We are family, says Tony Fyler.
We left Episode 6 of Humans, the great and geeky new look at a world of roboslaves, with a few solid questions in our head – where did DI Karen Voss fit into the world of conscious Synths? What would happen to Max, the nicest of those conscious Synths, after he sacrificed himself by jumping into the Thames? Would the knowledge of how to give life and consciousness to other Synths ever be used, as it needed ‘all’ of David Elster’s original conscious Synths to be together to make it work? Whose side was Hobb, the man who has hunted the conscious Synths from the beginning, really on, given his volte-face and deception to keep Fred alive?
Episode 7 takes most of those question forward and answers at least one of them, but as with all the previous episodes of this highly addictive new show, it also layers social messages neatly within the fabric of the drama, showing different facets of the same fundamental issue through a range of interactions.
Episode 7 focuses more closely on two family groupings, the strengths and tensions within each, how they come together and how they differ. The conscious Synths – what might be called the Elster Family - lead the way, Leo and Fred using superior Synth technology try to find and save Max from what feels like his inevitable destruction. And the Hawkins family gradually welcome them in and help them, each of them playing a role, even Joe, who makes his way back into the family home, if not into his previous role as patriarch.
There’s one other iteration of family that’s crucial to this episode. Dr George Millican, whose house is practically overrun with Synths at this point – his original Odi, leaking blue fluid in a cupboard, his zombie-nurse Synth Vera, stalking about the place noticing things, and the previously homicidal but increasingly rehabilitated Niska – gets another to add to his list, and it goes… less well than might be hoped, as Niska and the new visitor outline clearly different agendas for Synths and Synthkind, and Millican and Odi share a heartbreaking, united moment. Oh, the feels, as the young people probably stopped saying years ago.
But the complex dynamics of the interaction between the Elsters and the Hawkinses are what make this episode so pivotal – in particular between the likes of Joe, Laura and Mia (who of course was a personality locked inside Anita the obedient HouseSynth while she was ‘unlocked’ by Joe in an act that at least briefly broke the Hawkins’ marriage).
It’s also especially interesting to look at the relationship both families have with Niska, who Mia introduces (and really, how else could she?) as her ‘sister.’ While Niska’s learning through her challenges to Dr Millican may have taken some of the edge off her immediate urge to slaughter, she’s still a spiky personality, hurt by the outside world, and to some extent the inside world too – it’s come out of her quite easily that Daniel Elster, the genius behind them all, didn’t always treat her ‘like a daughter,’ though she hasn’t told her family that. To them, she was always the storyteller, the reader to young Leo, and seeing her trapped in the Hawkins’ house, it’s interesting that she gravitates away from the main action, to the bedroom of the youngest daughter of the house, Mattie. These two make their own accommodation, and it’s never sickly sweet, but there’s a lesson in their play together that brings uncomfortable parallels. Mattie tells Niska she looks like her doll – a potentially awkward moment, given that in the world of Humans, ‘dolly’ is a pejorative thrown around by humans as easily as a word beginning with ‘n’ was once used by privileged white people in the Southern states of America for people they owned. When Niska tells her ‘I’m not a doll,’ there are awkward, squirm-making parallels to that situation, to the enslavement of reasoning, thinking, feeling people by others based on arbitrary conditions of circumstance or race. And when, perhaps despite herself, Niska begins to play with Mattie, it’s almost impossible to drive the idea of black children from the mind, hand-picked to be the playmates of white children who according to the law, still owned them, and could turn their world upside down with one wrong or spiteful word. Little Mattie doesn’t think about such things, or about her relationship to Niska in any way, which surely if anything proves Niska’s point – the privileged never think about their privilege unless forced to do so. And yet she plays, losing herself at least for that moment in the innocence of imaginary scenarios where you jump on dinosaurs to make sure you don’t miss your plane.
It’s not a moment that lasts long – the episode doesn’t allow the suspension of the series’ reality for long enough to let you get complacent – but it is a telling one when it comes to that idea that goes right back to the start of the story, when Anita was named, and took the surname of her ‘family,’ becoming Anita Hawkins. If you cannot really be a family with people who could own you, switch you off, bring your world crashing down the moment it became uncomfortable for them, then what do you have? If, as Anita maintains in this episode, you don’t have genes to pass on, or a name to keep alive, where then can you find your family and your destiny?
Perhaps, of course, you find it in making more of yourself – in freeing more people who were once in bondage and making them like yourself. Perhaps the Family of Synth has yet to be awakened.
Perhaps most telling of all is the backstory that Voss brings to the party, with its underlying lesson that she, who has spent the longest time under the deepest cover, has a strong ‘plague on both your houses’ message for them all. When your favourite human being in the world is DI Drummond, it’s just possible you may need to re-examine the rest of the species to see what you’re missing.
The frightening thing of course is that maybe, in Voss’s estimation, it’s we who need to re-examine the rest of the species, to see what perhaps we’re not seeing. Perhaps if the privileged never see their privilege unless they are forced to, Voss brings us the message that we’re all privileged in simply being alive, and that everything after that is extra. Perhaps, ultimately, DI Voss and Humans as a series shows us that how we treat one another determines the life, the planet, and the future we deserve.
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