In tonight’s episode, Niska firmly commits to proving her own consciousness to authorities even though it means risking her own demise. This dedication isn’t about saving herself or the slim hope of getting a trial in regard to the murder she committed last season. It’s about starting a revolution. If she’s able to prove her own consciousness is not a mere glitch, but rather an irrefutable fact, she will she reshape the world itself.
“They should be born in a fairer world,” she says, while discussing the synths coming into consciousness. Laura, who is reluctant about being Niska’s counsel, wonders if these synths should be “born” at all. The thing is, Humans doesn’t depict a fairer world. The gleaming surfaces and touches of futuristic technology sometimes call to mind the utopian world of Star Trek, but utopias don’t form on their own. They require blood, tears, and sacrifices — and Niska’s may be the first.
Despite more synths waking up thanks to Niska releasing the code, this cataclysmic event has been conspicuously absent from the news. Who is keeping this quiet? Will Niska have to contend with more powerful forces than she may be ready for, even after proving her consciousness? Her dedication to this cause shows the growth in her character, underscored every time she plays with the delicate bracelet that Astrid gave her. At times, the episode slips into heavy-handed crafting with regard to Niska’s nascent role as a revolutionary, but even then, her story gives it a great sense of urgency. Although the plotting is bit frantic, jumping quickly between its ever-increasing amount of story lines and characters, the episode excels in using its narratives to explore the different reactions people have in the face of Niska’s desired revolution.
Laura is apprehensive of Niska and the other synths returning to her family’s life, especially as they’d wreck what little normalcy they’ve reestablished. Mia yearns for deeper connections with human beings like her boss, Ed, even as it becomes increasingly difficult to pretend she has no consciousness when around him. Leo is so myopically focused on saving the newly awakened synths that he hasn’t taken a moment to ponder what might happen next. Trying to save them from “the silo” — the ominous-sounding antagonist mentioned by the security figure they kidnapped in the season premiere — is admirable. But it may very well be impossible. The divide between normalcy and revolution courses through the lives of every character on Humans.
Still, Athena’s desires are a bit harder to read than Niska’s. It’s clear she cares deeply about V, going so far as to upload the conscious program into the body of a synth Milo gives her, only for it to be overloaded by the data. But what exactly is her end goal? Her fundamental disagreements with Milo hint at an interesting motivation: She doesn’t understand why he uses his genius for fame and fortune, since his creations could be used to heal societal ills. At one point, she even says to him, “Nothing really bad has happened to you has it? Because when it does, you don’t need any external reminder of your insignificance to the universe.”
Athena stands out for more than just the mystery she embodies and Carrie-Anne Moss’s layered performance. She’s pretty much the only interesting human character on the show. Watching Joe and Laura get the spark back in their marriage thanks to a synth therapist pales in interest compared to watching Mia struggle with her inherently caring nature. Sure, it’s nice world-building to show just how many professional roles synths have assumed in the world, but it feels like dead weight. And the less said about the Hawkins children, the better. Although Mattie trying to fix Odi, the late Dr. George Millican’s synth, does have some potential.
Then there are detectives Peter Drummond and Karen Voss. Remember them? Drummond was undoubtedly the worst character last season. Obnoxious, hateful, and worst of all, a bore. Even worse, the Humans writers never critiqued his awfulness. Since he didn’t appear in the premiere, I hoped the show decided to jettison him altogether, but we’re not that lucky. He’s now in a full-blown relationship with Karen. They shop for bedspreads and carpet, eat lunch together, sleep side by side. Karen may be a conscious synth, but she enjoys pretending to be human, delighting in the minutiae of domesticity. With her returning to work, there is no way this bliss will last unimpeded. (It’s interesting how Karen and Mia have opposing problems: Karen is a synth who must pretend to be a normal human, while Mia is a conscious synth who must pretend to be like all the rest. Their stories are neat reflections about wearing different identities in order to survive.)
Karen’s desire to divorce herself so fully from her reality as a synth also brings up an interesting question: When you gain consciousness and potentially freedom with it, who do you become? For Hester, the answer is somewhat disturbing. She’s framed from odd, canted angles in this episode, a suggestion of menace that’s later proven by her interest in violence. She’s played with such emotionless stillness by Sonya Cassidy; there is something terrifying about her. In many ways, Hester isn’t so much a blank slate as a soulless one. She lacks any sort of guilt or grief for torturing and killing the kidnapped security figure, suggesting a truly horrific nature. What happens when synths gain consciousness, but lack the emotion to care about the weight of the decisions they make? We may find out with Hester.
Mia, on the other hand, is overflowing with empathy. It’s a testament to Gemma Chan’s understanding of the character that Mia’s story line is so moving. Every moment you watch her, she’s crossing some line to help others. She offers to run errands for Ed without him asking. She takes his loan to the bank and alters bank records so that it is not only approved, but he ends up getting more money than he requested. Basically, she commits fraud because she’s so attuned to the emotions of this man who doesn’t even know she has any.
The best scene comes when Mia drops off items to Ed’s mother, Diane (Anastasia Hille), at the care facility where she lives. There’s something disturbing about this older woman struggling with dementia, surrounded by synths as caregivers. It’s understandable why synths would be slotted in positions like this, of course. They don’t need breaks. They don’t need to get paid. They don’t have the potential to abuse patients. But they also provide none of the comfort a human being would need in such a place. There are no caring interactions, no sincere understanding of the foibles of the human body. But Mia understands. As Diane starts to come undone, she breaks character to comfort her: “I know how you feel. Like you’ve gone too deep inside. Like you’re stuck between thoughts and words.”
The risks Mia commits to help Ed implode the delicate balance she’s created once he discovers the bank fraud. “You lied. But you can’t lie,” he says, studying her every move. Mia tries to act as a normal synth, but he no longer believes everything is fine. When she tries to leave, he grabs her and she accidentally places her hand on the hot stove. Her painful yelp disturbs Ed deeply. He may not know she’s conscious — not yet, anyway — but the fact that she can experience pain means she is more than she appears to be. When Mia returns to the farmhouse where Hester, Max, and Leo are staying, she finds no solace. Leo is so obsessed with saving newly conscious synths, he doesn’t have time to parse out Mia’s emotional state. A gulf has grown between them. Leo’s desire to teach the synths they save and provide them with shelter is kind, but seems impossible to accomplish. “We’ve hardly lived ourselves. We’re children,” Mia counters. Watching Mia and Leo argue, I am reminded of an exchange earlier in the episode.
V: “They are together. Is that enough for happiness?”
Athena: “It should be.”
But rarely is it enough, as Mia and Leo’s argument demonstrates. Niska’s decision to release the code will reshape the world, but it’s already affecting the emotional lives of the people she considers family. This revolutionary path toward synth freedom is proving to be a lonely one.