[This article contains SPOILERS for season 1 of Sense8.]
Way back in 1999, the Wachowskis rose to filmmaking prominence with a little film about personal freedom in the age of technology. That film was The Matrix, and while it convinced everyone that Keanu Reeves knew kung fu, it also set an incredibly high bar for the sibling filmmakers to clear with each subsequent venture into visual storytelling. And while certain films like Speed Racer have given us outrageously lush visuals, and Cloud Atlas proved the Wachowskis could convert a seemingly unfilmable novel into a mostly palatable movie, there has yet to be a work from Andy and Lana Wachowski that can really compete with the work that made them a household name.
So when Sense8, the siblings’ newest undertaking, hit Netflix, it came as no surprise that the series felt like an amalgamation of everything that had come before it. From the get-go, the sweeping story of eight strangers from across the globe called “sensates,” who share a unique bond and consciousness, looked like it fit into the emotional wheelhouse of Cloud Atlas. And while that is certainly true, there were also several characters, events, and ideas running through the 12-episode season to make even the most casual viewer sit up and say, “this feels familiar.”
Whether it was deliberate or not, the Wachowskis have imbued their surprisingly emotionally effective sci-fi series with enough nods to The Matrix that they are worth noting.
Here are five ways Sense8 is like The Matrix:
Jonas Maliki is Morpheus
Naveen Andrews (Lost) plays the mysterious Jonas Maliki, a fellow sensate who happens to be outside the “cluster” comprised by the series’ eight primary characters. He is first introduced communicating with Angelica (Daryl Hannah) before her death, and then later on through some intermittent communication with members of the cluster.
Like Morpheus, Jonas is labeled a terrorist by the authorities; he is wanted for crimes that remain unclear. He is also eager to lead a revolution and is quick to notice another’s ability when he sees it. As such, Jonas spends a lot of his time convincing other characters he has the information they need to not only save themselves, but also to make sense of everything that is going on. The knowledge and certainty he conveys puts him in a position of leadership, one where he’s willing to sacrifice himself for the good of those he is determined to protect (which places him in a situation not too dissimilar from when Morpheus is captured by Agent Smith). Although he doesn’t have a great deal of screen time, it’s clear that Jonas is nearly fanatical in his resolve to save his fellow sensates, and to end the war between them and men like Mr. Whispers (Terrence Mann).
Early on, Jonas visits Will (Brian J. Smith) in a Chicago convenience store and winds up throttling the young police officer in a fight that’s (sure, it’s a stretch) a tiny nod to The Matrix’s dojo training sequence. Later, while Nomi (Jamie Clayton) is stuck in the hospital, about to be lobotomized, Jonas appears to her and offers her some much-needed guidance, telling her not to trust the situation she’s in, to trust her gut in thinking something’s wrong. When he leaves, Nomi’s shaken from her stupor by a knock at the door. While it lacks the heavy atmosphere and early mystery of the film, the whole encounter is very reminiscent of Neo’s initial run-ins with Morpheus.
Nomi and Will Make Up Neo
Jonas takes a shine to two characters for the most part: Nomi and Will. Together they form an amalgamation that is reminiscent of Neo. While they are wildly different, both characters shun convention, giving the proverbial middle finger to whatever or whoever is trying to control them.
In the premiere, ‘Limbic Resonance,’ Will refuses to conform to the standards set by his department and even his partner, by saving the life of a young gang member. He is also routinely in trouble with his captain, and eventually winds up being suspended from the job in a scene that is one part Neo being castigated by his boss, and another part every cop show with a maverick policeman who refuses to play by the rules.
While Will has aspects that make him Neo-like, Nomi is much more a direct counterpart to “The One.” She openly flouts everyone’s expectations of her, from her overbearing mother, to society at large. Not only is Nomi a hacker like Neo, she is because of her status as a transgender woman, frequently seen as someone who doesn’t fit in. In an early scene, Nomi’s girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman, Doctor Who and Torchwood) defends her from a group of women who disapprove of her presence at a pride event.
This combination of willful disobedience, self-concept, and self-understanding makes Nomi and Will like Neo in a surprising way.