I found out about the cancellation of Sense8 in a text message.
Did you see that Netflix has cancelled Sense8?
I stared at the phone in disbelief for a minute, before writing back.
No! Ugh. Nooo. Damn.
I’ll admit, I was somewhat inarticulate in my outrage, my disappointment, my upset.
For the uninitiated, Sense8 tells the tale of eight people from across the world who discover they have a psychic connection, and are in fact a whole new species of humanity, homo sensorum. They are known as a cluster, birthed from another sensate (oh, the punning!), and they are — of course — on the run from a shadowy agency who wants them either dead or enslaved. And regular law enforcement are after a few of our heroes as well.
Those heroes are Will (Brian J. Smith), a Chicago cop; Riley (Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJ living in London; Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a trans woman activist and hacker in San Francisco; Sun (Doona Bae), a South Korean banker in Seoul; Kala (Tina Desai), an Indian chemist based in Mumbai; Capheus (Aml Ameen/Toby Onwumere), a Kenyan bus driver in the slums of Nairobi; Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a German locksmith and underworld type in Berlin; and Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) a Mexican action star who is secretly gay in Mexico City.
Throughout the show’s 23 extant episodes, the various members of the group discover their connection, freak out, figure out how to help each other utilizing each’s special skills (well, except Riley), and try to come to grips with both their “birth” as a cluster and the tortured — literally — history of their kind.
Geek Speak‘s B. C. Roberts, the bearer of the bad news, and I have been sharing our thoughts on the world-spanning Netflix show since it first debuted back in 2015. Most recently, we discussed Season 2, released on May 5, in some detail. I binged it on release, but Roberts has more demands on his time than do I (seriously, when I once mentioned to him how annoying Netflix’s “Are you still watching,,,?” message can be, he looked at me blankly, and when I elaborated “you know, the one that comes up after you’ve watched five episodes in a row?” he still had no idea what I was talking about) and so it took him a couple of extra weeks to get through the ten episodes. Our observations ranged from how much the Wachowskis “love a rave scene,” to how the action scenes are incredible to how much we love Kala.
Because yes, the show has its problems, but it is — was; sigh — one of the most ambitious and creative television shows ever developed, and for more than just its much-vaunted inclusiveness and diversity. Everything from the camera work to the choreography to the casting was just so admirable, so engaging. And the direction was always superlative. When the sensates were sharing a head but not a physical location, it felt like that, even though you knew that of course Tina Desai was actually in the same room with Max Riemelt while Kala and Wolfgang were exploring their white-hot forbidden love, or of course Doona Bae was in the same location as Aml Ameen when Sun helped Capheus beat up some would-be bus-jackers. But that prosaic knowledge never encroached upon the story on the screen, never for a moment took one out of the world — the trippy, perplexing, exhilarating, assuredly flawed world — of this glorious Wachowski/Straczynski mindfuck.
The June 1 cancellation of Sense8 came as a shock to almost all of its loyal viewers. Already, tens of thousands have signed petitions clamoring for the show’s return, and the fact that the announcement came at the beginning of Pride Month is being seen as particularly insensitive from a corporation rarely prone to such a PR misstep. Whether Netflix can be persuaded to change its mind on this death sentence, to at least maybe give the show one last hurrah with a two-hour movie or some such, to wrap things up, is yet to be determined. It’s possible that, in the cold hard light of actuarial science, saving the prohibitive production costs — filming in eight locations is expensive, obviously, though the end of Season 2 had everyone in the same place, so surely the budget could be reduced commensurately for a series finale — is worth the risk of losing subscribers pissed off by the short shrift paid to this groundbreaking effort. (It is very hard to forgive, though — I mean, they renewed 13 Reasons Why after we already know all thirteen reasons!)
In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who has yet to see it to give Sense8 a go. The more views it gets on the streaming platform the more likely it is to get a reprieve of some kind. We know that Netflix pays attention to its viewing data perhaps closer than any television network ever has (and it can), and also that shows with a high likelihood of bingeability are considered their biggest hits. So set aside this weekend, start up the first episode, and when that five-episodes-in-a-row message comes up asking “Are you still watching Sense8?,” fumble for your remote and emphatically hit “Continue watching.”
Maybe if more of us had done that from the start — ahem, Roberts, ahem — we wouldn’t be in this mess.