We have just finished the fifth episode of Netflix’s Sense8, a show created, written, and produced by the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana) and J. Michael Straczynski. It is a show that has two great qualities: beautiful, fascinating diversity and absolute ballsiness. Of course, there’s also a premise that provides mystery, sci-fi mind-explosions, and surprising twists.
Eight people suddenly start accessing each other’s sensory experiences. Of course, they have no idea what is happening or why and have to figure all of that out while also dealing with the conflicts of their non-Sensate lives.
The first aspect of greatness that struck me is Sense8’s diversity. In the mix: a Chicago cop, a Mexican film star, a Kenyan bus driver, a German safe-cracker, a Icelandic DJ, a Korean banker/kickboxer, an Indian woman about to get married, and a transgendered woman living in San Francisco. The various locations alone add layers of interest–although Chicago tends to look pretty mundane, the cinematography of San Francisco, Nairobi, Mumbai, and Mexico City are simply gorgeous. Different languages, different accents, different cultural situations. On top of that are the characters. Obviously their racial and ethnic differences are clear and compelling, but there is also variety in the sexual and gender identities. And with the eight individual storylines going on simultaneously, the shifting narratives keep the audience fully engaged.
The second aspect of greatness is the likability of the characters. At the top of the charmer charts are two black characters: the Sensate Capheus who drives a bus in Nairobi named Van Damn and is clever and caring and positive in the face of terrible situations and Amanita the girlfriend of transgendered Sensate Nomi. Amanita is played by a former Dr. Who companion, Freema Agyeman, and has a sassy awesomeness to match her incredible hair. Lito, the Mexican film star, and his boyfriend are both absolute dolls. I can’t say enough about the fact that I just want to spend time with these people. Anti-heroes be damned–it’s a nice change to actually be charmed and care about protagonists.
The third aspect of greatness is the absolute fearlessness to depict awkward and/or explicit sexuality. The first episode practically opens with a lesbian sex scene depicting orgasm and a dildo hitting the ground with a splash of fluid. In the fifth episode, a female character is shown inserting a tampon to wordlessly explain why a male character, connected through their Sensate link, is experiencing the emotions and physical sensations of menstruation–and his experience of it is hilarious, reminding me of the classic feminist essay, “If Men Could Menstruate.” In the same episode, a male character swims naked in a pool in Berlin, mentally linking with a woman getting married in Mumbai. When he stands up out of the water, she finally sees him. When her eyes and the camera take in his penis, she falls to the ground in a faint.
There are other lovely things about the show. Just one example: Lito is working on a movie that appears to be directed by the Mexican Michael Bay, and the violent, climatic scene at the end of the film is shot like a cross between the end of Desperado and the metal detector-foyer scene from The Matrix–slow motion, bullets shattering marble posts, impossible dodges of enemy fire, multiple gun exchanges, and a score that sounds very similar to that Matrix scene. It’s this kind of humor and action that leave me grinning during the shows more uplifting moments.