The moment Hester was introduced earlier this season, it was apparent Humans was headed for a violent reckoning. Throughout this episode, Hester uses her revolutionary aim for synth freedom as an excuse for her murderous tendencies. It may be true that power is rarely wrestled from the hands of the elite without some blood being spilled, but Hester doesn’t just want to liberate synths like herself. She wants to punish the humans that have hurt them.
Any time an opportunity presents itself to exert her strength over a human, Hester eagerly grasps it. Just look at the moment she tightens her grip around Mattie, hoping to scare her into handing over the code that would wake up all synths simultaneously. The only reason Hester didn’t kill Mattie is because Mia was there to stop her. Watching Hester, I wondered: Where does the line exist between necessary force and brutal sadism? How many other conscious synths might exist without remorse toward humanity? And what does freedom even mean for conscious synths?
The answer to that last question changes depending on who you’re asking. Every synth has a different relationship to their own consciousness. Mia was at first empathetic and maybe even too kind for her own good. Now she’s hardened emotionally in the face of Ed’s betrayal, deciding to throw herself into helping Leo free other synths.
Mattie: “If you do this, they’ll only hate you more, fear you more.”
Mia: “It’s time for them to fear us.”
Leo and Mia are so focused on simply acquiring freedom, they haven’t stopped to think what that would freedom mean. It isn’t like they will easily find a place to exist in the world. Just look at Odi: After failing to find purpose, he effectively commits suicide in mind, if not body, by erasing the code that gave him consciousness. He leaves a suicide note for Mattie that says in part, “I long for the past. I had a purpose. […] It is a great gift but I cannot accept it.”
After Niska failed to gain legal rights, she’s fallen back into her relationship with Astrid. But even romance holds no peace, since Laura accidentally leads the authorities to Niska. How is a life on the run with Astrid something worth living for? What will happen to their relationship as Astrid ages but Niska doesn’t? A lot of the decisions by synths seem naïve at best. It’s almost as if no one in the series can see beyond their next step. Well, anyone except for Karen, who only sees a long future of pretending to be something she desperately wants to be: human.
Karen’s ability to chart out her own future is a curse. She knows she will never truly be human in the ways that count — and even worse, she has to wear the face of a dead woman. So she decides her only course of action is to go to Athena for help. It’s a bold gambit: Karen’s yearning for freedom from the machinery and immortality of her synth body leads her to reveal her true identity to Athena as the recreation of Dr. Elster’s dead wife. “I don’t want to wear a dead woman’s face anymore,” Karen explains. She hopes that Athena can eventually find a way to transfer her consciousness into a human body. She wants to be able to experience things that remain out of reach: biologically having a child, growing old. It’s fascinating to witness Karen yearn so profoundly for the very thing that humans like Renie and Sophie shun.
At one point, Sophie explains to Renie, “Synths are clean and perfect […] And you don’t have to feel anything anymore.” Synths, at least when they aren’t conscious, represent a simplicity that the fraught and thorny human condition doesn’t have. They’re freed from the worries that come with messy emotions and the possibility of those you love leaving you behind. It’s easy to see why Renie and Sophie started to mirror synth behavior; it’s an easy way to avoid the problems that plague them. But, as Renie realizes, that illusion can only last for so long before you have to acknowledge your own humanity and everything that it entails. Running from your problems always has an expiration date. To be human is to be vulnerable, to pivot between triumph and tragedy to varying degrees. Synths may not be able to get drunk, biologically bear children, or grow old, but becoming conscious means they must experience the gamut of human emotions that throws that lacquered perfection Sophie idolizes into disarray. It also means they have the potential to experience pain, which for the synths trapped in the Silo and experimented upon by Milo’s underlings like Dr. Aveling means a new kind of horrific future. Of course, if Mia, Leo, and Hester can have anything to do about it, these synths will have a far better fate.
Leo should be thankful that Mia has joined his bare-bones resistance. Hester’s desire to use blunt force to break into the Silo is misguided. If they took that route, they’d all likely get killed. Mia instead comes up with a more cunning plan: By pretending to be an afraid, newly conscious synth, she attracts Dr. Aveling’s attention. She’s able to infiltrate the Silo without anyone realizing her true motivations. Hester is also taken in, so they’re able to dismantle the system from the inside and free the synths.
The entire second season has been leading up to this crucial moment. It’s shot and scored for maximum emotional response. “We are here to liberate you,” Hester tells the synths. Hester and Mia are able to gather the 20 or so conscious synths they find in the Silo. They all seem afraid and apprehensive, but hopeful. Anything is better than being experimented on. But Hester isn’t content to just lead them to freedom. She wants to kill the people responsible for this in the first place. This leaves Leo to guide the synths out of the Silo, while Hester heads back inside and Mia follows in hopes of thwarting her violence.
Hester doesn’t care that violence will only lead synths to be seen as a greater threat to humanity. It’s about the thrill of the act itself. Mia may have grown a bit cold after her nascent relationship with Ed ended with heartbreak, but she still cares about human beings. She won’t let Hester kill people. Unfortunately, Mia misses her opportunity to stop Hester. Hester finds Dr. Aveling and keeps a ballpoint pen near her throat to threaten her way into the room with Athena. The only problem is that security recognized the break-in, then locked the building down. No one can go in or out of any room. But Athena isn’t alone. Karen is inside with her. Making matters even more complicated, Drummond arrives too.
Drummond tries to reason with Hester, which is his first mistake. “I don’t need to speak to her. I just need to kill her,” Hester says, matter-of-factly explaining why she wants to get to Athena. Karen tries to reason with her, sharing her desire to find a way to be transferred into a human body. But Karen ends up giving Hester the wrong inspiration. “I should do what feels right,” Hester concludes, taking Karen’s words to heart right before she brutally stabs Dr. Aveling in the throat. The following moments happened so fast, the emotional weight took a moment to sink in after my initial shock. Blood spurts from Dr. Aveling’s neck, coloring the floor beneath her. Hester stabs Drummond in his chest. Mia arrives moments after Hester leaves, while Karen and Athena scramble to handle the aftermath. “You used to be a good liar,” Drummond says to Karen with his dying breath, about her hope that he’ll survive. I have never been a fan of Drummond, but even I admit this is such a brutal way to go. In one fatal moment, Karen loses the life she was leading with Drummond and the potential of finding a way to be housed in a human body.
But the image that sticks with me from Humans’s penultimate episode has nothing to do with Hester’s violence. After leading the conscious synths outside, Leo doesn’t realize that the facility has an electronic parameter in place. The moment these synths get close enough to escape, the chip implanted in their heads by the Silo scientists corrupts their minds and effectively kills them. Humans is always best in moments of eerie silence, which is carefully utilized in this scene. The camera focuses on Leo’s face as synths collapse one by one behind him. Their eyes go white, blue fluid drips from their lips. Only a few of them survive by not stepping too far beyond the Silo’s doors. Mia is able to turn off the lockdown procedures from the inside so the rest can escape unharmed. But the damage has been done. The deaths of these synths who barely experienced their freedom will haunt Mia and Leo’s quest for a revolution.