UK TV review: Humans Season 2, Episode 2
Ivan Radford | On 09, Nov 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Right and wrong. Those are the two defining moral extremes that keep humans on the straight and narrow – and while it might seem reductive to say they’re what separate man and machine, it’s true that seeing a Synth cross those lines is undeniably unsettling.
In Season 1, that synth was Niska (Emily Berrington), but in Season 2, it’s Hester (Sonya Cassidy), who’s just been awoken – and is having trouble reconciling Leo’s (Colin Morgan) desire to get answers about who’s hunting them down, and her own thirst for revenge after watching Ten’s murder, with Max telling her that hurting people is wrong. What Hester’s storyline shows us for the first time, though, and what gives Season 2 an added, disturbing depth, is the sight of humans crossing the line between right and wrong too. “They didn’t treat the other machines like us,” she points out to Max, and her cool logic is correct: humans did horrible things to their humanoid factory workers, treating them worse than most people and treating them worse than most machines. What is it about synths, that look like humans while still being alien, that trigger such cruel behaviour Niska’s actions in Season 1 felt like a rogue outburst, but Hester’s actions make it clearer that we’re heading for some kind of confrontation between humans and synths.
But, of course, Channel 4’s show continues to make things a bit more complex than that, consistently showing us both instances of human-synth harmony and human-synth disharmony, as well as various relationships in between. It’s a delight to see the return of Neil Maskell’s Pete and his synth colleague, now partner, Karen – we meet them doing the most familiar, mundane of all couple activities: buying a bed. And as they hold hands and chat, it’s a heartwarming example of how humans and synths can get along.
There’s also Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Anne Moss), who remains touchingly uncorrupted in her work to build digital consciousness of her own – and has a sincere, warm relationship to the AI she has created. Entrepreneurial rich kid Milo (Marshall Allman) has lured her to his lab with his funding, but we’re still not sure what to make of him; Allman’s boyish charisma only makes him less trustworthy, while his claim of wanting to do something “pure” with his AI work is unsettlingly vague. Compare that to Moss, who is weary and experienced, wary of commercial influences on her own purity. Although even then, she seems to have little qualms in chopping open synths and experimenting on them; a chilling contrast to how sad she seems when her attempts to transfer her AI into a synth host fails. How interesting that, even having succeed in creating AI, she still feels an urge to turn that into a humanoid form – an act that raises the question of how different she is to the factory workers who bullied Hester. After a promising first episode, Morrow and Milo confirm themselves as excellent new additions to the Humans ensemble.
While everyone seems to be deciding which side of the fence they’ll fall on, Colin Morgan remains fantastic in the middle as human-synth hybrid Leo, at once both fiercely idealistic and convincingly conflicted, aware that harming humans is wrong, but not refusing the information that Hester’s torture extracts from their prisoner. And, of course, there are The Hawkins, his fellow veterans of the programme, who remain our emotional window into this alternate world. Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) remains the most potentially dangerous member of the group, as his redundancy due to a synth begins – but it’s nice to see his and Laura’s relationship continue to be mended by a robotic marriage guidance counsellor. (Such moments of humour help keep Humans from ever becoming po-faced in its social commentary.)
Katherine Parkinson’s Laura, meanwhile, begins to grasp how big a battle she has on her hands with Niska’s demand to be tried for murder as a human, not a synth – something that prompts a whole wave of scientific studies to determine whether she does, indeed, have consciousness. As daughter Mattie also shows some compassion and sympathy, by rescuing Odi (Will Tudor) from the synth scrap pile, it’s clearer than ever that the Hawkins family are going to be central in how the story plays out.
And what of Mia? Gemma Chan’s heartbreaking performance as the synth pretending not to be conscious comes to a surprisingly quick climax here, as she drops her facade twice – and both times for morally noble reasons. First, when she visits Ed’s (Sam Palladio) ailing mother in a nursing home, taking her hand and saying kind words to console her – a small gesture that Chan gives real clout to. The second sees her lie on a loan application to get his restaurant more money from the bank – something that he detects and, rather than be pleased about, reacts to with fear and alarm.
Leo warns Mia that becoming close to humans is a bad idea. The sight of Niska being surrounded by armed humans certainly makes it clear that the meatbags are the ones more likely to do the wrong thing when it comes to making any kind of deal, no matter what Pete and Karen’s relationship is like. If Mia is capable of lying while thinking she’s doing the right thing, though, that begs one question: Does Niska actually care about the trial at all? Or does she want it to go wrong and incite a backlash from the conscious synths that are gradually awakening?
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.