Humans: Series 1 Episode 2 Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz
Channel 4’s latest genre drama, Humans, began last week with a stellar premiere, which introduced an engaging and varied cast of characters and laid the groundwork for a thought-provoking exploration of the very concepts that underpin our lives over the course of the series. However, with a strong start made, it was now up to Humans to deliver a second instalment that could live up to the impressive standards set by the first…
Thankfully, episode two of Humans ticked all the boxes necessary to become a satisfying continuation of the story that began last week. Themes introduced last week were explored in more detail, new, intriguing concepts were introduced into the mix and most of the separate story strands experienced significant progression. However, despite its strengths, episode two wasn’t quite as strong as last week’s – a primary reason for this was the slightly weak balance of the separate stories; while Leo’s and the Hawkins’ stories stampeded ahead with several surprising twists, genuinely intriguing elements introduced last week such as the central villain Hobb’s capture of one of the enhanced Synths unfortunately stalled out, with only a few paltry scenes that added very little to the overall story. While the extra screen-time afforded to certain stories was welcome, it was a little disappointing to see certain elements that had a great deal of potential only inch forward – here’s hoping that the captured Synth’s story will pick up next episode, as the concept of a Synth with emotional consciousness falling into enemy hands is one of the biggest sources of intrigue currently.
Another element that received very little attention this week was Odi, Dr Millican’s malfunctioning Synth, who only briefly popped up with nary a mention of his ‘condition’. Considering that Odi’s slow breakdown lent the premiere a genuine emotional heft and an air of tragedy that was entirely unique to a show that is primarily focused around the paranoia and ethical questions induced by the Synths, it’s a shame – but despite that disappointment, Dr Millican’s story did take an intriguing turn this week. The introduction of stern, ruthless Synth Vera showed both the antagonistic potential of Synths and further deepened this viewer’s sympathy for the tragic figure of Dr Millican – with his Synth companion forced into hiding, Millican’s near-imprisonment under Vera’s regime is both darkly amusing and sympathetic. When Vera forcibly escorts Millican back to his house, violating his personal space, it’s made clear that Millican’s insistence on keeping his old Synth has actually lead this new, oppressive Synth being forced upon him by the NHS; inadvertently, Millican’s actions have led to him becoming ensnared in a trap of his own creation. It’s an entertaining and well-written storyline, but perhaps one that could get stale and lose its novelty quickly.
Leo’s story, meanwhile, continues to provide the most action and excitement out of all the separate story strands – this week’s mandated action sequence saw Leo nearly beaten to a pulp by a new villain, Silas Kopac – and packed in perhaps the most shocking twist Humans has delivered yet. The heavy implication that Leo is in fact some kind of Synth is a potentially game-changing turn in the narrative, completely flipping what we had known about Leo on its head, and actually compensating a little for the lack of motivation afforded to Leo by last week, by giving him a logical and justifiable reason to help the other enhanced Synths. However, the impact of this twist is slightly nullified by the slightly subdued nature of the twist’s delivery and execution – it wasn’t quite nondescript, but it was still surprisingly underplayed, slightly dampening the potential shock factor. Nonetheless, it’s a twist that invigorates one of the less interesting storylines in Humans, and displays that Humans has plenty more surprises up its sleeve.
However, it was the Hawkins family and their slightly untrustworthy Synth Anita who again provided the most compelling source of drama. The Hawkins family were established effectively last week as a slightly dysfunctional yet entirely normal suburban family last week, and episode two managed to put meat on the bones by delving into the impacts the addition of Anita to the household has had on the family. There’s a kind of irony in the fact that the machine Mattie and Laura disparage and call ‘it’ actually wields an enormous amount of power over the family, with Anita’s very presence and actions splintering the family into two groups with opposing opinions on the Synth, and unearthing deeply held resentments between family members. It’s fascinating to watch, and the themes aren’t quite as heavily handled as last week – for example, the scene with the deeply confused, mid-puberty teenage son Toby and Anita doesn’t spell out its themes as obviously as certain scenes did last week, but it’s a scene that nonetheless raises a huge amount of questions about the ethics of objectifying Synths, whether they should be given similar rights to humans in certain respects and so on. There’s still some unsubtle and clunky dialogue in this episode (Hobb’s ‘He’s the Mona Lisa, penicillin, the atom bomb’ line was notably guilty), but episode two does represent a great improvement in the subtlety of the writing.
Episode two leaves on three cliffhangers in particular – one is Leo’s revelation as mentioned above, yet the other two are almost equally intriguing. Synth Niska’s rebellion and escape after killing a depraved brothel customer rids Humans of a story element that threatened to tip the show into overly nihilistic and brutal territory, and counts as an extremely cathartic moment in its own right – Humans has done a good job of establishing sympathy for the Synths right off the bat, and the work done last week in lending the characters pathos begins to pay off here, with even a shocking act such as murder actually constituting a moment of triumph for Niska (it, of course, helps that the person she killed was particularly vile). With Niska out in the open, however, it means that there’s one more unprotected Synth out in public for Hobb and his faceless organisation to capture…
Anita continued to intrigue this week, with Gemma Chan once again delivering a quietly unsettling performance, with Chan particularly upping her game for the key moments of emotion from Anita such as her scene with the youngest Hawkins daughter – and it looks like there’s to be a major change on the way for the character. We’re only a quarter of the way through the run, and, coupled with the fact that Leo’s Synth friends are still on the hunt for Anita, as such it’s hard to believe that Anita will actually be given back to the shop, but Laura’s attempt to do so will doubtless mark an important shift in how Anita is treated in the family, showing that Humans is potentially willing to shake things up in a major way early on in the run. The second episode ends on one last mystery – why did Anita seem happy to be taken back?
There’s a disappointing lack of progress in certain areas for the story, but episode two is another strong instalment that deepens the show’s ongoing mysteries, and packs in a few great twists to lend the show an air of unpredictability as we near the halfway point.