The Netflix original series Sense8 is a divisive show. It provokes big reactions: either you love it for its blatant optimism or you find that optimism grating. The show's hopeful thesis about connection across gender, race, sexuality, and culture make it the perfect candidate for a one-off holiday episode. Variety reports that Season 2 of Sense8 doesn't start until May 5, but the Sense8 Christmas special arrived on Friday morning, just in time to add one more bright spot to a bleak 2016. And even as I shook my head at some of the schmaltzier dialogue, I appreciated its bold positivity. The Sense8 Christmas special is exactly what I needed to watch right now. Spoilers ahead!
Sometimes holiday specials are heavy with plot, as was usually the case with Downton Abbey. And sometimes they're true standalone installments, like many of the Doctor Who Christmas-themed episodes. This movie-length special doesn't move the sensates forward by more than a few inches in the story, but that doesn't matter. The Sense8 Christmas special is about the eight core ensemble members reaffirming their metaphysical bond.
They need it, too. Will and Riley are in love, but shooting up regularly to protect their consciousness from intrusion by Milton, otherwise known as Mr. Whispers. Nomi is still on the run from some scary men in black, living off the grid with Amanita by her side. Kala has married Rajan despite still being in love with Wolfgang, who waits and waits for his friend Felix to wake up from his coma. Sun is in solitary confinement. Lito has been forcibly outed. Only Caphaeus seems to be in a good place, until his pride and livelihood — the Van Damn bus — is destroyed. (The special wryly comments on the recasting of Caphaeus, now played by Toby Onwumere. When his friend Jela says he's "looking a little different these days," Caphaeus credits his new barber.)
The first season of the show chronicled the formation of this sensate cluster, "mothered" by the doomed Angelica. Now the cluster is strong in its connection, and the Christmas special uses every opportunity to visually represent their spiritual squad-ness. When Lito, Hernando, and Daniela are locked out of their apartment by bigoted landlords, Wolfgang steps in to hot wire the system. When Wolfgang and Felix are attacked by representatives of another Berlin "kingdom" in the chaos his aunt warned would follow the death of his kingpin uncle, Sun arrives to kick some ass. Nomi shows Sun what her family is saying about her on national Korean television. They are in each other's corners, and never do any of the sensates wish away that psychic link. It's put them in danger, but, more often, it's saved them.
Sense8 sings when the sensates celebrate together. The special spans months, and that stretch of time includes their shared birthday. In a euphoric sequence, the entire cluster collectively decide to drop every worry and just dance it the hell out. ("That was fun," Sun says to herself, alone again and sliding down the wall of her prison cell.) They feel pleasure in tandem also, in a shared consciousness love scene that underlines the show's endorsement of sexual freedom.
Perhaps lines like "Art is love made public," "Sex is why we exist," or "I used to be able to see so much beauty in the world" can land heavily. But it's hard to be mad at Sense8 for believing so strongly in what it's selling. The Christmas special is dotted with moments of incredible kindness: Caphaeus's neighbors buy him a new Van Damn for his birthday; Lito's mother says that she's never been more proud of him than she is now as he refuses to deny his sexuality and the love of his life; Riley gives Will a phone so that he can call his father and hear his voice; Nomi's hacker friend Bug is on the verge of tears when he's invited to Christmas dinner by her and Amanita. Caphaeus and his mother watch It's A Wonderful Life on television, another dark yet ultimately sentimental story. He likes it because "it believes in people." That's Sense8 in a nutshell.
The special ends on New Year's Eve. The sensates are still being hunted. And they face a bevy of personal and professional problems in the physical world too. Those will no doubt be dealt with in the next 10 episodes. But this Christmas episode fortified their connection for the fight ahead. And I think it did the same for me.