Tony Fyler goes beyond.
Humans, the new science-fiction drama on Channel 4, continues to expand the world of ethical concerns regarding lifelike robotic servants. In this episode, we see how easy it could be for Synths who have slipped free of their programming to pass as human – Niska the homicidal ex-sexbot deploys some different clothes, a pair of blue contact lenses to disguise the tell-tale green of Synth eyes, and a slight swagger in her walk, and passes easily as a young woman – at least until faced with the questions of human interaction that go beyond the logical and honest: small talk with a man who’s ‘interested’ in her, rather than simply wanting to take her to bed, confuses her, and she dithers between killing him as a man just interested in sex and a man interested in her. Finding evidence of his supposed betrayal of another woman, she leaps back into homicidal mode, but on having that evidence explained and corroborated, she cannot yet convince herself to kill an ‘innocent.’
It remains Niska’s path that’s most technically revelatory about the struggle of what is essentially a new life form to understand itself as a thing definitively created, not begotten (a journey Star Trek: The Next Generation took seven seasons and three movies to make) – here she goes beyond the supposed weakness of human words and concepts, breaking from her ‘family’ of advanced Synths almost, but not quite completely. She has bypassed her Asimov safeguards in a moment of what seems like genuine rage, killing her client, and she seems also to have plenty of anti-human rage to spare, as though she’s just looking for an excuse to kill again.
Meanwhile, fellow advanced Synth ‘Anita,’ living with the Hawkins family, continues to display signs of being above and beyond the ordinary, whether or not she actually knows what she’s doing - reading moods with the acuity of a human being (and probably then some), and trying to repair the damage her presence appears to be doing, at least to mother Laura. There’s more trouble ahead for Anita though, after saving the life of young Toby Hawkins and getting somewhat splatted by a truck. Not that that damaged her unduly, but the repair involved ‘primary user’ – yep, oddly enough, that perfectly reasonable phrase for the lead owner of a piece of technology continues to creep us out when the piece of technology looks like a human being – Joe Hawkins to examine her naked epidermis (that’s skin to you and me) for insurance purposes, which Toby now knows, though he has yet to report it to Laura. But Anita’s empathic skills have also raised suspicions from synth-hacker Hawkins daughter, Mattie, who has hacked her source code and posted its intense peculiarities on an online hacker board, meaning a) people will start to become aware of the weirdness of the Hawkins’ Synth, and b) other ‘family’ members Leo and Max have become aware of the area she’s in, and will soon be on their way to find her. Oh and c) While she was being hacked, a fragment of Anita’s previous life and personality, beneath the scary-bland Synthitude of her Anita persona, came through, and will probably start to bother her more and more.
The varied storytelling strands in Humans mean there’s always something to cut away to which advances the plot and the complexity of what’s going on, without ever necessarily frying your brain. DI Drummond, the cop with Synth issues, begins what has always seemed like his inevitable breakdown (robophobia?) here when dealing with the aftermath of Niska’s actions, while his wife gets all ‘Demi Moore in Ghost’ with her Synth, Simon and a lump of dough. Dr Millican, the genius partly responsible for the Synth revolution, continues to outsmart Hitler’s robonurse Vera in his efforts to keep his original Synth, Odi, safe from the prospect of recycling, even though he’s clearly having his own equivalent of a cyber-breakdown. Vera, played with Terminator-style grimness by Rebecca Front, is one of the most genuinely shudderworthy creations in Humans so far, and while Anita shows the ways in which she’s beyond human capacities by taking a truck in the face and actually telling Laura she’s superior in a number of ways to a human mother, and Niska proves her superiority by transgressing not only Synth programming but human rules of society, Vera shows the strength built into the Synth in this episode by pulling out a door lock by the handle with of course no visible sign of the effort it requires. She and Niska share the weight of showing us the potential threat a world reliant on technology faces (a threat that’s just as real when the technology is less able to personally throttle us to death – the GPS timing signal, for instance, underpins everything from nuclear power plants to stock markets to missile systems and drones. It’s supremely hackable. Sleep well).
Anita and captured advanced Synth Fred, if anything, share the showing of humanity as less than humane in this episode, both their deeper core programs being violated against their will, Fred’s on the Synth equivalent of a torture-bed, his memories probed, his thoughts scrutinized despite his resistance. In terms of moral allegory, it almost looks as though Humans is pushing the idea that humanity has chances time and again to prove it can adapt to a changing dynamic between itself and the human-looking things it builds, and time and again it fails.
The saving grace, the chink of light in this episode comes if anywhere from Laura Hawkins, who realises a need to thank Anita for what she has done for her, and in shaking her hand, extends the secretly advanced Synth the courtesy of equality.
Maybe – just maybe – there’s hope for humans yet.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk