One of television’s most beautiful experiments is over.
Sense8 came back with a film-length series finale after fan outcry over Netflix’s cancellation last year. That outcry was well-deserved—there isn’t anything like Sense8 on television or in cinemas. There probably won’t be anything else like it for a long time.
Still, if they were gonna go out, they went out celebrating everything that the show touted above all else: life, love, emotion, and connection in their purest forms.
[Spoilers for the Sense8 series finale.]
The finale is two-and-a-half hours long, which allows for the kind of meandering, tearful goodbye that you are probably hoping for if you’re a fan of the show. The cluster spends the first half working out how to liberate Wolfgang from the sinister BPO corporation, and the rest of it figuring out how to shut down the “zombie” assassin program that Whispers is running through the company once and for all. Their efforts are less important to the bigger picture than they would like to believe, however—much of the work they needed to do was already laid out by their cluster mother, Angelica, then carried out by Jonas.
It’s important to note this because plot is absolutely not what this finale is about. And that’s the right choice; if you’re given the chance to wrap up a story that you planned to tell over several years in just a couple of hours, plot cannot be the focus of what you’re trying to achieve. At best, you’re offering the audience a Cliffnotes version of what your entire show was going to do, and that’s just how the whole thing breaks down. It’s okay. You’ll give people a taste of what could have happened and move along. We learn a lot of bigger picture things about Sensates that you can tell they were saving for other side plots and different seasons. The introduction of the Lacuna, the sort of grand council of the Sensates, are one of those elements that we only get a peek at, a piece that was clearly going to be expanded into something bigger.
Both Jonas’ and Whispers’ roles in the finale have also clearly been pared down from larger plans. There’s a lot of running back and forth, people being ping-ponged from enemy to enemy, but it doesn’t make much sense as it’s happening because it all goes down too quickly. Both actors are superb, so it’s sad to see them underused. Because it’s a Wachowski story, you expect a lot of action and violence, but the number and volume of shoot-outs does honestly feel implausible by the end, overblown in a way that doesn’t usually dance with the narrative. It made more sense back when the show was dealing with families holding legitimate criminal ties who had their own scores to settle (primarily Wolfgang and Sun), but now there are scenes where the show is clear looking for excuses to do some fancy footwork and blow a few things up.
Again, none of this really matters, because that’s not why Sense8 acolytes love the show. Sense8 is less a piece of television than it is a grand hypothesis about empathy, human connection, our capacity for kindness and generosity. In some ways, the rushing of this finale works to its advantage because people must choose to listen to their better angels even faster than usual; when Kala’s husband Rajan catches up to her and gets folded into the group, he is immediately forced to decide whether or not he believes that she is a Sensate, and he does. This bears out further when Rajan realizes that his wife definitely has feelings for Wolfgang… and the trio just sort of go along with it. They decide that they’re not sure how it’s going to work out, but there’s no point in throwing their hands up in the air and letting go. Rajan loves Kala. Wolfgang loves Kala. Kala loves them both. They could be clichéd and allow that to ruin multiple relationships, but Sense8 never chooses the cliché where emotional bonds are concerned. Love matters more than societal mores. Love matters more than specificity. Love matters more than possession or fear or confusion. As Rajan and Wolfgang dance together at Nomi and Amanita’s wedding at the end of the show, Will asks Kala if she knows what she wants. She shrugs and that’s is marvelously okay.
That refusal to allow cynicism and selfishness rule the narrative is what grants Sense8 its uniqueness, and that philosophy self-perpetuates unto the end. In any other story, Nomi’s hacker partner-in-crime Bug would have eventually turned out to be some hidden creep who was spying on their group, or he’d betray them for some easy money. Instead, her weirdo buddy takes care of them every minute, never lets Nomi down, and in the end, he’s the person who walks her down the aisle at her wedding. Covered in cute enamel pins and near to tears, he thanks her for being his family; she thanks him in kind. True family is focused on again and again: Bug, Wolfgang’s “brother” Max, Lito and Hernando’s poly-ish triad with Dani, Will’s old partner Diego, Capheus’s BFF Jela. We are constantly reminded that blood family matters when they are good to you (Capheus’s mother, Kala’s family, Riley’s dad), but when they are not (Sun’s brother and father, Wolfgang’s father), it is perfectly appropriate to burn those bridges for good. Detective Mun reveals at the end that Sun brought him home to meet her family—he’s referring to her dog. Nomi’s mother and father are still deadnaming her, so two queer friends from San Francisco hand Nomi’s mother a pot brownie, and she manages a few kind words to her daughter for the very first time.
Because Sense8 prizes this connectivity, so many lousy story choices are avoided, plot wobbliness or no. When the cluster and their friends try to liberate Whispers once again (in one of the funniest action set-ups of all time), their plan doesn’t work out, and Kala is shot. Wolfgang and Rajan hover over her motionless body in tears, calling her name, each emoting as good strong men are meant to do when they lose the woman they love. But Kala isn’t gone yet, and her consciousness pings Wolfgang. “Well, is anyone going to do anything?” she asks woefully. “Or are you going to just let me die in your arms?” And Kala doesn’t die, because Sense8 would never let someone as brilliant as Kala get ripped from us so that men can have a reason to cry. She matters so much more than that.
Community is everything to this tale, and every time someone tries to weaken the connections between the cluster or their human friends and family, they are quickly proven wrong and shown the door. Whispers goads Dani and Amanita, insisting that they are so far beneath Sensates in an evolutionary sense that they might as well be pets to the people they care so deeply for. Dani doesn’t take the bait—she knows that she is loved, and that when Whispers is gone, no one will miss him. This insistence grows, and each member of the cluster amplifies this love for one another and between each of people they hold dear. It culminates in Nomi and Amanita’s wedding, which sets a standard for on-screen declamations of love that will be hard for any other story to match. (I can’t actually articulate what that ceremony meant to me; every time I start to type a word about it, I’m suddenly sobbing.)
Sex is also important to the show, and it’s telling that what would seem overwhelmingly gratuitous in any other narrative does feel vital to Sense8’s core concept. Each season, the finale included, contain their own “joy orgies” (I’m just gonna coin the term now, if it hasn’t been coined already), featuring each of the Sensates making love with their relevant partners, eventually culminating in a shared experience that the cluster has with one another simultaneously. In a story that advocates healthy relationships across any and all boundaries, sex is important to address because it’s a part of life for most, and a part that we are categorically terrible at talking about, species-wide. Treating it as something joyful over and over again—not perfunctory, not callous and detached, not one-sided—is one of the many secret mantras that the show turns on. Every aspect of intimacy, of compassion, of love, should be open and ecstatic. The show ends on Rajan’s surprise that a sexual experience “could be like this” (a common turn of phrase often used in vacuous fare where sex is concerned) and finally on a shot of Nomi and Amanita’s rainbow dildo. That such a particular sex toy could be the closing image of the series speaks to the frankness and unflappability of how the show viewed human connection. It may strike the viewer as silly, or as adoring, or simply as a lingering closeup of reality, and many more reactions besides, which is just as a should be.
Sense8 wanted us to feel our way through a story, and feel we did. It is hard to watch the show and not cheer, shout, cry, and babble through its multitude of twists and turns. It is hard not to think of this cluster as our own family, as people who would accept and care for us as one of their own. It is hard not to the wish that we were closer to this form of connectivity, as the world around us insists on creating more barriers, on promoting antagonism and highlighting our differences to keep us afraid of each other. Perhaps this show was destined to be a flicker, but believing that the world wasn’t ready for it hurts too much to bear.
At least Sense8 existed for us, for a short while. And while it existed, many people who are often ignored felt seen and heard. Felt like they belonged. We all know why we gathered here, know the megawatts of hope and clear-headed love that this story nurtured in its guts. And until we see its like again, we will be all the poorer for it.