Over the last six episodes Humans has brought up themes of morality, identity and humanity becoming obsolete in the shadow of ever-evolving technology. Amidst all this, the writers have excelled at building tension between the humans and the Synths, but what they’ve really done superbly is hold on to their most valuable cards. Never revealing too much or too little, they’ve kept us hanging on every moment of every episode, and this week our patience is rewarded.
Each character’s backstory has been slowly divulged as the series has progressed; we learnt about George Millican and Hobb’s role in the original Synth creation, we discovered Leo’s history with the conscious Synths, and we witnessed the Hawkins family secrets spill out into the open. But the writers were holding out on us when it comes to DI Karen Voss, and now we know why it was so important to keep her a mystery up until now. Voss is the trump card; the one piece that would bring the rest of the David Elster puzzle together.Since confirmation of her Synth status, Karen has become more synthetic; her mannerisms are notably less human, her speech dulled and her eyes void of emotion. She no longer needs to pretend and with this comes some eye-opening exposition. We learn that David Elster transformed his wife, Beatrice, into a conscious Synth when she committed suicide and Karen is the end result. Forced to live a life she doesn’t want, with memories she doesn’t consider to be her own, Karen is tormented. Worse still, there’s no easy get-out since David disabled her ability to end her existence a second time.
“The pain you feel isn’t because of what you are, it’s the life you had”, George assures Karen when she comes knocking for Niska with a gun. And whilst that might be true, it doesn’t really change anything. Karen considers herself to be “a failed experiment” and she’d rather annihilate her kind than let Leo unlock the secret to consciousness and create more of them. Her suffering forces her into a dangerous deal with Hobb, whose motives once again seem vague as he hovers between foreboding and curiousity.
Instead of eliminating Niska, Karen shoots George and it’s a scene that brings both sadness and hope. We’d only scratched the surface of his story (and it’s a tragedy to lose William Hurt) but perhaps his untimely death has more meaning this way. Niska’s reaction to George bleeding out finally reveals a compassionate side to the angry Synth, something George had been trying to coax out of her. More heartbreaking though is Odi, who recalls memories from the past as George slips away. “You have died George”, Odi says matter-of-factly, announcing his owner’s death in a moving moment that indicates the end of two of the series’ most endearing characters.With George out of the picture, we’re given the opportunity to focus almost exclusively on the happenings in the Hawkins house, which becomes a refuge for Leo and his brothers and sisters. Max is recovered from the river and the race is on to salvage his consciousness before his system irreparably shuts down. They pump him with blue fluid – an action comparable to a human blood transfusion – but Leo struggles to bring his brother back. It goes from bad to worse when Joe and Laura learn of Niska’s violent past and demand all the Synths leave their home, without giving Niska the opportunity to explain.
Laura might have accepted the conscious Synths into her home but it doesn’t take much to tip the balance and bring back her original fears. Regardless of how kind or gentle they are towards humans, Synths will always be treated differently because they are different. At this point it doesn’t feel as if they’ll ever be able to integrate themselves into human society.
As alliances are forged and broken, the episode comes to an explosive end that throws everything up in the air. With characters spread far and wide, Humans has always risked losing continuity as it jumps between them, but the fantastic script has anchored the story. It’s nice to finally have all the key characters – bar Pete Drummond – in the same place, even if it could signal the end for some of them. With just one episode to go, Humans is bound to surprise us next week as it has done all series. The only thing we can expect for sure is another round of spectacular performances.