Over the course of its first season, Sense8 has been steadily building its world. It’s been heavy on exposition from time to time, but for the most part, the show has done a good job of just letting its story unravel. Sci-fi/supernatural-leaning shows can sometimes be bogged down by the need to explain the rules of their world. Sense8 never really worried about that, choosing to just present the sensates as they are and slowly show off their powers and where they came from.
The result is a refreshing briskness to the storytelling. Without specific episodes that focused on only building the mythology of this world, Sense8 could just plow forward and trust that the viewer would follow along. That’s meant increasing visitations and a slow reveal of the sensates’ backstories.
If this season has largely been about establishing who the sensates are, crafting their own individual storylines that only occasionally cross over, then the finale, “I Can’t Leave Her,” is about coalescing those stories. By bringing the sensates together for what amounts to a glorious, innovative one-hour prison escape film, Sense8 has wrapped up the individual storylines of its first season while signaling a way forward for the group’s narrative.
The entire episode is built around one long set piece, which is the sensates coming together to get Riley away from BPO and therefore save all of their lives. BPO transports Riley to their own research facility in Iceland, meaning that the sensates only have so much time before Whispers gets to her and gets inside her head.
Before focusing on Riley’s storyline, the show wraps up Wolfgang’s blood feud with his uncle. He walks right into his uncle’s lavish living room and when a bodyguard searches Wolfgang and pulls out a gun, he grabs it and shoots everyone in the room.
The feud isn’t settled though. Will steps in and says that he heard a bullet hit Kevlar. Plus, he notices that the bodyguard is missing his gun. Sergei, Wolfgang’s uncle, is not dead, and he pulls a gun and starts shooting. This leads Wolfgang to flee the room and hole up in the mansion’s kitchen.
He’s got nowhere to go with henchmen trying to break down the door. That’s when Kala shows up and creates a makeshift bomb out of kitchen supplies. Wolfgang kisses her and lights the fuse, throwing the bomb out the door and killing the rest of Sergei’s bodyguards.
That leaves Wolfgang alone with Sergei. More than anything, his uncle just wants to know why he’s coming to kill him, why he’s betraying his family. It’s revealed that Wolfgang was the one who killed his abusive father and that he’s hated his uncle since he was a child because he never did anything about it. He just let his brother beat him constantly.
Wolfgang shoots Sergei numerous times in the face and it’s one of the goriest things the show has done. It’s purposefully visceral and ugly because Kala is watching. The act complicates her feelings for this man. As Wolfgang says after he’s done shooting, “that’s why you have to marry Rajan.” He’s of a different world than Kala and perhaps the two are too different to be together.
NEXT: Tonight there’s going to be a sensate jailbreak[pagebreak]
With Riley secured inside the BPO research facility and Whispers on his way via helicopter, it’s up to Will (with the help of everybody else) to get to her. He creates a distraction by pulling the oil line on his nice car, Nomi and Amanita letting him know that no man can resist lamenting a broken car, a nice little wink at the idea of traditional masculinity.
With the guards distracted by the smoking car, Will uses his phone, which Nomi and Amanita have set up with an employee’s ID badge, to get into the facility. From there he needs to locate Riley but has know idea how to do it. Lito comes to the rescue, once again putting his acting skills to use.
As usual, the Lito scene is a ton of fun. When he first shows up Will asks, “do I know you?”. “Yes,” he replies, “we had sex,” referring to the orgy scene from earlier in the season. What’s great is that Will doesn’t act disgusted or immature, but rather just a little flustered. “It was very…” says Will, and Lito finishes the sentence for him. “Special” he says, and Will can hardly disagree. Sense8 has done a great job of exploring the fluidity of gender and sexuality in its first season.
Lito ends up doing what he does best. He puts on a doctor’s jacket and flirts with one of the nurses, striking up casual workplace conversation before getting her to reveal the room Riley is in. That means all Will has to do is actually get there and then find a way out.
Will sees no way of getting past four guards that block the room though. “That’s it?” says Sun as she quickly dispatches with all of them, allowing Will entry into the room. After a few moments where the two share a connection he picks her up and carries her out. There’s no way Will can carry Riley out of the facility so they have to wake her up. Kala’s the only one who knows how to do it safely, injecting her with a mix of pharmaceuticals that shocks her system to life.
From there the two escape to an ambulance waiting outside. On their way out though Will accidentally catches sight of Whispers and looks him in the eye. That means that Whispers can now hear and see everything he sees, making it nearly impossible to escape.
Once they’re out in the ambulance they realize there are no keys, but Capheus manages to jump start it. “The Van Damn has been stolen many times,” he says, “so you learn a few tricks to steal it back.”
With Riley safe in the front seat Will drives them into the mountains, heading straight for the highest altitude (and therefore the worst weather) in order to obscure their view from Whispers’ helicopter. With a little help from Wolfgang, who plays chicken with the helicopter, the two manage to find their way into the mountains.
For Riley, that’s unacceptable. This is the site of her most horrific memory, the place where she lost her husband and child. She starts experiencing all that pain again, from the pain of the birth to the pain of losing her family. Will experiences it all too, growing a swollen pregnancy belly and then weeping at the loss of Riley’s family.
NEXT: Where do we go from here?[pagebreak]
Riley is ready to give up, to just lie down and die on that mountaintop. Jonas says that with Whispers on the way, Will and Riley should kill themselves, that it’s the only way to protect the rest of the cluster. Obviously Will has no time for such nay saying and comes up with a way to save them all.
He goes to the ambulance and injects himself with enough drugs to knock him unconscious, meaning that Whispers can’t access his thoughts. Now he just needs Riley to drive the ambulance. In a touching moment he visits her and shares her pain but shows her a way forward. It’s an explicit look at how trauma can linger within a person and how easy it is to forget that the people we meet everyday are usually struggling with something in their lives.
In fact, much of Sense8 is about how we can never truly know what a person has been through–who would look at Riley, a DJ in London, and assume she had a husband and child who died in a car accident in the middle of nowhere in Iceland? Thus, Sense8 makes its case for empathy, for understanding that we can connect with people on a meaningful level if we give ourselves such an opportunity.
It’s why Will didn’t shoot that kid early in the season. It’s why Kala tries to understand Wolfgang. It’s why Capheus connects with Silas and his daughter. There are demons in everyone’s past, but to judge is to be hasty and cynical. Rather, Sense8 calls for understanding and empathy.
Ultimately, it’s empathy that shines through. Will awakes on Sven’s boat with Riley holding him, injecting him again so that he stays unconscious until they are completely free. “You saved us,” he says as the camera pulls back and reveals all the sensates there.
It’s a fitting end to the season, a shot that establishes the full connection these sensates now share and also suggests they have no idea what lies ahead. If Netflix grants a second season (co-creators J. Michael Straczynski has said him and the Wachowskis have a five-season arc planned in their heads) there are endless possibilities for the sensates. Whispers is still on to them, Jonas is still a prisoner, and each sensate of course has their own life to worry about.
In its first season, Sense8 crafted not only a thrilling sci-fi narrative, but also argued for the value of genre TV and film while meaningfully exploring themes of sexuality, identity, gender, power, and technology. That’s a lot for a single season of television, but Sense8, for the most part, managed to juggle it all. “I Can’t Leave Her” is perhaps the best episode of the season and the finest example of everything Sense8 managed to pull off throughout its fun, intelligent, innovative first season.