By: Glynis Neely
#Sense8, an original Netflix series created by The Matrix’s Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Babylon 5’s Michael J. Straczynski, returns for season 2 after an innovative, but slowly moving, first season. The eight members of the #cluster, trans hacker Nomi (Jaime Clayton), Chicago cop Will (Brian J. Smith), physicist Kala (Tina Desai), gangster Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), bus driver Capheus (Toby Onwumere, played in season 1 by Aml Ameen), DJ Riley (Tuppence Middleton), Mexican movie star Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), and businesswoman/martial arts expert Sun (Doona Bae) are all #sensates – aka Homo sensorium as we learn this season – meaning that they have a genetic mutation that allows for a psychic connection to one another. They are able to visit and communicate from across continents as well as simultaneously experiencing each other’s emotions.
The first season spent a lot of time introducing the main characters and their newfound connection with one another whereas the second season focuses more attention on them as a group and new interactions between wholly different characters. The group learns about their connection to their sensate mother Angelica (Daryl Hannah) and her first cluster birth before them. It also introduces new sensates from different clusters, expanding the universe tenfold and creating a space for exploration of their shared humanity and personal identities.
Plot Isn’t Everything
While Sense8 has a rich mythology that only continues to expand in the second season, I don’t often tune in for its serialized plot. For this season, the ongoing #BPO conspiracy is advanced as the sensates learn more about how the company started and evolved into what it is today. They are still on the run from their main BPO antagonist Whispers (Terrence Mann), also known as the Cannibal, but the stakes are getting higher and by the end of the season a major twist sets up a hopeful third season.
The main reason I come to this show is its exploration of ideas about connection to each other and the never-ending struggle of preserving one’s personal identity. One of the most profound ideas this season was introduced by the mother of Sara, the young girl whose death inspired Will to become a police officer. She has been visited by sensates over the years claiming they could see Sara’s memory. Despite the loss of losing her daughter at such a young age, she has an incredible way of remembering her:
This emotional element keeps me coming back to the series, but the visual language and the sheer scope of the production that travels all over the world to some of the most beautiful places imaginable is truly unmatched by anything currently on television. This season added a few new locales, like San Diego and Sao Paolo, and brought us even deeper into places like Narobi and Seoul. The masterful editing as the sensates travel from place to place interacting in each other’s worlds during the course of a single scene is exhilarating, even if they are just delivering exposition. The absolute most exciting set piece this season was the group working together to break Sun out of prison, each of them stepping up when their skills were needed, having each other’s backs – and the flow of the sequence is nearly flawless.
The Sensate Connection and Personal Identity
Their individual talents and insight bolster working together for the betterment of the entire group. Of the core eight, it can sometimes be said that their inner lives feel thin and underdeveloped. For instance Riley often seems like the least developed character, as we rarely get a sense of her inner life, but this season as we see her interacting out of the cluster with three new sensates and traveling to Chicago to help get more information for the cluster. Wolfgang is dealing with newfound power in Berlin’s underworld and navigating his first experience with a sensate out of his cluster. Nomi is still in hiding from the cops, but she has more a solid support system than ever, even finding some closure with her family who heretofore did not accept her for who she is.
Of those who seem the most removed from the BPO conspiracy, despite still being targets nonetheless, Kala, Capheus and Lito have their personal issues truly rise to the surface. Lito is still trying to balance his personal life and career, only now he must contend with both on a much more public scale after being outed by the news media. Capheus is following in his father’s footsteps by entering politics in Nairobi and making connections with sensates who are witnessing his newfound exposure. Kala has been dealing with her suppressed love for Wolfgang while navigating her marriage with Rajan (Purab Kohli), but she is exploring her inner feelings and finally following her heart.
Ultimately, the difference in their personal identities is paramount to the cluster’s strength, as the show focuses on their deepening connection to each other, beginning with the incredible two-hour Christmas special. The bond they share is rooted in love and responsibility, and the more they get to know each other, the more in tune they are with their emotions in the moment. While the first season put a lot of focus on Will, Nomi and Riley, this season we get a deepening connection between Wolfgang and Kala, even as he is teased by new sensate Lila, Capheus’s newfound involvement in politics and romance, Lito trying to embrace his outed sexuality and Sun’s escape from prison and pledged revenge on her brother.
This season is enjoying pairing diametrically different sensates together and exploring new connections within the cluster. Sun and Lito, who don’t on the surface have much in common, are paired together on a couple of occasions – first when Lito needs some tough love and Sun needs compassion and a good cry, and later on when she needs his bartending skills to infiltrate her brother’s party. When Will seems to be hitting rock bottom and Riley is away, Kala comforts him as they talk about their respective romantic entanglements within the cluster. There are several interesting conversation between Sun and Riley and there is even a wonderful moment where Wolfgang stands up for Lito.
The stakes have also been raised with the introduction of the much wider world of sensates than previously thought. This season as the cluster interacts with new sensates, they need to know whom, if any, they can trust in order to take down BPO. Riley, Lito, Will, Wolfgang and Capheus are the only ones so far who have interacted with sensates outside their cluster. Through Mr. Hoy (Sylvester McCoy), a fellow sensate, Riley is introduced to their communication network called the #Archipelago – “isolated above, connected below,” which works like a game of telephone – comparatively similar to the human-made Internet, but this one has been around since the Neolithic. Our Internet and the connection it provides across continents has brought us closer together and simultaneously further apart.
The Human Connection
We find out in the second season that Angelica, the mother of our main cluster, had given birth once before BPO wiped her first cluster out. Jonas, who is the only person left from her original cluster, explains to Will, “a sensate can give birth at any time, which is why they are scared of us; procreation and continuation of our species.” When BPO was first started, it was intended to be an organization that protected the secret of the existence of Homo sensorium. They believed that though Homo sensoriums and Homo sapiens are a different species, they needed to co-exist in order for them both to survive. A war would not help anything, but that is now looking to be BPO’s legacy.
And yet despite this possibility that humans would turn on them if they ever found out, several members of our cluster have profound human connections with people who know their real identity and still protect them fiercely. Nomi is surrounded by several people who know her secret, including her girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman), Amanita’s mother, and their hacking buddy Bug (Michael X. Sommers). They not only protect her true identity, but also actively help avert crises related to the sensates; they have become integral to the survival of the main cluster. Will’s best friend Diego also comes to understand his friend’s ability to be there without physically being there, thanks to Riley’s explanation. The only other person who has somewhat an idea of his friend’s true nature is Jela, Capheus’s best friend, who believes that Capheus is such a special person that it doesn’t surprise him he has someone watching over him.
The rest of the sensates have kept their true nature a secret from those they love most, mainly to keep them safe. Will’s relationship with his dad is strongly established in the first season, and it is truly painful to watch him deteriorate after Will goes into hiding and stops contacting him, despite doing it for his own protection. Riley’s dad trusts her inherently to the point that he believes she would never lie to him, and the sadness behind her eyes when she assures him everything is fine says everything she can’t say. Lito considers Hernando (Alfonso Herrera) and Dani (Eréndira Ibarra) his family, and after everything that’s happened among them, I find it hard to believe that he would not tell them his true identity, but they still do not know.
“Fear Never Fixed Anything”
After a season and a half of staying in hiding, from BPO and from their own nature, the group decides that they are no longer going to hide, since, as Wolfgang notes, “fear never fixed anything.” The reflection of our own society’s penchant for shunning those different than us is on full view within the series. Never mind that the creators of the show itself are members of an oppressed group, both Lana and Lily Wachowski are transgender and know a thing or two about discrimination. They are able to tap into the current worldview that is eroding our trust and causing us to turn against each other.
The evolution of BPO, the organization hell bent on taking out all sensates, has gone much the way of American democracy. For decades, America has wanted to be a nation that welcomes all and treats everyone equally and fairly. Of course, in practice we all know that is not how our country has progressed. We have become so focused on fear as a motivator, that we have lost sight of the things that once mattered. The political climate within Sense8 is not much different. As Bustle noted,
“BPO was initially dedicated to a natural and ethical balance between the two species, but after 9/11 gave rise to the War on Terror, sensates were viewed as an immediate threat to secrecy and sovereignty, and the organization began targeting them as such.”
When Riley meets Mr. Hoy and they come to trust one another, he explains to her the origins of BPO and their founder, Ruth El-Saadawi. She was determined to keep the existence of sensoriums secret, but after her death the company has evolved into the opposite of what she would’ve wanted. Mr. Hoy explains that when humans feel safe, they’re the nicest people you could meet. But frighten them and feed their fears and they will turn on each other, herding people into gas chambers – and that’s only what they would do to each other. He asks her to wonder, imagine what they would do to sensoriums?
In our current political climate, Sense8 is a breath of fresh air. It is like nothing else on television; it has the most diverse cast and films all over the world, creating an incredible palate of the beauty inherent in our existence. It provides an honest and loving portrayal of all shades of love between people from different cultures and with different experiences. Despite the often drawn-out plot and complicated central mythology, the show’s focus on human connection and positive personal identity stays with you long after watching. Like much of the Wachowski’s previous work, including Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending and of course The Matrix, It celebrates the connection we have together as humans while distrusting government organizations that try to place us into identical boxes.
As differences in personality or politics dictate our worldview and influence our decisions, we need to remember that we all come from the same place and shouldn’t lose sight of our shared humanity and the power of working together. As sensoriums or sapiens, this show has always been about embracing who you are. While unraveling the BPO conspiracy, the sensates become even stronger as a group as they focus on their profoundly positive and incredible connection to each other. We need to do the same as societies all over the world are taken over by fascist and destructive regimes that deign to tear us apart because of those differences that truly make us unique. They want us to forget our collective humanity and turn on each other. Instead, we need to find the things that bring us together – love, passion, loyalty, trust – because we know that we are better when we work together.