Over the weekend, one of my friends made a Facebook status about how he was going to deactivate his account and take at least a month off of the
chasm of despair social network. Given that this clearly is a much bigger achievement than a birthday, I sent him a congratulatory text. The jokey exchange continued briefly, as my friend expressed that “it feels good” to be offline, and that he’s hoping some time away from the endless scroll will prevent him from getting “sucked in” upon return.
What this has to do with Sense8 I’m not entirely sure, but it seemed like a relevant way to lead into the subject at hand. Like my friend who is leaving Facebook, Netflix’s new sci-fi show seems to fixate on the reality that in this ever-growing age of information, there’s a chance that on a personal level, we all may be a little bit in over our heads.
The show manifests this idea through its unique, alluring premise — eight strangers from all over the world (everywhere from Seoul, to Nairobi, to Chicago) are suddenly linked in a mental capacity, and begin to share each other’s emotions, skills, and mindframes. I’m three episodes in, and the journey thus far seems to be a shared one, in the sense that the world is as equally confusing for the characters as it is the viewers. With each new development, each character is increasingly scared, hopeless, confident, proud, and curious. To bring things back to my off-the-grid friend, the initial emotional journey for each character arguably mirrors the trainwreck of sentiments one might experience whilst scrolling through their schizophrenic Facebook timeline; there’s abrupt mood shifts from one second to the next, and nobody exactly knows how to process it all. Also, much like your Facebook timeline, there’s a plotline centered around an aspiring DJ.
Riley, the aforementioned DJ character, is probably a lot more musically successful than your friend Theo with the soundcloud page. Yet, she has her fair share off off-the-stage struggles, and by the third episode, is engaged by two friends about her (very minor spoiler alert) prior suicide attempt. One of the friends reassures Riley, and justifies her prior action with some casual prophetic chatter — telling her that “anyone watching what really goes on in this world, how fucked up it all is…checking out temporarily, permanently, my darling, it’s the only choice that makes any sense.”
Whether or not this is profound is for you to decide (although the hive-mind seems to enjoy indicating otherwise, art is objective!), but in our ever-evolving digital age, it’s arguably getting harder and harder not to “watch what’s really going on in this world.” To continue blowing smoke up this quote, I’d argue that while “it’s always been fucked” (in many ways, significantly more so than it is now), the digital age ensures that it’s no longer an option for anyone to feign ignorance. And while there are undoubtedly substantial pros to our present (namely, the omniscience of social media has crystallized the need for very long overdue social, economic, and cultural reform), the reality purported by digital age information overload — much like that comment war on your Facebook feed — can quickly become a bit too overwhelming to fully, thoughtfully, and productively process.
What I like about Sense8 is that, at least thus far, it’s captured this mood in a way that’s weirdly hopeful. As another review I read noted, the show seems to suggest that no matter our background or place in life (the show explores many timely social issues — religion, sexuality, and gender just to name a few), there’s an undeniable universality to the human condition; and that perhaps there’s a small part of us that’s connected to each and every person on this planet. That no matter how paralyzing the world can sometimes feel, it’s a little bit more manageable when you view a stranger as someone to help and connect with rather than as a threat or antagonist. In simple terms, it takes things that can feel impersonal and scary, and strives to make them human.
Whether or not the show is for you, it’s tough to deny that Sense8 is unlike anything else out there. The music is outstanding, and in conjunction with the stunning visual aesthetic and unique premise, makes for a tone that it’s undeniably pulsating and (subjectively) addicting. Whether or not the uncertainties of the plot come together by the end of the season — the show definitely requires work, patience, and open-mindedness from the viewer — I’m looking forward to continuing to “check out temporarily” in the world of the sensates.
In this day and age, it’s probably a good idea to deactivate every once in awhile. If Sense8 has any sort of lesson, maybe it’s that upon return from whatever we choose to do to get away, we don’t have to helplessly assimilate, or revert to getting sucked in. Rather, we can strive to tweak our existing reality to one that’s a bit more focused on mutual understanding and compassion; one where we could work together to make the world a little bit better for everyone.