If Joe Straczynski had to describe his new Netflix show, Sense8, in one sentence, he would say, "It's a global story told on a planetary scale about human transcendence and what it ultimately means to be human in a contemporary society." But the upcoming series, which debuts on Netflix on June 5, is actually far more complex than that.
Sense8, which Straczynski co-created with Andy and Lana Wachowski, follows a group of eight strangers — Will (Brian J. Smith), Riley (Tuppence Middleton), Capheus (Aml Ameen), Sun (Bae Doona), Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), Kala (Tina Desai), Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), and Nomi (Jamie Clayton) — living in San Francisco, Chicago, Mexico City, London, Berlin, Iceland, Mumbai, Nairobi, and Seoul. In the first five minutes of the debut episode, they're connected by the death of a sensate, a member of a group of eight people who are linked through their personality, rather than beliefs. Thus the death of one sensate births an entirely new cluster.
At first, the eight people have no idea they're connected, but soon they begin sharing sensations. One might be eating and another can taste the Indian food in their mouth. Or one might be DJ'ing and another can hear the music that's playing. "It starts off with sensory input, then gradually, it becomes more and more literal where you're in a room by yourself, but there's somebody else there and you're in San Francisco, but that character is in Seoul," Straczynski told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. "You see each other in the same room no one else can see, but you can see them and you have a conversation and that person knows parts of you and knows things about you."
As the eight strangers share experiences, they begin to realize what's going on, and after the first few minutes of the first episode, Sense8 is shot from the point of view of only the eight main characters. "Initially they don't know what the hell is going on, so as they begin to figure it out, we begin to figure it out," Straczynski said, admitting that "the first episode is a little bit confusing."
"My notion is that there are five kinds of truths: the truth you tell to casual strangers and people you meet, the truth you tell to your friends and your family, the truth you tell to only a few people in your entire life, the one you tell yourself, and the truth you won't even admit to yourself. And that's the one that tends to decline us," Straczynski said. "And we thought, If we take these characters who suddenly have access to each other's thoughts, histories, their secrets, their personalities, it lets us take the global aspect of the show and bring it down to a very human level. You may not understand what it is to live in India or live in Iceland or live in Berlin, but we can identify with an abusive father, or a person who is hiding a part of their personality because they're afraid they'll never be accepted. I found the smaller you go with your truth, the more universal and global the story is. And so we wanted to sort of hinge off of that into making a larger statement."
The show, which Straczynski said is "an examination of politics, sexuality, gender identity" in today's society, features a closeted gay character, a character dealing with some hidden secrets, and a transgender character, who is played by an actor who is transgender. (Co-creator Lana Wachowski is also transgender.) "It really is much more of a thematic thrill than what you would normally associate with science fiction because most science fiction shows that want to deal with questions of sexuality or gender or politics, they make it another world, they make it about the aliens in an alternate world," Straczynski said. "This is our world right now and we explore those issues."
The show also features a member of the cluster that formed this new cluster, Jonas (Naveen Andrews), who guides the eight new sensates toward answers. Unfortunately, Straczynski revealed, he is kidnapped in the middle of the season, complicating his ability to do so. That leaves this new cluster particularly vulnerable to a group of people who are trying to kill or turn sensates, led by Mr. Whisphers (Terrence Mann), a former sensate who turned against his own kind. "In humanity's early development and evolution, we were all sensate," Straczynski said. "We all had this ability to feel each other's feelings, that the aberration, the mutation, was those who were born without that ability, because killing is easy when you feel nothing."
Straczynski said that he and the Wachowskis have felt there's been a shift in America of late and they want to show how much stronger humanity is when people work together. "Culturally, particularly in the last five, ten years in this country particularly, we've been marginalized and factionalized in each inch of our lives. Politically, in terms of our discourse about sexuality and gender. We thought we need to do something that deals with us as a species," he said. "It's a planetary story that shows we are better together than we are apart."