — but are they real or products of a drug-induced dream?

Daryl Hannah plays a mysterious woman in a white shift dress who continuously appears to the eight strangers. / Courtesy of Netflix
Daryl Hannah plays a mysterious woman in a white shift dress who continuously appears to the eight strangers. / Courtesy of Netflix

The mysterious scene soon leaves the dungy building and flits across the world. We see eight strangers in eight different cities, all of whom are stopped by a vision of the same woman in white. However, beyond the ambiguous psychic connection, the strangers seem to have nothing in common.

The audience is left in the dark as well, slowly unraveling the truth behind the strangers’ connections. While this makes for a couple of slow-paced episodes, the foundation sets the stage for the story ahead.

As the story moves forward, the connection between the eight strangers (called “sensates”) begins to reveal itself in random moments. Riley’s music at a London club wakes Will from his sleep, a German rainstorm has Kala convinced that there will be rain in cloudless Mumbai and Capheus finds himself at an LGBTQ Pride Parade in California while leaving work one night.

 

Kala (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) share a moment on a rooftop in India. / Courtesy of Netflix
Kala (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) share a moment on a rooftop in India. / Courtesy of Netflix

The opening episodes are filled with snapshots of each sensate, giving a brief look into his or her life before transitioning to that of another halfway around the world. Without a reliable source to explain their newfound connection, the so-called “cluster” of sensates are left to stumble through their connection, discovering bits of information at a time and piecing it together to see the bigger picture.

As the series progresses, the show’s tagline, “I Am Also A We,” becomes more and more apparent as the sensates begin to interact with one another, learn more about the marvels of their connection and the danger lying in the shadows.

The creators of “Sense8” have accomplished what few others have been able to do. The show proudly proclaims its inclusivity, from its racially and sexually diverse cast to the authentic backdrops that can only come with placing each character in his or her respective home country.

It’s a production sprawling across the globe. Fitting, as the sensates unique backgrounds reflect the diverse world in which we live.

The creators also take “Sense8” to places that most science-fiction writers avoid — confronting issues such as inequality, politics, religion and sexuality. The result is a creation that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

But the real standouts are the actors themselves. They each bring a unique flair to their roles. Jamie Clayton is also transgender like her character Nomi, and navigates her troubled relationship with her deeply prejudiced mother. Doona Bae, who plays Sun, brings a gravitas to her role as a businesswoman in an intensely patriarchal society as she struggles to balance her duties as a daughter and sister and her desire to be her own person. And Max Riemelt brings both a softness and ferocious outrage as Wolfgang as he attempts to navigate his violent family relationships while trying to protect the ones he loves.

The same can be said for each of the other five actors that comprise the cluster and the supporting cast. They each bring an aspect of humanity to the series, but there is also a thread of sameness throughout: the idea that although we may come from a variety of places and look different, we experience many of the same things. 

“Sense8” is a show that’s bound to become a new favorite, and with a second season already under production, the best time to catch up is now.  

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