Sense8 gave me hope for humanity, and its cancellation took that away. The show follows eight people around the world who realize they share a psychic connection and must fight an organization intent on hunting them down. This premise, while exciting, serves as a vehicle for where the show really excels: its emphasis on love and diversity. I do not watch much TV at all, but after a close friend recommended Sense8 to me, I got so invested so quick, because these characters portrayed facets of identity never before displayed all at once on TV, in deep and compassionate ways.
Sense8 stands out among today’s media because it glorifies caring, connection, and empathy. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of scary stuff happens on the show – kidnapping, suicide, violence, etc. But Sense8 never sensationalizes its darker material and always comes back to its predominant theme of shared humanity. A lot of today’s most popular shows, like 13 Reasons Why and Game of Thrones, draw their viewership by appealing to themes of cruelty, by focusing on all the mean and awful ways we can treat our fellow humans. Sense8 rises above that and urges us to bond and support one another. In a political climate rife with tension and hatred and disconnection, Sense8 reminds us of the importance of love and unity, especially when things get rough.
I could fanboy Sense8’s excellent diversity for hours. The cast includes several people of color with fleshed-out personalities and meaningful story arcs that never devolve into stereotypes or petty drama. It includes four queer characters – two of whom are people of color – who are happy, talented, and wait for it, alive. Let me highlight just a few characters I love, because I could write paragraphs about every single one: Sun, a Korean woman with a heart of gold who slays 24/7 with her kickboxing skills; Nomi, a trans woman with hacking abilities who surrounds herself with people who accept her; Lito, a gay Mexican actor who fights homophobia and reclaims his career with the help of his close friend and his boyfriend; and Riley, an Icelandic DJ whose season one story arc serves as one of the most riveting portrayals of PTSD I have ever seen. Beyond the splendor of each individual character, Sense8 shows diversity through alternative family structures, close-knit friendships, sex positivity, and so much more. While watching Sense8, I saw the possibility of a world in which we all loved and connected with one another unconditionally, across all types of walls and borders.
So when Sense8 got cancelled after its second season, I felt devastated. Netflix said that the show got cancelled, despite its ardent and loyal fanbase, because of its low viewership compare to its cost of production (i.e., filming taking place in nine cities in eight countries around the world). I felt – and still feel – angry and sad about this decision. Sense8’s cancellation highlights how Netflix prioritizes money and profit over the actual positive impact of its shows. I am not ignorant; we live in a capitalist society, so of course they care more about revenue than representing queer people and people of color when we need it most. But I had dared to dream that the existence of a show like Sense8, as well as its passionate community of supporters, could act as a sign of resistance in the era of Trump. And then, on June 1, 2017, the first day of Pride month, my dream got cancelled.
I rewatched season two of Sense8 with another close friend about a week ago, which reopened the well of grief I felt over the show’s cancellation. The other day, I came across a passage in a book about hope and activism that resonated with me and helped me see my emotions surrounding Sense8 in a new light. In her book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit writes:
“A million years ago I wrote a few features for the punk magazine Maximum Rocknroll. One of them was about women’s rights, and a cranky guy wrote in that women used to make sixty-six cents to the male dollar and now we made seventy-seven cents, so what were we complaining about? It doesn’t seem like it should be so complicated to acknowledge that seventy-seven cents is better than sixty-six cents and that seventy-seven cents isn’t good enough, but the politics we have is so pathetically bipolar that we only tell this story two ways: either seventy-seven cents is a victory, and victories are points where you shut up and stop fighting; or seventy-seven cents is ugly, so activism accomplishes nothing and what’s the point of fighting? Both versions are defeatist because they are static. What’s missing from these two ways of telling is an ability to recognize a situation in which you are traveling and have not arrived, in which you have cause both to celebrate and fight, in which the world is always being made and is never finished.”
This passage, among may others, brought me such relief because it reminded me to view activism as a process and not just an outcome. Throughout Hope in the Dark, Solnit bemoans activists who beat themselves up for failing to reach their utopic vision of society, as opposed to viewing the fight for justice itself as worthwhile and meaningful. Similar to the both/and instead of either/or approach Solnit adapts in this quote, I experience a duality of emotions when it comes to Sense8’s cancellation. Yes, I feel grateful that Netflix invested the resources to produce two seasons of Sense8. I also feel angry that they stopped investing those resources and prioritized economic capital over compassion and representation.
I will use my anger over Sense8’s cancellation to work toward a more caring and socially just world. I will continue to read and review more authors of color and queer authors, donate to and support organizations that advocate for oppressed folk, and gear my graduate school training and career to enhancing the mental health of minority individuals and fighting the patriarchy. I do not deserve cookies for these actions, as we should all work to create kindness and justice, TV show or no TV show. But, as Nomi states in season 2, “your life is defined by the system or by the way you defy the system.” And I am so, so grateful to Sense8, its creators and cast, and its fans, for proving to me the power and joy that comes with defying the system.
Thank you readers of this blog for giving me the space to fanboy and share my love of Sense8. Though J. Michael Straczynski, one of the show’s writers, has said that there will definitely be no more seasons of Sense8, I can still hope that getting more people to watch it will
both serve as a tool of procrastination while allowing me to pretend I am contributing to the greater good help. Both seasons are still on Netflix for those who want to watch, and I feel excited and a little worried about the two hour finale that fans fought for and won after the announcement of the series cancellation. What are other people’s thoughts on Sense8 or grieving the unfair cancellation of the objectively best show ever loss of a television show or series you held dear to your heart? Until next time!