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Sense8: The Cancellation (and Brief Renewal)

[I originally wrote this feature when Sense8 got cancelled. Then I added an extra section below after the finale special was announced.]

"In its day, this painting was ridiculed, called 'a mess', 'the work of an amateur'. The painting was so unappreciated that when they moved from one hall to another, they decided it was too big, so they just slashed chunks off the bottom and the side."

How about that for a meta-monologue turned prophetic? Let's talk about the cancellation, shall we?

What the hell happened? Oh my Ganesha! Sense8 is very expensive and the production logistics must be a nightmare, but I did not see Netflix pulling the plug from it just like that. I mostly don't understand why they wouldn't give it an ending knowing the loyal fanbase Sense8 has across the Globe. There is an audience right there, albeit smaller than what they wanted. Cut the costs – it can be done – make a shorter season or one special episode to wrap the story, whatever.

I know Netflix is a corporation and they don't do charity, they do business, and this is clearer now more than ever. So let's talk business. It's not like Sense8 is killing a time slot and Netflix needs to give it to something else. On top of that, who will want to watch Sense8 moving forward? Let's face it, the first few episodes are a slow build-up, who would go through them knowing the series doesn't have a conclusive ending? The show will lose potential to attract new viewers and whenever the DVD and Blu-Ray come out, I don't see them selling much. Sense8 could go from hit to flop pretty quickly.

Why haven't more people watched Sense8? Was it the heavy focus on LGBT issues, complete with explicit sex scenes and orgies where heterosexual men left their heterosexuality aside? I can see that factoring in, but there would still be plenty of progressive people eager to watch the show. Was it the focus on the characters' personal dramas rather than on the sci-fi-ness of the series? That could be it too. Or maybe the audience is not small, it's just small relative to the costs.

Not that a big audience was ever a quality stamp, but I believe both Sense8 and Netflix have their faults when it comes to the show's failure to attract or keep viewers. Netflix sold Sense8 as a sci-fi thriller when it wasn't one. Maybe if they had advertised it similarly to how they did with The OA people wouldn't have been disappointed with what Sense8 offered them. Still on advertising, there wasn't much for season two. There was such a buzz when the show started two years ago, it was a Wachowski production after all, and the "Christmas Special" had some attention as well, but they released the remainder of season two more quietly, didn't they? Why not announce the hell out of an expensive product?

Then there is this thing of building the season as "one big movie" and the belief that people will go through a slow setup because all the episodes are available at once. Quality wise, that works better for tighter seasons – like The OA's and Stranger Things's first ones – but it can bring larger seasons down – Sense8's first episodes are too slow and have too many digressions and Jessica Jones becomes repetitive by the third episode.

But while Jessica Jones had a great first episode, a terrific villain and a strong theme through its debut season, Sense8 tried to combine eight different stories in the first season, when some of them weren't that original to begin with. So there you had this unique premise – eight strangers becoming psychically connected – held back by generic tales. By the time it got good, a lot of people had checked out. A two-year wait for the second season probably didn't do the show any favors.

You might ask why I care if I keep bringing up its flaws here and in my reviews. The fact is, I'm a fan. At some point, I started liking it and then I found myself loving it. Because while Sense8 didn't deliver standout episodes, it delivered standout moments. There were several in season one that captured me and here I name a few: the "What's Going On" montage, Nomi and Lito's conversation about being who you truly are, Riley and Capheus' talk about loss, the disclosure of Riley's and Wolfgang's backstories, the birth montage, which was such an unexpected, beautiful and unique TV sequence. Yep, I'm a fan and it doesn't matter that the show frustrates me here and there, I'm upset that it's gone so abruptly.

The fans, of course, have reacted and made some noise. On Twitter and Facebook, on Netflix's site and even calling Netflix. I called them and they were super nice because Netflix wants you to feel well even when they cancel a show you like or love. Two reactions made me laugh out loud, one was a "collective make out to protest" event created on Facebook and the other one was a suggestion to use the five movements routine from The OA to resurrect Sense8. There have been a couple of unfortunate reactions as well, such as fans bashing Netflix. I understand the surprise factor — up until now, Netflix was a nice corporation that never cancelled anything — but we should be thankful to them that they decided to produce this show on the first place.

The reaction from the cast has been interesting. Except for Brian J. Smith, who urged the fans to make some noise two days prior to the cancellation, they are mostly quiet. I must admit I find it a little frustrating, even though I know they don't want to burn bridges. Netflix is too quiet about the cancellation, I'd expect cast and crew to talk more about it. I did like this tweet from Jamie Clayton, it's a terrific little (final?) message. The Wachowskis are quiet as they used to be, but J. Michael Straczynski practically told the fans to let it go, which is disappointing too. Were the numbers so dire that there is no hope? Hey, Michael, let the fans cry, it's part of the game. Who knows, it could turn the tables.

At this point, I don't even care about a third season; a movie or an episode like the "Christmas Special" would suffice. Will Netflix ever give us one? Only time will tell. As of now, Sense8 is a slashed tale that leaves the fans begging for more.

The brief renewal and a brief talk about the power of fandom

Well, how about that? Daniela needed 58 minutes, the fans needed 29 days. And now, as some of you have announced in the comments, Sense8 will get a two-hour finale to wrap the story!

How did this happen?

In Brazil a guy wrote a piece called "the hysteria of Sense8", accusing the fans of whining and not understanding how the world works. He had some pretty serious accusations against Sense8's fandom, which I'll leave aside to stay in topic, but what I found interesting is that this was the first time I saw an article trying to ridicule fans who were fighting to get a show back. The guy listed TV shows that got cancelled without an ending, but forgot to mention the ones that were revived after some massive campaigning.

This is the point he missed: fans do have power. Firefly, La Femme Nikita and Chuck are there to prove it. Heck, fans of Veronica Mars paid to get a finale. Paid! And it was worth it, wasn't it?

Fighting for a TV series means that, in worst case scenario, you will have showed how much you love it, something that will be appreciated by cast and crew. At best, it means you will get the show back, or at least a short run of episodes or a movie to finish the story. And Sense8 just got that.

Lana wrote a beautiful message to the fans that you can read here. I love that she says "you never know", indicating that there could be more Sense8 down the road. As of now, fans are still trying to figure out ways to keep the show alive for longer and one of the organized groups has reached Netflix to talk about sharing advertising responsibilities. Pretty cool, right?

Will it live past the two-hour finale? We never know. But I'm glad we will get a little bit more of Sense8 to conclude the story and leave the door open for more, whether it's on TV or in our imagination.


  1. Unfortunately I think JMS' M.O. means it would be impossible for him to deliver just one finale right now that he'll be pleased with.

    Oh, and it's "Straczynski". ;-)

  2. Thomas, thanks, I fixed it. I understand where JMS is coming from, but I hope down the road he is able to come up with a satisfying conclusion, if Netflix greenlights it, obviously.

  3. It's infuriating. I had just decided that I was getting into the show so much that I wanted to rewatch season one -- and then boom. What is Netflix thinking? It doesn't make financial sense to not finish the story because as you said, Lamounier, hearing that it ends in a cliffhanger is going to keep people from even trying it.

    There's no question that having eight stories going on at once was confusing at first, and this isn't really a sci-fi show. But at some point, I realized how much I loved the "visiting." Having a major issue in your life? Your seven closest friends stop by and help you through it. In a fight for your life? You're not going through it alone. I was lukewarm about the Whispers plot, but I wanted it resolved. And now it won't be. Unless there's a miracle and Netflix realizes that they'll get more viewers if they give Sense8 a proper ending.

  4. I'm a little heartbroken. Sense8 was such a fun show. I don't know if uve ever seen anything more beautifully shot and I loved watching them 'visit' each other as Billie put it. I loved all eight of them and how they seemed to instantly click and accept each other. I'm really upset thay i wont get to spend anymore time with these characters and really really annoyed that the story won't get an ending. Ugh..

  5. While I'm disappointed, I'm not completely shocked. It's a little like another Wachowski project, A Cloud Atlas: a thematically ambitious work with beautiful cinematography and meticulous editing, that doesn't fit genre expectations. It's tough to support so much cinematic ambition when its target audience is limited. It's a problem another visionary director, Terry Gilliam, has faced throughout his career.

    And while I'd like to see an end to the main story arc, I'm not sure how you would do it. I don't think a low budget series would be able to maintain the visual qualities that are a big part of what makes the show special, and a 2 hour finale would have to drastically change the show's pacing and feel...though the season 2 finale itself seemed very rushed to me.

  6. I'm personaly very heart broken. I loved the series, even from the beginning. It was so diferent and fresh. So modern. So caring. I fell for all the characters. The story or the mithology werent the most important to me, it was the interactions of each protagonist. Theirs stories. They felt like real people in extraordinaries circunstancies, but real non the less. And the menssage of the series, one of love and acceptance of differenses was like nothing I ever saw. So beautiful. Such a miss. Netflix used to have a fame of rescuer of death series, it seem no more. Why would anyone want to see any series of them now knowing that they could cancel it any time without a proper ending just like any network. The last interview of the Ceo was very unsettling in that regard. They are planing more cancellations. He sounded quiet arrogant and herthless to be honest. Its really a sad thing but this seems to be their new bussines model. More teen dramas (13 reason why, that doesn't really need a continuation but aparently got good numbers) and Adam Sanddler movies that to be honest I found them tasteless, no ofense. Sense8 was saddly ahead of its time. I will miss it. My second Firefly. :(

  7. You know, while I'm trying not to see Netflix as "the villain", after I wrote my thoughts on the cancellation I read that JMS learned from the internet that Sense8 had been cancelled. He was one of the show creators and a freaking showrunner and they didn't tell him first? That's pretty tactless. Also, Juan, I didn't understand the CEO's logic. He went about pushing for quality and risks and somehow that equals to cancelling some shows here and there. Is he a new CEO? Because it's such a change of pace for Netflix. I think that our shock also comes from the fact that we all perceived Netflix as a safe place for different shows. Not anymore. :(

    At least Firefly got a movie. I hope Sense8 gets one too. In fact, I read somewhere that Sense8 has become the Firefly of this decade, as in beloved genre series that ended too soon.

    Billie and Laure, the "visiting" is for sure what I'll miss the most. There is something so special about that concept, the way they connect and feel what the other one feels is so pure and profound.

    magritte, Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite movies ever, as in Top 5 favorite, which is why I always disagree when someone says the Wachowskis are one hit directors. I don't think a movie has ever spoken to me the way Cloud Atlas has, especially when it comes to my views of humanity and fighting for a cause. It's a special work of art and a predecessor to Sense8 in many ways.

  8. No, the sad thing is that he is a co-founder of Netflix. I dont know what happened. Meaby economy has hit them hard the last year I dont know. The dark side must have taken him. And for JMS finding out througth the internet thats awful and undeserved. You are right about Firefly getting some kind of resolution with the movie. I tend to forget it, mostly because of Wash and the shepherd :(. Lets hope that is Sense8 get that lucky to have at least a movie to close the story all of the sensates babys make it alive. And Amanita and Hernando and Daniela please! One can only dream...

  9. It's not at all uncommon for creators and actors on a show to only find out about cancellation the same time as the fans do. I remember the actors of Nashville found out via twitter.

  10. Thomas, I had no idea! It really shouldn't be this way.

  11. I'm super shallow so right now I'm just bitterly disappointed we'll never get a Sun/Mun love scene. :(

  12. With kind of got one already, in a flashback. At least is something. What bothers me the most is knowing on what terrible state Wolfgang remains at the end. That kills me. That and so many other things. But not resolution on a live or dead situation is the worst feeling. This whole situation is a terrible feeling :(

  13. @Lamounier, I really liked a Cloud Atlas too (I'm a huge Tom Tykwer fan), but I can't say I'm surprised it was not a mainstream commercial success. I also liked an early Wachowski film, Bound, a lot.

  14. Well, looks like we're going to get a 2-hour finale. I hope it ends the story in a satisfying way.


  15. magritte, thanks. :) We were dancing around the Doux Reviews (virtual) writers room about this news yesterday. Netflix must have taken a closer look at the bottom line of leaving an expensive series unfinished forever, and decided that finishing it was more lucrative.

  16. Yaasss!!!! They fix it! This is like Serenity or Veronica Mars all over again. Cant stop smiling! Not often, but sometimes dreams come true!

  17. Just watched the final episode. Can't stop smiling. Looking forward to your review.


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