The defining scene of “Sense8,” the new sci-fi drama on Netflix, comes about halfway through the first season. It starts in San Francisco, where Nomi, a “hacktivist” and transgender lesbian, is making out with her girlfriend, Amanita. At the same time, in Mexico City, Lito is lifting weights with his boyfriend, Hernando. In Berlin, Wolfgang, a safecracker, is relaxing, naked, in a hot tub. And in Chicago, Will, a police officer, is working out at the gym. The premise of “Sense8” is that Nomi, Lito, Wolfgang, and Will—along with four other “sensates” in Nairobi, Seoul, Mumbai, and Reykjavik—are telepathically linked. They are able to feel each other’s emotions, appear in each other’s minds, and even control each other’s bodies.
In sci-fi speak, “Sense8” is about transhumanism—the idea that in the future, as a species, we might become more than we are right now. Julian Huxley, the brother of Aldous, coined the term in a 1927 book called “Religion Without Revelation,” in which he wrote that transhumanism was “man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.”
“Sense8” isn’t really about the negative aspects of transhumanism. It makes emotionally expansive telepathic empathy seem like a great idea—it’s global, sexy, useful, and romantic. The sensates become friends and even fall in love with one another. In one scene, set at the Diego Rivera Museum, in Mexico City, Nomi, the transgender hacker, helps Lito, who is closeted, come out. “Sense8” is not subtle—this is sci-fi T.V.—but their scene together is simple, direct, and moving: there’s a lot of authentic emotion to go with all the artifice.
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