With the finale yet to air in the UK and three episodes left for us Stateside, AMC and Britain’s Channel 4 have just renewed their sci-fi drama Humans for a second season. The show, which has pulled in good numbers on both sides of the pond, will return with eight more episodes next year.
As Chris noted in his review of the first few episodes, Humans distinguishes itself from most sci-fi dramas by presenting a world that is the same as our own — just with the presence of humanoid androids called “synths.” It’s surprisingly (and wonderfully) minimalistic in its emotions, its dramatic revelations, and in its simple presentation of synth technology. But that helps the series accomplish its primary goal: it’s not (yet) about the takeover of humanity, but more a meditation on humanity and what makes up the conscious mind.
Warning: spoilers below if you are not caught up through Episode 5:
One of Humans’ most instantly compelling stories is that of the Hawkins family, and how they have changed over the course of the season in their relationships with their synth, Anita (Gemma Chan). Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) can’t wait to get rid of her after he drunkenly activates her adult-only mode and has sex with her one night, which his son Toby (Theo Stevenson) takes the blame for one the activation is revealed. But even though Joe admits his betrayal to his wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson), Toby is left confused and upset over his father’s actions, and the knowledge that his father slept with his fantasy crush. Further, it raises questions of servitude and consent, especially when Joe then dismisses their housekeeper/nanny as a “sexbot.”
Interestingly, Laura’s reaction is to throw Joe out, perhaps a different outcome than if it had happened closer to when Anita first joined their family and Laura was wary of her. Now, she feels sympathy for Anita, and works with her talented and skeptical daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) to find out Anita’s history, accepting her as part of the family.
These compelling family dynamics also connect to and play out alongside another complicated family, that of the “self-aware” synths, led by the human (or now hybrid?) Leo (Colin Morgan), whose father gifted the synths he created with a code to reach the final stage of human consciousness — one that can feel fear, pain, and loss, but still struggles to embrace friendship and love. What’s fascinating here is how they all react so differently to having that consciousness — just like humans. The zen-like Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) is the polar opposite of the nihilist Niska (Emily Berrington). And one wonders what Anita (or “Mia,” as they knew her) would be like — except for the fact that her consciousness is now buried deep beneath her synth code. Watching Leo react to “losing” her is heartbreaking on several levels, especially after witnessing her begging Mattie to let her out earlier: “I’m here.”
Humans is only just beginning to expand the fringes of its world to include, of course, the government’s involvement in trying to destroy synth consciousness. The fear is that synths have become so normalized in society as caretakers and menial workers that if they were to join together, they could subvert the order of humans and androids. And at that point, what besides a pumping heart would distinguish “them” from “us”?
It’s an old formula that can act as a metaphor for just about any kind debate over personhood (one that skirts issues of race, xenophobia, and more). But as another facet of our times, what does it say about our own mindless (though some times uneasy) dependence on technology? Humans plays with these ideas in a subtle way, building up the idea of infiltration with well-placed shocks, like the discovery that DI Karen Voss (Ruth Bradley) is really a synth, after she secretly pulls a bag of food and wine (that she uses as a makeshift stomach) out of her mouth. So now we know it’s not just 4 synths Leo believes are integral to proliferating android consciousness — there are more. But do they want equality, or dominance?
Humans has been, somewhat oddly, a slow-burn, but it has steadily been picking up speed, complexity, and intrigue as it heads towards its Season 1 finale. (“Oddly” only because this is a show that is ostensibly about the robot revolution, and yet, for the most part it feels like a family drama). It allows big ideas about ethics, morality, what makes us human, and how we identify our purpose as a species to be explored naturally through conversations not just between humans and synths, but among members of both groups. Though it has, from the start, been a unique, thoughtful, and gorgeously-crafted show, it only recently has caught fire. Its narratives have become increasingly compelling, to the point where waiting for new episodes is excruciating. Or to put it another way, it has entrapped us — and now it’s found its pulse.