Netflix's Sense8 finale doesn't quite hang together. But "Amor Vincit Omnia" is bursting at its broken seams with warmth, hope, and a desire for connection. So, in short: it's Sense8, same as it's always been. I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm afraid of things pretending to be permanent because nothing is permanent," says Nomi (Jamie Clayton), one of the major protagonists of Sense8, late in the 152-minute run of its finale special. She goes on to talk about the dreadful inevitability of change, of instability. But she also praises it. Change means surprise, excitement, the possibility of joy. Change is human. According to Nomi, and according to Sense8, that's beautiful and worth embracing.
Sense8 has always been a show about the instability of human connection. Following eight people from around the world permanently connected by an impossible psychic link, the show has always been about mashing those people together and forming a community out of wildly divergent experiences and settings. Hypersexual and self-consciously engaged in LGBTQ experiences, Sense8 is a show about the queer experience, a flexible metaphor for a found community that's always growing, always changing, and always finding new ways to express itself. When Lana and Lily Wachowski set out to make Sense8, they aimed for nothing less than queer utopia.
What that means is that Sense8 has always been a show that, unlike most genre television, is less about the plot than about the feelings that plot provokes. Plot always doubles as metaphor and as pathos — it's a way to get reactions out of the characters, and evoke connections from the audience, as much as it's a means unto itself. Which, for the Sense8 finale, is a problem. Because there was a whole lot of plot to get through in order to wrap up the canceled series. After the end of its second season we had several seasons worth of unanswered questions left, and in this finale's two-and-a-half hours the show tries to answer every single one of them.
Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) with all the baguettes in France.
"Amor Vincit Omnia" is messy and busy to a fault. The episode begins where season two left off, with Wolfgang (Max Riemelt) in the hands of the evil BPO and the rest of the 8/8 cluster trying to save him. The first third of the episode builds to an exchange between BPO and the 8/8 cluster, who have Whisper (Terrence Mann), the main big bad of the show, in custody. From there, the show moves to a pursuit of Whisper, whose death means the end of the sensate drone program (which uses lobotomized sensates as mind-controlled assassins, in case you forgot). Finally, after the team takes down Whisper for good, the show takes a moment to breathe and take one last victory lap, ending in Nomi and Amanita's (Freema Agyeman) long-awaited and well-deserved wedding.
If that's difficult to follow in text, it somehow feels even messier on film. The show spends most of its time following the driving plot threads in a workman-like fashion, using them as vehicles to introduce sudden new plot elements and answer questions that absolutely deserved more time. Meet the Lacuna, a haven for sensates run by the mother of Whisper's cluster! Find out BPO's real motives, and meet the company's wicked Chairman (Stephen Boxer) who, so far as I can tell, is no one of particular consequence in the scheme of things. Learn what the real deal with Lucas (Naveen Andrews) and Angelica (Daryl Hannah) was: were they on our side after all? (Yes.) By the end, it all ties up so neatly and so dizzyingly fast that thinking about it makes my head hurt.
And yet, I still adored this finale. Because as stuffed as it was with plot, it was also full of the sort of warmth and personality that's defined the series. A moment where the cluster, sharing music through their psychic connection, sings and dances together during a rapturous drive to Naples. Wedding vows so earnest and so cheesy that they double back around again to being beautiful. There are also a couple of what I can only describe as Wachowski-as-hell gunfights that were absolutely delightful, giving our heroes a chance to use their shared pool of skills to be the action heroes the show always hinted they could be.
This finale was an odd note to leave the series on — rushed, uneven — but it was still incredibly satisfying to have a chance to say goodbye to these characters and this world. Sense8 is a special show to me. Despite its flaws, it tried to offer an emotionally resonant experience that represented people and ways of living that don't normally make it on screen. The journey of Nomi is one of the best depictions of a transgender woman I've ever seen on television, if not the best, and Clayton's performance is exceptional throughout. It's so rare trans people get to tell their own stories in mass media, but here we have the Wachowskis, two trans women filmmakers, creating an epic obviously suited precisely to their own eccentricities. It means a lot.
And maybe even more than that, it means a lot to see a show so devoted to the queer experience as a place of growth and self-actualization. "No one thing is one thing only," another character says at Nomi's wedding. Everything changes; everything grows. Everything falls apart and rebuilds. And all those changes allow for connection, for the growth of community. Sense8 was a show about forcing eight people to change and come together in impossible ways, ways that it hoped you'd find beautiful. That's not a normal type of thing to see in genre TV, and I'm grateful we got it.
One more for the road.
- Naturally, the show ended with a kinky, queer psychic orgy, complete with the rainbow strap-on from the very first episode. Could Sense8 really end any other way?
- Sense8 has always had a hard time balancing the personal plots of its eight protagonists with its overarching meta-story but here, in particular, some characters get really short shrift. Of the main eight, Capheus (Tony Onwumere) and Lito (Miguel Silvestre) get almost nothing to do in the extended episode.
- This is neither here nor there, but I refuse to believe that Nomi didn't name herself after Nomi Sunrider.
- With that said, Lito as a distraction in his Frenchman costume is adorable. The baguettes!
- Jonas was in a weird place this episode, showing up periodically to deliver moody exposition before finally revealing his grand plan, which mostly involved a lot of unsubtle blowing-stuff-up. I've always liked that character, and I'm not sure he got what he really deserved here.
- The show's title, "Amor Vincit Omnia," is a quote from Virgil — "Love conquers all things." It's, naturally, explained by Hernando, and ranks right up there with "We Will All Be Judged by the Courage of Our Hearts" as great Sense8 episode titles.
- "I've been staring at this screen for so long, even my glasses are sore."
- Amanita, after seeing Nomi kick major arse using Sun's (Doona Bae) martial arts abilities: "Nom! Hot damn, I have been waiting to see that." Same, Amanita. Same.
- I understand that a lot of these plot elements were probably important to the show's development, but some of the more confusing parts of the narrative could easily have been left out entirely. The Lacuna was absolutely not carrying any narrative weight here.
- When the cluster needs to clear out a nightclub following the exchange with BPO, they use stink bombs. Classic.
- I'm going to be honest with you all: When Nomi's mother said that "Nomi" was a pretty name, I just about started bawling.