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Love And Death: Your Guide To Binge-Watching Netflix’s Morality-Drenched “Sense8”

It’s a supernatural story as only the creators of The Matrix could tell it: heavy on action and riddled with moral dilemmas.

Love And Death: Your Guide To Binge-Watching Netflix’s Morality-Drenched “Sense8”
Freema Agyeman (L) and Jamie Clayton (R) in a scene from Netflix’s Sense8. [Photos: Murray Close, Merie Wallace, courtesy of Netflix]

Emotions locked in the fortress of the brain slowly become secrets that are hidden for a reason. So it may be unnerving to imagine cutting a key to that fortress for seven strangers and receiving full access to their most intimate thoughts as well.

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Netflix’s original series Sense8, created by the Wachowski siblings of The Matrix and J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5, follows eight people living in Chicago, London, Mexico City, Seoul, Berlin, San Francisco, Nairobi, and Mumbai as they realize they’re connected to each other by their senses. And there is a sixth sense at play, with deeper consequences that stitches these discrete lives together in a more profound way: morality.

Knowing and doing what’s right or wrong, or good or bad, are decisions that, whether the “sensates” like it or not, are rarely made alone. Although all eight characters are connected, there’s one person they each unknowingly form a tighter bond with–someone whose inner conflict runs parallel to their own despite race or language barriers. And it’s that bond of moral sense that grounds Sense8 in a certain depth to allow for powerful themes to emerge–as topical as LGBT issues, and as old as love and religion.

Season one is less of a story about average people blessed with an amazing gift to fight evil (season two, you were set up damn well to carry that torch) and more about how these eight individuals are navigating the tribulations in their personal lives with the help of strangers who are, in some cases, thousands of miles away. We’ve isolated the episodes with key moments between the pairs of sensates who are connected by something more than a supernatural gift.

MEET THE SENSATES

Capheus (Aml Ameen)
CITY: Nairobi, Kenya
MORAL DILEMMA: Capheus’s bus-driving business is tanking, but he needs money to pay for his mother’s AIDS medication. When a ruthless gang leader throws an offer on the table in exchange for service, Capheus is caught between getting his mother the drugs she needs through a shady and dangerous deal, or staying on the straight and impoverished narrow.

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Sun (Doona Bae)
CITY: Seoul, South Korea
MORAL DILEMMA: By day, Sun is a highly successful businesswoman in her father’s company. By night, she’s a fierce Muay Thai-style fighter in the underground circuit. But the real match she’s facing is embezzlement–not by her doing, but by her brother’s, who also works at the company. Bound by a promise she made to her dying mother that she would always look after her little brother, Sun is faced with either letting her heir apparent brother fall from grace, or save the company by admitting to a crime she didn’t commit.

Nomi (Jamie Clayton)
CITY: San Francisco, California
MORAL DILEMMA: Transgender hacktivist Nomi is the first of her sensate’s cluster to be exposed to the evil intentions of the organization hunting their kind–and also the first to experience how aggressively the organization can strong-arm a sensate’s loved ones. Nomi can’t turn to her disapproving family, so she leans on the new family she’s created, namely her girlfriend, Amanita. But is your personal safety worth the life of someone you love?

Kala (Tina Desai)
CITY: Mumbai, India
MORAL DILEMMA: Kala is about to get married to the perfect guy–the only problem is she doesn’t love him, and she doesn’t know how to break things off when her parents and her religion say this is the right decision. As a devout Hindu, Kala is stuck between the prospect of a loveless marriage or breaking the religious traditions she holds so dear.

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Riley (Tuppence Middleton)
CITY: London, U.K.
MORAL DILEMMA: After narrowly escaping a drug deal gone fatally wrong that she had nothing to do with, Riley flees to her home in Iceland to visit her father despite the unimaginable grief she experienced there years ago when she lost her husband in a car accident, gave birth in said wrecked car, and lost the baby too. It’s why she escaped to London and has never coped with what happened, but how far can you run from your problems before you’re out of breath?

Wolfgang (Max Riemelt)
CITY: Berlin, Germany
MORAL DILEMMA: Wolfgang and his best friend Felix have just pulled off an impossible diamond heist–the same heist Wolfgang’s cousin Steiner had been plotting for months. Family ties already fraught with tension are severed completely when Steiner exacts his revenge on Felix, putting Wolfgang in the position of handing over the diamonds as requested or putting his and Felix’s life on the line to settle the score with his cousin and uncle for the very last time.

Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre)
CITY: Mexico City, Mexico
MORAL DILEMMA: He’s the man everyone wants to be and every woman wants to be with, but action movie actor Lito is hiding a secret: his boyfriend, Hernando. Lito’s acting is good enough to fool Joaquin, the insanely jealous boyfriend of his beard, Daniela–that is, until Joaquin finds sex pics of Lito and Hernando. Lito has to choose between maintaining his macho-guy career and image, or coming out of the closet to save his friend and his relationship.

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Will (Brian J. Smith)
CITY: Chicago, Illinois
MORAL DILEMMA: Will is just about as straight-laced as a cop can get–almost to a fault. Will’s hero complex culminates in a dramatic choice of saving his cluster for a personal price.

THE SEASON’S KEY MOMENTS

“They’ll be hunted born or unborn. You can give them a fighting chance.”–Jonas, episode one
The fate of the eight sensates is set in motion when their “mother” Angelica (Daryl Hannah) births their psychic connection and subsequently kills herself so the evil Dr. Whispers can’t locate them through her. Worst mother’s day ever.

“I’m not just a me. I’m also a we.”–Nomi, episode two
You have no idea how right you are, Nomi. Her impassioned gay pride vlog is a clear parallel to the growing mental bonds forming among these eight strangers, and the fact that their individual lives are now just as important as the cluster’s survival.


“Anyone watching what really goes on in this world, how fucked up it all is . . . checking out, temporarily, permanently, my darling, it is the only choice that makes sense.”–Shugs, episode three
Riley’s alleged friend Shugs (Frank Dillane) lays down some of the worst advice you could give to someone who tried to kill themselves in the past like Riley, and unfortunately this burnout’s pearl of wisdom only reinforces Riley’s fatalist mind-set that will endanger her cluster later on.

“What’s going on?”–the entire cluster, episode four
In a very surreal sing-along, Riley kicks off a sensate karaoke jam session with the 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up?” which is incredibly appropriate given the fact that no one has yet to figure out why they’re dipping and diving into each other’s lives–and why a sketchy doctor wants to lobotomize them.

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“Who can say if it is we who make the choice, or the choice that makes us?”–Capheus, episode five
Capheus channels his inner Confucius for a powerful, if a little vague, sentiment that’s applicable to the personal dilemmas each of the sensates are facing–not to mention the larger issue of them being hunted down for an undisclosed reason.

“Right now, you’re safer there than where you are.”–Sun, episode six
Halfway through the season, the lives of the sensates are as complicated as ever, and Sun’s advice to Riley weighs heavier than any of them may know. The present is riddled with dangers, which leaves only the future to look forward to–a thought echoed at the end of this episode with Angelica’s haunting message to Sun that the sensates are the future.


“Or sense like gravity? A force that no one knows why exists. Only that if it didn’t exist, if there wasn’t this mysterious attraction, this pull between objects, then none of this would exist either.”–Kala, episode seven
Religion vs. science: a debate that rages on with fervent believers on either side of the line declaring the other false. But, as Kala so beautifully points out, phenomenon like how eight people could be connected through their senses is as miraculously inexplicable as something so basic as gravity–or she could have just been using that line to hook up with Wolfgang.

“In the end, we’ll all be judged by the courage of our hearts.”–Lito, episode eight
A cheesy line in a terrible action movie, yes. But when applied to the real dangers threatening the sensates–not to mention Lito’s cowardly stint in the closet that could end his relationship and possibly the life of a friend–it becomes a touch less schmaltzy, no?


“The real violence, the violence that I realized was unforgivable, is the violence that we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.”–Nomi, episode nine

“That day, I learned life and death are always so mixed up together, in the same way some beginnings are endings, and some endings become beginnings.”–Capheus, episode nine
We have a two-fer here, people: Both Capheus and Nomi drop major truth bombs that have a significant impact for two other sensates: Capheus overwhelmingly trumps Shug’s advice from episode three, comforting Riley as she weeps over the graves of her husband and child, and Nomi’s “it gets better” monologue gives Lito the courage to come out in public.

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“I envy people–their clear-cut allegiances.”–Jonas, episode 10
It was mentioned in episode nine that Jonas and Angelica both worked for the organization hunting sensates, so Jonas’s hauntingly subtle remark calls into question the guidance he’s been giving the cluster through Will who, ironically or not so ironically enough, winds up in the same predicament as Angelica in the season finale, i.e. he looked into Dr. Whispers’s eyes, which gives Whispers an all-access pass to his cluster.


“It is so simple a thing, just turn the wheel and the future changes.”–Kala, episode 11
Ah, yes–but the real question is, which way are you turning the wheel? What was meant as a touching reminder to do the right thing is also loaded with the possibility of doing just the opposite.

“Protect them.”–Yrsa, episode 12
And we’ve come full circle: As in episode one with Angelica convinced that killing herself was the only way to save the cluster she just birthed, we have another sensate urging Riley to do the same after she winds up in the hands of the bad guys. Riley does indeed protect her cluster, but not at the expense of her own life, proving that this cluster just may be the strongest yet.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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