Sense8 season 1: spoiler-free review

Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Sense8 are three science-fiction series that were cancelled but brought back from the dead through the love of their fans.

The reasons for those cancellations were very different. By its third season, the original series of Star Trek had become formulaic with too many visits to ‘earth-type civilisations’ (i.e. cost-cutting visits to pre-existing sets on the Paramount lot).

In 1989, Doctor Who had had something of a resurgence under Sylvester McCoy but even he could never completely repair the damage done earlier in the decade. It had ultimately lost the plot with Colin Baker’s dreadful costume and some awful, awful special effects. The Twin Dilemma still makes me shudder to this day.

In the case of Sense8, it was apparently because hardly anyone was watching. Which is a major shame, because this brave, passionate Netflix series deserves its cult following, a following that has now forced its return in 2018.

Part of the problem is that the series is slow and extraordinarily confusing in the beginning. Netflix research has revealed that its only when people have watched the first three episodes that they get hooked. It is worth bearing with the series through those  difficult first few hours.

The brainchild of Lana and Lilly Wachowski, creators of the Matrix, along with Michael Straczynski, Sense8 is the story of a parallel species of homo sapiens who share a telepathic link. They exist in clusters of eight, scattered around the world, and can make contact with each other at any time – and even assume control of each other’s bodies.

From that metaphor for our hyper-connected world, the Wachowskis have spun a tale that challenges notions of who we are and what role identity, sexuality, family and society have on how we live our lives.

Both Wachowskis have famously undergone gender transition from being Larry and Andy, something which is explored here through the character of Nomi. She too has become a woman despite heart-felt opposition from her family, a situation that comes to a head when she is forced to undergo brain surgery against her will.

Despite being distanced from her parents and in a deep, loving and long-term relationship with her partner Amanita, Nomi discovers that Amanita has no right to represent her wishes in this case. The law only recognises the immediate family, people who share none of her values.

In moments of distress, the members of Nomi’s cluster can call on each other for help. With a pharmacist, cop, martial arts expert among the group, there is usually someone who can even the odds. While that may sound a bit contrived, the cast are so likeable and the scripts so dynamic, that it really doesn’t matter.

Unlike a lot of series with super-powered characters, be they in film, TV or comics, Sense8 also stands apart through the attention it gives to the friends and family of the main ‘cluster’. Though bewildered by their friends’s sudden weird behaviour, it is touching to see the extent that people will fight for someone they love.

It’s also full of weird telepathic orgies, something which has caused much excitement among the British tabloid press.

Sense8 breaks through the Anglo-Saxon world view with settings in India, Kenya, South Korea and Mexico, giving it a wonderful dream-like quality as we shift from place to place, state to state.

So Sense8 lives to fight again – and it’s well worth doing a bit of ‘visiting’ into the minds of the Wachowskis before the third series comes around later this year.