On June 1st of this year, the first day of our national pride month, I was devastated. The rumors that I had been blocking out became realized when Netflix announced that it was to cancel Sense8 just a few weeks after it dropped its phenomenal second season. It felt like such an injustice, and perhaps it’s an exaggeration given that shows get cut relentlessly nowadays but this felt so abrupt especially to be announced during a time that the show would be celebrated most. The movement that followed, however, truly inspired me in ways that I never expected and I’d love to share what this experience felt like from the inside of its dedicated community.
The show focuses on eight strangers from cities around the world who are slowly realizing their psychic connection and links with each other. These links allow them to share each of their thoughts, experiences, and even step in to control another’s actions as if they were their own. The first season focuses much of its time on backstory and the development of these abilities, while the second season shines with the group in their prime as they’ve become full-fledged sensates(their given species name). The trailer for the June 2015 debut was fantastic for broad appeal by selling itself as an action series with supernatural elements, but these themes end up being superb complements to the shows driving force: acceptance. Throughout it all, the sensates are hunted by a world that doesn’t understand them while they cope with their new identities and their struggle for survival.
I wasn’t prepared but was pleasantly surprised by the unapologetic LGBT+ representation, and while this invested me further in the characters it became very apparent that it pushed away many others. I believe not ten minutes into episode one, we are shown a sex scene between Nomi, a transgendered woman, and her girlfriend Amanita that some (including several of my straight ex-coworkers) deemed too inappropriate and graphic. I’m not generalizing that anyone outside of the LGBT+ community suddenly felt like this was a “graphic gay tv show,” but I can definitely suspect from those conversations that many wouldn’t make it past episode one because of the representation. The overarching messages of persistence and acceptance are ever-present and honest, and there are so many moments that the queer experience comes through on screen. We have coming out scenarios both good and bad in both seasons, as well as plenty of situations where the weight of discrimination and intolerance become even more villainous than the baddie organization ‘BPO’. Among the cluster of eight, Nomi has the most strenuous journey towards finding acceptance from the world around her.
Very early on we are introduced to Nomi’s mother who not only demeans her by using her former name ‘Michael” but also pushes to have a doctor treat Nomi’s brain after she faints during a pride parade. We learn later that the doctor was advocating brain surgery in an effort to lobotomize Nomi on behalf of BPO, but the subtext of the situation where Nomi’s mother wanted to treat her ‘mental disease’ was not lost on viewers. The evolution of her relationship with her family over the course of the two seasons is an emotional ride, and the payoff drew tears from myself and my watching partners. These scenes, while very real for the queer community, should and are not meant to ostracize anyone from the show; rather they promote an understanding and empathy for human connection. That being said, it’s hard to deny that the base of Sense8’s fandom has become deeply rooted in its LGBT+ audience. It features trans writers and directors, it showcases the trans experience through the acting of a trans woman, and there are several other identities and relationships(sexual and otherwise) explored on screen. So, having the cancellation of the show announced on the first day of pride month felt like a real slap in the face to the fandom that had been supporting it the most emphatically.
There are so many other things I love about the show: The cinematography, the fantastic soundtrack, the fucking cool-as-shit action sequences; these all came at a high cost however. The budget for the show is almost on par with other programs like ‘Game of Thrones’, and the taxing job of producing a show in eight to ten different locations for a season wasn’t being rewarding with appropriate viewership numbers in Netflix’s eyes. Maybe if I had watched the season a third time through instead of just twice it would have met the mark? So many regrets. The show had been really hitting its stride in the second season, and with so much world building and an absolutely terrible cliffhanger in the finale it was hard to find any solace in Netflix’s statement. Some days later, creator and director Lana Wachowski released her own sentiments of heartbreak online as her passion project seemed to crumble before her. I myself had almost made it to the final stage of acceptance when the internet, the internet , swooped in full force to revitalize my waning hopes.
I had never seen anything quite like it. The internet has such infamy for making bullshit content go viral for maybe a day or two before it migrates and latches onto something else. To see ‘#RenewSense8’ as a trending topic and remain so throughout June was tantalizing and inspirational to see in action. People were posting emails they had sent to Netflix, commenting on every Netflix related post, calling in to customer service, threatening and following through with account cancellations all with their efforts driven behind the movement of renewing Sense8. Petitions with thousands of signatures were being signed and spread throughout the community online, and at some point it reached a noticeable enough climax for Netflix that they had to release another statement mid-way through June to try and douse the flames. They acknowledged the outcry, using phrases like “we hear you” but stood firm in their stance to leave the show as is in hopes that their public apology would be enough to finally alleviate the animosity and bad press. It had quite the opposite effect. Feeling validated, everyone in the community pushed even harder.
I’ll admit I didn’t really have that much fight in me when the renew movement began. After this past election, I’d been involved in quite a few protests and rallies to show solidarity that left me feeling energized and empowered. And while I still believe that these can be effective in starting conversations, it was difficult continuing knowing that the new administration would barely be listening much less care. With Sense8, it wasn’t until Lana and Netflix made the announcement for a two hour finale episode before the month’s end that I allowed myself to hope again. Not only have hope for the show, but hope that people can make a difference when they remain vigilant in the face of opposition. I remember being overwhelmed with emotion, after all the despair and acceptance I had allowed in to let it be replaced with a renewed drive to push for change at all odds.
So perhaps this is more of a tribute to the fans than the show, but Sense8 united these people together from all over the world to push against the system. And I’m so over the moon for it, because I can never let myself let go of hope. So here’s to you, sensates! And even when the show ends, we will never let the story die if we continue to resist. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Happy Belated Birthday! 8/8
Eric Smith is a delightfully nerdy guy from Michigan with an incredible taste and an amazing beard. Funny, thoughtful, and incredibly political, he has a voice that is necessary and valued by this humble blogger.
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