Humans Recap: Freedom Denied


Episode 5
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Emily Berrington as Niska, Katherine Parkinson as Laura. Photo: Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC

Toward the end of this episode, Hester asks Leo a question with a foregone conclusion: “Has any great change been accomplished, any unjust oppression ever overturned without violence?” If Hester ever felt reticent in enacting violence, perhaps she’d be trying to assuage her own guilt over killing a woman to get further information about the Silo. But she’s just proving a point to Leo, reminding him what’s necessary to create the revolution that Niska jump-started. That Leo answers “no” means he agrees, albeit reluctantly. But what exactly will this revolution look like?

Mattie figures out the mature version of the code that Niska uploaded. Her version would wake up every synth on Earth at the same time. She speaks about this potential event as “a revolution.” This seems like something that would lead to chaos. The characters — human and synth — haven’t really thought much about the steps after synths gain consciousness on a wider scale. The exception being Niska, whose quest to gain rights for herself and synths everywhere would be a crucial foundation for their place in the world going forward. But even she hasn’t thought too deeply about what freedom looks like, or how synths would fit into the world once conscious, legal rights or not.

As characters make such important decisions about their places in the world, this episode raises several crucial questions: What does the synth revolution even look like? Will it be defined by the violent workings of Hester or kindness of Max? Will synths create a new form of living and moving through the world? Will some want to have the markers of traditional human life — marriage, kids, a job — like Karen wishes for? The reactions in “Episode 5” run the gamut, suggesting that they will have wide-ranging consequences for humans and synths alike.

On one end of the spectrum is Hester, who shows no regard for human beings beyond mild curiosity. Although she reveals a desire for physical pleasure after her and Leo crash at a hotel where human beings bring synths to have sex with. This leads her to initiate sex with Leo, an amorous turn of events that feels miscalculated for their partnership. Part of the problem is it comes on the heels of Hester asking Leo about the nature of violence within revolutions. It almost feels as if a scene is missing between her asking that question and when she hits on him.

In many ways, Niska exists on a similar wavelength as Hester, given her predilection for violence whenever she feels it’s necessary. But Niska has softened thanks to her relationship with Astrid. Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t use violence in order to retain her safety. It becomes clear to Niska that the trial to prove her consciousness is a farce. The authorities will never grant her the freedom and the rights afforded to humans because doing so would be too threatening to the social order. Laura should have realized things would devolve after Niska expresses uncharacteristic affection by touching her hand. “Thank you, Laura … this won’t end the way you want it to,” she says.

Niska soon engenders an escape with little more than her charging cable and a watch she swipes from a guard. After overwhelming the electric circuits with her clever ploy, Niska escapes the facility, busting through guards and eluding their gunfire. People in power won’t cede ground unless forced to. Niska’s decision to approach humans on the level — after failing to win her freedom through traditional methods — further supports the idea that violence holds the key to synths gaining true freedom.

While Niska’s escape is genuinely thrilling, my favorite sequence in the episode is the opening. It feels like a self-contained short film that highlights the eerie, false cheerfulness synths have that Humans doesn’t utilize often enough. Flash (Ritu Arya) is a synth with hair the color of cotton candy and outfit of startlingly bright yellow. It immediately makes her read as childlike, and her continuous smile adds to the effect. She’s jumping on a trampoline with the two young children she looks after. They bounce up and down in slow motion. Her gaze is empty, unfocused while they look at her intensely. The bright music only adds to the surreal quality of watching it all unfold. When Flash has to go in the closet to play hide-and-seek with the children, something changes. She becomes conscious. “You must be kind,” she advises them before escaping into a world she knows little about. Thankfully, Max is able to connect with her. Max and Flash represent the other side of synth consciousness with their inherent kindness, but their inability to grapple or understand the cruelty of the world can lead to harrowing consequences.

Mia certainly learns as much in this episode, after she wakes up restrained in a van. “Mom has to stay where she is and you’re worth a lot of money,” Ed says. Mia is appalled and heartbroken that their connection mattered so little to him. The writing of this scene gets a bit heavy-handed when Ed remarks that Mia isn’t actually human anyway, even though he does feel sorry for what he’s going to do. Mia asks for one kiss good-bye. But it’s a ruse to get Ed close enough that she can strangle him. “Let me go!” she cries out. Mia almost kills Ed and is shocked by her violent outburst — so shocked that she doesn’t take the opportunity to escape. Mia has always been the kindest and most empathetic of the synths. But how will acknowledging her own anger over her stolen autonomy shape her going forward? Realizing she’s about to be sold, Mia uploads her conscious program onto a server with a charging port and phone. That Ed and Danny would leave such technology accessible feels a bit contrived, but it nevertheless serves a satisfying purpose: In doing so, Mia is able to escape the clutches of the Silo.

When she’s examined by Dr. Aveling (Claudia Harrison), Mia’s code reads as that of a normal synth, which for all intents and purposes, she is. She goes by her old name, Anita. She expresses the same placid happiness and empty smiles that other synths do. “Episode 5” leaves Mia alone on an empty street with Ed having no use for her since she can’t be sold off anymore. In her new state, she doesn’t exhibit consciousness and he’s unable to connect to her emotionally. Ed gives Humans the opportunity to tap into the ways synths are shaping humanity, which characters like Sophie and Toby’s friend Renie further highlight.

Both young girls have begun acting like synths. Renie has gone so far to wear green contacts and try to replicate the odd precision of synths. But she makes a misstep by giving Toby full administrative privileges. He goes along with the performance in hopes it will lead Renie to open up, but instead, it’s her awkward way of trying to initiate sex. The ways humans and synths affect each other goes beyond that sort of behavior, of course. It’s finally made explicit that V is a digital re-creation and/or simulation of Athena’s daughter who dies offscreen after an infection spreads to her heart. Athena also discovers the interior of the Silo, which houses not just conscious synths but synths made in the form of children. Humans is showing how the continued presence of highly advanced androids and their burgeoning consciousness affects humanity from a multitude of angles — politically, personally, judicially. An episode like this one brings up a variety of moral questions, some more interestingly explored than others. Let’s hope the show begins to dig a bit deeper into the emotional realities of these characters alongside those moral quandaries.

Humans Recap: Freedom Denied