Humans: Series 1 Episode 6 Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Due to the deliberate pace of the first few episodes, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when Humans premiered – but the antepenultimate episode of the season (or series) has already rolled around. With Humans beginning to put the chess pieces in play for the season’s endgame, did episode six continue the strong form of the last two episodes?
As the show has progressed, Humans has taken the opportunity to introduce nuance and unexpected complexities into seemingly simple situations – nothing, at this point, is quite what it seems, and that’s particularly emphasised by the surprising first few minutes of the episode. Fred’s survival avoids the anticlimax that last episode’s ending initially purported to be, and introducing a fresh new Synth onto the streets is an intriguing way to mix things up for the central family of Synths as we head into the last couple of episodes – but it’s the revelation about Hobb’s true motivations that surprised the most here. As it turns out, Hobb is far from a technology-fearing zealot, with his bombastic ‘singularity’ speeches cooked up to deceive his colleagues – and while he’s still very much the show’s central villain, his motivations seem far more noble and understandable now they’ve truly been revealed. The idea that these advanced Synths are special, amazing creations is one that the viewers have been encouraged to believe, so to have Hobb share that view is a clever way of muddying the waters a little and keeping the audience on their toes, allowing our opinions to align with the bad guy in some form– there’s no late-game upending of the entire dynamics of the show, but this new development does introduce an encouraging amount of complexity into a character whose only distinguishing facet before this episode was his overt villainy.
Humans recently brought the previously estranged George and Niska together, and this exceedingly strange dynamic continues to be a fantastic well of philosophical conundrums and moral ambiguity for the show to draw upon among the more overtly soap-opera style family drama. In particular, the continuing deconstruction of Niska is engaging due to the show’s coyness on providing an answer to questions about her character. Is Niska really on the same level as a human? For every piece of evidence suggesting that she is very much a human, such as her emotional responses and self-consciousness, there’s another piece of evidence to the contrary – Niska can’t quite grasp the idea of Millican’s unconditional love for the malfunctioning Odi, as it’s an inherently irrational love that yields no benefits for George, and struggles with the idea of subtext. It’s not as simple as ‘this scene points to Niska not being like a human’ or vice versa – Niska’s confusion at irrational actions and blunt attitude is one shared by many humans, and as we later learn, even the human creator of Synths, David Elster, was particularly aloof and preferred to work on his inventions to human interaction.
The brief, yet potent revelation that Niska was seen as ‘more than a child’ than Elster is a thoroughly grim one, showing the horrific crimes that humanity can perform against beings they see only as machines and deepening the exploration of the relationship between the creator and the created that also appears within Hobb’s story. Was Niska merely underestimated by Elster, as he saw his creations as beneath him? It’s a relationship that will hopefully be explored further next episode, but this brief moment does dovetail with Fred and Hobb’s in an intriguing and surprising manner. It’s unclear whether Humans will firmly settle on an answer to how human these Synths really are by the finale, but the show would be hard pressed to find a conclusion that’s remotely satisfying after the thought-provoking array of questions and debates thrown up by Niska’s scenes with Millican alone – and that’s a testament to the thoughtful yet cleverly written (the show has gotten a hell of a lot better at organically introducing these moral questions as it’s gotten on to boot) writing of Niska’s scenes in particular.
When we have a Synth as complex as Niska, it’s inevitably a little frustrating to have to spend screen-time with the simpler and more common breed of Synth – and while there’s comedic value in Synth Simon’s hilariously blunt addresses to Drummond about his wife, flicking back to a Synth as overtly artificial and fake as Simon for comedy value undercuts the exploration of the core family of advanced Synths. There’s merit in the idea of exploring the debate of whether the advanced and regular Synths are truly different and deserve different rights to the garden variety Synth, but simply using a ‘shop bought Synth’ for comic relief jars with the complex and nuanced study of the humanity of the advanced Synths. In an episode that’s packed with strong emotional moments and several surprise revelations, Drummond’s story never ceases to rise above the level of passable entertainment – even a potentially complex moment such as Karen’s revelation of her true nature right after a one night stand simply boils down to another moment re-iterating Drummond’s hatred of Synths. It’s intriguing enough, but Drummond’s story remains a weak link amidst the other, increasingly strong plotlines, and there’s little to no interest from this reviewer as to how his story will end.
Perhaps the biggest development of this episode was the return of Mia, as the rogue personality embedded within Anita resurfaced. The plot mechanics behind the sudden emergence of Mia are flimsy at best, but the transformation provided another chance for Gemma Chan to showcase her acting prowess after a quiet couple of weeks. Seeing Chan instantly transform from the distressed Mia to the placid and blank Anita underlines the acting talent that this reviewer had almost taken for granted at this point – and Chan was assisted by an excellent emotional performance by Colin Morgan, who managed to convey the intimate, motherly relationship between Leo and Mia (revealed, surprisingly, to be a surrogate mother and son pair) with Chan despite the obvious barrier of the two actors looking about the same age.
Everything seemed to be going well for the reunited family of Synths – but then, of course, we still have a little time left before the finale. It’s surprising that the architect of Synth Max’s downfall was in fact Joe, who continually failed to make amends for his actions with Anita here. The show, and the perception of Synths, has evolved around Joe – his opinion that they’re just machines and can’t feel feels hopelessly antiquated and bigoted at this point, despite it being a viewpoint that’s perfectly rational and understandable. Nonetheless, Joe’s steadfast refusal to really change leaves him as an intriguing presence – with his opinions rejected by his family, all Joe can do is lash out with a show of power (calling the police) that ended up having fairly dreadful consequences. It’s hard to see where the character will go from here, but shaking up the Hawkins family dynamic has certainly been a welcome move from the writers, with Joe’s distrust and confusion now making him very much responsible for Max’s death.
Max was always a supporting character, tagging alongside the more interesting Leo – but that role is actually used to finally flesh out Max this episode. His self-confessed status as the burden is an inherently sympathetic one – but, ironically, as soon as Max confesses this it’s easy to see him as a loyal companion rather than a burden to Leo, providing moral support throughout their time on the run. It’s this character work that makes his death all the more impactful, with his final line a hopeful yet darkly tinged raising of the idea that his death will ensure that he lived. It’s a complex statement that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways – but as this episode shows, that’s Humans in a nutshell.