Humans Recap: What Makes a Good Mother?

Katherine Parkinson as Laura Hawkins. Photo: Colin Hutton/AMC
Episode Title
Episode 3
Editor’s Rating

Episode three opens with Hobb failing to get anything from his interrogation with Fred, the conscious synth he captured hoping he’d lead to the others. Hobb later crosses paths with Drummond, who is tasked with investigating the murder Niska committed when escaping the synth brothel. His investigation is quickly turned into a cover-up when Hobb throws his weight thanks to his high government clearance. Drummond is thrown off the case when he assaults a reporter who figured out that this was more than an accident.

These two intersecting story lines are by far the least interesting. The problem is that Hobb and Drummond aren’t so much characters but clichés. Thankfully, we don’t spend too much time with them this week. Instead, the show is more interested in answering: What is the emotional and physical harm that occurs when we let machines take over the interpersonal roles that shape our lives? For Dr. George Millican, the answers are particularly heartbreaking.  

Dr. Millican cleverly manipulates his state-mandated caretaker synth, Vera, into a locked room, giving him the opportunity to drive off with Odi. But the joy of his jailbreak is short lived as Odi continues to malfunction, getting them into a car accident. He commands Odi to stay in the woods. Alone, Odi calls out for Dr. Millican and seems more like a lost child than a malfunctioning robot. At this point, a mercy killing would be a better option than letting Odi continue to exist if he can’t fix him.

When Odi was revealed in the pilot, I figured we’d find out that he was modeled after a long-dead son, given Dr. Millican’s intense paternal feelings toward the synth. But it would be more interesting if that doesn’t happen. It isn’t surprising people would get attached to their synths. As the humans we love move away, grow apart, or die, synths stay as an unchanging presence. But Odi proves that even this dynamic has an expiration date.

Elsewhere in London, Niska rendezvouses with Leo and Max, but it isn’t a heartwarming reunion thanks to her decision to murder someone and escape. Niska brings up an interesting dilemma when she asks Leo, “Would you have asked a human woman to stay in that place?” I think the answer is more complicated than Niska anticipates. She decides to forgo life on the run with her makeshift family to pretend to be human, using blue contacts to hide her unnatural green eyes. How long can this last, with police knowing how she looks and her refusal to keep a low profile?

Max pleads with her to stay. “We’re a family. You’re my sister,” he says. “Those are human words,” Niska retorts venomously. She does take a phone from Max, so she’ll at least be in contact with them. Niska’s hate for humanity is understandable since she’s been raped, repeatedly, and told to stay in such a dangerous environment to protect her cover. But Niska is naïve to think that her cover will last long, especially if she goes on a murder spree.

Niska soon finds herself in the home of a charming young professional named Greg after meeting him in a bar. Niska doesn’t understand why Greg is trying to get to know her at all before anything sexual happens. When Niska sees a hair tie with long, dark hair attached, she assumes Greg is just a cheating cad. The truth ends up being more complex. He has his young daughter this weekend, which makes the large kitchen blade she holds behind her back, presumably to kill him, pointless. Will Niska begin questioning her assumptions about humanity because of this exchange?

Meanwhile, the Hawkins family continues to implode. Laura’s plan to return Anita/Mia to her manufacturer fails. The moment Toby finds out, he’s racing through the quiet suburb on his bike and stupidly darts through traffic. He’s spared from a terrible accident when Anita/Mia puts herself in harm's way. Toby’s desire to keep Anita/Mia in the family isn’t a noble one. He’s motivated only by blind teenage lust. But it is Joe who faces his uncomfortable sexual attraction toward Anita/Mia when he inspects her naked body for any damage for “insurance purposes” in the garage. No matter how often Joe reassures Laura that Anita/Mia isn’t meant to replace her as a mother in her children’s lives, that’s proving not to be true. How long until Anita/Mia infringes upon Laura’s role as a wife as well?

Laura is essentially a stranger in her own home, a madwoman two steps away from being locked in the attic. A lot of this is rooted in her inability to adequately fulfill the expectations of being a mother and wife. She’s selfish and forgetful, with a rough life we aren’t completely privy to. The writers could easily go the expected route with Anita/Mia being a woman so much better than the real thing that the family is willing to drive Laura mad to keep her around. Instead, they do something unexpected. Anita/Mia shows sympathy for Laura by convincing Sophie to let her mother read her the bedtime story. This backfires and makes Laura even more suspicious after Sophie reveals Anita/Mia recognized her sadness, but it provides us the best scene in Humans thus far.  

Laura wants to know if Anita/Mia’s unusual behavior is because she was previously modified. Her test? Find out if Anita/Mia can experience pain. She futilely presses a toothpick into Anita/Mia’s open palm. For a brief moment Anita/Mia’s face falls. Is she able to experience pain? Anita/Mia takes the lead by slowly, excruciatingly putting the toothpick through her eye. I was cringing the entire time, even though the show doesn’t play up this bit of body horror — hearing it was enough to make me wince. The two women converse about why exactly there is tension between them with Joe eavesdropping on their conversation (the Hawkins family really doesn’t know boundaries).

“When you said I will always keep Sophie safe, it seemed like what you really meant was I wouldn’t,” Laura says.

“That’s not the meaning I intended. However, it is self-evident that in many ways I can take better care of your children than you, Laura. I don’t forget. I don’t get angry or depressed or intoxicated. I am faster, stronger, and more observant. I do not feel fear. However, I cannot love them.”

“Do you wish you could?”

Laura wrestles with knowing that this interloper is better as a mother than she is. In many ways, Anita/Mia is probably the wife and mother many dream of. She won’t ever grow old or gain weight. She’ll keep the home spotless. She’ll always cook food perfectly. She can never say no. Her entire existence is predicated upon pleasing those she serves.

When Mattie decides to hack into Anita/Mia, the synth experiences a sharp turn in personality, essentially revealing that the mind-wipe wasn’t completely thorough — her real self (whatever that means) is buried deep. Anita may not be able to love, but perhaps Mia, buried somewhere deep underneath new programming, can. Mattie dumps the code she got from Anita/Mia’s head onto a hacker forum that Max and Leo quickly discover. Now that they know Anita/Mia is still in London, it is only a matter of time until they end up on the Hawkinses' doorstep.

Earlier at the bar, Niska reads The Ghost in the Machine with an inscription signed “Love, D.E.” that we can assume is Dr. David Elster. The Latin inscription translates to “First Do No Harm,” which invokes Asimov’s laws of robotics Niska has bypassed. Ideas of harm, emotional and physical, are being cleverly incorporated in the ways everyone relates to each other, human and otherwise. As story lines converge, I hope Humans continues to investigate these topics in quiet moments rather than turn into an action-based procedural more interested in singularity and government conspiracies. That would obscure what Humans does best: exploring autonomy and female desire in a world where the boundaries of what is human continues to shift.