Sense8 Season 2: Less sexy, more inspiring.

Sense8 Is Back, Preaching the Power of Empathy for Queers—and Everybody Else

Sense8 Is Back, Preaching the Power of Empathy for Queers—and Everybody Else

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
May 8 2017 11:36 AM

Sense8 Is Back, Preaching the Power of Empathy for Queers—and Everybody Else

Everyone's together in Sense8.

Murray Close/Netflix

This post contains mild spoilers from Season 2 of Sense8.

Let me save you some fast-forwarding: The 10 new episodes of Sense8 Netflix released on Friday do not feature any of the astonishing eight-way orgies that made Episode 6 of Season 1 and this winter’s New Year special so memorable. Although there are some wonderfully erotic moments sprinkled throughout the new season, the tone is more serious—being chased by powerful forces bent on genocide is apparently just as much of a boner kill for homo sensorium as it is for homo sapiens. And while the plotting of the second season is more coherent than that of the first, I wish there had been a more of the boundless joy that was the prevalent mood of the freshman outing, which wallowed in the sense of wonder experienced by eight very different people as they came to understand that they were connected to each other by a profound telepathic link.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.


But while I missed the bodily pleasures that were more dominant in Season 1, the new episodes provided something even more necessary in our current moment:  a reminder of the critical necessity of empathy.

When you are a sensate—human beings who are born in interconnected “clusters” of eight—you are never alone. Whether you need help hacking into a database, fighting off a bunch of armed thugs, or opening a safe, at least one member of your cluster is always there to share their expertise. Parents and siblings are unreliable—they withhold love, surrender to their own demons, or act like murderous jerks—but cluster-mates will always provide support, advice, or courage.

As you might imagine from a show involving eight main characters based on four continents, Sense8 burns through a lot of story—and there isn’t time for everyone to shine. Riley Blue (Tuppence Middleton), the Icelandic DJ who was at the center of the first season, plays a supporting role this time around. Similarly, the issues that afflict some sensates seem trifling compared to their cluster-mates’ troubles. Mexican actor Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) is adorable, but the career difficulties he faces after he is outed as gay pale when compared with Korean businesswoman/prisoner/kickboxer Sun Bak’s constant need to fend off the armed assassins her brother keeps sending to kill her.

Another benefit of living on the psychic party-line? Their empathic connections help sensates escape their own demographic bubbles. When upper-class Indian Kala Rasal (Tina Desai) learns that her husband’s pharmaceutical company is dumping defective drugs in “faraway places” like China and Africa, it’s impossible for her to feel the same distance he does, because the HIV-positive mother of her Kenyan cluster-mate Capheus relies on anti-retroviral drugs. Capheus, in turn, has no hang-ups about his girlfriend’s bisexuality because of his connection to Lito and Nomi.

But Sense8 doesn’t just show how great it would be to be one of these fortunate folks born with an imaginary genetic variant; it reminds the rest of us that we, too, can connect with supportive, like-minded individuals all over the world, thanks to the Internet. After Lito’s talent agency cuts ties with the outed actor, a red-carpet interview leads to an invitation to Sao Paolo Pride, which in turn leads to still another viral speech and a glorious public smooch with his lover—a path that leads to a great new job and, perhaps more important, to Lito becoming comfortable with his sexuality. (It’s hard to ignore the parallels between Lito’s viral video with the flood of support Lana Wachowski—who created Sense8 with her sister Lilly and J. Michael Straczynski—received after she came out as trans in 2012.) Likewise, Anonymous-like Internet vigilantes delete unjust warrants against trans hacker Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), unleashing a chain of events that leads her father to call her his daughter for the first time. (Sense8 isn’t Pollyanna-ish about the Internet, though—the beta blockers they sometimes take to keep malicious sensates from other clusters out of their heads is the show’s version of “don’t feed the trolls.”)

Empathy is always a force for good in the world, but as I watched the new episodes of Sense8, I couldn’t help but flash on two very different events from the past month or so. One was the experience of listening to S-Town, the story of a suicidal man whose sexuality separated him from other residents of his Alabama hometown. The other was watching the bizarre Republican celebration on the White House lawn after the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cause more than 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. I’m not saying that watching a TV show about eight interconnected hotties would’ve changed either of those real-life events, but a deeper understanding of how individual actions—from passing glares to nation-changing votes—impact the web of strangers around us wouldn’t have hurt, either.