We live in unreal times, but at least we haven’t lost our sense of humor. The most recent meme making the rounds on social networks declares, “I’m not buying a 2021 planner until I’ve seen the trailer.” Still, 2020 is a year of loss. I cope best riding my bike Midnight. But I also find meaning in dark alternate reality shows like Black Mirror, Westworld, Homecoming, and Mr. Robot because, ironically, they serve as a reality check on my relentlessly positive disposition.
Contrary to those dark shows is Sense8 (on Netflix) which is ridiculously uplifting and frames my thinking about how to do my best work possible in an unreal year.
Sensates come in clusters that communicate telepathically and share each others’ skills in time of need. They might be a humanoid species living alongside us but science is skeptical of their existence. The show follows a cluster of eight as they battle a multitude of personal and collective enemies. A typical scene from early in the series illustrates how they work. Hijackers attack the Kenyan bus driver, Capheus, who doesn’t stand a chance until Sun, the Korean businesswoman and Taekwondo champion, takes over his body and kicks butt. Ponder the combinations of skills shared by a police officer, a safecracker, a hacker, a doctor, a DJ, a driver, a martial arts expert, and an actor and you begin to realize the potential of this cluster.
They need every morsel of that potential because their personal enemies include evil family members, criminal enterprises, and homophobia. On top of that, they fight for their cluster’s survival against the Biological Preservation Organization (BPO), headed by Whispers, who gets my vote for the best named villain of all time.
The show is a masterpiece as well as being particularly relevant this year. So, breaking down each element to explain why is worthwhile.
1) To begin with, the setting is the entire world and every scene is beautifully shot. Whether in a crowded Nairobi street, a Korean prison cell, a hacker’s den, or the barren reaches of Iceland, nearly every frame could be frozen and made into a poster. (You’ll see what I mean when you watch the two links in 2) and 3) below.)
2) The story arc begins slowly as the sensates discover their connections and mutual abilities. We learn about them as they learn about each other. This builds a strong foundation upon which to untangle the convoluted story lines that follow.
3) Sense8 has eight strong main characters, each of whom has several supporting characters. Yet none seems to dominate and phenomenal chemistry abounds. Each has their moments of peril and their moments to shine; they all play equally vital roles in the battle against Whispers; and it’s all ego-free. Moreover, the sensates are all so compelling that it’s impossible not to care for them and so good-looking it’s impossible not to crush on them. (Riley the DJ is my own heartthrob.) One of the best features of the show is the many montages showing all eight fully apart – celebrating their shared birthday, for example – but also fully together.
4) All three classic conflicts present themselves in Sense8: The conflict against nature – being a sensate; the inner conflict – resolving what it means to be a senstate; and the conflict against others – sensates uniting against existential enemies.
Looking over the analysis above, can’t you find parallels in 2020? No matter what, the world everywhere remains beautiful. And as we learn about each new 2020 crisis as it unfolds in real time, we learn about ourselves and we learn about each other. But we all have our own cluster on whom we call when in need and to whom we run to aid when called. And that brings the analysis to:
5) Theme. I cannot thank the creators of Sense8 enough for not making the show about superheroes with superpowers battling supernatural monsters. Beyond being a sensate (which in the context of the show is not supernatural), Will, Capheus, Nomi, Kala, Lito, Sun, Wolfgang, and Riley(♥) can only do what very good police, drivers, hackers, doctors, actors, martial arts experts, safe-crackers, and DJs can do. And as much as we may wish to the contrary, Covid, fires, and conflict are not “evil dream[s] of the night.”
But the sensates go forward together, no matter what comes. And that’s the message I get from Sense8.
So each morning this year, “I step outside and I take a big breath and I get real high and I shout at the top of my lungs (in my head), ‘WHATS GOING ON?!?’” And I remember the pandemic, fires, riots, political enmity, racial conflict, and loss. Then I remember my colleagues, families, and students and I think: We’ll go forward together, no matter what comes.