Humans Recap: The Human in the Machine

Colin Morgan (background) as Leo and Sope Dirisu as Fred. Photo: Des Willie/Kudos/AMC/C4
Episode Title
Episode 6
Editor’s Rating

At this point, it is clear that Karen is another of Dr. Elster’s self-aware creations. Which brings up plenty of questions that remain unanswered in favor of watching her interact with Drummond. I have a lot of issues with the idea that Karen not only has sex with Drummond, but is in love with him. Why would Karen find him attractive knowing he hates synths, treated his wife terribly, and put so little into trying to fix a marriage he destroyed? Does the show want us to care for him? Are synths that realistic that he had no idea he was having sex with one until she reveals her charging port afterward? Thankfully, episode six primarily revolves around Mia finally regaining her consciousness and fleshing out the dynamics between the self-aware synths.

One of my suspicions is proven correct at the beginning: Fred is very much alive. He wakes dressed in human clothing in a mysterious home he soon learns belongs to Hobb. But Fred’s freedom comes with a price. Hobb wants Fred’s help continuing Dr. Elster’s work. Hobb regrets the way he “sowed the seeds” of humanity’s fear of synths. He believes the lines between man and machine are blurring, especially in light of Fred representing the “human in the machine” thanks to his consciousness. Considering how he’s playing two sides, I feel there is a lot of Hobb’s agenda he isn’t being upfront about. For all his progressive philosophies, he still isn’t trustworthy.

Later, Fred reveals himself to be the kind of synth you don’t want to underestimate. He tells Hobb a story about Dr. Elster not believing his decision to help an injured fox cub, and what that revealed about his creator. “Human minds can’t comprehend that their creation could surpass them. […] That’s how I know you’re underestimating me, too, because you can’t do anything else,” he says calmly just before he punches through a solid wood door and strangles the guard while keeping his eyes on Hobb. He decides not to kill his once-captor, which will probably come back to haunt him. He quickly moves through the hideout, taking down guards before driving off to reconnect with his family. Fred is a very fascinating take on self-aware synths. He shares Niska’s propensity for violence, but his is far more measured.

But Niska is growing beyond her violent impulses, thanks to Dr. Millican. When Odi arrives it becomes clear how much Dr. Millican, as a paternal presence, is affecting her. Seeing how much Dr. Millican cares for Odi — particularly because he still has the memories of his wife his stroke robbed him of — softens her gaze toward him. She ends up repairing Odi when Dr. Millican’s shaking hands aren’t able to. It’s pretty clear that Dr. Millican is essentially teaching Niska what it means to be human through their conversations about human communication, philosophy, and love.

But her story line has a dark side. Niska implies that Dr. Elster had been raping her when she was younger, and she’s continued to keep the truth from her siblings. Dr. Millican holds her hand and promises, “I’m going to do everything I can to help you.” Dr. Elster being the first to sexually exploit her is even more disgusting than the other ways she’s been abused, because he is her creator. Apparently, the only human man worth a damn is Dr. Millican.  

The theme of family love as a source of power is highlighted when Laura reveals the truth about Tom to Mattie. Tom was Laura’s younger brother who died at 5 years old when she was meant to be watching him. His death ripped her family apart, leading her still-living mother to wish her dead in his place. The tragedy led Laura to lie through most of her life saying she was an only child with dead parents. On its own, the revelation isn’t surprising. But it makes sense considering the ways Laura continues to grapple with her role as a caregiver. Being truthful allows Laura a tearful reconnection with Mattie, proving she was never losing her daughter’s love in the first place. During the scene, Anita/Mia stands still at their side. But her face shifts with sadness. Is this emotionally charged moment bringing Mia to the surface?

In the car ride home, the camera inches closer and closer to Anita/Mia, her face cracking with sadness. The laughter between Mattie and Laura fades into the background until Anita/Mia gasps in shock, briefly regaining her self-awareness. The Anita personality sees her as rogue code and is trying to destroy her. But she has enough time to alleviate Laura’s fears, proving how deftly she understands emotions and what it means to be a mother. More important, she gives Mattie a message to relay to Leo. She’s here, but just not in her head.

With Max’s help, Mattie is able to track down an unconscious Leo. He gives her the answers she’s looking for by projecting his mostly digital memories. Leo’s memory fills in the holes of what we have already learned about his death and family dynamics. Mrs. Elster was gravely ill. Dr. Elster was either unable or unwilling to be more of a parent so he created his first self-aware synth to become Leo’s mother: Mia. Then came Fred, Niska, and finally the youngest, Max. Leo’s memories swerve from tragedy over his own death and his mother’s role in it to heartwarming in seeing him forge a bond with the other synths. But there’s also a sense of anger over Dr. Elster destroying his synth research and killing himself (or did he?). The most vibrant aspect of his memories centers on his bond with Mia. “All this time I thought she was your girlfriend or something,” Mattie says with a mix of shock and sympathy. Me, too, Mattie.

It’s thanks to Mattie that Mia (I’m dropping Anita since she’s gone at this point) comes back, when she ascertains where and how Mia may be hiding. The first thing she does after regaining control of her body and self-awareness is embrace Leo. “We thought we’d lost you forever,” Max says before swooping her into a hug. Gemma Chan is again the MVP, and I hope to see much more of her. Chan has found an ability to add shadings to the robot grappling with self-awareness I haven’t seen before.

The joy of this mini family reunion and Mia’s regained consciousness is short-lived. Leo gets a call from Fred who has successfully found his way into the city. Max joins Leo in reconnecting with Fred, and the dread that something would happen to the youngest synth finally reaches its conclusion. Joe, in continuing to prove he should be killed off, decides to call the police on Leo and Max, which puts Hobb on their tail. Just when we think they may escape on foot, Max reveals he’s too low on power to continue. “Be a family,” he implores Leo. Max doesn’t care about widespread synth consciousness or the makings of a revolution — all he wants is his family to be together. He stands on the railing of the bridge, a bittersweet smile on his face. Echoing Dr. Millican’s philosophy, the last thing he says to Leo before falling backward into the water below is “If I die it means I’ve lived.” He makes the ultimate sacrifice for the family he loves so deeply by killing himself to give Leo the opportunity to escape.

The image of Max smiling in the dark waters before powering down is a powerful one in an episode full of them. There was a sense of doom hovering over Max the entire episode. He was developed more so than before, so it became clear something tragic was going to happen. He jokes with Mattie, and reveals himself to be witty with a kindness that knows no end. There is an odd scene of him praying to God in hopes of his family being okay, perhaps even reunited. Religion upsets the tonal and thematic resonance the show has, but actor Ivanno Jeremiah carries it well enough that I can almost buy it. Finally developing his character only to kill him off leaves me with some upsetting questions, no matter how tender and moving his arc became. Humans may not be blowing minds with how it handles the idea of artificial intelligence, but it deftly explores the bonds of family love.