“FOR OUR FANS”
That’s the phrase that appears on the screen at the close of Sense8‘s series finale. And, man: truer words.
Because of course, the globe-hopping series, known for its lavish production quality, its travel budget, its proudly earnest and crunchy we-are-all-connected sci-fi conceit, its crack fight choreography and, yes, okay, let’s get it out of the way up front, its deeply sexy polyamorous psychic orgies, was canceled by Netflix after two seasons. Following a fan outcry, Netflix agreed to let the Wachowskis return to this gleefully weird universe to wrap things up with a two-and-a-half hour episode.
The episode in question is, ultimately, a victory lap. It does everything the series did, just … moreso. It’s also blissfully unconcerned with catching viewers up on various aspects of the show’s mythology, so you might want to freshen up by watching the last few episodes of season two, because the finale hits the ground running.
Or at least … it seems to. Watching it a second time, you remember how much this show always loved having its characters explain things to each other. They’re a talky bunch, our cluster of eight main characters, and the finale outfits each one with his or her respective hangers-on, inviting viewers to play a game of “Which tertiary comic-relief character will get the ‘Wait, I don’t understand,’ line?” in every scene.
The plot, such as it is: The cluster has come together, minus Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), who’s been captured by the evil corporation that’s dogged our heroes from the outset. They set up a meet to exchange him for their prisoner, the evil scientist known as Whispers (Terrence Mann). Along the way, there will be pulpy fight scenes, jaw-dropping international scenery and light comic moments — often within the very same scene.
The show’s odd tendency to follow a bloody shoot-out with a scene showing our heroes languidly enjoying a sensual feast together is dutifully indulged here, not once but twice. Such tonal whiplash — imagine a Nancy Myers movie suddenly breaking out in the middle of Atomic Blonde — plays hell with any sense of real tension, but those of us who love this show aren’t watching for the suspense. We know things will work out okay, because this show has been wearing its heart on its sleeve from the jump.
It’s that openness, that earnestness, more than its high-concept premise, that inspires the fannish devotion this show enjoys. The Wachowskis have infused every scene with a matter-of-fact queerness that goes beyond employing queer characters and actors. This show roots for the other, the underdog, the oppressed, the hunted. At its core, it’s about nothing so much as the awesome, terrifying, life-changing power of empathy. If you could experience the world from another’s point of view, it argues, you would become, inevitably, a better, fuller, person. Sure, yes, maybe you could also kick a bad guy in the throat without mussing your bangs, as Doona Bae does here with such verve and alacrity. But your heart would be opened, your life enriched.
Don’t think I’m excavating the show’s subtext to find that message. One of the most charming things about Sense8 is the degree to which it exists in a subtext-free zone. Those talky, talky characters are forever mouthing statements of principle whose political implications are more like explications (“Neutrality in the face of such evil is complicity.”)
Now: Why isn’t such clunkiness annoying? I keep asking myself that.
Maybe it’s just that it’s coming from a place of such defiant, unconcerned, abject sincerity. The Wachowskis don’t care if you make fun of their earnestness — hell, they’ve already thrown in six comic-relief characters to do that themselves. Cynics aren’t welcome, in their world, because cynicism is antithetical to everything this show espouses. Cynics cut themselves off from the world, which allows them to see others as less-than-human … and exploitable.
In Sense8, refreshingly, cynics are the bad guys.
Did I mention that the final image of this weird, wonderful, swing-for-the-fences series — the one that greets our eyes just before the fade-to-black, and that “FOR OUR FANS” title appears — is that of a sex toy, resting on a bedside table, after having been … toyed with?
And that said sex toy is rainbow-colored?
It’s not how I would have predicted Sense8 would end — all bang, some whimpers — but I can’t say it doesn’t feel kind of satisfyingly inevitable.