Note: This post contains some spoilers for the series finale of “Sense8.”
Prestige TV is so dark that even with your computer screen’s brightness turned all the way up during “The Handmaid’s Tale,” you must squint to find Elisabeth Moss in the gloomy Waterford house. It is so dark that after watching Jonathan Groff examine the psyche of murderous men in “Mindhunter,” you may feel inclined to watch puppy videos on a loop. It is so dark that it hardly ever serves as an outlet for escapism, unless you count escaping to a reality even more fraught than our own.
Bright and colorful, “Sense8” is the antithesis of all that. Or, rather, it was. The often bewildering, always entertaining Netflix series has concluded with a feature-length finale that started streaming Friday and embraces what makes the show’s two seasons unique. Despite its flaws — of which there are many — “Sense8” succeeds in championing empathy and depicting the tenaciousness of the human spirit. It is remarkably inclusive and hopeful.
A refresher, for those who need it: The sci-fi series, created by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowski siblings, centers on a “cluster” of eight people across the globe who are connected via their consciousness. They experience each other’s pain and joy, can “visit” another sensate no matter their physical location, and share abilities like language comprehension or martial arts. The sensates form quick bonds — some tinged with romance — as they hide from and often fight members of a research organization called BPO, which seeks to eradicate their kind.
The structure of BPO is as unclear as the motivations of those who work for it, but that doesn’t matter much. “Sense8” thrives when it strays from plot intricacies and instead highlights how the characters respond to the threat. A good chunk of the finale is devoted to seven sensates working to save the eighth of their cluster: Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a gruff German man who tells the others he isn’t worth risking their lives for. Obviously, they disagree.
“Wolfgang, you are,” says Kala (Tina Desai), one of the seven and Wolfgang’s love interest. “You are. I know what love is because of you.”
The line is cheesy but sincere, which also applies to the rest of the series. Right before “Sense8” ends with a telepathic orgy reminiscent of the one from its first season — there are exceptionally weird perks to the whole shared consciousness thing — we attend the wedding of sensate Nomi (Jamie Clayton) and her girlfriend, Amanita (Freema Agyeman), who begins her vows with: “We live in a world that distrusts feelings.”
“Over and over, we are reminded that feelings are not as important as reason,” she continues. “That feelings are childish, irresponsible, dangerous. We are taught to ignore them, control or deny them. . . . But I know that feelings matter.”
“Sense8” just wants us to care about one another.
Some theorize that the show is a metaphor for how we communicate in the digital age. We have the ability to discover what people across the globe feel by simply opening a social media app on our phones. The comparison is especially apt, given that the finale came to be only after hordes of the show’s loyal fans expressed their disappointment online at Netflix canceling the show last year.
“Improbably, unforeseeably, your love has brought Sense8 back to life,” co-creator Lana Wachowski wrote at the time.
It couldn’t have happened to a more diverse show. The main sensates include Nomi, a witty hacktivist in San Francisco; Wolfgang, a safecracker in Berlin; Kala, an emotionally conflicted pharmacist in Mumbai; Riley (Tuppence Middleton), a widowed DJ from Reykjavik; Sun (Doona Bae), a wrongfully imprisoned executive in Seoul; Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a publicly closeted actor in Mexico City; Will (Brian J. Smith), a cop in Chicago haunted by his past; and Capheus (Toby Onwumere), a bus driver and aspiring politician in Nairobi.
“Sense8” avoids tokenizing its characters, which involves giving each sensate a full backstory that helps viewers understand what motivates them. The diversity extends to the cast, too. In addition to most actors being from the same country as their characters, “Sense8″ cast Clayton, a transgender actress, in a transgender role.
The finale is bittersweet encapsulation of all that we lose along with “Sense8,” a sentiment the writers address through Nomi’s wedding vows: “I’m afraid of pretending things will be permanent.” But as long as we maintain a sense of optimism, they remind us, we’ll all be just fine.