At this point last year, as series 1 of Humans came to a close, there were questions as to what would come next, both narratively and thematically. With the subject matter of the show, there was, and is, potential to cover huge ground – from the socio-political ramifications of job automation (an issue which pervades our society more and more too), to the political agendas concerning the rights of a quasi-slave workforce, to the philosophical and theological ideas that arise for those who gain consciousness. All of this seemed up for grabs, as Niska took off on the train to who-knows-where with the ‘consciousness code’.
The peculiarity of the second series, however, is that while these themes were certainly touched upon, we’re faced with pretty much the same scenario as we look forward to series 3. Despite Niska releasing a form of the code in episode 1, it wasn’t until the last moments of episode 8 that the code was implemented properly, awakening (seemingly) every single Synth. Looked at in such simplistic terms, one could be forgiven for seeing the second series as a kind of holding pattern, the show just biding its time before using its only, and irreversible, trump card. Indeed, at a deeper level one could argue this too, but with the redeeming factor that it plays into the theme of ‘readiness’ that was key to the final scenes of the series, as Laura and Niska debated with Max and Mattie as to whether they should release the code or not.The second series also saw a number of new introductions to the cast, all of whom made a good impact. Carrie-Anne Moss’ Dr Athena Morrow was in effect a straight swap in for William Hurt’s series 1 character George Millican, but Morrow had a significantly more active role in the show, and had more depth too. If there was one issue, it was that she wasn’t integrated quite as well, forming an effective sideshow, but rarely being brought into the main picture. Connected to Morrow’s storyline was Marshall Allman’s Milo Khoury, the owner of Qualia, who seemed to actually diminish in importance as the series went on. He started out looking very much like the primary antagonist, but ended up as a slightly redeemed, regretful figure as he said goodbye to Athena.
And, of course, there was Hester. In many ways, Hester was a very simple character. She started out naturally as a blank slate, yet was never taught anything of the world beyond ‘explain it to me like I’m five’ level logic, before she had to fend for herself. Which, unsurprisingly, didn’t end well. That she won’t be back for future episodes is a pity, simply because she was a great character study for the show, but her arc did reach a natural conclusion with her demise, and to bring her back after Niska crushed her skull would be pushing it just a bit too far.Still, she was central to the second series’ question of whether humanity would ever be ready to accept Synths as equals. On the one hand, we’d like to believe that Qualia are the exception, amoral mercenaries, and that the Hawkins’ are representative of the reception conscious Synths would receive, if that revelation was handled in a careful manner with ‘official’ support.
On the other hand, you have Hester’s view, that humanity had shown its true colours, and would never really accept conscious Synths. Was her implementation of this reality questionable? Sure. But there was enough evidence throughout the series to suggest she might not have been far from the truth. During Odi’s period of awakening midway through the series, it was clear that the world outside the bubble of the cast isn’t particularly welcoming, something reinforced by the outcome of Niska’s non-trial. Joe’s arc for the series was also particularly significant to this, losing his management position as it became a Synth role, before being reemployed at the same factory in a labour job through a ‘humans back to work’ scheme.
By the end of the series, he was pushing for the family to move to a human-only village. His brand of nostalgia very blatantly echoes the same kind that fuels nationalist sentiment surrounding immigration, in reminiscing about a time which never existed, yet the majority opinion against which he rebels is almost equally abhorrent. Where people of his views desire reversal and exclusion, the majority are content with a status quo where they ignore the elephant in the room of slavery. Even the characters like Mattie and Laura who are demonstrably for the ‘greater good’, for the rights of conscious Synths, are unsure as to whether they could commit to realising those rights. So while we’d like to believe that yes, we could be ready, it’s far more likely that we never would be.Ultimately, too there’s also the question of whether the show is ready. It’s somewhat cruel to bring up potential budget constraints for the future series when reviewing existing material, but it is a big issue. Up until now, the show has played at being a global narrative, but restricted itself to a tiny corner of the UK. It’s had to. Yes, there is the additional funding that AMC presumably brings, but the budget for the show still seems fairly standard for C4 and British TV. It stretches to a solid cast and public locations, but can it really go as big as it needs to now? Either the show undermines the significance of its own development, and skirts around the new urgency and globalisation of the plot, or it’s going to need a far bigger budget. The amount of extras who’ll be needed to play what effectively would be a Synth army, added to countless new main cast members, added to, ideally, new locations domestically and abroad, and on top of that, one would imagine some significant CGI work to sew this all together. It’s a big ask.
But for now, it’s beside the point, as it may be that there isn’t a third series to worry about. Regardless, the second series of Humans continued the momentum of the first, expanding its plotlines and continuing to ask significant questions of its cast and audience.