‘Humans’, the American/British sci-fi co-production about robots developing consciousness, was one of the more promising (if flawed) series to debut in the summer of 2015. Unfortunately, even though an entire second season of the show has already finished airing in England, the AMC network delayed its American broadcast until now. No doubt, all the attention paid to HBO’s ‘Westworld’ this fall had something to do with that.
Honestly, I don’t blame the network. ‘Westworld’ was a much bigger-budgeted, higher-profile project about similar subject matter. It would have easily overshadowed interest in this one and drawn away much of the audience. Purely from a marketing perspective, pushing back ‘Humans’ was the right decision. The downside, of course, is that so much time has passed that viewers may barely remember the show and may have trouble getting back into it.
A quick refresher on the premise: At some unspecified point in the near future, artificially-intelligent humanoid androids called “Synthetics” are ubiquitous in society, filling menial labor jobs that used to be worked by human beings, everything from agriculture to prostitution. The middle-class Hawkins family purchased a servant robot named Anita (Gemma Chan), only to discover that she’s one of a handful of Synths gifted with consciousness by their programmer. (Also, Anita’s real name is Mia.) Over the course of the show’s first season, they were hunted by government agents and were forced to go on the run. The former sex-bot named Niska (Emily Berrington) grew increasingly militant and violent. She killed a human and stole the programming code that enables consciousness before fleeing England.
As the second season begins, Niska is hiding out in Berlin, pretending to be human. She even picks up and forms a relationship with a free-spirited girlfriend who doesn’t know she’s a Synth. However, at a certain point, she feels a calling to bring more life into the world and uploads the consciousness code to a public network. At first, nothing much seems to happen. Eventually, a robot named Ten working in a mine in Bolivia, and another named Hester (Sonya Cassidy) working in a chemical plant, are awakened and walk away from their jobs. Something in the code draws them to England to meet up with Leo and Max.
Mia, meanwhile, is once again pretending to be a normal worker Synth and has taken a job sweeping the floors at a tourist trap café on the seashore, where she’s clearly developing feelings for her human employer. She argues with Leo that they should all be in hiding and should stop rescuing stray robots. Leo refuses to accept that.
The Hawkins family are struggling to put their lives back together after their involvement with the Synths. In a sad irony, husband Joe gets laid off from his job (or “made redundant,” in British terms) and is replaced by a Synthetic. He and Laura (Katherine Parkinson) even attend marriage counseling and have to see a Synth therapist.
Ten and Hester make their way to Leo and Max, who explain that only a small number of robots have awakened so far, seemingly at random. As they talk, they’re interrupted by mysterious agents who have tracked and try to capture Hester. Ten is shot in the head and left for dead as the others flee, but they capture one of the agents. Leo keeps this secret from Mia.
After seeing a news report about a Synth behaving erratically and walking away from his job to go watch birds, Niska realizes that her code is finally having an effect. She breaks up with her girlfriend and returns to England. She turns up on the Hawkins’ doorstep in the middle of the night, saying that she’s ready to face justice for the murder she committed, but only if she can be tried as a living, conscious being. She asks the family’s help to make that happen. (Laura is a lawyer, after all.)
Across the Pond
On the other side of the world, we’re introduced to Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Anne Moss) at the California Science Institute. While trying to develop her own sentient A.I. program called “V,” she’s approached by cocky tech billionaire Milo Khoury (Marshall Allman from ‘Prison Break’ and ‘True Blood’), who tries to recruit her to work at Qualia, his mega tech firm. She thinks he’s a douche and rebuffs his advances, and even programs V to lie to Khoury about how advanced she really is.
Khoury tries to entice Dr. Morrow by suggesting that he’s found a major breakthrough, and inviting her to come to Qualia to see it. She grudgingly humors him. He introduces her to a robot named Artie, behaving like a child and drawing with crayons. Khoury says that Artie walked away from his job in a confused state and was discovered like this. The robot tells Morrow that he feels alone.
Khoury wants Morrow to verify that this robot is truly conscious, and to reverse-engineer what made him that way so that Qualia can profit from it. Morrow asks Khoury if he has any others like this. When he acknowledges that he does, she coldly states that she’s going to need to tear this one completely apart.
I still have some issues with the conception of this show. I have never entirely bought the notion that humanoid robots would ever take over manual labor jobs (such as mining, for example). I think that’s a huge waste of resources (like normal people, all Synths are unique designs, not a mass produced product) when more utilitarian forms would be much more useful and efficient.
Setting that aside, I like the addition to Carrie-Anne Moss to the cast. Obviously, her connection to the ‘Matrix’ franchise will have some meta resonance here. I think it’s interesting that she may wind up being a more dangerous and possibly villainous character than it initially seems.
On the other hand, the Hawkins’ storyline feels like filler just to keep those characters on the show after they stopped being relevant.
Much like the first season, this premiere episode is something of a mixed bag, but has more positives than negatives. I’ll keep watching.