I’m emotionally exhausted and angry: Why Sense8 being cancelled is not about losing a good TV show, it’s about what that says about the current state of the world.
My list of favorite shows (other than sense8) includes things like Torchwood and Agent Carter, so clearly I have a thing for doomed TV shows and I’m not new to the feeling of betrayal and lost that comes with your average cancellation.
But I believe that sense8 is not your average situation, and that’s why it trended worldwide on twitter for 8+ hours and it made so many people deeply upset.
Sense8 being cancelled is the entertainment industry equivalent of Trump winning the elections. In Freema Agyeman’s words: ‘A real kick in the teeth for everyone who is striving to make TV more representational & inclusive’. And, because that’s the way media works, a direct reflection of what’s going on in the rest of world right now, and it’s not a nice reminder. To make it better, it happened in the first day of pride month, no less.
This is not just about the cliffhanger, or not getting more of our favorite characters, this is a direct ‘we don’t care about you and your stories’ to every single person that connected to this show because they saw themselves in it, sometimes even for the first time ever.
Sense8 was a beam of light in the middle of constant messages of hate bombarded at every single person that’s different in any way, there’s no need for me to point you in the direction of those messages in the ‘real’/political world, but even in fiction minority characters rarely get a happy ending or a happy plot at all.
Sense8, unlike any other tv show I’ve ever watched, didn’t rely on angsty relationships, on the contrary, it was all about how simple and pure love can be if we want it to, it was about how empathy can be a literal superpower.
Hernando and Lito, and specially Nomi and Amanita were the most healthy lgbt relationships I’ve ever seen portrayed on screen. They were treated in the exact same way the ‘straight’ relationships were, and that seems so basic but it isn’t, to this day all other shows with lgbt characters somehow always manage to have a big rainbow arrow pointed to their lgbt couples saying ‘LOOK!! GAYS GAYING!! WE R SO INCLUSIVE RIGHT!! oh they’re fighting now #angst nvm the lesbian is dead rip’.
Hernando and Lito and Nomi and Amanita got to cuddle in bed, eat breakfast, visit each other’s families, have sex and support each other 100% to hell and back, funny how something so simple is never actually portrayed on screen.
And to be honest, the way this show presented ‘straight’ and platonic relationships was revolutionary too, not in the impossible to miss in your face way of the lgbt romantic couples, but in a more subtle but also important way.
Sense8 gave us quotes like: ‘Whatever you decide to do, just know you won’t have to do it alone’; and scenes like the birthday montage, the karaoke, Lito crying in bed with Sun, Wolfgang always showing up to defend Lito from homophobes. It showed how far people can get when they completely trust each other, in a very literal way, since the sensates can’t hide anything from each other or lie. How many tv shows rely heavily on lies and secrets? Wasn’t it great to have one that relied on the complete opposite of that?
Coming from an industry that pats itself in the back for having one non-white character on their shows that are, of course, set it america (or maybe if we’re lucky England or Canada, for diversity </sarcasm>) sense8 really made a point to show us the world in the most unbiased open way it could manage. Even from a production point of view, hiring local actors and extras and filming on location.
For a world as ‘globalized’ us ours, we sure don’t get to see other cultures and their people as just normal humans going through with their daily life that much, the feeling of otherness is always present, sense8 did its best to fight against that and show us that different isn’t always better or worse, jut different.
Don’t get me wrong, sense8 is angsty as hell, I cried my eyes out most episodes, but for a refreshing first time ever, it’s other factors and not the relationships (romantic or otherwise) between the characters that are angsty. And it’s LOVE out of all things what saves the day. The big baddie of sense8 wasn’t really BPO, it was INJUSTICE. Please tell me how that isn’t the exact message we need to be shouting loud and clear to the world right now.
Sense8 tried to define the core of what it means to be human in the most uplifting and lovely way possible, and I think it did a pretty good job. Unlike most serialized fiction out there it didn’t rely on its plot to be compelling, it tried to speak to you personally, and that’s a far more subjective thing, meaning that it didn’t work out for everyone (as we could clearly see in early season 1 reviews), but when it did it was something you most likely have never experienced watching a tv show before.
Brian J Smith, compared it to music, and I think he nailed it:
“For me one of the cool things about sense8 is that it’s more like music than it is narrative television. I don’t watch it for the story at all, I can put in a random episode (…) if I’m having a bad day (…) and I can watch it almost like I’d listen to music, and there would be a line, or gesture, or scene, or a bit of music or a shot that will just kinda make me go ‘ah okay, I feel good about being an homo sapiens again’”
Music is a far more subjective storytelling medium than tv, it can tell a story, but that’s not the point, the overall message and feeling is, and sense8 works like that, it was the ultimate feel-good show, the overarching sci-fi plot was merely an excuse to tell us something else.
Probably that ‘something else’, just like music, was slightly different for every single person that watched it and connected to it, and that’s what made it so special. My interpretation was ‘hang in there, there are good people and good things in the world’, and that was exactly what I needed to hear.
Scenes like the already mentioned birthday montage and karaoke, and hell, the so talked about orgies, were something never done before, and the fact that they are the heart of the show and the most memorable part of it goes against everything that television has ever been before it. Those scenes were not meaningful to the plot, they didn’t serve narrative purpose, what they did, just like music (and they were, after all, set to music most of the time), is set a mood, a feeling, show us its core concept of empathy and connection directly in an intimate way. They were very effective 4 minutes montages of emotional fanservice and the moments that made you go ‘ah, so this is what this show is about’. And it was honestly cathartic to watch in a world that teaches us to keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves and beware of every other human out there since the moment we are born.
So, what does it say about us, right now in the real world, that a show like sense8 is being cancelled? That not enough people were interested in watching a diverse show about love and empathy? That not enough people were interested in characters that weren’t like themselves? That the ones that did watch and found it important don’t matter and that the message is not worth pushing for? That it was indeed successful(ish) but a capitalist company like Netflix that has already managed to almost monopolize the streaming market can now throw any attempt to ‘sell diversity’ in the trashcan since they don’t need to widen their audience anymore and would rather keep the 100m dollars (that they really don’t fucking need being billionaires) to themselves instead of pushing for some good in the world? That there’s way more people out there that genuinely don’t see sense8’s message as important? Or they even see it as harmful? Probably a little bit of everything, and none of the options are good.
That’s why it’s so upsetting. Yes, I’m attached to the story and the characters and I’m sad I have to let them go and that a one of a kind TV show like this won’t continue. But what breaks my heart is knowing that I live in a world where what it had to say wasn’t considered important enough.