TV

Why The Cancellation Of Netflix’s ‘Sense8’ Is A Huge Loss, Even If You’re Not A Fan

Fans are now calling on Netflix to reverse the decision under the hashtag #savesense8.

Sense8

Netflix has today announced that Sense8 is done. The third season of the sci-fi drama has been cancelled, and fans have reacted with horror and outrage. There are rallying calls for the streaming service to reverse the decision under the hashtag #savesense8.

Sense8 is beloved for many reasons. It is fun, exciting, risky, weirdly sexy and notably not a reboot of a famous ‘90s franchise, but it’s also gained a lot of love for its overt and aggressive commitment to representation and diversity. Not only are the main characters sourced from all around the globe, representing lots of ethnicities, but many of the characters are queer or trans, and feature plotlines revolving around these issues. It’s also particularly ironic that a show lauded for its queer representation was cancelled on the first day of Pride Month.

Created by the Wachowski siblings (of Matrix fame), Sense8 revolves around eight psychically linked characters strewn around the globe who need to escape the machinations of an evil corporation who want to use their brains for profit. They also have a lot of psychic orgies, and karate fights. It’s got a fantastic cast, including a very creepy Daryl Hannah as a kind of psychic mum. It’s a hell of a time, and great television.

Though we haven’t yet been given a specific reason for the show’s cancellation, it’s assumed that it comes as a result of a drop in viewers after the recently released second series. Also working against it is the fact that it’s one of the most expensive shows in Netflix’s roster, costing an estimated $9 million per episode to produce.

“After 23 episodes, 16 cities and 13 countries, the story of the Sense8 cluster is coming to an end,” said VP of Original Content, Cindy Holland. “It is everything we and the fans dreamed it would be: bold, emotional, stunning, kickass and outright unforgettable.”

Netflix never releases their viewing figures, but if a fall in audience figures is the reason behind the cancellation, it’s an incredibly disappointing move. Though the logic is understandable — Netflix is a business, after all — the move seems at odds with their ethos. Just yesterday, the streaming service’s founder and CEO Reed Hastings said this: “I’m always pushing the content team; we have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things, because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”

Sense8 was one of the more importantly risky shows on TV, due primarily to the strong stance it took on representation. It seems too early to cancel; the risk has only barely been taken.

Sense8 is not a subtle show. They proudly fly their rainbow flag, often literally. There is a sense that their agenda is so pointed and strong, that at any point a Wachowski arm could burst through the TV and slap you with a glove with the word ‘equality’ embroidered on it. That being said, these representational storylines are still done well, sometimes beautifully.

The character of Nomi Marks, a trans woman (who is actually played by a trans actor, Jamie Clayton) has a wonderfully and often terrifyingly nuanced storyline. While its main thread involves being psychically hunted by a creepy man named Whispers, the story illuminates some of the broader tragedies and fears of her life as a trans person. It also, importantly, shows the joy and love.

There is also the character of Lito Rodriguez: a closeted Mexican actor, whose battle to reconcile his true sexuality with his action-hero roles in machismo-oriented Mexico is both a more standard coming-out narrative, but also genuinely affecting and lovely. His relationship with his boyfriend Hernando is somehow able to stamp out the love-hating cynic inside me.

It’s not only in the narrative and character arcs in which the show is proudly and effectively representational either. It also pushes necessary boundaries in on-screen sex. From intercontinental mind orgies to simple romantic male-on-male intercourse, the sex is both prolific and not often seen. It’s exactly the kind of stuff that queer people want to see, in both a political and thirsty way.

There is a common political narrative at the moment about ‘bubbles’ — political divides that seem impenetrable by each opposing side. There are the progressive elites and the Trump/Hanson supporters from the heartlands. Whether or not this is true, Sense8 seems to actively find ways to overcome that way of thinking. The show literally puts wildly different people in each others’ shoes (or more specifically, minds). Sense8 suggests that understanding each other is the only antidote against hate. It doesn’t hesitate to suggest which side of things is doing the most hating, but it’s still a very necessary point of view to espouse during these troubled times.

Netflix is in an interesting position right now where they get to define what kind of programming they want to stand behind. In this so-often lauded ‘golden age of television’ that we’re in, it’s clear that audiences are responding to shows that are pushing the boundaries beyond that of the staid, traditional shows from traditional network television. The choices that Netflix makes with its original content will influence how people view the service, and in a market that is rapidly becoming flooded with streaming competitors, it will also help decide on their loyalty.

Sense8 might not be the show for everyone, but it is emblematic of a commitment to shows that are not safe; shows that take risks and are important to people. Cancelling Sense8 before a satisfactory resolution — the second season ended on quite a twist! — might make sense in the short term, but it also feels like a death note for culturally varied content in the future.

You can sign a petition to help #savesense8, or watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix now.

Patrick Lenton is a writer and author. He tweets at @patricklenton.