Warning: This contains spoilers.
And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another season of Humans over, a new one hopefully on the way soon, because Season 2 wraps things up just in time for the holidays – and things couldn’t be less festive if they tried.
A technology show with a dark ending? You don’t need to have been watching Westworld for that not to come as a surprise, but Humans has proven a superb companion piece to HBO’s glossy epic, and not just because they’ve both arrived the same conclusion: all-out human/robot war. Watching alongside each other, they both reached for high notes of philosophy, but while Westworld’s twisting plot and expansive scale were mind-blowing, Humans stood up well comparatively, thanks to its opposite approach: defiantly British through and through, its second season remains a story driven by low-key, human drama.
And so as Episode 7 brought us the big climactic assault on Qualia’s silo – A confrontation taking place in a penultimate episode of a season? Humans has been watching Game of Thrones. – the death of Pete at the hands of Hester was a genuinely tragic blow, especially as it came with the potential of a reunion between him and Karen. That human loss felt more tragic than the demise of hundreds of synths outside the facility, who were frazzled by an electronic device in their heads to stop them escaping the perimeter, but it was all Hester needed to step up her own campaign – and, yes, make it even more personal.
But let’s not write off Humans Season 2 as a low-budget affair: this second run has seen the writers expand their scope significantly, introducing Qualia and Milo (Marshall Allman), not to mention Carrie Anne Moss’ Dr. Athena Morrow. Milo, his horde of conscious synths wiped out, proves something of a disappointment, with him lingering in the background for potential use further down the line. Morrow, though, is the epitome of how the show works, using to introduce a giant, global corporation, but anchoring their sinister plans in her own intimate urge to hold on to her daughter. Season 2’s most moving note comes from her decision to finally let Vee go – a decision that subtly counters the grief being encountered elsewhere, on a far less voluntary basis.
It’s that use of emotional microcosm to tackle macro-issues that Humans has balanced superbly throughout Season 2, from Niska’s brief romance at the open, which has quietly influenced everything that has followed, to the Hawkins’ marriage. It took a heavy beating in Season 1, only for this second run to seem to instigate a reunion. But the higher the stakes have been raised, the more Joe (the wonderfully whiny and increasingly pathetic Tom Goodman-Hill) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson, one of Britain’s best actresses, bringing Olivia Colman levels of intensity and fragility) have been drifting apart.
After starting to connect with their youngest daughter, any sense of hope in the Hawkins household is swiftly axed by the arrival of Hester on their doorstep. She promptly holds Laura hostage, aiming to force Leo out of hiding. Leo and Mattie fall into the trap, but craft a trigger in his mobile that can disable Hester. Does he use it? Of course not. Colin Morgan’s conflicted hacker vigilante has been the cornerstone of the series for both seasons, representing a bridge between the two sides of the moral, existential battle – and, as always, his initial instinct is to turn to compassion and reconciliation. Just as Hester accuses his weakness of being responsible for the synth deaths at the silo, his tendency towards love is again his Achilles’ heel, as he tries to reason with Hester – who, naturally, won’t be reasoned with. Before he can trigger the device instead, she stabs him – and Leo ends up bleeding out on the floor.
It’s a huge moment for the show, but how fitting that it should all unfold in the Hawkins’ kitchen, as opposed to, say Westworld’s wild west backdrop. There’s still action to be found, though, as Niska returns and, fuelled by a mix of anger and affection for the Hawkins (and Leo), promptly helps to dispatch Hester for good. The device, though, is already shutting down Mia. Yes, another one of our central characters is on the chopping block – and, like Morgan’s Leo, Gemma Chan’s performance as Mia has been one of the key factors to making the show’s balance of heart and science work.
All of this unfolds with a quiet tension – with the memory of Pete’s demise fresh in our minds, we know that people really can die in Humans. But when it comes to conscious robots, the synths have a slight advantage over meat bags – their consciousness can be activated by the code that Mattie fixed. And so, after a season of wondering, the programme is fully uploaded, instantly awakening synths around the world. Again, it’s a big moment, but it’s one that’s driven by the tiniest of situations: one person trying to bring another back to life.
It’s a move that has ramifications for Karen, too, who’s busy attempting to kill herself with the help of cute-but-creepy synth child Sam – but stops when he cries out. And, while Mia and Hester are now back up and running, what does Mattie’s upload mean for Leo? Will it bring him back or not? It’s revealing that those are our immediate concerns, as Mia rushes Leo to an ambulance, but once the credits roll, the other cliffhangers finally set in. With a planet of synths all waking up, Humans has reached the decisive turning point – the moment at which synths will decide whether to be kind, like Max, or vengeful, like Hester. Humans, meanwhile, will have to make the same choice. (We dread to think what all this will do to poor Odi, who’s presumably also sentient again.)
It’s that choice that takes us back to the Hawkins, as Laura becomes a staunch advocate for equality and harmony… and Joe keeps going back to his leaflet for that village with no synths at all, talking of going back to the way things used to be with their family. It’s a smart bit of writing, framing the whole of Season 2 around their fracturing relationship, not least because Laura can see what Joe can’t: that war between synths and humans is upon them. And no matter how backward-thinking any sanctuary might be, that won’t be enough to stop an angry mechanical uprising.
With grey areas everywhere and loyalties split across man and machine, it’s hard to imagine a season of Humans that descends into Westworld-style action. But that’s exactly why Channel 4’s series remains so compelling. If Season 3 does happen, we can guarantee one thing: the contrast to the domestic normality of the Hawkins we’ve seen before will be as shocking to us as it is to them. Two seasons in and Humans continues to live up to its name. Long may that be so.
Humans Season 2 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. You can also stream it for free on All 4, or buy and download it on pay-per-view VOD, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play.