Human Rights, Human Wrongs - HUMANS Episode 4 Review

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Tony Fyler takes liberties.

Humans is one of those science fiction shows that’s both a pleasure to watch, and supremely easy to review. Week by week, it wears its issues not only on its sleeve, but in the multi-layered fabrics of its Synthetic body. This week, the idea of human rights was foregrounded in all kinds of ways, and particularly in the unthinking way we treat things that are not-us, even – and arguably especially – if they look like us.

This is an issue that goes all the way back to the roots of popular science fiction – it’s the Frankenstein Factor: despite working diligently to create his creature, to build its body and fill it with the spark of life that is his particular secret, the moment it is built and independent of him, Frankenstein is horrified by his creature and the potential it embodies. It’s the refusal of its ‘father’ to acknowledge it, to love it, reiterated by the fear of other humans with whom it comes into contact, that make the tragedy of the creature – so full of potential, it is inherently beyond the human, but what it finds and fills itself with are all the negatives in the complex human psyche – the fear, the hate, the violence it finds directed at it, spat at it because it is somehow different.

We’ve spoken in previous reviews about how the entitled humans in Western society treat its fellow humans separated from them by the work they do – their maids and gardeners, nannies and servers. But in a week where the US Supreme Court legitimized the equality of sexualities and the political right went more nuts than usual in response, the human capacity to fear the different has rarely been so visible in society.

By sheer coincidence of timing, this fear of the different, and the demarcation of what humanity is, is all over episode 4 of Humans – Anita, the Hawkins’ Synth, previously known as Mia, has a sub-programme trapped in her root code that is possibly the key to ‘human’ consciousness for Synths. But she’s also used as a non-human convenience by Joe Hawkins when he initiates her ‘18+’ options to satisfy his own sexual needs, and then immediately demands that she say nothing about it and delete it from her memory. If she were a human, that would be an act of abuse, even rape. But she’s a Synth, so it’s merely a marketable feature, a bonus modification.

Niska, the conscious ex-sexbot is invited to a ‘smash club,’ where humans pay money to attack Synths with weapons: a Fight Club where your opponents can’t fight back. Again, if the Synths were human, that would be the business of horror films like Hostel – but they’re Synths, so it’s an acceptable, understood part of society, no more emotionally distressing than smashing up a parade of walking washing machines. At least until Niska goes to play.

Laura Hawkins goes to investigate the case of a woman who takes her Synth to the theatre, and was ejected because – get this – Synths are not allowed to experience art, because after all, what would be the point? While it quickly becomes clear that the Synth can’t ‘feel’ the emotional impact of Death of a Salesman, the point the woman makes is cogent – we make these things, these ‘creatures’ in our own image, then deny them the pathways to their potential. She aims to fight for ‘Human’ rights for Synths, and it’s perhaps the most naked expression of the idea in the episode.

DI Drummond is thrown out of his house and his relationship with his wife Jill, who decides that he’s not what she needs. She tells him to leave while her Synth, Simon, sits silent, hands on his knees, next to her. That’s a complex version of the human rights argument – Simon seems not to be a conscious Synth, but Jill has the human right to choose him over Drummond, who describes himself as ‘an analogue man in a digital world.’

Mattie Hawkins and her Synth-hacking friends are in a way, the other half of Drummond’s equation – they feel robbed of the point of their future and any endeavours they might make, because Synths can already do things better than they could. Combining the strands, you get the idea on the lips of every racist, that they Synths are ‘taking our jobs, stealing our women…’ – essentially, the idea that the Synths themselves are eroding the rights of human beings, an idea that’s been around as long as the Industrial Age.

And Drummond’s partner, DI Karen Voss, puts the central danger succinctly – ‘What, if there are more Synths out there that can kill? Then we’re all fucked, aren’t we?’ The idea that having a capacity and using that capacity are the same thing is used all across the spectrum of political debate, from people of faith asking atheists why they don’t kill if they have no god to stop them to anti-gun advocates assuming that gun-owners are inevitably going to shoot someone at some point, but in the case of Humans, it becomes a key debating point that brings us back to the Frankenstein Factor. Giving Synths human rights would change the society in which they live utterly – they would no longer be able to be used as slaves. No longer beaten, or raped, or hacked with impunity if they had access to the full human right of the capacity to defend themselves. Whether that would translate into an army of killer post-humans would depend on the treatment they received at the humans’ hands.

The humans in Humans could well be in trouble…

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 day, he 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

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