English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Blair Johnson

Rushed: Story in the Sense8 Series Finale

The final episode of Sense8 came early due to the show’s cancellation by Netflix. Soaring costs from filming across the world resulted in a two hour finale in lieu of a third season. The altered format of this episode begs the question, how does this change affect the actual story of the episode? Further, how does the storyline of the show as a whole stack up?

Netflix canceled Sense8 season 3, leading to a two hour series finale released after season 2

From the very beginning, Sense8 has somewhat relied on it’s impressive visuals and unconventional format to support a somewhat underwhelming story. With so many main characters it was difficult for the show to maintain a good pace while giving them appropriate backstories. This becomes very apparent as the show wraps up the final episode. There seems to be a last minute scramble to give characters like Wolfgang and Amanita, whose pasts had largely been glossed over by the show until now.

The result of this is that the show gives us flashbacks to Wolfgang’s childhood, his abusive father, and his eventual death at Wolfgang’s hand. These flashbacks feature many cuts between young Wolfgang and current Wolfgang which serve to further confuse what is an already very confusing part of the episode. The clips are hard to follow and as a viewer I got little more than “Wolfgang had a hard childhood” out of them. The show also decides to take this opportunity to introduce a rape storyline involving Wolfgang’s mother that comes out of nowhere and is not resolved or brought back up. Overall the flashbacks to Wolfgang’s past felt poorly-done and confusing. Similarly, Amanita has a moment on the roof of the apartment in Paris where she shares her dreams of living in Paris with Nomi. The moment is touching but a bit out of the blue, and it only serves to remind us that we know absolutely nothing about Amanita’s past. Furthermore, the show tries to throw in a love interest for Sun at the very last second, bringing back the detective that Sun had fought almost a season ago, and stating that he “missed her like he had never missed anyone before”. The characters are simply underdeveloped.

Speaking of underdeveloped, let’s talk about BPO. The Biological Preservation Organization is the main “bad guy” organization in the show. It is ever-present in the plot, and the characters are constantly battling it, but the viewer knows next to nothing about the organization. Whispers, the most visible face of the organization has no backstory and his motivations are never explained. BPO has some drone/zombie program where they use lobotomized sensates to… well, we never really learn what the point of the program is. The entire organization feels like a really generic enemy with enormous resources and influence but ambiguous motives beyond just being evil.

Among these major issues, there are a slew of minor annoyances. Name-dropping, random characters from past episodes reappearing in the story, new characters being introduced, and the ever-present backstory-cramming. The show’s story suffered heavily from the shortened format of its conclusion.

You Want a War? Revenge in Sense8

The explosive beginning of Sense8 s2e11: You Want War? is dead-focused on the theme of revenge. It features Sun’s infiltration into her brother’s lavish gala, intent on killing him. The ensuing action sequences and car chase feature several moments when the other sensates give their input on Sun’s decision. Wolfgang, the dark killer seems to support killing Sun’s brother, whereas Kala seems to oppose violence in favor of making her brother confess. Will and Riley are neutral, ignoring the issue altogether and purely looking out for Sun’s safety. Through the other sensates, the metaphorical angels and demons on Sun’s shoulders, the authors of the episode present competing views of revenge. Should we seek retribution for past crimes or simply seek to right wrongs?


The show provides context for Sun’s decision through flashbacks to her brother’s very wrongdoings. From pleading with Sun to take the fall for his crimes, to killing their father who was going to turn him in, Sun’s brother is painted as a very clear-cut villain. The only thing bringing nuance to his character is his relation to Sun. At the climax of the chase, Sun decides not to kill her brother. The exploration of this theme of revenge seems to fall very flat in the end. There were a few throwaway flashbacks to Sun’s mother saying “Look after your brother” and her sensei telling her that she is “as gentle as a butterfly”, but overall the final decision was a simple “oh she did the right thing by not killing anyone”. The issue could easily have been expanded on by developing the character of Sun’s brother or by giving more serious consideration to killing him. It seemed cliche and inevitable that Sun would decide to spare her brother.


The episode takes a dramatic turn when Wolfgang is kidnapped by the Biological Preservation Organization. A violent torture scene reveals the identities of Kala and others in Wolfgang’s cluster. The sensates quickly hit back, avenging Wolfgang’s capture with a well executed kidnapping of Mr. Whispers and Jonas- prominent opposition figures. Here we continue to see the sensates pursue proactive revenge. Rather than kill the two, they kidnap them so that they can save Wolfgang and hopefully stop BPO.


The entire episode takes a very proactive view on revenge, where characters choose to fight for each other rather than kill out of anger.

The sensates attempt to persuade Sun not to kill her brother

If All the World’s a Stage then Identity is a Costume

The issue of gender and identity is one that we discuss often in this class, and few shows are as diverse in their depictions of people and their identities as Sense8. Season 2 Episode 10: If All the World’s a Stage then Identity is a Costume begins with an intro reflective of the episode’s title. The intro includes many more clips of people than normal- gay, straight, young, old, male, female -people from all over the world going about their everyday lives. This set the scene for an episode focused on identity. We see Kala in her element reproducing the blocker drug, showing a smart woman doing science. Kala and Riley have a long conversation in which they discuss their fears for the future and the road ahead of them. This is significant because it passes the Bechdel test, showing two women in a non-male-oriented context. Even when the scene shifts and the characters do discuss Will, the conversation does not play into a fantasy, but rather feels like two real women sharing their experiences with sex, loss, and pain; Will was merely a catalyst for this conversation to occur. The episode then takes us to Kala’s complicated relationship with Wolfgang. The two speak very frankly about their needs and their individual situations. Power is clearly shared evenly in their relationship. As the episode progresses, we begin to see gender and the concept of masculinity intersect with homosexuality. During his audition, Lito’s producer describes Lito’s previous strong-man ‘macho’ roles as ‘typical male apery’, a sentiment that supports the notion that Lito’s more sensitive natural masculinity is greater than the narrowly-defined masculine roles that he has been shut out of. The producer does not ask him for strength, or any traditionally masculine traits, but rather to ‘break his heart’ during his audition. Speaking with his homosexual romantic lead, Lito is encouraged to be vulnerable. While Hernando and Lito’s Co-Star view some of Lito’s previous work as ‘offering insight into the interdependence of identity by rejecting the narrative of male sovereignty’, the producer is focused more on the sexy aspect of film, repeatedly making gay sexual references and affirming the reality that sex sells. The final significant moment of the episode is when Lito and Hernando talk about Lito’s insecurity about his acting on the beach, and the two make out romantically in the surf. There is no pan-away, and the moment is captured beautifully in its entirety with the same level of romance and attention that would be given to a similar heterosexual scene. This is just one more example of how Sense8 seeks to show people’s lives as they are, and not to limit the experience of the viewer to traditional patriarchal and heteronormative lenses.

Lito and Hernando share a romantic moment in the surf celebrating Lito’s dream role.

What Family Actually Means… Writing in Sense8

The idea of family is one that has been present throughout every episode of Sense8. How could it not, when each character is linked by a bond stronger than that of any sibling or spouse? This is a theme that is often explored by the show’s writers, and comes to the center of the show’s attention in season 2 episode 9, “What Family Actually Means”.

The episode was written and directed by Lana Wachowski, along with her sister, Lilly Wachowski- the duo behind The Matrix, Cloud Atlas and numerous other sci-fi movies and tv shows.  In “What Family Actually Means”, the Wachowskis explore the idea of family, and, as the title may suggest, what it really means for people to call each other family. Almost every scene in the episode, save maybe for Wolfgang’s carryover from the bruhaha of the last episode, ties directly into the idea of family. From the beginning of the episode, we see Nomi giving a powerful speech in which she describes how her sister was there for her when she needed her the most, despite having done everything that she could to push her away. This, Nomi tells an unfriendly audience, is what family really means: people who are there for you and love you unconditionally.

As the episode goes on, we see more definitions of what family is, and what it is not. We see Sun’s disgust at a poster of her brother beneath the words “Family is our business”. He had let Sun take the fall or his embezzlement, thus putting himself and the family company over the well-being of his own sister, deftly defying the notion that families look after one another. Will and Riley also uncover additional familial transgressions, as they find out that Angelica sold out members of the other cluster that she birthed to Mr. Whispers to lobotomize. The horror of this is solidified with the apparent suicide of the doctor who had facilitated it over what she had done. Turning back to positive examples of family, the audience is shown how Dani, practically family to Lito, drags him out of his depression and gets him an interview with a Hollywood producer for a film that she thinks will be perfect for Lito. She stayed up all night reading hundreds of scripts because she was dedicated to Lito and determined to get him back on his feet. We witness Nomi’s family, her girlfriend, her sister, and her father all come together to defend her from the FBI agent bursting into her sister’s wedding. For the first time, Nomi’s father stands up for her and refers to her as his daughter. This leads us to another notion about family, that despite internal issues, you always stick together in the face of outsider attacks.

This scene also introduces another aspect of the show’s writing, the feminist devotion to portraying many types of people and their daily realities. In the wedding scene Nomi’s girlfriend calls out the FBI agent for interrupting the wedding just to “Satisfy his male ego”. Additionally, we constantly see the tension between Nomi and her family over the issue of her being transgender. Lito’s career is struggling because he is a gay actor who wants to play masculine roles. We see Kala struggle with gender norms and the fact that a brilliant friend of hers had given up science to become a homemaker. These are all very real issues that people face because of who they are and the show does not hesitate to depict them.

Finally, the reality of grief and loss is depicted as Will loses his father and we see all of the moments that they had shared together and realize that families do not last forever.

Will cannot be there in person for his father’s last moments.


Annotated Bibliography: To what extent do portrayals of gender and violence on television crime dramas perpetuate popular crime myths?

Britto, Sarah, et al. “Does ‘Special’ Mean Young, White and Female? Deconstructing the Meaning of ‘Special’ in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, 2007, pp. 39–57.

This source is valuable for three reasons. First, it provides an overview in the common ways that crime dramas skew audience perspectives of a reality that few have experienced themselves. It takes a particularly close look at Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, as a case study for crime dramas with a particular theme. The article uses content-analysis to generate characteristics about the way that sexual crimes are portrayed in the fictional television show, and it compares these to real statistics from New York City, where the show is set. Britto et al examine the way that Law and Order SVU depicts, not only perpetrators of crimes, but the victims themselves. Using the statistics gathered, the authors create a characterization of what the show considers “special” victims. The show stresses age as a determining factor to separate innocent (young) victims from evil (old) perpetrators. White victims are also dramatically overrepresented, while minority victims are downplayed. Additionally, the authors note that frequently episodes would center around the murder of males and assaults carried out on males, and they stress that this is an overrepresentation of the prevalence of female sex-offenders. This serves to “de-gender” the issue of rape.

Epinger, Ebonie. Visual and Narrative Aspects of Front-Page Crime Stories for Male and Female Offenders: Does Race and Ethnicity Matter?, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Ann Arbor, 2016. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1830439473?accountid=11107.

This source is valuable because it provides some contrast to the other papers about portrayals of violence and violent offenders in dramatic television by studying the way that actual news broadcasts shift public perception about crime demographics. The source builds on the assumption that the public’s perceptions of crime are affected by what they are exposed to via the media. Epinger et al show how news channels report stories differently depending on the race, gender, and class of the people involved. For instance, mug shots are shown more often for nonwhite offenders than for white offenders. Wealthy offenders are often given the opportunity to speak for themselves while poor offenders are often spoken for by police officers. In general, news outlets are responsible for creating narratives that perpetuate the public’s preconceived ideas about crime, who commits it, and who it is committed against. News outlets emphasize stories that victimize white females, while offering more insight into mitigating factors for the guilt of white criminals.

Fernández-Villanueva, Concepción, et al. “Gender Differences in the Representation of Violence on Spanish Television: Should Women be More Violent?” Sex Roles, vol. 61, no. 1-2, 2009, pp. 85-100. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225369844?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9613-9.

This article takes a valuable look at the way that the gender of perpetrators and victims of violence in Spanish television shows affects viewers’ attitudes and understandings of gender roles. It took a quantitative look at instances of violence in Spanish television shows, and it examined how these instances portray the people involved. The paper finds that women in Spanish television have a “minimal presence” in scenes involving acts of violence. It also finds that women tend to suffer from more serious acts of violence. Those who perpetrate acts of violence against women tend to have more positive outcomes, all while having their actions viewed as less legitimate in the eyes of the show’s narrative. This reveals an inconsistency in the way that shows portray violence. Hurting women is highly frowned upon, yet it is often portrayed as bringing positive outcomes to those who do it. Additionally, the fact the women are almost always in positions of victimhood, perpetuates the stereotypes that women are fundamentally vulnerable.

Lee, Moon J., et al. “Effects of Violence Against Women in Popular Crime Dramas on Viewers’ Attitudes Related to Sexual Violence.” Mass Communication & Society, vol. 14, no. 1, 2011, pp. 25. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/856980802?accountid=11107.

This source takes a very interesting look at how thoughtful portrayals of sexual and physical violence in television dramas can be used to combat rape myths. The study had 176 college undergraduates watch clips television crime dramas that featured sexual or physical violence against women and rate them on a number of scales. The source identifies sexual violence as a major public health issue in the United States and it introduces and examines ways that popular crime dramas can affect public attitudes and understandings of sexual violence. For instance, the source found that prime time television crime dramas often show sexual violence, and several have scenes that explain the importance of consent, or clear up common ambiguities or misconceptions about consent when drugs are involved. The source finds that in men who viewed clips of sexual violence, support for traditional gender roles dropped, and that scenes of sexual violence were much less enjoyable than those of physical violence. This lead Lee et al to conclude that accurate portrayals of sexual violence and its effects can help turn men away from potentially violent actions in real life.

Meyer, Michaela D., and E. “The “Other” Woman in Contemporary Television Drama: Analyzing Intersectional Representation on Bones.” Sexuality & Culture, vol. 19, no. 4, 2015, pp. 900-915. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1720398060?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-015-9296-z.

This source is useful for examining another aspect of women’s involvement in television crime dramas. It investigates how intersectionality affects the portrayals of women in the television show Bones. Rather than taking the stance that intersectionality is a positive thing that brings additional diversity to a show, Meyer et al demonstrate how, using a single intersectional character to focus all issues of identity politics, shows can section off such issues and separate them from the main narrative of the show. The result, it is argued, is that audiences continue to see these issues and those that they affect as “other” and do not have to confront them with the same seriousness that they would have to bring to a white character’s problems. This source takes a step away from the issue of violence and victimhood, and instead explores the other ways that modern crime dramas influence our views of the world through “quirky” token intersectional characters.

Parrott, Scott, and Caroline T. Parrott. “U.S. Television’s “Mean World” for White Women: The Portrayal of Gender and Race on Fictional Crime Dramas.” Sex Roles, vol. 73, no. 1-2, 2015, pp. 70-82. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1695352054?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0505-x.

The source is valuable because it takes a very analytical approach to evaluating instances of violence in television shows. Using content analysis, the paper gathered information of 983 characters across 65 episodes of crime television, breaking down aggressors and victims by race and gender. The source analyzed these statistics with the hypothesis that males would be most likely to commit violent crimes, while females would be more likely to be the victims of these crimes. The study found that these hypotheses were supported by the data, and that white female characters were by far the most common victims in crime television. They were the most common targets of violent crime and sexual assault, as well as the most likely demographic to die or be attacked by a stranger. The study discusses how these portrayals can support a myth that overplays the frequency of attacks targeting white women, and disregards violence against other demographics.

“One of the most jaw dropping scenes in television”

Sense 8 is one of television’s most ambitious shows. With eight main characters and storylines spanning four continents, the show is a tremendous undertaking by Netflix. This is reflected in its astonishing $9 Million budget per episode. The actors in the show must constantly step in and out of each other’s lives, resulting in a world-tour production process. There are so many places for the show to go wrong, and yet somehow Netflix managed to pull it off- especially in the visual category. Case in point, Season 1 Episode 4 is visually stunning and cinematically effective, containing one of the most jaw dropping scenes in all of television.

The show has a very unique style, partly due to the nature of it’s story, and partly due to it’s intent focus on capturing the human experience. The main characters are a special species of human that has evolved to share each other’s emotions and experiences. This lends itself well to the major theme of the show: what does it mean to be human? The cinematography and production reflects this. The intro to every episode is long. Over two minutes. During this time, broad establishing shots ripped straight from Planet Earth capture cities, mountains, oceans, people, and everything in between. None of the characters in the show make an appearance in the intro. Instead, the show opts to give a broad overview of Earth and the people on it. By prefacing every episode with this, the show ensures that the viewer understands the broader context of the show. It may be about eight people, but it’s really about the experiences that we can all relate to, regardless of who we are or where we are from. Sense 8 is a show for the world.

When the show begins, one notices that shots in Sense 8 are long, often going seconds without dialogue and lingering on the faces of the main characters. The performances of the actors are put under a microscope in the show. There are many close ups and intensely emotional scenes, interspersed with little relatable moments.

In S1E4, we begin to see how each of the characters are beginning to blend into one another’s lives. It starts small, cuts between locations occur at moments when characters are in similar positions. This allows the show to perform the ultimate breaking of the 180 rule: cutting to a different continent. Scenes take place thousands of miles apart but are linked by the characters in them, seamlessly blending locations and characters through smooth cuts and clever compositing.


Above: Sense 8 season 1 episode 4 delivers a beautifully shot testament to the joy of living.

This all comes to a head with the scene I referred to as “one of the most jaw dropping scenes in all of television” above. The scene begins with Wolfgang being pressured into doing karaoke. Simultaneously the show shows us Riley escaping a rough night and going out in the early morning to listen to music and clear her head. As Riley begins to play “What’s up” by Four Non Blondes, we see each character slowly begin to hear the music. As they do, they each start to sing along. The camera seamlessly cuts from location to location as each character, in various states of frustration, begins to sing along. The music swells as the eight people begin to break into a happy, shower-style, singalong. The shots increase in their grandness, with Kala dancing on a rooftop overlooking an Indian city at dusk, and slowly comes back down to a less ‘cinematic’ and more relatable shot of Wolfgang and Kala dancing in a colorful bedroom. It’s emotional, beautiful, complex, and still relatable- capturing the raw joy of simply being alive.


“Hello World”

Netflix original, Sense8, takes on a very unique form of storytelling

Hello World, my name is Blair Johnson. I am coming to tech as a electrical engineering major, and I intend to graduate in 2022 (although we’ll see how that goes). As with most U.S. students, I have been taking English classes for as long as I can remember. In high school I took IB English Lit as well as AP Lang and Comp. These were both very traditional English classes, centering around rhetoric and literary analysis. English 1102 this semester is going to be a big transition from those classes. I have never really explored different forms of media in an English class (save for when an English teacher tried to make us write Buzzfeed style Listicles). Thus, studying television and sharing my thoughts blog posts and tweets is going to be very different from anything that I have ever done before. I hope to get better at more casual, short-format methods of communication. I always feel awkward writing twitter posts, so I will be interested to see if I come out of this course liking twitter or hating it.

I like TV a lot. Increasingly with the rise of high-budget original content from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, I find myself more invested in TV shows than I am in most movies. The ability to bring movielike quality to the longer format of television storytelling is revolutionizing the industry, and I am all for it. On the topic of high budget Netflix original shows, I am going to be reviewing Sense8 in my blog posts. Last year a friend and I had tried to watch the whole series together and we only got a few episodes in. This was certainly far enough to get me  hooked on the show.


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