Last week Humans aired its best episode yet. How does the follow-up fare?
Let’s bitch it out…
As we head into the second half of Humans‘ first season, the narrative focus is starting to expand to include larger subjects. There’s still a focus on personal storytelling, evident in the interactions at the Hawkins household and Leo’s (Colin Morgan) attempt to resuscitate his absent girlfriend Mia (Gemma Chan) from the confines of Anita’s programming. These stories, however, are now playing out among larger narratives about the mysterious – and paranoid – corporation that Hobb (Danny Webb) works for and the rise of the ‘We Are Human’ movement that has been lurking in the background for the last few episodes.
It’s no surprise that ‘We Are Human’ is gaining momentum. The anti-Synth sentiment that Peter (Neil Maskell) exemplifies is merely representative of what a large group of people feel (Lucy Carless’ Mattie dipped her toe in this arena in the first few episodes, as well). We saw how some humans express their fear and anger last episode with the Smash Club and with news of a “Killer Synth” leaking to the papers, the time is right for the ascension of a radical group that opposes the “dollies”. While questions of what is human remain the show’s primary interest, questions about the role of humans are just as relevant in a world where robots are capable of doing nearly every human task. It was never a question of if Peter would seek out this kind of group, it was simply a matter of when. Turns out that wife Jill’s (Jill Halfpenny) claim that Synth Simon (Jack Derges) gives her everything that Peter can’t is the tipping point. The question is what does ‘We Are Human’/NAP plan to do with their combined anger?
There’s fear in the corporation’s work with Fred (Sope Dirisu), as well, but it’s much more secretive. NAP is bold enough to flyer cars with advertisements about their very public meeting. Hobbs’ supervisors, on the other hand, operate in the shadows, evoking nearly every trope in the genre book about secret government/business practices. If this plot suffers, it’s because it is too familiar and too obscure (what are they after apart from silence? Who do they represent?). Also: if anyone actually believes that Hobb burnt Fred’s body, then I’ve got some quality vacation land to sell you at the North Pole.
The news that Hobb was also a member of the original Synth team is unsurprising, though it does offer some clarity about his motivations. It’s been evident since his introduction that Hobb has more sympathy and interest in the sentient synths than his colleagues and now we have a better idea why. It’s interesting that both he and Millican (William Hurt) disagreed with David Elser and suffered the same fate; Hobb, however, appears to have bounced back more successfully than Millican, who appears to spend all of his time licking his wounds in his home.
Thankfully Millican now has company as, for the second episode in a row, a sentient Synth pays him a visit. While Leo works on Anita, Niska (Emily Berrington) arrives at the doctor’s house to lay low. The pair promptly engage in a series of philosophical chats. It’s fascinating to watch Millican try to tease information out of her, especially when Niska is so abrasive in her responses. Of all the Synths, Niska is easily the most memorable although I wonder how much of a turn-off Berrington’s arrogant, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude portrayal is for some viewers (personally I find Niska fascinating). I much prefer these verbal sparring matches to the artificial conflict that arises when Peter arrives and Niska brandishes a pair of scissors in a game of cat and mouse. It seems pretty clear that she won’t attack Peter (who is there to chastise Millican for abandoning Will Tudor’s Odi in the woods), nor will she harm Millican when he tries to lie about the Killer Synth headline in the paper. Much like Fred’s supposed burning, this is false conflict; there’s no chance Humans would kill off Millican, especially not when the character is played by William Hurt.
That leaves the more personal drama as both Leo and the Hawkins encounter significant hurdles to happiness. Under threat of recycling, Mattie makes the impromptu decision to meet with Leo and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) to try and crack Anita’s code, but after two hours Leo throws in the towel. He believes that Mia is now just an echo, erased by Anita’s new software. Once again, however, the narrative suffers because the outcome is too obviously foreshadowed. It’s hard to believe that Humans would introduce the possibility of a sentient Synth code without seeing it through (which is yet another argument against Fred’s death). This is simply a delay tactic.
Meanwhile, in the Hawkins’ household, Joe’s (Tom Goodman-Hill) Adults Only encounter with Anita comes out when Mattie spots the interaction in the activity log. Initially it seems as though his indiscretion will be covered up by Toby (Theo Stevenson). It’s an interesting twist that I didn’t anticipate (and in truth, it doesn’t make sense considering everyone knows that Toby lacks the skills to override the 18+ age requirement). His willingness to take the fall is short-lived, however; after Toby rips into his father, Joe ultimately comes clean to Laura (Katherine Parkinson). I’ll confess that Joe’s confession doesn’t really work for me – the decision by director Lewis Arnold to focus on Joe’s face as he tries to rationalize his actions rather than leave the camera on Laura is the wrong choice. This puts the emphasis on the wrong partner and the result is a scene that lacks emotional power. Unfortunately it is also too brief: Joe confesses, Laura calls him a hypocrite, he counters with a mention of the mysterious Tom and then he’s out the door – all in under two minutes. After spending half the season dancing around their marital problems, I expected more from this climatic moment. It seems inevitable that we’ll explore this in much greater detail next episode, but for now, it’s a little disappointing.
- DI Voss (Ruth Bradley) remains the show’s most mysterious character. She’s working closely with Peter to find Niska in the wake of the Smash club incident, but Karen’s motivation remains unclear. Leo doesn’t appear to know about her (he only mentions four sentient Synths to make the code work), so who is Karen and what is her agenda?
- Wanna bet that Mattie will be the one to crack Anita’s code? Leo’s angry response when Mattie offers to try is just begging to be rebutted.
- Why does Vera (Rebecca Front) lie to Peter about Niska’s presence at Millican’s house? Does she have a small measure of sentience herself or is she simply capable of lying at the behest of her owner?
- Fun fact: 17 000 lines of code are all it takes to make a sentient synth. I’m inclined to agree with Millican: that’s not a lot to map the human experience.
Your turn: is this episode a bit of a letdown after last week? Will Mattie crack Anita’s code? Did Leo give up too easily? What’s Karen plan? What will NAP do? Are Hobb’s employers too broadly drawn? And how did you feel about the dramatic showdown between Joe and Laura? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers from forthcoming episodes if you’ve been watching in the UK.
Humans airs Sundays at 9pm EST on AMC