Sense8 season one premiered in its entirety on June 5, 2015. It is a masterful 12-episode exploration of the human condition, faith, sexuality, and identity. Filmed entirely on location, the creators showed incredible visuals and made us reflect on what makes us human. The series benefits from excellent acting and script, but the controversial premise is confusing to some audiences. Nevertheless, the devoted fan-base kickstarted a second season which has taken more than a year to develop. This Christmas special bridges the first season’s epilogue with the second season, which should premiere May 5, 2017.
Season One Refresher
If you haven’t experienced the first season of Sense8, it requires a little explanation. Eight men and women, born at precisely the same time around the world, had the biological potential to have their minds linked in a collective (called a “cluster“). Angelica activated this connection and her suicidal sacrifice close to a year prior birthed the cluster into existence.
Angelica chose these people not only for their biological potential but also for their diversity. The cluster includes a Chicago police officer, an Icelandic musician, a mechanic/bus driver in Nairobi, a Korean kickboxing businesswoman in prison for her brother’s misdeeds, a transwoman hacktivist in San Francisco, a closeted gay film star in Mexico City, a devout Hindu pharmacist in Mumbai, and a Berlin locksmith and safe-cracker involved in organized crime.
As their connection manifests, they are able to visit each other’s minds, experiencing what the others experience and feel, and to share skills. As they represent a threat to the typical human condition, a global organization hunts and lobotomizes this parallel human species (called “sensates“).
To the strains of Avicii’s version of “Feeling Good“, we are treated to a tableau of where each of the cluster’s members left off. The only jarring differences is that we see Kala with Rajan in Positano (the scene opens on a dive off his yacht, where her cluster join her in spirit) and Riley cooking a heroin injection for the very doped-up Will. Even Angelica makes a cameo appearance.
Amanita receives a visit from an Agent Bendix, who warns her that he knows she’s been in contact with Nomi and that he is not shy about violating Amanita’s civil liberties to get to her girlfriend. Nomi is still in San Francisco, though she’s electronically decoying her trail to Australia.
Wolfgang and Felix
Wolfgang visits Felix, still hidden away and comatose. He laments that his violent choices have cost him everything. On cue, he and Kala appear to each other. Despite her friendly smiles, there is clearly tension and loss hanging between them that Wolfgang is not ready to reconcile.
Capheus and Jela
Capheus (now played by a new actor) and Jela patch up the Van Damn bus after the firefight with the Superpower gang. They discuss a new paint job, which sets up the lines “Faces change, you know? But not the heart.” It’s just as blatantly placed as it sounds, as are subsequent lines. To explain the incident with Superpower, Capheus gives Jela a simplified explanation of the cluster (and Sun in particular). The two think they are on their way to a comeback for the Van Damn, but as they turn the key, they barely escape before an explosion and fire destroys the bus beyond repair.
Hernando and Lito
While Hernando is teaching a class on art, his students chuckle and present a larger-than-life tabloid cover image from Daniela’s camera, showing Hernando and Lito having sex. First, they are privately disappointed, as this was what they’d feared but had nonetheless expected eventually. But Hernando turns it into an object lesson on the nature of art and the observer, discussing that “art is love made public”. Lito tells him that Joaquin spread their pictures all over the internet. They have reconciled, but are heading into uncertain territory as the revelatory release seems certain to destroy Lito’s acting career.
Will and Riley
Will dreams a vision of Angelica. As she did, he is now using drugs to escape Whisper’s tracking of his mind. As she commits suicide in front of him, he is clearly contemplating similar action. He wakes startled, and Riley comforts him. They are living in non-descript hovels to avoid recapture.
Sun is visited by her new attorney, who explains that the court has rejected her appeal. The new attorney implies that Sun’s murderous brother, Joong-Ki, intimidated or bought off the old attorney. The new attorney plans to subpoena him, but Sun urges him to leave her brother where she can take her own action.
Nomi, Kala, and Rajan
Nomi is getting the hang of controlling the cluster’s “visits”, and she consoles Lito during his immediate crisis, which is being splashed all over the media. This prompts Kala to vaguely explain her cluster connection to Rajan. Totally misreading the situation, he responds that he spoke to her mother about them being married and not yet having had sex. Kala is incensed, and the violations to the entire cluster’s personal lives leave them feeling horrified. Each sees a connection to ugly names and sentiments applied to them and are disgusted by the loathing of their abusers.
Will and Jonas
Will and Jonas observe Whispers from afar (to keep him unaware he is being “visited”). The heroin helps Will to keep Whisper’s focus off him, but Jonas explains that there is a better way. A medication dubbed “blockers” deactivates the neurochemistry that separates sensates from typical humans. Whispers uses it regularly on himself to protect from attack, and uses it on the imprisoned Jonas to cut him off from Will. While Jonas is in transit to a new BPO facility, the connection is available between Jonas and Will. Will explains that he sees fragments from Angelica’s mind that he could not have experienced. Jonas tells him that as their sensate mother, the cluster has received portions of Angelica’s memory. Will wonders what happened to Whisper’s cluster, and Angelica pops into his head to tell him that they are all dead.
A Shared Birthday
Some time later, Sun’s friend Soo-Jin bribes a guard so that she is not alone on her birthday. By extension, we see the other cluster members in their celebrations. In Nairobi, the community (including the Kabakas) has provided Capheus with a brand new Van Damn bus. Will and Riley kick back in her fellow musician’s flat. Each cluster member finds themselves in multiple parties across the globe, as they dance and enjoy themselves. This was the most fascinating sequence as it recalled a tamer version of the infamous orgy scene and the shared birth experience scenes in the first season in an immensely colorful and fun way.
It ends with Wolfgang’s bittersweet realization that Kala is happy with Rajan. Kala visits Sun, who talks her through her fears about losing her virginity. What follows is a scene no less intense: an erotic mass of the cluster’s bodies alongside their individual partners, tastefully shot in a way that makes the first season’s sexual scenario puritan in comparison.
As amazing as that scene is, it’s followed with Wolfgang, his Tinder hook-up, Kala, and Rajan. It plays like a farce, and there’s intimate bodily injury. This is at exactly the half-way mark of the special episode, and it hit me like an ice bucket challenge. In a very confusing edit, it also cuts together the hospital bed scene of the aftermath with what should be an empowering career decision for Lito leaving one unsure whether to laugh, cry, be proud, or be ashamed.
Wolfgang’s aunt offers him a leadership role in East Berlin. In one of the climaxes last year, he killed his uncle (who controlled that territory) and his crew, leaving a power vacuum. He tells Felix that “secrets keep people together closer than love”, and Felix admits to Wolfgang that he’s been awake from his coma listening to him. They return to the shop where drive-by assassins shot Felix, and a group that sees Wolfgang as the heir to the territory treat him to drinks at a bar. At the end of the night, Volker, one of the rival territory bosses, is in Wolfgang’s apartment proposing they could “own the city” together, but Wolfgang turns him down.
Whispers visits Will, who is now relatively clear-headed. The squalid dump he and Riley are hiding in provide no clues to where it is. Whispers, for his part, is in a nondescript bare interrogation room. Will uses his interrogation skills to flip the script and confront Whispers with personal details, which unsettles him. It’s implied Whispers had to take a leave of absence after losing Riley and Will in Iceland, not to mention the collateral damage to the facility. Riley gets Will some more drugs and a burner cell phone to contact his father. Will’s father urges him to return home and clear his name.
Lito’s publicists are hell-bent on keeping him in the closet, threatening legal action if he comes out. He tells them that he’s tired of living a lie. Lito and Hernando have been staying with Daniela, and Lito finds himself locked out of his apartment in the aftermath of the publicity. Wolfgang assists Lito hot-wire the keypad, but inside, they find the apartment gutted, and a letter that the building has terminated his lease due to “moral indecency”.
Weddings, Lawyers, and Hope
Rajan has packed his bags for an early end to their honeymoon (thinking that he’s been blind to the notion that Kala doesn’t love him), but Kala urges him to stay. They return to Mumbai and get an apartment. She and Wolfgang have a heart-to-heart about the people they are and the people they need to be.
Nomi’s sister wants Nomi to be her maid of honor at her wedding, which is impossible as a fugitive. Bendix raids their apartment, but Nomi and Amanita are well concealed and flee to Bug’s boat.
Sun meets her new “lawyers” in the visitation room, expecting the idealistic attorney from earlier. The other sensates immediately recognize the setup for Sun to be assassinated in that room. Using Will’s, Wolfgang’s, and Lito’s skills, she subdues her three attackers.
The Van Damn bus is back in operation. Some passengers tell Capheus and Jela that they rode it just to give them empowerment, hope, and inspiration. Silas Kabaka awaits Capheus when he returns home, with a plan to set up a community clinic. Capheus is wary that his former employer Kabaka, a known criminal boss, has ulterior motives. Kabaka wants to convince Capheus that he can change.
Home for Christmas
The first season roughly covers June and July of 2015. We’ve spent since July with the cluster during this special; being – after all – a Christmas special, the story does eventually get to December. The choral song “Hallelujah” sets a heartwarming tone for the holidays.
Lito visits his mother, whose “friends” have turned on her in the wake of his scandal. She tells him that he has nothing to apologize for, and that she is proud of him for being who he is and not hiding anymore. Their small family, including Hernando and Daniela, goes on a candlelight vigil parade through the streets. The next morning, Daniela is moved by the family experience so unlike her own.
Nomi and Bug have an interlude where Bug talks about his “virtual” family. He tries to convey a concept that while he’s never physically met them, he’s closer to them than anyone. Nomi understands this concept well. Bug is, however, elated when Nomi and Amanita invite him out to Amanita’s family for Christmas activities. The message is clear that family is who you make it, and no one has to be lonely.
Will and Riley take time away from hiding to go ice skating. Whispers drops in for a holiday surprise: Whispers is physically with Will’s (ill) father and is manipulating him. Will breaks down, unsure of whether he can keep hiding.
A New Year
The prison releases Sun from solitary confinement and she comes “home” to her friends in the cell block.
At his New Year’s party, Volker reminds Wolfgang that the wall that once separated East and West Berlin fell (a subtle metaphor about merging their territories). A guest’s insult triggers a war, and the guest begs Wolfgang for help before being gunned down. Without weapons, Wolfgang uses Sun’s skills to escape. The episode ends with him looking at the resolved faces of the rest of the cluster in the aftermath.
The action-packed first season of Sense8 only covers a few weeks spread over 12 episodes. In this two-hour Christmas special, we covered a span of months. We laughed, we cried, and we cheered. Now that we’ve gone through all the world-building (although mysteries remain), the meat of the story exhilarates and breaks your heart. The only weak point was the half-time editing which would have made more sense if they’d decided to split the special into two different episodes.
I’m nonetheless stoked for season two.