At the same moment, all around the world, eight seemingly independent people became telepathically linked. Will, Riley, Lito, Kala, Wolfgang, Capheus, Nomi, and Sun all live in far-reaching corners of the world — from Chicago to Mexico City, Mumbai to Berlin, Seoul to Nairobi — but suddenly find themselves able to access each other’s skills, memories, and senses. Though all eight of these characters have lived completely different lives up to this point, the discovery of their unique connection satiates a deep feeling of insignificance and unfulfillment in each of them.
Sense8, the Wachowskis’ ill-fated Netflix sci-fi melodrama, introduced the world to a genetically evolved species of humans: homo sensorium. These individuals, called sensates, exist in psychically linked clusters who can experience the senses of their clustermates at will. The members of any given cluster are born at the exact same time. In the case of our main characters, all eight drew their first breath at the same moment on August 8th, 1988, or 08-08-88.
Once the connection between a cluster is determined, members can telepathically visit each other, fully seeing and communicating with one another despite thousands of miles of physical distance between them. In the series finale, a feature-length film developed after the show’s untimely cancellation following the release of its second season, Lito describes it as feeling “more like you’re there than seeing through their eyes.” Visually, this is much easier both to show and explain; scenes where members of the cluster are visiting each other are shown from multiple perspectives, with each character experiencing it in their physical location as well as their clustermate’s.
Though this all feels complicated and convoluted to explain, the technicalities of cluster communication are not particularly pivotal to the real heart of the show: the profound relationships shared among the August 8 cluster. Before their rebirth, each of the members is deeply struggling in their personal lives. The struggles each character faces are unique to their independent lives but they find solace in each other. In helping each other, they find a sense of purpose and connection.
Take Lito and Nomi for example. When she went through her gender transition, Nomi’s parents refused to acknowledge her identity and effectively exiled her from their lives. Though now distanced from her biological family, she lives happily in San Fransisco where she gets to experience a comfortable life with her girlfriend. Compare that to Lito, who’s rightfully terrified of coming out and forced to conceal his loving relationship with his partner. He even feigns a relationship with a female costar in an attempt to dispel rumors.
Nomi’s sudden presence in Lito’s life is jarring beyond their psychic connection — for the first time in his life, Lito’s free to be unabashedly himself. In his relationship with Nomi, he finally celebrates his queerness. Though he was blackmailed into publicly coming out, Nomi inspires him to embrace the dreadful situation and stand up for his identity. As they grow together, Nomi even brings Lito to Pride, something Lito would have never been privileged to experience in his life before connecting with Nomi and the rest of the cluster.
Facing pressure from her traditional Hindu family to get married rather than focus on her career, Kala is similarly struggling to stand up for herself. Her new husband, Rajan, is a kind and well-meaning man with whom Kala enjoys spending time, but she yearns to be with someone she really loves. Once she establishes her connection with the cluster, Kala and Wolfgang develop a deeper bond and eventually a romantic relationship.
Kala escapes to seek out Wolfgang and satiate her desire to be loved. In turn, nihilistic Wolfgang finally finds purpose in his life. Their love for each other transcends space and the boundaries of any typical relationship. Wolfgang, a criminal living in Berlin, and Kala, a pharmaceutical chemist in Mumbai, don’t have a lot in common on the surface level but once the cluster is reborn, the two are inseparable. When Wolfgang is kidnapped in season two, Kala finally gets her chance to shine in the cluster; her connection to Wolfgang helps locate him, and their love also motivates him to keep fighting while he undergoes scientific testing by the series’ villain, Whispers.
Like the aforementioned relationships, Capheus and Sun also share a special bond beyond the connection to the rest of their cluster. Capheus is a poor van driver in Nairobi, desperate to make ends meet so he can afford his mother’s AIDS medications and Sun can relate to his pain as she witnessed her own mother’s death. He also channels her skills as kickboxer on more than one occasion as he fights against the corrupt gangs wreaking havoc on his community.
While all of these relationships are important to the development of their respective characters, it’s impossible to talk about Sense8 without mentioning the sex. Because the sensates can tap into their clustermates’ every sense at will, sex becomes a way to explore their connection. Early in season one, before they are even fully cognizant of the cluster connection, Lito and Nomi both begin having sex with their significant others at the same time, in Mexico City and San Francisco respectively. As things escalate, more members of the cluster begin to tap into the experience, coming together in a metaphorical moment of shared ecstasy. This group experience is revisited throughout the show, including during the closing scene of the finale.
Featuring characters across the spectrums of gender and sexuality and created by two trans women, queerness and diversity are constantly lauded on Sense8. By connecting eight people with such wide-ranging life experiences and exploring the intricacies of how desperately they need each other, the Wachowskis are making a statement — it’s impossible to survive alone. Even if its premise lays in science fiction, Sense8 is a celebration of diversity in our world and inspires us to seek out unexpected connections.