As of this writing, a week after the release of the extraordinary Sense8 Christmas special on Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes lists only 5 reviews of the show. Barely enough to trigger the Tomatometer. This is ridiculous and needs explaining.
For by rights this mind-expanding, action-packed and shockingly beautiful adrenalin shot of television should be widely celebrated and discussed. And yet clearly, with 5 measly reviews, Sense8 is far off the critical radar.
And so it is worth asking: why? For as creators of the Matrix Trilogy and V for Vendetta, the Wachowskis have proven themselves to be capable of brilliantly original cinema. So why isn’t Sense8 getting the coverage it deserves?
I see 3 reasons:
Reason 1 is that the Wachwoskis, who began their careers as brothers Larry and Andy, are now sisters Lily and Lana Wachowski. And I suspect this is too much for some people – critics, editors, publicists, executives, etc. – and some platforms, to handle. So the first reason I’d propose – although admittedly I have no direct evidence of this – is kneejerk transphobia.
Reason 2 is related to reason 1, for Sense8 features homosexual, lesbian and transsexual characters in profoundly loving, courageous and sexual relationships. There is straight love too, but in Sense8 no expression of love is valued more than any other. Additionally, because the show involves a group of 8 people who share each others’ most intimate experiences and emotions, Sense8 also features some lengthy group sex scenes. Very stylized scenes to be sure – more like dance than real sweaty sex – but still, powerfully erotic pan-sexual orgies. Which does somewhat push the boundaries of TV, even for Netflix. Just as it no doubt freaks out many of the same professionally uptight critics, editors, publicists, executives, etc, the worker bees of the world’s media platforms. So I’d suggest that reason 2 for Sense8‘s critical marginalization is a combination of corporate and personal prudishness and homophobia.
Now, reason 3 is again related, but in a sense deeper. For in this 2-hour episode Sense8 makes utterly explicit the Wachowski’s philosophy of all-embracing love in a way that palpably subverts the fear, violence and egotism on which the media-industrial complex feeds. To the point that its caretakers simply refuse to touch it. In other words, I am suggesting that this series is such a potent meditation on personal and collective compassion that it short-fuses the jingoistic, consumerist fear-mongering media that dominates our cultural discourse. Or, to put it even more bluntly: Sense8 is an invitation to revolt, together.
And we can’t have that.
We can’t have millions of people watching a riveting trans-racial, trans-sexual, trans-personal, trans-cultural attempt to evolve beyond the raging wars on the imagination and the body that conflict us all.
And so – because none of the mainstream media outlets are talking about Sense8 – we don’t.
Of course society’s refusal to make room for those who act lovingly is precisely what Sense8 is all about; the Trumpist attack on compassion, as Sense8‘s inter-connected characters are hunted by humans who refuse to feel, who refuse to care, who refuse to love fearlessly.
Which brings us back to reason 1. Because the failure of the commercial media to discuss and promote this illuminating and important series – choosing instead to blah blah about the latest feature length Hollywood meme – is Sense8 come full circle; the show is rejected, ignored, implicitly (and commercially) denigrated, and the show’s creators are treated the same way, precisely because they have had the courage to change and dream (in person and in their stories) in ways that mainstream media outlets can’t control or comprehend. And as a result we, lonely and hopeful viewers, instead of being introduced to a potentially life-changing communalist vision, are trolled by an endless stream of clickbait offering corrosive simulacra.
Ultimately Sense8 speaks volumes about the battle for the human heart in these precarious times. It is, in this armchair critic’s opinion, among the most courageous, coherent and catalytic works of political art of our age.
It is also an insanely cool ride.
Whoever you are, you owe it to yourself to watch it.
ps. I wrote about the critical response to Sense8 Season 1 here.
You’re totally right about that Mr Sobol, Sense 8 is a great series and I can’t wait for season 2 to begin. The only problem is that is so addictive I’ll probably stay up all night to watch it all.