Episode eight opens with Leo strapped to a gurney, his hazy vision slowly bringing the bright lights and Hobb’s face above him into focus. His hazy vision is a good metaphor for the final episode, which answers questions, bringing things into the light as the characters’ story lines fully converge. Surrounding Leo is his family of synths all unconscious and strapped down headed toward what seems to be a brief, painful future. Karen watches everything with a sense of guilt and sadness. When she wonders what will happen to them, Hobb reveals that he’s taking out the program that would allow the conscious synths to replicate and will destroy them after getting what he needs.
When the others are activated, they decide not to fight the linking in hopes of restoring Max’s mind and a curiosity to see what happens, but it doesn’t work. “We’re not all here, are we?” Mia says. They’re missing a vital component: Karen. Whatever code Hobb got from them is incomplete, which he doesn’t know yet.
When Hobb’s government superiors charge into the facility, his true desires are revealed to be more diabolical than I originally surmised. “People don’t just want to be served, they want to be loved. Imagine a machine that can think and feel but can be controlled like a regular synthetic,” Hobb says with a smug tone. And he’s done just that with Fred. When brought out as a demonstration, Fred leaps up to strangle Hobb ... but he can’t. His hands hover around Hobb’s neck, but he is no longer fully in control of himself. Hobb has made himself Fred’s primary user, with his needs trumping the synth’s free will. Hobb delights in taunting Fred and showing off to his superiors (who actually sign off on him continuing his plan).
When Fred learns that his siblings will be killed off as they are no longer useful, he’s commanded to not reveal that to them. “Give us feeling, but trap our minds. You want to make us slaves,” Fred says. This is the most powerful scene in the episode and shows how Humans works best when using the story of artificial intelligence to make more intimate commentary on the nature of humanity and consent. The writers don’t seem to realize the weight that comes with Fred (a black man) explicitly stating that what Hobb (a white man in a position of power) wants to do is akin to slavery, and he is the first example of it. As Fred, Sope Dirisu shows previously unseen depths. His face shifts from malice to intense sadness over his constrained will and the future of his family. But the show doesn’t spend much time reconciling this — it has to move on to the next plot point. It’s frustrating since Fred’s story line is so full of potential.
Leo is also in a weird predicament. Being part human and part machine, his rights are apparently a gray area. Leo tries to reason with Hobb. But Hobb is rather callous about his plans, saying, “You can’t kill something that has never been alive.” Hobb has managed to become the most reprehensible character on the show, which is saying something considering Drummond and Joe.
Leo would rather die than live without his family. Karen tries to reason with Leo not to throw away his life for the others. Karen is too mired in her own pain to see things clearly. He tells her he can see the others in her: Fred’s strength, Niska’s darkness, Max’s curiosity, Mia’s sense of caring. Karen may feel guilt, but she still feels that conscious synths are a mistake. Leo isn’t able to convince her to help. This leaves Niska, Max, and Mia in a dangerous predicament, in which they’ll potentially be dissected and destroyed.
Last episode ended with Laura intensely afraid of the synths after seeing Niska’s violence displayed on a news program, voicing her desire to have them leave just before Hobb’s tactical team burst into the home. None of that is addressed in episode eight. Instead, Laura is adamant about helping Mia and the other synths at any cost. To do so, the Hawkins figure out a plan. Mattie mentions that Leo’s memories went through her laptop, so there’s a chance a copy of them may be on there. Only problem is the laptop is in police evidence in a van outside.
The Hawkins get help from an unexpected source: Drummond. He’s in search of answers about Karen and synth consciousness. Common sense flies out the window when Laura reveals their plan, and he decides to go along with it. He’s never proven himself to be much of a detective, but he’s able to follow his superior undetected to the Hawkins home, slip inside, and convince other police officers that he’s authorized to take the Hawkins’ teenage kids to the precinct, which he uses as a cover to get the laptop and escape. This plan only works because of the police being hilariously idiotic.
Mattie is able to extract Leo’s memories from the laptop. Meanwhile, Laura is proving to be quite the badass. She stares Hobb down and reveals that they’ll leak Leo’s memory to the press if they aren’t all released. When she reveals pictures from some of his memories, Hobb acquiesces. If it all feels a little too easy, that’s because it is. Fred, you see, is his fail-safe. He may release them now, but Hobb knows he can still find them and bring them back.
Drummond decides he wants to keep Mattie’s laptop and personally deliver it to Hobb (he really only wants to track down Karen). Mattie and Toby head off to meet with their parents. Keep in mind Drummond has had no interaction with Hawkins before now. Their trust in him seems unearned and, frankly, dangerous. Why should they believe him? Why would Mattie give him the laptop — the only leverage they have over Hobb — even if it seems the plan worked at first?
The threat of humans protesting against synths looms over the characters. What importance will the protest have for our complicated heroes? Not much, apparently. The entire Hawkins family and Dr. Elster’s progeny are able to meet up. But the success of their plan is short-lived when they’re tracked down by Hobb. They’re forced to briefly move through a part of the protest to find safety in an abandoned church. Despite meaningful glares from the crowd, all that tense buildup led to nothing. Which encapsulates the weird tenor of the entire episode.
Once inside, Toby reveals that he noticed Fred acting weird. When Leo goes to confront him, Fred brutally twists his arm even though he doesn’t want to. They turn him off and try to figure out what happened. Hobb’s alterations to Fred are crude, but it is tied into his root code, meaning tapping into the hidden program may be the only way to fix him, but they still need Karen’s help to do so.
Seeing that one of the most watched early memories of Leo’s is of Beatrice, Dr. Elster’s dead wife she’s modeled after, touches Karen. She may not admit it (even to herself), but she just wants to connect with others and the world around. Which is exactly what she does after Leo makes a call to Hobb revealing the code is incomplete. He briefly speaks to Karen to give her their location.
Karen’s presence isn’t welcome at first. After some brief convincing, all the synths link up. They find their shared minds in a brightly lit forest with a large tree, seen in the brief glimpse Leo had of the program previously, before them. But things don’t go according to plan. Karen tries to destroy the others by corrupting their code (how exactly this is working is never explained), which manifests in their green eyes turning a pallid gray and many of their painful memories flashing before them. But Mia reasons with her, bringing up Leo, their potential to reconnect, and even calls her “sister.” Karen’s convinced. With everyone around the tree working toward this singular goal, the program for synth consciousness is formed, and Max is back.
Max’s return is one of the better moments in episode eight. But in linking up, they’re unable to fix whatever Hobb has done to Fred. He reasons with them to leave without him.
Niska saves the synth consciousness program onto Mattie’s hard drive and gives it to Laura for safekeeping. Dr. Elster’s progeny are once again separated by fates larger than themselves. Niska decides to go off on her own, to live her own life. Mia shares a tearful good-bye with the Hawkins family before joining Max and Leo on a quest for some semblance of a life.
After helping them, Karen leaves. Is it because she feels out of place? She doesn’t want to be a part of this family? The show doesn’t take a moment to answer those questions, let alone bring them up. Drummond tracks down Karen. They rekindle their romance, sharing heartfelt banter that may have resonated if it was almost any other two characters. We never get to see Drummond develop as a character or truly wrestle with his previously deeply ingrained hatred for synths. His romance with Karen feels out of nowhere and unearned. The same is true for Joe.
Laura finally reveals the truth about her past to Joe, and they share a tender moment where he seems like he truly loves for the first time in the series. The Hawkins family is back together and seemingly stronger after facing down powerful government figures, the police, questions about humanity, and Joe essentially raping Mia. Although that last part is never addressed. If you were hoping Mia would be important to the finale, she’s largely just a reactive figure. Gemma Chan proved herself to be the show’s MVP, but in the past two episodes since she’s been conscious, the show has sidelined her, seemingly not knowing what to do with its greatest asset.
The writers obviously had in mind where they wanted the story to go, particularly with the formation of the program and Mia regaining her consciousness. But to get there, they had to breeze past character development. You can’t stop character development for plot mechanics — they must work in tandem. The season finale did have some bright spots. But, ultimately, it falters because the characters make dramatic, unexplained shifts. The emotional moments that are meant to be moving feel unearned and hollow.
The season closes on the image of Niska heading toward an uncertain yet exciting future. When Mattie notices her other flash drive missing, Laura’s face drops. And for good reason. Niska has a copy of the code on Mattie’s missing hard drive. She’s posing as human again. Her face holds a sly smile. What will Niska do with her freedom and the ability to grant it to other synths? That’s a question with a lot of dramatic potential. Hopefully, the writers behind Humans will give it room to breathe. There’s still enough of Humans I feel is worthy to be interested in in its second season. But will Humans realize its strengths? Or will it continue sacrificing its most striking narratives for the kind of science-fiction stories we’ve seen before?