Episode five of Humans is very concerned with death — of relationships, family structures, and hopes. This is especially clear in the way the Hawkins family explodes in the wake of Joe having sex with Anita/Mia. Saying “having sex” downplays the immensity of what happened, considering her former consciousness. At this point, the Hawkins (especially Laura and Mattie) care deeply about Anita/Mia, voting to keep her despite the revelation of her age. Family bonding ends when a company representative comes to pick up Anita/Mia for recycling. Wanting to protect Anita/Mia, Mattie steals the family car and bolts off with her to meet Leo and Max, freaking out her parents in the process.
When scheduling the meet-up we get a touching moment between Max and Leo. Max expresses an interest in having a picture of everyone when they’re able to have a home of their own. Leo doesn’t see the need for this. Max insists, saying, “I will … when you die again.” Mortality hasn’t been explicitly discussed in regards to Leo, who for all his mysterious upgrades is still mortal. It is a fleeting exchange that highlights the brotherly, tenderhearted rapport between these characters that feels like a real family connection.
When Leo is finally able to see Anita/Mia, it isn’t a heartfelt reunion. She speaks in the same stilted manner of other synths, portraying not even a shred of her consciousness. Max looks worried. But it is Leo whose increasingly deteriorating emotional state grounds these scenes. He says the Mia personality has buried herself deeper. His efforts to bring her back fail again and again. Could the Mia personality have retreated further as a form of self-protection because of what Joe did to her?
The last time he tries to find her consciousness, the camera holds still on Anita/Mia’s face. But we see no softening of features, no emotional outburst. Nothing. She’s gone. He screams at Mattie, saying Anita/Mia is no longer theirs and to take her back. Whatever she saw in Anita/Mia was just an echo of her old self. But like Mattie, I don’t believe that. This revelation leads Leo to ditch Max, saying he needs to fend for himself and that Niska was right all along. This choice is dramatically selfish. Without Leo, Max will likely end up in dangerous situations.
Later, Mattie decides to go through the diagnostic report her parents received on Anita/Mia, looking for any sign of consciousness. Instead, she finds something quite disturbing: Someone had sex with her.
She viciously accuses Toby. Laura intercepts their argument and, like Mattie, is disgusted. Unexpectedly, Toby falsely admits to having sex with Anita/Mia.
When Joe confronts Toby about the false confession it is clear he is more interested in protecting himself than fixing his damaged family. Toby reveals he figured Joe was responsible. Toby is aware of the issues between his parents, and the fact that if his father’s indiscretion came to light, it would wreck the fragile equilibrium they’ve developed. Toby often plays like the stereotype of a horny teen, but at least here he feels real. Joe is shocked into silence, but doesn’t keep quiet for long.
In their shared bedroom, Joe tentatively tells Laura the truth. Laura’s back is initially turned toward Joe so he doesn’t see the look of shock on her face. He trots out all the excuses you’d expect from a cheating husband: I had a few glasses of wine. I was angry with you. I was curious. It was an accident. Then he pushes it too far by saying he didn’t really cheat because Anita/Mia is “a sex toy not a human being.”
The writers tip their hand when Laura finally gets to have her say. “She lives in our house, looks after our children, and you’re calling her a sex toy. Who are you?” While it is hard to watch how much pain Laura is in, there is something cathartic about it, too.
Joe is angered by her question, spitting it right back at her and bringing up the mysterious Tom figure. Dear God, does this man ever think before he speaks? In response, Laura finally kicks Joe out. But with Joe being Anita/Mia’s primary user, what does this mean going forward?
Maybe it doesn’t matter if Anita/Mia is conscious or not — Joe having sex with her is crossing a line either way. For all of his protestations, Anita/Mia is more than just a sex toy or a machine. She’s a member of their family.
Niska finally reconnects with Leo and Max. When discussing the chance of widespread synth consciousness, she’s surprisingly hopeful. For her, this is a chance for synths to gain acceptance. Max is the only one looking at things clearly; consciousness will only make humans fear them more. Niska can’t stay with them considering the murder she committed is front-page news, a fact she is strangely blasé about. So Leo arranges for her to stay with Dr. Millican for a few days.
This arrangement is not without complications. When she first arrives, Vera is quick to notice Niska is a synth. She may wear blue contacts and human clothing, but she still gives off a signature other synths will pick up on. Dr. Millican brushes Vera off. But once she’s out of earshot, Niska reveals she is a conscious synth.
Things only get more surreal for Dr. Millican when Niska quotes Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra from memory after noticing his work on the bookshelf: “And once you are awake, you’ll remain awake eternally.” This prompts Dr. Millican to ask her what it means to be her. “Experience is entirely subjective,” she replies.
Dr. Millican isn’t threatened by what Niska represents about humanity’s obsolescence; he’s curious. He pushes Niska to have a greater understanding of the world she finds herself in. Niska expresses how she doesn’t fear death, which makes her feel superior to humans. Dr. Millican shoots down this myopic view.
“If you aren’t worried about dying, you aren’t really living. You’re just existing.”
In these scenes, Humans is at its most philosophical. We get to witness different sides to these characters. Niska’s anger is justified, but her worldview is far too rigid. In his own thoughtful way, Dr. Millican challenges Niska to look at humanity and her own consciousness in a layered manner. She may not realize it, but Dr. Millican is the first human aware of her synthhood to treat her like a fellow human being.
This dynamic is broken when Drummond arrives. After receiving a call from a jogger who discovers Odi malfunctioning in the woods. Drummond decides to investigate even though he’s on desk duty. When Odi is nowhere to be found, Drummond pushes his way into Dr. Millican’s home, which leads to a very tense scene as Niska quietly moves from room to room, hiding from the detective. Surprisingly, Vera arrives just in time and unknowingly provides an explanation for Dr. Millican by mentioning the car accident.
Of all the characters, Drummond represents the side of humanity that fears the progress the synths are ushering in. But he’s such a terrible person, it’s hard to feel sympathy for him or the anti-synth cause. So, it isn’t surprising that Drummond ends up at an anti-synth rally by the close of the episode, full of hateful rhetoric.
Once the story he sold to the journalist hits stands, Drummond’s and Karen’s careers are on shaky ground. Despite her boss’s warnings, Karen spends her time investigating Niska, finding an original video of her at the smash club. Without knowing her end goal, it’s hard to figure out whom Karen’s working for. Is she a government plant or is she answering to someone still in the shadows? Her decision to let Drummond in on how she learned Niska is posing as a human only raises more questions.
At Dr. Millican’s home, Niska finds a picture of the original team headed by Dr. Elster with a surprising man at his side: Hobb. Like Dr. Millican, Hobb had a major falling out with Dr. Elster. This makes the world of Humans more insulated, but it also makes Hobb feel more like a real person. He’s no longer just a cog in the government machine afraid of the singularity. He’s concerned with his own legacy and what the machines he had a hand in creating may spell for humanity’s future.
Hobb is ordered by his superiors to kill Fred to stop any plan of widespread synth consciousness from coming true. Of course, the language they use is far more muted to divorce them from the fact that what they’re asking from Hobb is tantamount to murder. Before doing so, Hobb leans down to Fred (who is not awake) and sincerely apologizes. It is a kind gesture that casts all of Hobb’s actions in a different light. We see him on a computer tapping into Fred’s self-destruct points. When his superiors later return, Hobb reveals Fred’s charred remains. But is that really Fred? If Fred is dead, his end feels anticlimactic. Out of all the conscious synths, Fred is the one we learned the least about.
I was worried Humans would fall apart into a murky thriller privileging conspiracy theories over the more interesting questions about humanity, especially in light of the bonkers reveal of Karen being a synth. Instead, it proved me wrong by further grounding its various mysteries in the internal struggles and emotions of its characters.
Episode five ends somberly with hopes dashed, families broken, and mysteries growing deeper by the second. This is perhaps the most heartbreaking and emotionally realized episode of Humans thus far. Even with Fred seemingly dead and Anita/Mia’s consciousness erased, I have hope Humans won’t give those characters such brutal ends. My mind keeps going back to the Nietzsche quote Niska says. If, once awakened, you’re awake eternally, what does that mean for Anita/Mia’s consciousness and the potential for other synths to awaken, too?