After last week’s solid premiere, can Channel 4 & AMC’s robot collaboration, Humans, maintain its consistency?
Let’s bitch it out…
I can already tell that Humans is going to be one of those series that feels like one long story punctuated by starts and stops rather than a number of distinct episodes. ‘Episode 2’ proves that the premiere was no fluke – this is an extremely confident series that has its first season (eight episodes) carefully laid out. While it would be difficult to describe the plot as brisk, it can’t be said that the series suffers from a lethargic pace, either. Things are happening – in some cases more speedily than others – but there remains a mystery about how these stories will play out and whether or not the disparate story lines will converge at some point.
While the Hawkins family remains front and center, ‘Episode 2’s biggest reveal comes courtesy of Leo (Colin Morgan). As a character, Leo remains more than a bit of an enigma: we know that he’s searching for Anita (Gemma Chan) because they were in love before her abduction, but other facets of his personality are unknown. There’s a hint of his world view when Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) questions whether he should accept the role for which he was built and Leo angrily refutes the claim. It’s here that we also get our first mention of ‘Father’, presumably the individual who created the Synths, or possibly this sentient brand of Synth. Leo infers that Father is dead and he seems pretty adamant in his response.
Their main purpose in ‘Episode 2’ is extracting information from Synth modifier Silas Capek (Paul Kaye). Unfortunately the encounter doesn’t go well: Leo ends up gravely injured and Max’s true nature is outed in the subsequent rescue attempt. The pair seek shelter in a car junkyard (a twisted commentary on the treatment of machines that have outlived their usefulness?) before pressing on to a public bathroom. In the episode’s biggest twist, Max heals Leo by plugging an electrical cord into Leo’s side. This…contradicts everything that we know about Synths. Leo is clearly human (he bleeds red blood, as opposed to blue) and yet Leo clearly responds to the voltage. So what exactly is Leo? ‘Episode 2’ doesn’t provide any answers, but it seems clear that he is some kind of anomaly or hybrid.
In contrast, Anita’s story line is much more black and white. After less than two episodes in the Hawkins employ, she manages to arouse both Laura and Mattie’s (Lucy Carliss) suspicions. By episode’s end, Laura is ready to pack Anita up and send her back to the store. Part of this is definitely because of Anita’s odd reactions to Laura’s questioning about the spider and Sophie’s (Pixie Davies) wet pajamas, but it can also be attributed to Laura’s insecurities (it is difficult to determine if her exchange with Mattie about being “a shit mother” is a response to Anita or if Laura is being tense with her daughter, who she continues to struggle to connect with).
After two episodes, it’s tempting to heap praise on Chan for her uncanny robotic performance (see: the struggle in Anita’s eyes when she breaks her programming to provide a reassuring hug to Sophie). I think it’s just as important, however, to recognize Parkinson’s less showy work. Laura is clearly a frustrated woman and mother and Parkinson has done well to make Laura sympathetic, despite the character’s increasingly shrill and paranoid responses to recent events. It’s not hard to understand why Laura wants Anita gone and Parkinson’s nuanced performance ensures that we don’t forget about the human struggle of being replaced in nearly every capacity by a younger, attractive and seemingly perfect model.
- Joe’s (Tom Goodman-Hill) question about “something” happening while Laura was away at the conference infers (confirms?) that there were issues in their marriage long before Anita arrived in last week’s premiere
- Thankfully the heavy handed philosophisizing about what it means to be human is kept to a single line of dialogue this week (Laura’s “do we love our children or are we forced to by Mother Nature?” bit). Considering that every scene that involves a sentient Synth implicitly engages the series’ central premise about the nature of humanity, I hope that these kinds of explicit verbal comments are kept to a bare minimum.
- I appreciate how the rules governing Synth behaviour are coming out in an organic fashion. This week we see a number of variations about what constitutes allowable “touching”. Anita nearly has to report Toby (Theo Stevenson) for trying to touch her breast when she’s recharging (good to know the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree) and Anita is not supposed to hug Sophie without Laura or Joe’s permission. Contrast this with Vera’s (Rebecca Front) treatment of Millican (William Hurt), whom she forcibly hauls back to the house after discovering him injured in the backyard after dark. Clearly there are very different rules and regulations for the treatment / protection of children vs elders in this near future world
- Speaking of Millican, his story line continues to be the series’ least interesting, despite the reveal that he is the creator of Synths, a fact which indirectly links him to Leo and the others. I’m sure this will play a much more significant role moving forward, but for now his protection of Odi (Will Tudor) and disdain for Vera’s treatment isn’t incredibly engaging
- I did wonder as I was preparing this review if this story line is less engaging because Humans itself is less interested in conventional Synths. Nearly all of the principle story lines focus on at least one of the aware Synths, suggesting that their awareness of their own existence is more interesting to the overall narrative than a general investigation of how Synths have integrated into the near-future world
- Another contrast: Vera’s medical care for Millican as compared to Simon (Jack Derges), the Synth who is rehabilitating DS Peter Drummond’s (Neil Maskell) wife. Obviously their needs are very different, but Simon is much more a companion/nurse than Vera, who Millican amusingly calls a Warden. Alas Peter’s story line isn’t much more interesting than Millican’s as this week’s episode mirrors his issues from the premiere: Peter wants to be able to take care of his wife and resents the intrusion of a Synth into his life (and, by extension, into his work as a police officer)
- Peter’s partner, DI Voss (Ruth Bradley) is much more patient, though that’s nearly all that can be said about her given her lack of screen time. I hadn’t noticed the scar on her neck before; it’s only after she mentions that she’s endured more harm from humans than Synths that I began to wonder if there might be a connection. Any theories about the origin? It looks like a burn
- Fred (Sope Dirisu) remains imprisoned by Hobb (Danny Webb), who is far more considerate and humane than the other humans. Hobb alone seems to regard Synths as more than machines – his first line this episode is to order Fred covered up after he sees him lying naked on the examination table. It appears that Fred has been reliving a memory of swimming with Anita, which appears to clue Hobb in that Fred is not alone. Next up: an actual conversation between captor and prisoner
- Finally, Niska (Emily Berrington) disregards Leo’s advice that she is safest at the brothel and breaks out. It’s not surprising when she ultimately murders a John who tries to accost her (it’s always the small, quiet guys with the weird fetishes and murderous impulses, huh?). Everything that we’ve seen of Niska thus far suggests that she is the most emotionally charged of the sentient Synths; although servicing hateful men and being hosed off like an animal would likely produce extreme reactions in anyone. Expect her shocking exit from the brothel to pique both Peter and Hobb’s attention moving forward as it was undoubtedly caught on tape
- Toby (to Anita): “Why’d they have to make you so fit?” Sounds like blaming the victim to me, Toby.
- Niska (to the Madam): “Everything your men do to us, they want to do to you.”
Your turn: what did you think of ‘Episode 2’? Are you surprised that Laura is already sending Anita back? What Leo’s hybrid status a shock? Are you interested in Millican’s battle with Vera? What’s the story with DI Voss? Where will Niska go now that she’s free? Sound off below.
Humans airs Sundays at 9pm EST on AMC. Next week: Leo and Max meet up with Niska, Laura explains her reaction to Anita and Mattie tries her next hack. Here’s your preview: