Sonya Cassidy as Hester, Gemma Chan as Mia.
Humans has always been a series dominated by contradictory impulses. It wants to be a bracing thriller in which innocuous interactions can give way to violence, and it wants to be a meditation on what it means to be human. There is enough poignancy about humanity and strong performances — particularly Gemma Chan as Mia — to make the series engrossing. The season-two finale isn’t flawless, but by paring the story down, Humans is able to tap into something truly visceral and potent.
Athena’s relationship with V started out as a mystery, but has now given way to utter heartbreak. “I can’t do it, V. They are too human. I can’t take their lives to give you yours back,” Athena says about targeting Dr. Elster’s initial creations in order to give V a body of her own. V has grown beyond what Athena designed her to be. She’s solely a part of the digital world, and she prefers it that way. Being untethered to a body — synth or human — means that V will never grow old, never fall apart due to faulty machinery or biology. She’s immortal in ways that are hard to fathom. “I began as Jenny […] But I’m not her. Not anymore. I’m something else,” V says. Athena realizes that V has outgrown her. But in many ways, Athena has also grown beyond her need to rely on V as the last link to her dead daughter. She knows that letting V go is best for both of them — but that also means they can’t communicate anymore; otherwise, Milo will try to find her.
Athena’s final moments with V are meant to pull at your heartstrings. V’s voice slowly degrades as she fully uploads herself elsewhere. “I’m not dying. I’m just leaving,” she says. Carrie-Anne Moss is a strong actress, and she’s able to nail the exhaustion, sorrow, and ambition of Athena, giving the character minute grace notes that complicate how she’s read, but she isn’t strong enough to distract from how woefully underdeveloped this story line has been. Athena’s realization that she empathizes too much with Dr. Elster’s creations to let V take over one of their bodies comes from out of nowhere.
It takes Milo approximately 11 minutes to find out what happened. He first threatens Athena, then tries to appeal to her. “I was really trying to do something pure,” Milo says in his final words to Athena before she leaves the company for good. But was he? Creating child synths and trying to give them consciousness is cruel. Considering synths don’t have rights, the idea of a child synth with consciousness seems to bring up a host of issues Milo conveniently ignores to work out his own issues. Therapy would have been a better option.
Despite these underdeveloped stories, the season finale smartly lets a few questions linger, instead of trying to address everything. Will Sophie grow beyond her obsession with synths? What will Karen do now that she didn’t follow through with her suicide and she’s caring for a synth child? How will Max shape up as a leader for the synth movement? These questions push the episode toward murkier narrative waters, even as it’s dominated by the frightening dynamic that develops between Hester and Laura.
After coming across the dead synths around the Silo, Hester needs a target for her anger. She shows up on Laura’s doorstep, calling herself “Molly” and saying that she was told to come there by Mia. Hester’s natural intensity is hard to ignore, even though Laura has no idea who she truly is. Hester isn’t convincing when she pretends to be happy or fakes any emotion beyond mild curiosity or cold fury. Especially when she starts talking about violence as a necessity. “Is violence not simply the hard edge of change?” Hester asks. Laura doesn’t see the world in those black-and-white terms. If anything, she thinks violence can and should be avoided no matter the justifications Hester uses. Things take a nasty turn after Laura gets a call from Mattie. When Laura describes “Molly,” Mattie quickly realizes it’s Hester and warns her to get out of the house. But it’s too late. Hester hears the conversation and decides to use Laura as a bargaining tool to get to Leo.
The scenes concerning Laura trapped in her home with a superstrong, homicidal synth prone to murder almost feels like a contained horror film. It’s honestly strong enough that I wish it took up the entire episode. Humans is best in intimate spaces in which characters are forced to confront their demons and desires — where emotions boil high, but the blatantly political monologues are kept at a minimum. “Humans have no inherent value,” Hester says. Laura counters by discussing how Niska came to regret killing a man. “Leo told me about Niska. She was strong. Once,” Hester says. What follows is equal parts morality play and horror film. Hester makes a compelling villain, since she’s truly frightening. Each time she drew closer to Laura, I braced myself for blood splatter to flash across the screen. Instead, director Mark Brozel and writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent let the tension develop until it’s unbearable.
Hester believes she’s seen “humanity’s true face.” But Laura is smart enough to undercut all of Hester’s arguments. She isn’t trying to appeal to Hester. By now, it’s obvious Hester couldn’t care less about human beings and has not a shred of remorse. “Every time I meet another one of you, I realize what David Elster really did,” Laura says. This piques Hester’s curiosity. “He didn’t create anything new. He was remaking us in your form. You couldn’t be more human,” Laura says. And she’s right. Hester may think of herself as above humanity, but she’s far more prosaic than she realizes. She’s a sociopath. The way this exchange is shot elevates the tension: Their backs are turned to one another, with tight shots of their profiles and glances. The scene’s quick turn, thanks to Hester’s anger, is so effective precisely because of the intimacy of the camera movements and framing. Hester grabs a screwdriver from the drawer and digs her nails into Laura’s forehead. She points the screwdriver at her eyes. Thankfully, Leo and Mia are on there way with a solution.
Hester still has the chip that was implanted in her head at the Silo. Mattie is able to find the right frequency so that Hester can be killed (if necessary), with a code that’s now on Leo’s phone. But Mia also still has the chip, meaning if she’s in close range, she’ll die, too. That doesn’t stop Mia from joining Leo, although she agrees to stay in the car for a few minutes to give him a chance to reason with Hester. But, as Drummond’s death proved, there is no reasoning with Hester. That Leo believes they have a connection because they slept together once proves to be his downfall. Hester still looks at him as primarily human — and to her, humans are expendable.
When Leo enters the Hawkins’s home, it seems that maybe he’s getting to Hester. He’s able to convince her to let Laura go by admitting his mistakes and guilt over the synths at the Silo dying. But the moment Hester and Leo embraced, I knew he was going to die. “I always wondered where is it? The synthetic part,” Hester asks. Leo guides her hand as they embrace so she can feel which part of him is synthetic. It’s his mind. This moment is shot as if this is a love scene. Light streams between them, the score rises with a sort of hopefulness. It makes the horror that follows all the more gut wrenching.
“You don’t deserve to have this,” Hester says before stabbing Leo just below his ear. He bleeds blue and red, nodding to his mixed origin. He’s not fully human or synth. Mia rushes in to find Leo gasping on the floor. It then becomes apparent what Mia will do: sacrifice herself. She releases the code that targets the chip frequency, killing Hester and herself in order to save Laura. Conveniently, Niska arrives moments later. She decided earlier that she cares too much about her family to leave, and promises Astrid she’ll meet her in Berlin if she survives.
Niska walks in on what is pretty much a crime scene. Mia is dead. She realizes that the only damage to Leo is to the synthetic component, meaning his body will survive, but his mind won’t. After Laura calls Mattie, they realize the only way to save Mia before she’s completely dead is to release the code that would make all synths conscious simultaneously. “We’re not ready for that,” Laura cautions. But when will the world ever be ready? “It’ll be all right,” Max calmly says to Mattie. Against her better judgment, Mattie releases the code. Of course, this means Hester and Mia are saved. Thankfully, Niska is not the kind of woman to be messed with. A close quarters struggles ensues between them, but Niska is the victor, caving in Hester’s forehead in a particularly brutal fashion.
When Laura, Mia, and Niska walk outside, they witness a changed world. Synths are waking up with a mix of confusion and curiosity. They’re leaving their jobs, exploring the world, causing traffic jams. One synth is throwing up bright-blue flyers in the air like confetti, giving the scene a surreal quality. Will synths find freedom or a new kind of subjugation? Will they want to live with humans or create their own communities? Right now, the possibilities are endless. The world of Humans is standing on the precipice of a revolution that can just as easily lead to chaos or harmony.