WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
For those of you who know, or don’t, Sense8 is a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It tells the story of 8 people from around the world (Mumbai, India, Berlin, Germany, Seoul, South Korea, Chicago, USA, San Francisco, USA, Nairobi, Kenya, Mexico City, Mexico, and London, England) who awake one day and are connected mentally. They share their minds, feelings, sensations, experiences, and knowledge and are known as a “cluster.”
What at first seemed like just another plot, they are being ruthlessly hunted down and murdered, is actually a huge social commentary. Sense8 defies modern media norms in many ways, such ways are by including bi-racial couples, homosexuality, pansexuality, heterosexuality (so, sexuality in general,) strong female characters both intellectually and physically (Sun and Nomi are kicka**,) and more. The show was shot on-location all around the world and has created a tightly-knit community of followers. However, it was unfortunately cancelled after the second season. Due to the outrage of the fans, Netflix has just released a 2-hour finale.
While the show touches on cultural differences, it mostly demonstrates how we transcend dissimilarities by embracing the major commonalities between all human beings: music, food, sex, mortality, and the most important: love. Reread those words: music, food, sex, mortality, and love. Be honest, now. There are only good feelings associated with each, aren’t there?
Music + Dance
There is a very large emphasis on music. Throughout the show we see the different music that belongs to each character’s culture. We witness traditional Indian music and dance with Kala, we see the Berlin techno-club lifestyle through Wolfgang, we see the electronic music that Riley creates. This creates an “established” knowledge for the viewers. These people are from different places. Yet, some of our most beloved scenes throughout the show and finale are the scenes in which we see our cluster connect through music and dance. Whether it’s on Kala and Rajan’s honeymoon, or in the club when Riley performs, or on a train and in a car while they are going to Italy: music and dance has the power to release inhibitions and differences and unite us all.
My time abroad has showed me this more than anything. I have always been a big dancer. In fact, when I was in Prague my friends regarded me as somewhat of a dancing queen, (take a moment to laugh at the play on words.) I’m one of the few who “commands” the dance floor, creating a dance circle of strangers who don’t speak the same languages. In fact, I spoke about the unification power of music a little when I attended the Karneval Der Kulturen in Berlin in mid-May. The power of dance and music is unparalleled and the Sense8 crew knows that. That is why they place so much emphasis of the “coming together” on dance. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what your culture is, where you are from or the color of your skin: dancing is something we all enjoy.
Throughout the show we see our treasured characters bond over food. The season finale touches on this as well, showing the “coming together” and “celebration” over meals, including the Italian pizza scene and the champagne celebration scene. The shots focus on the food, cheesy and let’s be honest, God-sent. Then it shows us close up shots of each person going manic with joy over said pizza. As the camera executes its circular span of the table, we don’t just see people enjoying a meal.
We see Kala, a female, Indian doctor that places so much emphasis on her religion and is facing an inner battle due to her love for Wolfgang. We see Capheus, a young man from Nairobi with a heart of gold that has made a living on driving a Matatu to provide for his ill mother after his father was killed, a man that is now the face of a political revolution in Kenya. We see Felix, the best friend and partner in crime of Wolfgang, who demonstrates an unparalleled loyalty to Wolfgang, has the most simplistic and boyish perspective on life that we love him for, and literally took a bullet to the chest and survived. We see Rajan, the unsuspecting husband of Kala, who is destined to take over the family pharmaceutical company and does not cling to the religion his wife clings to, and yet would cross oceans to protect Kala. The brief conversational exchange we see between Rajan and Felix is not pointless screen time. It is a demonstration of connection between two men who believe in different things, speak different languages, and have had completely unrelated lives connect over something we all love: good food.
As a traveler, I have experienced the unification power of food. I felt the power of this so strongly as I stirred a boiling pot of potatoes and cooked a traditional homemade German meal, Spargel, with my German roommate, who is twice my age. We ended the night with tea and ice cream after hours of conversation and I remember retiring to my room and thinking, I can connect with someone with such a different walk of life over something so simple and delicious as a good meal.
Sex. That’s right, I said it. As I have traveled, loved and lost, and honestly, watched Sense8, my entire view on sex has been altered. Sex is the most natural part of being a human. It is something we all enjoy and we all do. Sense8’s unique approach to sexuality is a gift to modern media, a welcomed perspective by the diverse Sense8 fans, and a teaching method. It defies traditional norms, which in 2018 we have a hard time understanding how they can still be so prevalent. Sense8 shows us the truth about sexuality: that there are no rules. We witness the pansexuality of Zakia, the polyamory of Lito, Hernando and Dani, the intense and gorgeous love between Amanita and Nomi, a lesbian and transgender, and as the finale hints, we see the pansexuality of Riley as well.
The way that our beloved characters regard love and sex and the many artful sex scenes in the show demonstrate one thing. You can be heterosexual, transgender, homosexual, bi-curious, pansexual and anything else and sex is still sex. The inclusion of an “orgy” scene in the finale, like all the other scenes throughout the show, is an artistic commentary on the fluidity of sexuality. Sex, one of the most natural things we do as human beings, is an art form that anyone can do with anyone. This is emphasized in the last scene in particular, when Rajan, a man of strict principle who likely has never considered an open relationship with his wife or sleeping with a man, opens his mind to the experience and ends up seeing sex in a different light. The entire finale ends with him coming up for air between the physical bodies of Kala and Wolfgang and metaphysical bodies of everyone else, and saying, “My God, I didn’t think such things were possible.”
The show also emphasizes mortality. I want to briefly discuss this thematic presence because while the show transcends differences in humanity through sex, food, music, and more, it also uses each or our own mortality to do so as well. As I watched the big fight scene in Napoli, my body tense and my teeth clenched, I thought, “they can’t all survive.” As I had this thought, we see Felix, Mun, and Diego go down with bullet wounds. We are nervous, sure. We are sad, sure. But each character plays off their injuries with humor, like poor Felix who says, “why am I always the one who gets shot?”
Then…. It happens. Kala is shot and the utter fear and pain that we feel as a viewer is shocking. She can’t die! Each character in the cluster goes down. Simultaneously looking at their hands filled with their own blood. Falling to the ground. Crying out in pain. We know that only Kala is truly harmed and yet we fear for each character as if they are ourselves. The power of this scene depicts one of the greatest points I believe Sense8 was ever trying to make: we are all mortal. Let’s be honest, when we watch Sense8 we are not a detached viewer laying in our beds holding up our phones. We are Sense8. We are in the cluster. When Kala is shot, we are shot. The immersive experience of Sense8 and the editing that shows each character feeling Kala’s pain speaks a message: when one dies, we all lose. When one hurts, we all feel pain. It doesn’t matter how we are different, because in the end, we are all one.
The last theme I want to discuss is perhaps our favorite: love. I think we can all agree that there is a lot of hate in this world. There always has been. Hate, misunderstanding of that which is different, has driven us to kill, discriminate and ostracize each other. Sense8 is a story of two different species of human: the Homo Sapien and the Homo Sensorium. It is the story of fearing the unknown (Homo Sensorium,) a battle to understand them, to kill them, a disregard for the fact that they are human. While Sense8’s entire storyline is on how fear and hate divide us, they utilize love to emphasize their biggest message of all: Amor Vincit Omnia. Love conquers all things. Which happens to be the name of the finale and the poem that Hernando speaks about as he pretends to be a tour guide as they drive toward the battle that will end it all.
In the end, each character has found a great love. We end the finale with Amanita and Nomi’s wedding, a true testament to love conquering all things. As the season finale comes to its conclusion, we get snapshots of each love story for each character. We see Riley and Will, we see Amanita and Nomi, we see Kala and Wolfgang, we see Lito, Hernando, and Dani, we see Sun and Mun, and we see Capheus and Zakia. Each character, fighting for not only their cluster, but for their loves. The love that the characters build between one another connects 8 people, across the world, but more than that, it connects each person they love as well. That is why we see each person our sensates care about in one place in the end: because love unites.
This is seen in many ways, one being as Bug tearfully admits to Nomi, “thank you for being my family.” Another is Ms. El-Saadawi’s beautiful words, “this wedding is proof that for all the differences between us and all the forces that try to divide us, they will never exceed the power of love to unite us.” While this entire scene is a scene that evokes chills on your skin and makes you cry like you haven’t in a long time, nothing says it better than the exchanging of vows. Amanita’s powerful declaration, “my love, we live in a world that distrusts feelings. Over and over, we are reminded that feelings are not as important as reason. That feelings are childish, irresponsible, dangerous. We are taught to ignore them, control, or deny them. We barely understand what they are, where they come from, or how they seem to understand us better than we understand ourselves. But I know that feelings matter. If you’re lucky, a feeling comes along that will change everything,”
Amor Vincit Omnia – Finis
My entire life I have been the kind of person who feels deeply. Along with deep feelings and deeply experiencing them often comes rash actions or an honesty that is unwelcome by others. I’ve always been told to be poised, that I care too much, that I overthink. Many people mistake my honesty and understanding of my feelings as me caring too much. It has been a great battle with myself to recognize that my ability to feel as I do is not a tragedy or an error in my character. Traveling, meeting new people, witnessing the places where history has been made, I realize that the ability to feel and experience on a deep level is what makes life worth living.
I bet you’re tired of hearing this, but when I embarked on this journey to move across the world I had a lot of goals. To challenge myself, to find myself outside of comfort, but it was words that my dad said to me before I left that shaped my mission entirely. He told me to represent well in each encounter I had while abroad. While he may have been talking about representing the United States, I took it to mean more. I took it as a mission to stop hate. Hate that is dividing my country. Hate that is driving a wedge between people all over the world. I took it as a mission to spread love. To spread perspective. To walk on the streets of Berlin, my new home (who wouldn’t want to live in the same city as Max Riemelt) and not just see the faces of strangers, but to see the unique faces of people with different religions, different love stories, different cultures, united in the fact that we all have sex, we all love food, we all love to dance, we all feel pain and die, but most importantly: we all love.
I am so relieved that the show ended with a happy ending. Not only was it what the fans wanted and deserved, but it was a testament to hope. By killing off a character or having some tragic twist, the show would have been succumbing to the norms of media. If it hasn’t done so yet, why start now? Moreover, by tying up each lose end, both big and small, and giving us a feeling of satisfaction and conclusion it sent a message to each viewer of the Sense8 community. It doesn’t matter if there is hate in the world, or prejudice, which is seen with Nomi’s parents who, with the help of a little brownie or five, finally accept Nomi’s sex change and love for her wife, Amanita. We are united and amor vincit omnia, love conquers all things. There is hope for the world, yet. There is a happy ending out there for each of us, if only we remember to find power in love and regard each human we cross as our very own cluster.