Sense8 (Season 1)

Sense8 (a play on the word sensate, and the fact that there is eight main protagonists in the show) is a science fiction drama television series written, created and executive-produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski in cooperation with J. Michael Straczynski, distributed on Netflix.

Sense8 centres on a loose group of eight mentally and emotionally linked people - ‘sensates’, who are (clockwise from top left): Will Gorski - a Chicago police officer, Riley Blue - an Icelandic DJ living in London, Capheus - a matatu driver in Nairobi, Kenya, Sun Bak - a South Korean businesswoman and martial arts expert …

While all twelve episodes of the first season were written by the tandem of Michael Straczynski and The Wachowskis, who also directed most of the first season, several episodes were directed by their previous collaborators Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue and Dan Glass.

The series set out to explore subjects that its writers felt have, at least to date, not been sufficiently dealt with in the science fiction genre, such as identity, gender, sexuality, religion and politics.

The plot of the show revolves around eight complete strangers living in totally different parts of the world and coming from vastly diverse walks of life, who suddenly become mentally and emotionally linked by telepathy-like, possession-like and out-of-body-experience-like abilities they all seem to posses without any prior knowledge about having such powers. The eight ‘sensates’ (as they are referred to throughout the series), who are exactly the same age in the show, and were born on the same date – 8 August, are as follow:

Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton), an Icelandic DJ living in London who is trying to escape her troubled past; Capheus (played by Aml Ameen), a matatu driver in Nairobi and a big fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme who struggles to earn enough money to buy medicine for his mother, who is HIV positive and gravely ill; Nomi [born Michael] Marks (Jamie Clayton), a trans-woman hacktivist and blogger living in San Francisco with her girlfriend Amanita (Nomi is clearly based on Lana Wachowski who, just as the character in her show, is a trans-woman who is dating a woman); Sun Bak (Doona Bae), daughter of a rich Seoul businessman and a martial arts expert; Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt), a Berlin locksmith, who moonlights as an expert safe-cracker, participates in organized crime, and has unresolved issues with his late father, Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a soap opera actor and closeted gay of Basque origins living in Mexico City with his boyfriend; Kala Dandekar (Tina Desai), a university-educated pharmacist and devout Hindu living in Mumbai, who is set to marry a man who doesn’t share her faith and who she does not love; and Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith), a Chicago police officer who is haunted by an unsolved murder from his childhood.

The ‘sensates’ use their newly found ability, which intrinsically links them all together, to help each other to overcome difficult obstacles and get out of sticky situations, such as when

Sun lends her martial arts skills to Capheus to help him to defeat a local crime lord, or when Will makes use of Lito’s wooing expertise so that he can extract the information about the location of abducted Riley from a female member of staff in a secret research facility, which he enters through a security gate whose electronic lock he opens by his smartphone after Nomi loans him her hacking knack.

To emphasise the international aspect of the story, filming of Sense8 took place on several very diverse locations around the world, with the action taking place in nine cities: London, Berlin, Reykjavík, Chicago, San Francisco, Seoul, Mexico City, Mumbai and Nairobi, across eight countries and five continents.

According to the Wachowskis, the origins of Sense8 could be traced back to one late-night conversation several years ago, about how the technology unites and divides us at the same time. When the Wachowskis finally decided to develop the idea into a television series, they invited Straczynski to San Francisco (because of his extensive experiences with the format) to discuss the concept in more detail. They all agreed that if they were to do a TV series, they wanted to attempt to do something that had never been done before and “change the vocabulary for television production” in a similar way that they have changed the rulebook of filmmaking with their The Matrix trilogy of science fiction films.

The trio became so excited about their concept, that they have decided to develop and executive-produce it on their own, rather than offering it to someone else. The Wachowskis had written three-hour-long script with the intention to pitch their show to potential buyers around L.A. According to Straczynski, at the very first meeting with prospective buyers, who happened to be Netflix, they talked to the executives about subjects which they wanted to address in the show, such as gender and identity, instead of pitching action, suspense or other more commercially viable aspects of the series, and, after the meeting was over, they worried that they might have put off the potential buyers. But, to their huge relief and pleasant surprise, before they had the chance to pitch the show to other film studios, Netflix called them back with an offer to buy the concept and produce the first season.

As mentioned above, the character of Nomi Marks, a transgender woman central to the story, was written by Lana Wachowski, a trans-woman herself, who said that she partly used her own experiences when writing this role. “It has some very intense, autobiographical scenes, and that was very difficult and surreal” she said.

In addition to Michael Straczynski, the Wachowskis invited also other long-term associates to collaborate on the project. Thus, besides actress Doona Bae, who is now a regular in Wachowskis’ films, having starred in both Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, comic book and film storyboard artist Steve Skroce, who has been working with the Wachowskis on The Matrix franchise, has created storyboards for the show, and Tom Tykwer with Johnny Klimek, who worked on the soundtrack for Cloud Atlas, composed the series’ music score which was orchestrated by another fellow Cloud Atlas collaborator Gene Pritsker.

… Nomi Marks - a trans-woman hacktivist living in San Francisco, Kala Dandekar - an educated pharmacist and devout Hindu living in Mumbai, Wolfgang Bogdanow - a Berlin locksmith moonlighting as an expert safe-cracker, and Lito Rodriguez - a soap opera actor and closeted gay of Basque origins living in Mexico City.

I have said in the beginning that the series was conceived by the Wachowskis with the aim to explore subjects that its writers felt other science fiction shows tend to ignore or skim through such as LGBT community and religious intolerance. This goal was undeniably achieved, although in the process the show ended up very nearly leaving out the science fiction element. Consequently, Sense8 works very well as a drama but somewhat less so as a science fiction show.

As for the future of the series, Straczynski and The Wachowskis mapped out five-seasons-worth of stories for the show, including the series’ finale and the main cast of the show were signed for five seasons. “We pitched it as a five-year story. We’ve mapped out five seasons of this thing, our actor deals are being made for five seasons – five or six depending on the breaks” said Straczynski.

On 8/8/2015 (see what they’ve done there?), Netflix announced that Sense8 has been renewed for a second season.


TRIVIA: Episode names in the dialogue: The title of every episode of the series, e.g. “Smart Money is on the Skinny Bitch” is uttered by one of the characters in that respective episode.