It takes three episodes to get into Sense8. Then, somewhere in the middle of “Smart Money Is On The Skinny Bitch,” everything clicks. Sure, there’s a good chance that you still have no idea what the hell is going on, but the important thing is that you start to care. A lot. As it tended to elevate characters and emotional connection over a straightforward plot, Sense8 was a strange and messy show that was genuinely unlike anything else on television.
Thursday’s announcement that Netflix was passing on a third season for the sci-fi show, arrived with a sense of disappointed resignation. The show was easily one of Netflix’s most expensive at nearly $9 million an episode, but all signs suggested it didn’t have the numbers of shows like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black (one can’t help but partially blame Netflix’s nearly nonexistent marketing for that, though). So, while the part of me that understands that Netflix first and foremost is a business, I can’t help but feel that Netflix cancelled this hopeful little show at absolutely the wrong time.
It’s no secret that we are living in dark, contentious times. Unrelenting amounts of uncertainty tend to make people hard, and that’s often reflected in the art we create. Our shows are getting bleaker and our heroes are getting more conflicted, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes you need something to pull you out of the darkness instead of helping you wallow in it.
Sense8 didn’t have time for darkness. Telling the stories of eight psychically linked people — “sensates” — who each bring their own baggage and trauma to the table was always going to be an emotional journey, but Sense8‘s emphasis on character really set it apart, even with its psychic orgies, globetrotting cinematography, and kickass fight scenes courtesy of Sun Bak (Doona Bae).
Whether it was Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a trans hacker in San Francisco or Capheus Onyango (Aml Ameen in season 1, Toby Onwumere in season 2), a bus driver turned political activist in Nairobi, Sense8 gave every character a lush background and compelling storyline. At a time when many rightly decry the lack of representation in media, Sense8 made diversity feel natural. Other shows should take notes.
That’s not to say that Sense8 was without flaws. As willing as fans were to go along with the twisty plot, it would have been beneficial to know a little bit more about BPO, the shadowy organization hunting down “clusters” without any truly clear motivation. And while the earnest embrace of love was part of the show’s uncool appeal, it often lent itself to some truly terrible dialogue. But honestly, it didn’t matter.
The thrill of Sense8 came from the cluster discovering their connection and how they learned to use it. This conceit could have been an impossible task with a lesser cast or a less able production team, but Sense8 made it seamless. Whether working as one to help Sun escape from prison in season 2 or Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) always having Lito’s (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) back when the homophobia the actor faced took a violent turn, each moving cog felt like it was perfectly in place.
When season 2 ended on a major cliffhanger, you couldn’t help but respect the gumption of the Wachowskis to end things on such a bold note. While it may be an ultimately fitting end for such a wildly ambitious show, it’s still an unfortunate one. Kala (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang will never be together in Paris. Will (Brian J. Smith) and Riley (Tuppence Middleton) will never really find peace. Sun will never get to avenge her father. Nomi and Amanita (Freema Agyeman) won’t be able to get married. There was so much story left to tell, but more importantly, there was a lot more joy to be spread around.
As hokey as this may sound, the message that being your true, best self is what will save you and that no cultural divide is too big that it can’t be breached to find understanding is something that we could all use right now. If it’s a message conveyed by beautiful people and picturesque montages, even better.
At least we’ll always have 4 Non Blondes.