Mia and Niska are mirror opposites of one another. While Niska is icy, reserved, and untrusting, Mia is an open wound of emotion. Mia demonstrates a level of care and empathy for human beings that sometimes seems to border on gullibility. Her actions can read as the naïve desires of a young girl so eager for experience, she doesn’t stop to think about what danger she’s tripping into. Both approaches — Mia’s openness and Niska’s suspicion — lead to complications, as synths become romantically entangled with human beings.
“Episode 4” wastes no time exploring the current state of Ed and Mia’s fledgling relationship. The two are naked in bed after having sex for the first time (although the actual act is only spoken about, never seen). I wish episode writer Joe Barton had parsed out this milestone in their relationship further. I understand why Mia is drawn to Ed in a broader sense: He’s the only human being she interacts with on a regular basis, and she’s hungry for the chance to experience the world as humans do. But beyond finding Mia attractive and sweet, I’m not sure why Ed has so quickly fallen into this relationship. Mia starting a full-blown romance with a human and having consensual sex for the first time should be monumental. Instead, it plays as an afterthought.
There are a few more interesting threads I’m curious for Humans to explore — namely, can Mia feel physical pleasure? Can she have an orgasm? Ed fumbles while asking her those questions, but it’s never clear from her answers if she can. “I feel happy,” she says, her face marked with tranquil contentment. When he presses her a bit further, she responds, “I like the proximity.” Not exactly what you’d say after a night of great passion. But Mia doesn’t understand the language of passion, physically or emotionally. Watching this brief scene highlights how Mia often feels more worried about the desires of others than about her own. Her interactions with Ed have a sacrificial quality that can feel disconcerting. She gladly accompanies him to the care home where his mother, Diane, lives. She acts like a normal synth, even returning to work in the café. She shows no sign of apprehension when Danny (Eric Kofi-Abrefa) needles her with odd questions, nodding to his curiosity after seeing Mia and Ed in an intimate situation in the previous episode.
Mia is pretty much love-drunk. She’s so lost in the moment, she doesn’t worry about what’s next. Throughout the entire episode, I felt a sense of dread watching her say and do things that reflect her consciousness, even though anyone could easily walk in and discover her secret. A relationship between Ed and Mia could never work. The moment they step out the door, he has to pretend to be her owner. Mia doesn’t need romance — she needs a friend who will help her further grow into her own humanity.
While Mia is beginning a relationship, Niska is ending one. Laura is faced with an impossible task of proving a synth’s consciousness, but she smartly tracks down Astrid in order to prove Niska’s emotional state. When Niska sees Astrid, tension flickers across her face. It’s brief, but recognizable. This leads to a tense scene in which Niska sits still in her glass prison while Astrid studies her carefully and answers Laura’s probing questions. What was the nature of their relationship? How did Astrid feel when Niska abruptly left? Laura doesn’t mince words and it’s clear how much Astrid cares for Niska. “Sometimes a person just touches you,” Astrid says. As the questions continue, Astrid’s concern increases. That’s when Laura drops a bomb on her: Niska is a synth.
Astrid moves from doubt to confusion to fear. That she can’t imagine Niska is a synth speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship. Watching Niska slowly lift her hand to her face, I wasn’t sure how she would prove her true nature to Astrid. She chooses a simple gesture: She takes out her blue contacts to reveal her unnaturally bright green eyes underneath. “I’m sorry,” Niska says. When they get a more private moment, they discuss their failed relationship.
Astrid: “I could have loved you.”
Niska: “I know.”
This dynamic has pushed Niska into some interesting directions, but the way Humans approaches romantic relationships feels awfully superficial. Astrid is angry that Niska didn’t tell her the truth — but why would she have done that? It’s too great a risk. “I don’t lie. Not ever,” Astrid says. Really? That’s an unrealistic and narrow-minded way to approach the world. Hindsight is a funny thing. Of course Astrid can sit there and say she would never have lied. But the lie Niska crafted was one that ensured her very survival. Losing Astrid isn’t Niska’s only problem, though: Patel is convinced that there is still no hard evidence about Niska’s personhood.
In very different ways, Niska and Mia are dealing with the fallout of what happens when synths entangle themselves emotionally with humans. I hope we’ll get to see them interact this season because they might learn a lot from each other. Mia could learn to guard herself more carefully, while Niska could come to understand that romantic risk is worth the reward. Humans and conscious synths interacting in intimate spaces has a ripple effect — and everyone is just coming to understand that fact.
Take Sophie, for example: She’s so enamored with the perfection that synths represent, she’s started acting like one of them. I’m not quite sure about this idea of “synthies,” people who pretend to be synths. Toby’s interest in a synthie classmate, Renie (Letitia Wright), has the potential to explore the failures of the human condition, but so far it seems a bit miscalculated. More fascinating is Mattie’s burgeoning friendship with the newly conscious but still malfunctioning Odi. Mattie and Odi find themselves going to George’s house. “I remember his death. I remember feeling nothing. I feel something now,” Odi says in the backyard of the place he once called home. In many ways, Odi reminds me of Max; there is a kindness and empathetic quality to him, apparent in every gesture. But even Max has limits.
Meanwhile, Leo’s desire to save the other synths from the silo may be admirable, but it has tipped into obsession. He has no game plan. He’s quick to use a newly conscious synth as bait, which riles Max. “Do you even know what the cause is anymore?” Max asks. Although I’m not sure I believe Max would call Leo out for not being a synth, his frustration over Leo’s single-minded obsession makes sense. That Leo let Max leave and keeps Hester by his side is something I think he will soon come to regret. For now, they have bigger problems on the horizon: The synth that came to the Hawkins’s home to warn Laura to get off Niska’s case has scared some powerful people. Joe’s inability to physically protect his family speaks to the danger in which Laura finds herself. Thankfully, Odi was there.
Even more pressing to the narrative is the dinner between Athena and Milo. Athena knows about Dr. Elster’s conscious synths, and she knows that they’re all in the UK. Over dinner with Milo, Athena’s endgame is revealed: consciousness transference. The ability to put human consciousness in a synth body would be a remarkable step forward in humanity. It’s essentially the ability to cheat death. But such technological growth has a host of moral quandaries I don’t even begin to know how to approach. That seems like the kind of ability only the extremely rich would have access to, which would surely lead culture to calcify. If faced with the possibility of living forever, how would humanity change? So much of the human condition is predicated on the fear of death. Without death, what does humanity become?
At one point, a criminal involved in the selling of “seraphim” — which Drummond believes are conscious synths, sold on the black market — gives the detective a useful warning. “You’re out of your depth,” he says. It’s a warning I wish Mia could have heard, since she needs a voice of reason to counteract her desire to rush headlong into a relationship with a man she barely knows. The moment Ed hears about all the money he owes for his mother’s care, it’s obvious that Mia will find herself in yet another terrible position. Mia suggests that they go somewhere where they can just be themselves. He seems interested in the idea … until he turns her power off. Danny comes from the back of the café and they share a meaningful glance. Ed is going to sell Mia to get the money he needs. Whenever and wherever Mia wakes up, she is going to realize something Niska learned long ago: the high cost of blindly trusting humans. Whether she hardens to the world, or retains her innocent desire, will say a lot about her character going forward.