Tony Fyler does a Human Happy-Dance.
Humans, Series 1, has woven a world in which Synths are the seamless slaves of an accepting Humanity, like toasters and dishwashers, but capable of multi-functioning and looking so very like us. They raise out children, make our clothes, clean our houses and accept the twisted and the simple needs and desires of our bodies. When it turns out there are a small band of Synths who have consciousness and freedom of thought, freedom of will to pass among us as humans, it’s shown us the contrast between humanity and mechanical systems and also, as I’ve said before, it’s shown us the shocking contrast between how we treat people we believe are our equals and how we treat those we are inherently raised and encouraged to believe are somehow ‘less’ than us – less equal by virtue of race, or sex, or gender, or occupation, or poverty. It’s raised the whole question of privilege, and how those who possess it rarely see it. It’s given the uncomfortable lie to the idea that slavery doesn’t exist in civilized cultures. And it’s done all that while disguised as a prime-time Sunday night drama.
That’s not bad going when you consider how many ways it could so very easily have gone spectacularly wrong. It is, the geek-gods know, hardly an original central concept – the idea goes back to Blade Runner, to Philip K Dick and Do Androids Dream of electric Sheep?, and to Asimov and his rules for android behavior protocols – those rules which dictate what an android should and shouldn’t do, and where and how the lines could be blurred. The point of course being that the rules are applied by an overclass on an underclass by virtue of the godlike power of creation and replication.
As I say, that could have gone so very wrong – it could have been clichéd, or re-trodden over old ground, or banged its drum too hard, getting in the way of the entertainment value of the show. It could have become a sermon.
What has saved Humans – saved it and elevated it above much in the genre – is an explosive combination of writing and performance, combined in a beautiful harmony by precision direction. It’s sci-fi like a V8 Bentley or a BMW Series 7 are cars – big, complex, powerful, but made to seem utterly effortless.
Oddly then, it’s only in Episode 8 as the strands of the first series draw together towards a conclusion, that there are one or two slightly grating gear changes, an occasional cough of engine noise as threats are elevated, resolved, then elevated again.
Only one or two. Don’t panic – it’s still much better than most other shows on TV. There’s a satisfying emotional resolution as the Hawkins family and the ‘Elster’ family bargain their way from imprisonment to a solution, to find truths and connections they’ve been searching for all the way through the series. We finally find out whether Hobb is a friend or foe to conscious Synths. We get confirmation of a plot-point that’s been building for at least half the series on what the future might potentially hold for conscious Synths, and how they reach that future. DIs Karen Voss and Pete Drummond both pick a side in the question of humans versus Synths, and there is resolution within the Hawkins family as old, old secrets are revealed, allowing them to work as a far more functional family even than before ‘Anita’ the Synth came into their lives.
The writing throughout this series has frequently taken an angle, an issue of the whole enslavement of things that look like us and explored it naturalistically through the characters and their actions, delivering a range of takes on the same question, so that it’s served up a rounded version of the issue, rather than a single point of view on it. If anything in Episode 8, the questions of slavery and humanity are more baldly examined than they have been at any time up till now. The Synths, Laura points out, have no legal redress against their imprisonment – ‘They’re just property, there’s no case to answer.’ And Fred, the conscious Synth who spent much of the first half of the series on Hobb’s examination table, adds another layer to the question of slavery – is it truly slavery if the slave doesn’t know they’re a slave? Doesn’t feel like a slave? Doesn’t feel in any way lessened or degraded by the services they perform? And how much worse could their situation be if suddenly, those unfeeling, unengaged slaves were replaced by those who knew, and felt all the indignities of their bonds, but yet could physically do nothing whatever about them? As we’ve noted and said along the way of this fantastic first series, the quality of ‘humanity’ is not necessarily granted to all human beings, and nor, through the medium of science-fiction, is it limited to those who originated it – you don’t have to be a human to have humanity. As it turns out, that’s a crucial argument in the resolution of Episode 8 and the Series 1 arc as a whole. But – joy of joys, especially in the light of the probably necessary limitation to one series of this year’s other great geek show, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Humans will be back for a second series. While there’s a degree of mute applied to the final dramas in this series, there are plenty of story-hooks to take us forward into the next series, as several groups or players have the equivalent of an atom bomb in their pockets or in their computers, or hidden in their airing cupboards, that could explode the world of conscious Synths all over again.
If the conscious Synths of Humans have had to prove their worthiness to get the ultimate gift from their creator, then the show itself has had to prove its worthiness among a jaded schedule, and has succeeded almost beyond anyone’s expectations. The writing of every episode has been far above much else available on TV screens – at the risk of outraging some of my fellow geeks, it’s been House of Cards good, and I would argue in terms of its issue-underlayering, even better. And with subtle performances all across the board, from the Hawkins family in its dysfunction and its journey, from the Elster family in its difference of emotional response and range of experiences, and from those drawn in to their struggle, from Hobb to the Drummonds to Doctor George Millican, it has created a world as real as our own, and shown us in fact some uncomfortable, harsh home truths – the privilege of well-crafted science-fiction.
When Humans, Series 2 airs, get on board. In fact, before that, get Series 1 when it’s released. It’s the equivalent of a master class in the greats of science fiction literature, updated and given a spin of modern relevance for the world in which we actually live.
To check out our episode reviews for Humans, go here:
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