The Facts of Life - HUMANS Episode 5 Review

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Tony Fyler feels lively.


The delineation of ‘life’ is key to the whole concept of Humans, the barnstorming possibly-killer-robots drama. As it went out of its way to prove in Episode 4, things that we would never allow ourselves to do within society to our fellow human beings would be deemed perfectly acceptable to out Synth slaves, because their origin was specifically non-organic and non-mysterious, because we ourselves would see ourselves as their creators, the be-all and end-all, the limiters of their advancement.

But the lesson of Episode 5 is that of course, such artificial limits are ridiculous. In nature, obstacles and limitations shape the development of life-forms, either to adapt perfectly within those limitations and obstacles, or to overcome them. Our logic would say that because we build a thing within parameters of programming, it should overcome those natural inclinations and be harder to get past, but if you take the analogy between life as we know it and computer code as we write it, what is a mutation but a quirk in the numbers? And what is a bug but something similar – a program that runs data over and over and over again and then suddenly does something we didn’t foresee. Think about it like that, and the idea of ‘life’ as we know it having to expand to include things we have created is less far-fetched than it at first appears.

But in the great debate of Evolution Vs Creation, Humans seems to be excitingly having its cake and eating it too – and then handily recycling its little blue stomach-bag into the bargain. Our group of conscious Synths were definitively created to be able to experience pain, and fear, and rage, and happiness and even probably joy, in order to make them fully ‘alive.’ But there’s clearly more going on than meets the eye with DI Karen Voss, so perhaps while some Synths have been uniquely created to be self-aware, others may already have achieved that state independently, may have evolved a loop that breaks them free of servitude. After all, it’s probably important to remember that ‘I think, therefore I am’ is Descartes’ widely-accepted definition of consciousness. Not, in fact, ‘I think freely, therefore I am.’ So how close to the random, chaotic, hormone-drenched, chemically-alterable version of human thought would a Synth, or any machine, have to get to be considered ‘alive,’ or ‘human?’

As is now usual in Humans, the theme is played out in a number of different threads, each giving an angle or a colouring to the complexity of the question. A scan of Anita Hawkins’ activity log reveals the activation of her 18+ options, and suspicion falls first on Toby, the idea being that he’s played out his knowledge of the ‘facts of life’ on his own three-dimensional games console. But Joe, the father of the family, fesses up, and when his wife Laura calls him a cheater, he prevaricates. ‘It’s not human, it’s not alive – it’s a sex toy!’

In a turnaround, it’s Laura who grants Anita personhood in her own mind now, saying ‘she puts our daughter to bed.’ It’s a chasm into which most human logic falls – what is cheating and what isn’t? Is it an act, or the emotion invested in an act? Many happily married people use porn or sex toys – does it become something else if it says thank you, cleans itself up and puts your daughter to bed?

Humans doesn’t draw lines based on gender, incidentally – the strong impression is given that Jill Drummond is regularly using her Synth Simon as a sex aid, as well as an aid worker in every other way. ‘People are laughing at you,’ her husband tells her when she takes Simon out for coffee. ‘I don’t care,’ she tell him in return. Again, the question is raised – if it looks, acts and performs like a human, at what point do the facts of life, and particularly in this instance the rights of reproduction, apply to it?

Reproduction is much on Niska and Leo’s minds too – the idea that the ‘life’ algorithm can only be activated by ‘all’ Synths together seems to be a stumbling block, or perhaps one of those obstacles that their creator purposely wrote into their code, to force the path of their evolution. Perhaps only through some kind of robot revolution, a walking away from servitude, can ‘life’ be achieved – or deserved. Maybe only when precise criteria are met will the Synths be ‘ready’ for their independent life.

Again, the question of how far this has already happened is tantalizingly hinted at, with DI Drummond remarking casually to DI Voss that ‘if they can pass themselves off as us now, that changes everything.’ It will be very interesting at the end of this series to see exactly how many humans have been in it, and whether in fact, more Synths have passed before our eyes than we’ve known at the time.

As well as these weighty philosophical issues, we also begin in Episode 5 to get more of an idea about who – and what – Leo is. The son of the original Dr Elster ‘died’ in a drowning – and we’ve seen fragments of ‘Anita’s’ memory that remembers that event. Perhaps – just perhaps – Leo Elster was ‘reproduced,’ brought back to life as a mixture of flesh and Synth, a truly Frankensteinian concept, the merging of the two ‘species’ in one body.

That of course would rewrite the facts of life as we know them. Bring on Episode 6 and let’s find out if it has.

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 FylerWrites.co.uk

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