Humans: Series 1 Episode 3 Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Humans has done a stellar job of creating and exploring this complex alternate reality where Synths are commonplace in the first two episodes, with a slew of separate, almost entirely successful parallel stories to cover a huge breadth of themes and concepts. With the groundwork laid, did Humans manage to kick it up a notch with its third episode?
Unfortunately, despite almost all the parallel plots working well on their own, it’s becoming apparent that Humans is a show that’s lesser than the sum of its parts – when the disparate elements are pulled together, each episode only represents an incremental advancement in the plot, with the sheer amount of plots somewhat bogging down the overall development of the show. In short, Humans is trying to do too many things, and this means that the show is perhaps showing signs of beginning to collapse under its own weight. Admittedly, episode three showed signs that the subplots in Humans are beginning to intertwine a little more, but episode three still provided the strongest indicator yet that Humans could do with paring back on the amount of subplots and characters in order to slightly quicken the show’s often languid pace and provide more meaningful exploration for certain story strands.
However, despite the slightly unsatisfactory development of the show as a whole, most of the separate parts of Humans are working better than ever. Intriguingly, the story of DS Drummond picked up considerably this week as the policeman’s story began to collide with Niska’s and Hobb’s, representing an encouraging (though minor) attempt to link some stories together. In particular, Drummond’s meeting with Hobb was a compelling battle of wits, with the policeman attempting to peel back the deceitful cover-up that Hobb had put in place; but perhaps the strongest element of this subplot was the way that Humans subverted the trope of a heroic character confronting and eventually uncovering a conspiracy. The viewpoints exuded by Hobb and Drummond were vastly different, but both could be considered ‘bad’, as neither person possibly considers that the murder was justified, and both assume an antagonistic stance towards a character, Niska, who is for all intents and purposes one of the show’s protagonists, displaying a commendable amount of moral complexity on Humans’ part.
Anita has been shown to be a surprisingly powerful presence in the Hawkins household previously, but episode three displayed just how strong her hold over the Hawkins family is – it’s almost as if Humans is portraying Anita as a godlike character with the ability to effortlessly shift and morph the family dynamics almost by accident (it’s still tantalisingly unclear if Anita’s huge impact on the family is deliberate). Shrewdly, Humans dialled back the unnerving element of Anita’s character a little this week, and explored the purer and more altruistic sides of Anita – such as how Anita brought the previously slightly fractured family together over a video game, inducing a genuine sense of happiness that was actually shattered by Laura. A central idea that’s emerging is the idea that perhaps humans are the ones to blame for the emotional damage caused in the presence of Synths – in particular, episode three raised the intriguing concept of the turmoil and arguments attributed to Synths actually being the construct of an insidious and damaging paranoia from humans. It fits neatly into the slightly simple idea at the centre of Humans (that Synths can be better and more empathetic than humans, and that humans woefully underestimate Synths), but it’s still a complex and nuanced one that I hope will be explored further in the future.
After Odi’s near-absence last week, the malfunctioning Synth was back front and centre this week in Millican’s story. George’s eventual tragic abandonment of Odi was a superbly delivered emotional moment that genuinely packed a punch after the careful and moving emotional groundwork laid in the past couple of episodes, which was only exacerbated further by the quietly tragic image of Odi sitting in the woods, asking for George. It also further illustrated the oppressive, prison-like nature of Synth Vera’s regime, providing George with a painful consequence for daring to escape, heightening the sympathy felt towards George. Unfortunately, Millican’s story almost felt like a circle this week – his escape created the idea of Millican going on the run from his Synth, so for George to simply traipse back into his prison at the end of the episode, even if Odi was lost in the meantime, was a slightly unsatisfying and disappointing conclusion to Millican’s story this week. While the loss of Odi will certainly have an impact, there’s a faint whiff of treading water to Millican’s story, even if the performances continue to be uniformly excellent.
Niska, the Synth who escaped from the brothel last week, struck out on her own in episode three, providing a diverting illustration of an impulsive Synth attempting to fully emulate a human lifestyle. Intriguingly, as episode three seems to conclude, even the advanced Synths with the ability to feel emotions can never quite masquerade as human – Niska’s naïve and paranoid actions such as picking up a knife and simply leaving it adds to the idea that a Synth pretending to be human is merely acting out a crude facsimile of human nature. It’s an intriguing conclusion, though it’s a little at odds to the general pro-Synth atmosphere of the show, meaning that Niska’s story teeters on the line between being an intriguingly different to the rest of the show, and tonally dissonant from the other, more coherent stories.
Surprisingly, episode three begins with a damning indicator of a possible decline into total plot inertia, and concludes with a hopeful sign that Humans could go up a gear very soon indeed. Fred, whose brief ‘interrogation’ was the very first scene, was captured in episode one – but as the following episodes have made clear, there was no need to lock the character up so early. Practically nothing has happened with this captured Synth, with a handful of paltry scenes in the last two episodes to create the vague impression that this plotline is advancing, when in fact it’s simply rehashing the same material until it’s time for an actual development – it’s frustrating, and indicates that the show doesn’t quite know what to do with all of its characters and plotlines.
However, the final scene evokes a completely opposite reaction – Leo tracking down Anita is a huge development that promises a collision between the show’s two most important plotlines. It’s a moment that unlocks a huge amount of future avenues for the story and the intriguing idea of these previously segregated characters interacting, but as Humans has shown, especially with the follow-up to Leo’s revelation last week (there was next to no mention of the twist that Leo is a Synth), it’s not always willing to follow through with major twists in a satisfying fashion. It’s simply up to Humans to prove me wrong…