/*Warning there be Spoilers ahead*/
Like most proud subscribers of Netflix I have been on one a many Netflix marathons or I guess a binge would be more accurate. My most recent escapade was with a Netflix original series called Sense8. The premise of the series is a bit strange but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sense8 follows 8 main leads who are“Sensates” and thus are part of an octet known as a “Cluster.” A Cluster in the show’s terms are a group of people who are able to share emotions, thoughts and skills while also having the ability to see and mentally visit other Cluster members. In some cases they can visit other Sensates who are not part of their Cluster. The Cluster that we follow had their abilities suddenly woken up by a Sensate named Angelica who is forced to commit suicide to save the newest cluster.
The members of the Octet are Capheus a bus driver from Nairobi, Sun Bak a Korean CFO by day and a kick boxer by night, Nomi Marks a former hacktavist now corporate hacker living in San Francisco, Kala a pharmacist in India, Riley a DJ from Iceland living in Great Britain, Wolfgang a lock smith and safe-cracker living in Berlin, Lito a successful actor living in Mexico city, and Will Gorski a Chicago Police officer.
The over arching plot of the series is about the Cluster discovering their connection to one another and the threat posed to them by a mysterious organization. Some of the Sensates are more proactive in their search for answers namely Will Gorski and Nomi Marks while other Sensates like Lito and Sun Bak are less interested in their new found connections. In fact, I would probably call Will and Nomi the team leads as they work to unravel the over arching plot. Their curiosity is driven by Nomi being immediately threatened by the organization and Will being recruited by another Sensate to save her.
They are given bits and piece of information via Will’s access to police records and Nomi’s hacking abilities. As well, as Will’s yet to be revealed connection to a murdered girl from when he was a child and to Whispers the man who presumably killed her. Nomi’s girlfriend, Amanita is a valuable ally as her mom is an evolutionary professor. She is able to fill in the gaps on the Cluster such as why their differences make them a formidable team from an evolutionary standpoint. Furthermore, Will and Nomi were approached by fellow Sensate, Jonas Maliki, who informs them of the dangers of “Whispers” and the organization. He remains imprisoned for much of the series being only able to communicate with Will and Nomi.
While the main plot line (Special people/strange organization out to get them)is engaging it’s not what makes this show so groundbreaking. Rather what makes it revolutionary is the way it reflects today’s world where we can cross cultural boundaries all the time via technology. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have learned about other cultures (South America and Europe mostly)simply from being on Tumblr and not even inherently seeking out this information. If I wanted to learn more about life in Korea for example, I can hop onto YouTube and watch “Eat your Kimchi”. If I want to keep in contact with friends I met abroad or whom I met while they were abroad I can keep up with them on Facebook.
Another unique thing the series does is it films in 9 different cities so we get a feel for how the character’s lives were shaped by their environment. So often in TV shows it feels like our characters just sprang out of a hole or worse were picked out of a story archetype catalog, but Sense8 chooses to build the characters out of their environment instead. Thus it creates a strong juxtaposition between each character that we normally don’t get. Some of them have a very positive outlook on life while others are more pessimistic, some of them have terrible backgrounds while others come from loving families and yet they all have their own struggles. It’s a true look at the human condition. No matter where you are born, what race/ethnicity you are or who you know, you will have your struggles. And these struggles are all very real to these characters even if not all of them are life or death.
Here’s a break down by character:
Kala Dandekar, is an Indian College Educated woman who is going to marry a rich man she does not love. Sense8 easily could have gone into well marked territory. They could have done a stereotypical romance like most romcoms where the girl is marrying who she believes is the “right guy” (good job, nice, handsome)and ends up falling in love with the “dashing guy” (rugged, bad boy, cynic). While the concept is explored it’s not the focus of her story. Or possibly they could have wrote a cultural stereotype where the marriage would be arranged. That did not happen either. What happened was deeper. Kala aspired to go to a University she was breaking traditional gender roles and she landed a solid job as a pharmacist. Rather than being a cold-logical woman she is quite warm. Her outlook on life is positive and she is a devout Hindu rather than an atheist like most scientist portrayed on TV. Her faith is driven by her family, cultural background and most particularly by her belief in miracles. As she explains it science is also a miracle. Her emotive beliefs also pushes her to believe in love though she is not actively seeking it. It puts her in a tough position when the son of her boss falls in love with her and she wasn’t interested in relationships. When she is proposed to her parents are far more happy for her than when she graduated from the university. Kala knows that they love her whatever choice she makes regarding the proposal but she doesn’t want to disappoint them. So rather than being pressured into this decision by her family she is making it out of love for them. So her real internal struggle is between making her parents happy and also making herself happy.
Capheus like Kala has a positive disposition on life, but he has led a rougher life than her. He and his mother were forced to leave their village because of his father and move to Nairobi (Africa). Along the way they have to give up his baby sister or risk letting her starve. To top it off his mother is dying of AIDS and he does not have enough money to ease her suffering with medicine. His mother feels bad for holding him back, but Capheus loves her too much to let her go. He recognizes the sacrifices that she made for him and wants to reciprocate. Rather than being bitter about his life Capheus fights harder finding inspiration in Jean Claude Van Damme’s work when he is feeling down. He earns the respect of a gang leader who pays him a great deal of money to transport his daughter to school and treatments. His conflict comes when he has to decide between continuing to work for a corrupt man or letting his mom suffer. It’s a choice that could cost him his life, but he does not miss a beat on trying to do the right thing.
He’s a perfect foil to Sun Bak. Sun is an educated woman, daughter of a major Korean CEO, a CFO in her father’s company, from a rich society and who’s disposition on life is far less positive. Her loving mother died whereas Capheus’ mother is still alive. Sun lived in the shadow of her brother despite being more competent than him in business and kickboxing simply because she is a woman. Capheus is surrounded by the love of his mother and his friends whereas Sun lives alone isolated from her busy CEO father and playboy brother with only a dog to serve as companionship. Sun’s inner struggle is trying to fulfill her mother’s dying wish by protecting her brother but in turn she is sacrificing her life for his. She’s already sacrificed kick boxing for him and soon she might sacrifice her future too as she faces prison time.
In a similar vein Wolfgang Bogdanow lives in the shadow of his family. Unlike Sun he comes from a corrupt crime family. He was discriminated against in West Germany as a child due to him being of Russian descent (coming from East Germany) and had an abusive father. Even with his father’s murder he’s unable to escape his extended family. He lives in his father’s shadow as a safe-cracker. He makes it his goal to beat the “S &D” or “un-crackable” safe that got his dad busted. His actions lead to unintended consequences and have life and death consequences. It rattles his faith in who he is and causes a rift between him and Kala (love interest).
Will Gorski, like Wolfgang does not have the most upstanding dad. His dad while not abusive was prone to drinking excessively and was tough on Will. Despite his flaws, Will aspires to be like his father out of admiration and follows his example by becoming a police officer. He has a close loving relationship with his dad though sometimes it is strained due to differences in opinion. He feels a strong need to protect those around him even though his desires are not always logical. He ends up saving the life of a young gang member even though his partner fears that the kid will one day shoot or kill a police officer. Will sees a murdered dead girl as a child but no one believed him and was forced to drop the topic. He knows that Jonis is considered to be a terrorist and it’s his job as a police officer to detain him but Jonis also has information for him and the other Sensates. Will wants to make the right call, but in his life that choice is not always clear.
Riley lives a life very different from Will. She does drugs, lives a night life as a DJ, suffers from depression, keeps bad company but has a very loving supportive father. Riley’s problems are in her own head and they manifest in her physical environment. Her issues come from a tragic loss that she does not know how to properly cope with. She makes a very profound statement in that being privileged does not amount to being lucky. Her battle and problems emanate from herself she’s her own worst enemy.
Lito is similar to Riley in that he is his own worst enemy. Despite having his life/career together and the love of his life he is still insecure. He dates a girl named Danielle to cover up that he is gay. He wants to be a real artist and feels that the type of acting he is doing is not quite up to par. He’s insecure in the knowledge that his strongest skill is lying and that he is afraid to fight for those he loves. It’s a struggle that he has to face head on or accept losing his boyfriend and letting down Danielle.
Nomi’s major struggle is personal as well. Nomi is a transgender woman who was born as Michael. She comes from a middle class family and had an ideal suburban childhood, however; she was bullied and her parents refused to accept her new identity. Even fellow members of the LGBTQ community were not completely accepting of her as they disagreed with her political views. I appreciated the nuances shown in the show regarding the LGBTQ community because they are not often explored in mainstream America. It also gives context to her as a character which differentiates her from the “token gay character” that appears in most TV shows. Her history is shown and allows us to see the build up of how she came to accept herself along with the strength she found in her girlfriend Amanita. Her ability to accept herself serves as a foundation for her character freeing her up to focus on the dangers of being a Sensate.
The individual struggles of the Sense8 provides them with a grounds to test their new abilities. It also drives the series as they learn to solve their problems with help from the Cluster. Sometimes a member may need a specific skill set other times they might require another perspective on their problem. Nomi helps Lito find his courage. Sun is able to give Kala the drive to fight and Riley the courage to go home. Capheus is able to help Riley see the beauty in simple things such as flying.
Some of the Sensates even develop romantic feeling towards one another. Riley and Will develop a strong connection as does Wolfgang and Kala. Both couples are ironically the very foils of each other. Both romances are executed well as each couple finds value in their other half. In addition, the romance raises a morale question regarding love within a Cluster. Jonis argues that it is the most beautiful thing to be in love with a cluster member where another Sensate calls it a selfish and dangerous thing. This will probably be a topic that is explored in Season 2.
Outside of the Sensate group there is a variety of relationships displayed between the main characters and the side characters. Once again this serves to build out the main characters and I appreciated their contributions to the story. One of the most heart felt pairings is between Wolfgang and his childhood friend Felix. Felix provides an opportunity to see the strength of friendship and platonic love. Amanita proves that she is more than just the girlfriend. She is Nomi’s partner in crime as she sticks with Nomi despite the danger that it puts her in and the possibility that Nomi is simply crazy. Kala has a close relationship with her father which is not a popular theme in mainstream culture today. Often we see poor examples of fathers or dads. Kala’s dad has his beliefs of what would be best for his daughter but he never pushes her to accept his beliefs. He actually listens to her and provides council when she asks for it. There are several more examples, but I was truly impressed with the nuances that were present in the side characters. It’s quite a feat when most shows can’t even create fresh multi-dimensional main characters.
Being a Netflix production there were some gratuitous sex scenes that I have come to accept with all Netflix made shows. My other con is that the pacing of the show at times seemed slow as I wanted the Sensates to meet and connect with each other sooner. It could simply be a byproduct of there being so many characters. In either case it’s not a big deal. The pros of the show way out weigh the cons (like that pun way, weigh?).
So if you are looking for your next Netflix binge give Sensate8 a whirl!