The first season of Sense8 is made for a full-season recap. It’s slow-burning narrative and general lack of hand-holding when it comes to storytelling means that a lot of the show’s themes and layers don’t really come into focus until you’ve consumed most of the season. It’s a show that needs unpacking. Sure, there’s the pure enjoyment of watching the plot unfold, of just sitting back and reveling in the glee of the fight scenes and plot twists. But the show has so much more going on underneath the surface that makes the whole season all the more enriching. (Spoilers for the entire first season lay ahead, folks).
The Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, across 12 episodes, crafted a season of television that was at turns ambitious, funny, and thrilling. While action-packed setpieces were the climactic focus of so many episodes—the pseudo-prison break in the finale being the most exciting of them all—it was the thematic work that truly makes Sense8 stand out and leaves a lingering feeling long after the finale cuts to the credits.
Sense8 is particularly powerful when it’s musing on themes of power, gender, identity, and sexuality. On a larger plot level Sense8 tells a story about a group of people with special powers who are being hunted by an agency that has immense power and influence. On a more thematic and ambitious level though, the show explores what it means to be human.
Sense8 is a celebration of the human experience. It suggests that every person from every walk of life is complex, and that it’s necessary in a world of cynicism to see beyond the surface and see what lies underneath. There’s a sense of empathy that runs through the first season. The sensates being able to experience one another’s emotions is not merely a fun plot device, but rather a progressive philosophy. Every character, from Nomi (who is transgender) to Lito (who is gay) to Will (who is a young cop), no matter how different, share something in common: They’re human.
One of the first season’s most endearing tendencies is the way in which the sensates never really balk at their newfound powers. Will doesn’t cringe when Lito caresses him during that beautiful orgy sequence; Sun never hesitates to put her life on the line and kickbox the enemies in order to save a friend; Kala opens up to Wolfgang in a way she can’t with Rajan, the man she’s supposed to marry.
Sense8 pushes a philosophy that the world would be a better place if we all just tried a little harder to understand each other. It would be a better place if we talked openly about privilege, sexuality, and class, if we explored transgender issues and religious devotion with an open mind.
The first season of Sense8 was at times dull, its exposition dominating too many scenes in a single episode. But with the whole first season behind us, it’s clear that Sense8, in its best moments, is both unique and powerful. It boasts a vision and a worldview that’s progressive and optimistic, and in a world where our television dramas are typically dark and cynical, Sense8 is a breath of fresh air, its first season a staggering meditation on the beauty and complexity of the human experience.
A completely subjective ranking of the first season of Sense8: