Humans: Series 1 Episode 4 & 5 Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
We’ve surpassed the halfway point now with Humans – and with everything now firmly in place, it was about time that the show began shaking things up by intertwining disparate plot strands and providing serious advancement on some of the show’s ongoing conflicts…
It’s safe to say that episodes four and five as a whole delivered on that front, with numerous important players meeting each other – in episode four alone, we had Mattie reach out to Leo, with George Millican meeting Niska and Leo during the two episodes. Though some of these collisions between characters may have been disappointingly brief for this point in the series, episode five in particular flourished by exploiting the intriguing drama that results when two very different characters are forced together. Niska’s meeting with Millican in episode five was a particularly strong example of this – Niska has been nothing if firm in her convictions since the start, so Millican’s thought-provoking and piercing questioning of whether Niska is really ‘living’ due to her almost unnaturally indifferent attitude towards death provided some well-explored deconstruction of the concept of these advanced Synths. Notably, Niska has become a consistently compelling wildcard – positioned almost as a Magneto-esque figure (with maybe a little more of a moral compass) who wholeheartedly opposes most humans, her seemingly virtuous freedom fighting is challenged by the possibility that her actions are actually far too impulsive and destructive, and could end up leading to her own downfall.
That theme of ambiguity and uncertainty on how to interpret the actions of characters is beginning to pervade the show – showing some seemingly hostile characters to be justified, and some previously virtuous characters to exhibit some fairly crippling flaws. Joe, a character who seemed pretty likeable if a little blinkered in previous episodes, revealed a far darker side in both episodes, engaging Anita’s ‘Adult Mode’ while home alone, and then failing to apologise in a remotely satisfactory manner, by trying to hand off the blame to Laura and make petty self-justifications. Commendably, it almost entirely flips the viewer’s perception of Joe on the head while feeling like an organic development of the character – and it’s improved by the central dilemma surrounding Anita’s ‘Adult Mode’. It’s notable that while Joe derides Anita as a ‘machine’ and therefore justifying his er… exploits as not cheating, the argument between Joe and Laura essentially ends the same way as if Joe was cheating with another human, indicating that even if the characters may not treat Synths as human, subconsciously, there’s an unshakeable belief in all characters that Synths are a little more than just machines.
Following on from this deeply ambiguous debate, there were also plenty of other thought-provoking elements in the two episodes that were up to the viewer to pass judgement on. The anti-Synth rally may, on a surface level, seem like an arrogant and bigoted effort to deride the machines that generally have been portrayed as sympathetic – but it’s hard to really argue with some of the points made about Synths nullifying the point of humans in almost every aspect, with some extremely justifiable and compelling arguments made. Lesser shows may have turned a rally like this into a way to show the small-minded and hostile attitude of humans, but Humans manages to keep even these small, relatively briefly touched upon elements compelling allowing some of those who oppose the show’s protagonists to possess clear and logical reasons for their actions, and therefore manages to avoid a slip into simplistic black-and-white morality.
Meanwhile, Leo’s story eventually picked up in episode five – there’s been no concrete answer as to his identity, but both episodes did a good job of teasing out surprising revelations in a tantalising manner, revealing hints towards his true identity without rushing and spoiling the mystery. The idea that Leo is some sort of advanced replacement son for Elster is a moving one – the possibility that the hero we’ve been following for the past few episodes is just a replica of another, real human is sobering, creating further sympathy towards Leo. His meeting with Anita/Mia was also a strongly delivered emotional moment, capitalising on several episodes worth of build-up to pack an emotional punch that’s heightened by the juxtaposition between the two Synths – one exuding emotion, and the other as placid and emotionless as can be, showing the sheer differences that exist between Synths themselves. The viewer perception of Anita has also hugely changed throughout the season – at the start, not knowing her true nature, Anita was somewhat unnerving; a disconcerting and seemingly hostile presence. Now, that same behaviour is merely tragic, a sign that Anita is too far gone, and is merely the emotionless husk of a once complex and advanced Synth, reduced to displaying the behaviour shown by almost every identikit Synth. This change in perception has occurred without the character changing in any major way – Anita’s still pretty much the same, servile Synth we met in episode one, but subsequent revelations have placed the character in an entirely different light.
Unfortunately, not every plotline is excelling. The story of DS Drummond, in particular, is consistently failing to create the same mix of intrigue and moral ambiguity as some other plotlines, despite the clever and unexpected twist that his partner was in fact a Synth herself, lending a bitter irony to some of these scenes – the staunchly anti-Synth Drummond’s only real friend at this point is actually a Synth herself, which should provide some major conflict once it’s inevitably revealed. However, Drummond himself is not a particularly engaging character – there’s some sympathy at the way the Synth in his household is superseding him, but the character is aggressively dislikeable at points, often making it far easier to sympathise with Jill, his wife. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it does reflect the ambiguity laced throughout the episodes, but for a character we’re spending so much time with, Drummond is just not likeable enough, and comes across as abrasive and cruel.
However, despite that slight blemish, it’s clear that Humans has founds its groove – the slight complacency and lethargic pace has vanished, and Humans has excelled at layering almost every conflict with an uncertainty that leaves many of the characters in a grey area, for the viewers to pass judgement on them and their actions. Episodes four and five show that Humans has blossomed into an intelligent, compelling show – and this reviewer can’t wait to see what happens next.
Verdict for Episode 4: 8.5/10
Verdict for Episode 5: 9/10