“He’s the Mona Lisa, he’s penicllin, he’s the atom bomb”
Episode 2 of Humans continues the slow build of episode 1, adding bits and pieces to the overall storylines. We delve deeper into the murky underworld of the synths, with synth Niska’s brothel life becoming even more disturbing and Leo’s venture into a murky underground synth assembly/torture chamber of sorts. Anita, in the face of Laura’s hostility, becomes more likeable, even with a sinister edge. George’s bittersweet life descends into comedy with the arrival of an NHS synth, Vera. While still not grabbing us by the lapels and screaming “BET YOU CAN’T WAIT FOR NEXT WEEK’S EPISODE,” Humans does just enough to become satisfying Sunday night television.
The ‘cliffhanger’ of last week’s episode was resolved when Laura opened the door to Sophie’s room in the morning. Sophie was there, safe and sound, although her pyjamas were wet. Laura thinks she’s had a little accident, until she sees Anita’s shoes drying downstairs. So, Anita took Sophie out for a midnight stroll in the rain? Strange, yes, and it was something that was left unexplained. Laura’s antagonism towards Anita stems from the fact that Anita is ‘replacing’ her, especially in the eyes of her youngest daughter. There’s part of me that felt sorry for Anita, mindlessly going about her jobs whilst a grown adult snipes at her. However, there is still a vague unease about Anita. Laura tells Anita “I’m watching you.” Anita simply replies “I’m watching you too, Laura.” It sent a few shivers down my spine! Later on, Anita captures a spider and shows it to Laura. Laura is convinced that Anita knew about her arachnophobia. Did Anita know?!?!
Laura attempts to reconnect with Matilda (but after naming your daughter Matilda, can anything make up for that?!?), but fails miserably. Matty is perhaps the most interesting of the Dawson characters. She tries to hack a robot at school, but fails. The headteacher brings Laura in, but as there’s no proof, Matty gets off scot-free. Matty says that she has no problem with synthetics, only that they have rendered her existence meaningless. Again, it adds to her sense of ennui form the first episode. What is the point of studying if synths can do jobs better than humans? Of course, they can’t build themselves yet, so humans will need to build synths. But what happens when synths build synths? Humans will be unnecessary… Matty also exposes the lie about Laura’s fear of Anita replacing her. She questions why her mum caved in so easily to her father bringing in Anita. Laura has no answer…
“He just knows what I need”
The parallel to Laura’s fears of replacement is DS Drummond, but the storyline still isn’t going anywhere so far. Drummond attempts to help his wife to the toilet, but after it, he’s exhausted and bangs his head on the wall. Simon would have taken his wife to the toilet without effort. Even Simon’s ‘kindness’ is rejected by Drummond as Simon rushes to bring Drummond his lunch. “Drive,” Drummond shouts to his partner, and they drive off, leaving Simon holding a bag of sandwiches. Both Laura and Drummond paint realistic pictures of how people react when they feel they are being replaced, by a human or by a synth. However, Drummond’s storyline still serves only as a parallel, and nothing more.
The treatment of synths doesn’t end with petty sniping, however. In Leo’s story, he ventures into an underground synth lab whilst looking for Anita. Headed by a grubby looking chap called Silas, there are synth limbs all over the place. Dressed like Leatherface, Silas is the face of the underbelly of synth technology. He’s disgusting, both in appearance and in character. He relates with restrained glee about how he wiped Anita’s memory.
“What would you like me to do?”
Another look at the seedy underbelly of the synth world is Niska’s prostitution. There’s an unpleasant scene where she is being disinfected after being with a client. The brothel mistress sprays her and other prostitute synths with a fag in her mouth. Niska’s silent scream reflected in three mirrors says it all. Later on, a bespectacled man enter Niska’s room. Initially coming across as shy and polite, he tells her to act scared, and intimates that he wants her to pretend that she’s a child. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back; Niska chokes him to death. Of course, the question here is: who is the more human? The paedophile, or the android who just wants to live her life?
Leo is symbolically this clash of human and synth. Fully human in appearance, with red blood and normal pupils, in the latter moments of the episode Max revives him by attached electrical wires to Leo’s side wound. Is he half-human, half-synth? If a whiff of Blade Runner hovers over the episode, it’s only emphasised by Anita’s apple swan for Sophie’s packed lunch. In my mind, I saw it first as a replica of the origami unicorn at the end of Blade Runner, meant to question Deckard’s being. Was he human, or was he replicant?
There is comedy to wrench us from these possibly soul-destroying questions of our humanity. The Dawson’s son attempts to fondle Anita’s breast, in a scene that raised a belly laugh from me. George is given a new synth from the NHS, Vera. There’s humour in there interaction, especially Vera’s constant monitoring and “advice” about George’s diet and lifestyle. However, even this humour has a sinister side: Vera’s advice isn’t merely advice, but a demand that if not adhered to will result into another visit from his carer. Vera is the embodiment of the surveillance society, micromanaging every aspect of George’s life, able to monitor changes in George’s body with a single touch.
Humans has a lot going for it, but it still hasn’t reached the heights of compulsive viewing yet. There are some laudable twists to the common questions and themes that it raises. There’s a lot of intrigue and mysteries that need to be answered, but I am not chomping at the bit for their resolution. But it’s only episode 2…there are six more to go!
VERDICT: 7/10. Highly watchable but not yet addictive, Humans asks the questions that we are very familiar with…but can it do something more than that?
(Click here for my review of Humans, Series 1, Episode 1)