What I know to be true about Sense8 is that it is queer, the main characters are connected supernaturally, FANGRRLS' own Riley Silverman loves it, and I really missed the boat by not watching. It turns out I’m not the only one, given how good Sense8 is and how quickly it was canceled. In fact, after news of the cancelation spread, the fans of this short-lived series spurred quite a revival campaign that was actually somewhat successful. Despite remaining canceled, the show did receive a finale, a two-hour long special that streamed on Netflix, as did the entire series.
I’m excited to make up for missed opportunities and to dive into this wonderful, mind-f*cking science fiction series, and Riley was happy to provide me with five episodes to watch for the Sense8 edition of Late to the Party.
Let’s get freaky, shall we?
Season 1, Episode 1: "Limbic Resonance"
Angelica (Daryl Hannah), a woman racked with pain, sees eight people in very different locations through some kind of psychic connection and reaches out to them. When they see her out of place, out of time, all messed up looking, they (understandably) freak out. Before she can do much but “give birth” (I think), some creepy beardo shows up to take her and she dies by suicide. There was also another guy there for a bit who was trying to help her give birth, but then also neither of them were actually there. And then beardo showed up again for real, i.e. not as a projection.
Each of the people the woman saw begins having auditory and visual visions where they sort of slip into one another’s reality. We the viewers know this, but the characters are just sort of freaking out. They keep getting migraines and feeling haunted by visions or hallucinations. A bunch of them do a bunch of drugs. Basically, it’s a fool’s errand to try to summarize the immensity of what is tackled in this episode in terms of narrative direction and tension for each of the main characters, the sensates. Suffice it to say, they all have deeply complicated lives and they’re all starting to slip into each other’s worlds more easily.
I was so into this episode that I forgot I was watching it for an article and just let the next episode start. It took me twelve minutes to realize what I was supposed to be doing. What I’m saying is that Sense8 is addictive, arresting, and so, so beautiful. It manages to have an overarching plot that is compelling and covers a large cast of characters — eight individuals and the people they care for and interact with. Each character, sensate or no, has their own unique motivations that are clear, and the episode is filled with tender moments shared between lovers and family members, as well as painful moments shared with the same as well as enemies. It’s remarkable how well the pacing is managed. The story moves along and weaves together disparate stories to beg an interesting set of questions: Why are these people connected? What are they doing? Why does someone want to stop them?
Beyond that, there’s a wonderful sex scene between Nomi and Amanita where they share an intimate orgasm. Then as they are untangling from one another, Amanita removes her strap-on. When that sticky, wet dildo hit the floor, I nearly jumped for joy. Yay sex positivity and yay queer!
Season 1, Episode 4: "What's Going On?"
Probably the most important thing that happens in this episode is that Nomi, who is having hallucinations, is undergoing forced emergency surgery that she begs to be freed from. On top of that, her effing mom deadnames her. Jonas, the good guy who was with Angelica when she gave birth, tasks Will with saving Nomi but he doesn’t know how.
Meanwhile, Capheus takes a sketchy job to be able to buy his mom AIDS medication, Sun Bak might be taking the fall for her brother’s embezzlement, and Wolfgang and his buddy offload the stolen diamonds they have. When Wolfgang celebrates by singing karaoke, all of the sensates sing together, which is really, really sweet. They all belt out “What’s Up?” by 4 Non-Blondes. But then Wolfgang sees Kala (who’s engaged to a man she doesn’t love) and they sing at each other passionately.
While they’re all singing, Will goes to Nomi and picks the lock with a needle from her IV and helps her get closer to freedom. Amanita shows up at the last moment, though, and helps her sneak past the guards.
The stakes have been raised even higher in this episode, not just for each of the characters in their own narratives, but in the connection between the sensates. We’ve learned that the eight who were born together are part of a cluster, which means they can visit each other at any time. We also learned that other sensates can reach those outside their own cluster if they’ve made eye contact in the past. There’s some method to all this random place swapping. We’ve also learned that some big pharmaceutical company connects the sensates, but the full details have yet to be revealed.
This whole episode is riveting. The plot is getting more complicated, the characters are starting to enjoy seeing (and experiencing?) one another, and I am straight up in love with Nomi and Amanita’s relationship. I am here for Nominita. I also like the sparks between Wolfgang and Kala! Overall, the theme of humans being humans in all our glory and messiness is definitely working for me and I just can’t wait to see what happens next!
Season 1, Episode 6: "Demons"
What an episode! Riley’s story got punched up a notch as Nyx returned to get his drugs and money. In a hyper-realistic, terrifying scene (that is by far the darkest thing so far in Sense8), Riley is suffocated with a plastic bag over and over by Nyx. In the nick of time, Will visits and kicks the crap out of Riley’s assailants. In his life, Will beats up some of his colleagues.
Silas tasks Capheus with running his child to and from the hospital where she receives leukemia treatment.
Other than that, this is a loving and bone-rific episode. Will and Riley are falling for each other. Kala and Wolfgang are setting each other afire in a very sexy way. And, in a scene so steamy it might make you need to wipe your glasses (and other parts), Nomi and Amanita make love while Lito and Hernandez rub their lust-worthy bodies together and Daniela touches herself. Oh and, Wolfgang enjoys a soak while they all rub on him. Will, working out at the gym, finds himself having the best orgasm ever. It’s a cross-continental, psychic and physical orgy that makes you wish you were blessed to be a sensate.
Wow. WOW. Wow. Seriously, wow. That has to be one of the hottest sex scenes on TV. Not only was the filming just fantastic — the way those many beautiful bodies meld and gyrate into one another is something else — but the way the sensates transition from location to location in new and different configurations, all together, all at once, and all apart at the same time is just mind-blowing levels of sexy.
This wonderfully sexy scene is made all the more potent by the way the sensates are shown caressing each other in ways that at least Will seems to find unexpected. It’s fun, it’s sensual, it’s a testament to the power of connection and the beauty of human sexuality. Damn. That’s the kind of TV we could use a lot more of.
Season 1, Episode 11: "Just Turn the Wheel and the Future Changes"
Riley is in a hospital for some reason and Will and Nomi check on her periodically. Will and Nomi are working on a plan to get her out of there, but it’s a race against Whispers, the bad guy from the pilot, who is hunting the sensates.
Sun has quite an episode. She finds out her father is dead and that her brother killed him, but faked a suicide because her father was about to confess that his son had embezzled the money, not Sun. So, Sun beats the ever-loving crap out of her brother, which I imagine felt amazing.
A baddie from Capheus’s world traps him and tries to take Silas’s daughter, but Capheus kept her safe at a friend’s place. The baddie then tries to force Capheus to kill Silas, taunting him by calling him a bitch over and over. Sun has zero f*cks left to give and loses her sh*t, taking over Capheus’s body and machete-ing the hell out of the baddie and his whole gang of machete-wielding jerks. It is glorious.
There’s also some weird stuff with religious zealots who are praising Kala for her accidental role in her fiancé’s dad’s murder. And, even though her fiancé still wants to get married, Kala is falling for Wolfgang and the two even shared a passionate kiss. When Kala cries about how Wolfgang is going to murder someone (or more likely be murdered), Sun gives her an anti-pep talk. She’s like, “Um, it hurts to be alive. Get over it. And get back in the fight.”
Sun is amazing. I love the way she relishes chopping up nasty baddies on Capheus’s behalf. I’m glad that she’s a badass fighter, too, because I was starting to worry that there was a white savior trope going on with Will. Shew. Crisis averted.
I also love how brave Capheus is, that he helps a bad man rather than become a bad man himself. (Or maybe and then becomes a morally ambivalent man himself.)
My favorite thing, though, has to be all the budding romances. I love the moments when Kala and Wolfgang or Riley and Will flirt and kiss and look at each other all cute-like.
Season 2, Episode 9: "What Family Actually Means"
Get out your tissues! This is an emotional one!
Capheus is running for president and Silas wants to marry his mother! Kala is not feeling the mama train and casts some doubt on her marriage (yeah, I guess she married the guy she wasn’t into. Bummer.) Daniela nearly surprises the pants off of Lito and Hernando by securing Lito a meeting for a big Hollywood movie. Sun is making her way toward her brother and I’m guessing vengeance will shortly be hers.
But, in this episode, the real emotional power is delivered by Nomi and Will in their respective worlds.
Nomi attends her sister’s rehearsal dinner and wedding while enduring a barrage of transphobia and deadnaming, particularly by her mother. Despite the BS, Nomi delivers a beautiful toast that celebrates her love for her sister and how her sister supported her through her transition. At her sister’s wedding, Nomi is almost arrested, but then Amanita and their friend Bug erase the agent’s warrant. Nomi’s dad defends her and calls her "daughter" for the first time.
Riley works with Will’s former partner, Diego, to investigate a woman connected to their abilities. It turns out she had a creepy basement with surgical equipment and a room under the stairs that makes Harry Potter’s room look like the Presidential Suite. They also find the woman they were investigating very much dead having died by suicide. Will is with them as a visitor to Riley, but his body is elsewhere.
Diego delivers the bad news that Will’s father is dying and Riley helps him say goodbye. His father is able to see Will for who he is, though he is in Riley’s body, and the two get to say a grief-soaked goodbye. Will wails in a dark room elsewhere while Riley holds his dying father’s hand.
Between Nomi’s speech at her sister’s rehearsal dinner, her father having her back (and finally calling her daughter!) at the wedding ceremony, and Will saying his last goodbye to his father, I cried at least three times, though does it count as multiple times if you just kind of keep sniffling and crying the whole episode? As much as I hated to see two wonderful characters go through so much pain that was some cathartic stuff! Great episode overall!
What’s not to love about Sense8?! We’ve got romance, intrigue, science fiction, attractive people, friendships, hot sex, evil organizations, and fun fight scenes. We’ve got powerful women, queer characters, people of color, and intersections of all three. Hallelujah! The characters are all complex, fascinating, relatable, and wholly original.
While the show sometimes seems to have bitten off more than it can chew, it balances complex plots with tender, breathing, delightful characters. And, though at the end of an episode, I often felt like I had no idea what was going on, I found myself deeply invested in the characters and willing to tolerate more ambiguity and slower pacing than might normally be the case.
I am 100% in love with Sense8, which is, of course, bittersweet. The show is over, but the love for it lives on and I, for one, now consider myself a fan.