After a so-so episode last week, can Humans recover as it hits the mid-way point of its first series?
Let’s bitch it out…
How did you feel?
‘Episode 4′ is a huge leap forward in both characterization and the series’ ongoing mythology. It’s the kind of episode that encourages folks who have been sitting on the fence to commit and enthralls those of us who were already invested because it advances every story line in a compelling fashion. Not only is Humans starting to offer up answers, the deep dive into the morally complex waters that comprise the series’ central themes are producing some truly dynamic developments. In short, ‘Episode 4′ finds the series fully embracing its potential and it is compulsively engaging.
While the majority of the big reveals are courtesy of Leo (Colin Morgan) and DI Voss (Ruth Bradley) – discussed below – it is the increasingly messed-up family drama unfolding inside the Hawkins household that emotionally resonates the most. With the kids off at a party, Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) plans for quality time with Laura (Katherine Parkinson) only for her to beg off for a work function. Her lame-sounding excuse is actually true, but Joe believes she’s set up a romantic rendezvous with Tom, the mysterious man he overheard her talking about to Anita last episode. His suspicions escalate rapidly: initially he wants Anita to open Laura’s email, then he monitors the location of her car and nearly follows her. It is only when Anita recommends that he stop that he seemingly let it go…then he activates Anita’s Adults Only function and has sex with her.
There’s nothing especially surprising about any of this. If anything, it is a logical culmination of events considering how fractured the Hawkins’ marriage is, but the whole scene plays out in a deeply disturbing and uncomfortable manner. ‘Episode 4′ is structured around questions of “feeling”: Laura asks both Anita and her Synth interview if they ever feel scared and, at the party, a boy tells Mattie (Lucy Carless) that the Synth he plans to sexually assault doesn’t have feelings. Then there’s Joe and Anita. As the Hawkins patriarch recites the code to literally turn Anita on (the words amusingly hidden in packaging that resembles a paper condom, complete with perforated edges), Joe inquires if she feels passion. Anita replies that it is only a simulation of passion and that much is clear when we later see Joe thrusting into her; a horrifyingly experience that feels like a mix of disinterested hollowness and mild rape. If none of this is “real”, then why does Joe feel so guilty afterwards? And why do we, the audience, feel so uncomfortable by what he’s done? It’s not cheating if Anita isn’t a real human, but because we know that there’s more to her, Joe’s actions can’t help but feel like a betrayal.
The question about Synths’ ability to live and feel is prevalent throughout in the episode, which triumphs as the clearest example of Humans‘ central theme yet. Niska’s (Emily Berrington) actions at the Smash club, when she turns the bat on the humans who pay to watch and beat Synths, feels like justice because it’s so painfully obvious that the humans are terrible people who are doing wrong. Even when the Synths stare like vacant cattle at Niska after she opens their pen-like confine, it’s clear that they don’t deserve the treatment they would have suffered. Top this off with Niska’s apology when she performs mercy killings on the damaged bots – the most humane action of the entire episode – and we’re left, once again, to question who is more human in this series.
It is unclear whether Niska would have given herself up to Hobbs’ (Danny Webb) hunters had Leo not called when he does, but it’s intriguing that she doesn’t kill anyone while making her escape. The suggestion that the aberrant code Leo and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) discovered can render other Synths sentient galvanizes her, even as the requirement to unite all of them poses a problem in the aftermath of Leo’s aborted meeting with Mattie. He and Max come on far too strongly, too quickly when they meet with the teen hacker at a diner. With Mattie spooked, they’re no closer to finding Mia/Anita than they were before, a fact that will surely frustrated Niska after her efforts here.
Of course since we know that Mia is locked inside Anita somewhere, so there’s a possibility that the recent diagnostic check that Laura demands will help to jostle the real Synth loose. As we hit the halfway point, it’s near-guaranteed that Leo and Mia will be reunited in the back half of the season. After all, a dangling plot thread like that can’t go unexplored for much longer. After an episode like this, the next – and the revelations it is sure to include – can’t come soon enough.
- In “totally called it” news, Voss is now a confirmed Synth. I love that the reveal is handled in such a surprisingly gross fashion. After hosting Pete (Neil Maskell) for dinner when he and Julie separate, Voss performs the ickiest self-induced vomit scene in recent memory. She literally unhinges her jaw, sticks an entire hand down her throat and pulls out a bag of food & wine for the refuse bin. Kudos to director Daniel Nettheim for shooting the scene from above, which makes it far easier to appreciate how inhuman the action is.
- In other Pete news, he manages to convince the reporter he accosted last episode to drop the charges, presumably for some kind of exclusive scoop about the murder Niska committed. The move gets Pete back on the force, but it will undoubtedly prompt some major issues moving forward.
- What to make of Laura’s sojourn to interview the woman and her Synth who were discriminated against at the theater? As presented in the episode, it’s used to distinguish Anita from traditional Synths, but it may also suggest a softening of Laura’s stance on Synths (or at the minimum a willingness to investigate rather than outright dismiss them).
- Toby (Theo Stevenson) refuses the advances of a girl at a house party because he’s enamoured with Anita. Oh Toby – just because Anita fixed your collar doesn’t mean you have a chance of getting together with her.
- How refreshing is it to finally see Millican (William Hurt) interact with someone else from the main cast? The put-out senior citizen advises Leo and Max how to access Anita’s aberrant code and also forces Leo to admit that he is secretly the presumed dead son of Synth creator David Elster. This provides some context to the questions raised by ‘Episode 2’s revelation that Leo is part Synth; his father obviously saved Leo’s life using the robotic technology he was developing for the Synth program.
- Favourite acting moment of the episode = tie. 1) Gemma Chan’s ever so slight shift of the head to signify sexual desire after Anita’s Adults Only function is activated and 2) Ivanno Jeremiah’s sly smile as Max leaves Millican’s house which confirms that he is a sentient Synth. So much meaning conveyed in such subtle acting.
Your turn: did you suspect that Voss was a Synth all along? Are you surprised that Niska didn’t kill anyone? Were you sick to your stomach watch Joe use Anita? Do you think Laura is coming around to Synths? Is Pete going to pay for his decision to divulge information to the reporter? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers from episodes that have already aired in the UK.
Humans airs Sundays at 9pm EST on AMC