Humans: Series 1 Episodes 7 & 8 Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
After a thoroughly successful first season that managed to deliver on the ambitious promises laid out in the opening episodes, Humans has wrapped up for the year – though, thankfully, the show has been confirmed to be returning next year for a second season. With the show’s future secure, how were the final two episodes of the season?
The final two episodes of the season placed the commonly explored theme of family front and centre, directly contrasting the two highly dysfunctional Synth and human families that were forced together by circumstances. Family is a bread-and-butter theme in fiction nowadays, but Humans still managed to succeed here by providing a satisfying culmination to the emotional arcs of the central families. Both families were splintered at points by members acting selfishly or displaying a dangerous lack of understanding – Joe, for instance, was presented as the least understanding member of the Hawkins family, sticking out like a sore thumb in the compassionate family by consistently displaying ignorance towards the humanity of the conscious Synths (episode seven, for instance, saw Joe interpreting Max’s distant and thoughtful mood as an artificial crash), and therefore briefly took on the role of outcast in the family. Meanwhile, Synth Karen, revealed truly to be a Synth replica of David Elster’s wife Beatrice, re-entered the lives of her family by selling them out to Hobb for experiments. Though the character improved a little in the finale, Beatrice was a weak link in an otherwise superlative penultimate episode, with the sudden revelation that Karen was Beatrice failing to register due to the utter lack of foreshadowing beforehand, meaning that the twist came so far out of left field that it knocked the early part of the episode off balance.
Both characters eventually learned to ingratiate themselves into their families once more by accepting their past mistakes and choosing compassion over selfishness, leading to both families becoming somewhat repaired – and while Beatrice’s face-heel turn towards the side of good was a little too sudden and not entirely earned, this was a satisfying way to provide a happy ending of sorts for two families who haven’t had the most comfortable of times this season. Most importantly, Humans ended with a hopeful message – that Synths can form families and bonds just as sincere and tight-knit as humans, and that any family can be fixed if the members learn to put aside their prejudices. With the additional, bittersweet note that repairing a family often requires sacrifice (Fred being left behind), it was an ending that was appropriately hopeful, yet tinged with an element of sadness and cynicism that prevented the ending from becoming too neat or saccharine.
The final two episodes, though generally satisfying, saw a few missteps that prevented Humans’ endgame from scaling the heights of the mid-season episodes. Millican’s death was undoubtedly emotional and touching (with William Hurt delivering an affecting performance as he died next to Odi), but it was executed in a manner that wasn’t as strong as it could have been – taking place at the start of the penultimate episode, it was a strangely nonchalant way to kill off a lead character – and this sense of Humans underplaying the death of a major player was exacerbated by the general lack of mention subsequently of Millican. Very few characters were shocked or upset, and the character was scarcely talked about afterwards, and therefore his death was a bit of a missed opportunity to wring some genuine, hard-hitting emotional impact that had a knock-on effect on subsequent events out of Millican’s death. As it was, Millican’s death was sad in the moment but acted merely as a way to remove the character from the picture while displaying the danger presented by Beatrice, rather than as a fittingly meaningful end for the character.
A slight sense of confusion over how to wrap up the story also seemed to be present in the finale – there wasn’t an awful lot of set-up for season two besides the final scene and the quiet stashing of the hard drive in the Hawkins household, but the finale was also too open-ended to have acted as a satisfying capper for the show as a whole. The finale therefore occupied a confusing middle ground where it wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been as a conclusion or as a set-up for the following season – for instance, Hobb was still at large when the episode concluded and will presumably still be a major villain in season two, but the character disappeared from the episode well before the conclusion with little indication of what role the villainous professor will occupy in season two. An extra scene with Hobb at the end could easily and effectively have fixed this, because the character’s disappearance from the finale was an egregious moment of fumbled writing. There’s still plenty to look forward to in the second season, but Humans didn’t strike the correct balance between acting as a satisfying conclusion and teasing the next run in 2016.
However, the final scene managed to nullify some of these frustrating flaws by throwing one final curveball into the mix. Niska’s abandoning of the hard drive seemed suspiciously out of character, so the final revelation that she had kept it was a clever moment that felt entirely consistent with her militant and radical behaviour beforehand. The possibility of Niska creating more conscious Synths provides a possible shake-up for season two, massively altering the balance of power between Synths and humans that has existed for most of this season – or, on the other hand, this could lead to a compelling crisis of faith for Niska that could test her Magneto-like ‘us vs them’ attitude to the limits. However Humans chooses to play this, the final scene was a perfectly pitched twist that averted the emerging possibility that season two would simply feature the Synths pitted against Hobb once again, turning a wildcard character into an anti-villain of sorts who possesses plenty of heroic characteristics, but pursues an agenda that could end up with a hell of a destruction. Put it this way: Niska’s theft of the hard drive is not going to end well…
Verdict for Episode 7: 9/10
Verdict for Episode 8: 8/10
Despite delivering a fantastic penultimate episode, Humans slowed down a little for a finale that wrapped up the season’s character arcs well enough, but lacked the impressive thematic depth of previous episodes, and became slightly muddled in its attempt to tee up season two and provide a satisfying conclusion at the same time. Nonetheless, the finale was hardly a total disappointment, capping off a season that’s maintained a formidable standard from the beginning despite a couple of dips in quality every now by managing to put an entirely fresh, thoughtful spin on well-worn science-fiction tropes and themes. With a huge, intriguing alternate world still to explore, it feels as if Humans is just beginning to scratch the surface of the stories it’s able to tell…