Sense8: You Are Not Alone

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So Sense8 is confusing and hard to follow. It’s a fascinating premise that does more than flirt with greatness. It’s original. It’s progressive and willfully challenging. Scattered, yes. Imperfect, a bit. Damn, I’m in love with it, regardless. It’s also multicultural, sensual, feminist, gay and straight, violent and strange, and human throughout. I cannot, for the life of me, recall a science fiction story that does a superior job describing how lonely life can be so honestly while still managing to be uplifting and beautiful in the same breath.

This story is damn near impossible to sum up elegantly, a dilemma clearly negotiated by the first few episodes. I had a rough time caring, the cast is too large to be compelling or interesting at first glance. The only writer I know who can pull off the kind of exposition required here is Joss Whedon. If you look closely, as a lot of us nerds have, there are three different instances of introduction in Firefly/Serenity. The pilot, The Train Job, and the film, three times Whedon expertly paints each character in an efficient, charming way, unnoticeable unless examined and Sense8 doesn’t quite have that kind of deftness.

But.

It does have J. Michael Stracynski. I’m going to out myself here as a power geek but I will die on the hill that is Babylon 5. A lot of folk couldn’t get past the prosthetics, the cheap set design, or the limited CGI. Those who can, however, will find a brilliant and thrilling space opera about, well, everything. War, love, politics, philosophy, science, humor, everything. This is a fully realized breathing Universe grounded in Newtonian physics that is mind-blowingly epic and populated by flesh and blood personalities. So as much as the Wachowskis have stumbled of late, I instinctually knew JMS could be the missing link, knowing that their real weaknesses were his strengths. And 9 episodes in I want to jump up and down and sing the praises of their collaboration. That’s how good Sense8 is. I haven’t even finished it and I’m ready to physically write a letter to Netflix begging for more and I don’t even remember how to buy stamps anymore, there might be some left over in my wallet I think…., nope, that’s a condom.

Speaking of sex. This is an enormously inclusive story that embraces the LGBT community like nothing I’ve seen before in mainstream fiction. The closest thing that compares is maybe Six Feet Under and I cite this intentionally over something like The L Word which is great but overtly centered on the gay/lesbian experience, it’s the show’s selling point. However, Sense8 expounds on almost every preference I can think of and treats them with equal gravity and substance across the board, a far more interesting narrative to me. This is the next step I believe, in my unworthy and ill-informed opinion, in spreading tolerance and acceptance. Lito and Nomi are gay and trans respectively, and to quote the late great Bill Hicks, I have four questions for you: Yeah? And? So? What?

Prejudice and intolerance are certainly aspects of a few plot lines (one major one) but on the whole the main characters are treated by each other with a deliberate earnestness, nay, the narration, treats their stories with an expectation of the audience. And that expectation is this: some of these characters are gay or trans and you’re going to give a shit about them. It’s just going to happen, so move on and enjoy the ride. And oh, the ride.

Sense8 is supremely cool. It’s funny, it’s melancholy, and it kicks ass in that way that makes you giddy while things are playing out. Because you haven’t seen anything like this show before and if I’m gushing it’s because I get it. This is a show for writers and outcasts. And for nerds and strong female characters, poor people, thieves, and heroes. Gays and straights and, well. Everyone. I love this show for exactly how scattered it is and for how well it weaves these stories together, for how everyone’s personal life experience is important, from the life or death dangers as a beat cop to the Hindi bride afraid of marrying the wrong man to the Kenyan bus driver trying to make ends meet in a violent slum and more. They all matter because of course they do and the way to win is approached so beautifully: true empathy taken to a degree that is only possible in fiction. To literally walk in someone else’s shoes and see through their eyes and help. To lend our strength and experience to the ones beside us who are sharing the same struggle in a different way. Because in the end it’s all the same struggle, to go forth, and spread beauty and light.

I have a feeling that Sense8 is going to sneak by into relative obscurity, it ironically doesn’t have that mass appeal to match it’s massive diversity. Which is a shame but that’s alright, I also have a feeling that those of us who do give it a chance will share something special. But, please, I rarely petition for a show, give it three hours of your time and see what happens.

So the other day I saw something that always makes me smile. I was at a food truck and this young, shy Indian kid was trying to order and seemed uncomfortable requesting a vegetarian option. The man taking his order was a confident good looking black man who took the kid very seriously and treated him with absolute respect. He did his job excellently and this is where I glow inside. I love when disparate cultures interact, I go all warm inside, even in mundane things. Especially, in mundane ways. I smile inwardly when the smaller battles are won for the good guys, the people who see someone different and go out of their way to make them feel welcome, there will never be enough of that on my watch. The bigger battles, well. They rage on, informed only by real monsters, this Charleston shooter who walked into a church with a handgun being the most recent acolyte to some endemic fear of being, what, inconsequential? Too lonely to relate to the world changing? Too alone to empathize and too afraid to change with it? No, they say that there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes, and they are assholes. There is a third certainty and it is that the person next to you is as lonely and afraid as you are from time to time and in that sense, with that shared human experience in mind, how alone are we really.

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One thought on “Sense8: You Are Not Alone

  1. I absolutely loved this show because it was completely fresh and unprecedented. The characters were diverse and fleshed out authentically. Your review was incredible and your final paragraph warmed my heart.

    Congratulations on branching out to the other blog, btw! Very excited to see what you write there.

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