After a typically British interval between series (first series in early June 2015, second in late October 2016), Humans is back. Although, in the eyes of some, it’s already been back for a month, in the form of HBO’s Westworld. There are certainly similarities in premise – both about the emergence of synthetic consciousness – but they’re fundamentally different shows beyond that (other than that they’re both brilliant). Indeed, the strength of Humans comes in what’s beyond that, in how this emergence can impact both the AI experiencing sentience for the first time and the humans involved with them, and how this might spread to affect more than just a core group of characters.
The early scenes of this premiere felt like dominoes falling to that effect. With Niska releasing the code with the potential to ‘awaken’ Synths, the show immediately takes on a broader scope. That includes a potentially more global character base, if ‘Radiator’ is any indication, but also more importantly means the show breaking cover. As much as the events of the show haven’t gone unnoticed, they’ve yet to explode into public focus (Niska’s punch up was the closest we’ve come), having been restricted to shady organisations, and intimate familial relations. With more and more Synths waking up across the world, it gives the show licence to explore not just how particular human characters might react to sentient AI, as in the first series, but how humanity as a society reacts. For now, though, it’s still slightly black and white – the good guys and the bad guys.
Even though this dichotomy is visible, it didn’t make the death of good old Radiator any less disheartening. I say ‘good old’… even though we only knew him for about 5 minutes. Still, it was a good 5 minutes, and anyone who, chooses ‘Radiator’ for their name is a big loss. He also helped introduce Hester, who appears to be someone who’ll play a more substantial role going forward.Across the Atlantic, the issue of ‘who is the token big name we need to sell the show to US audiences’ was resolved by the addition of Carrie-Anne Moss to the cast as Athena Morrow, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, taking the place of William Hurt’s now-deceased leading artificial intelligence researcher. It had to be said, even if Morrow is an interesting character. The episode seemed to build her as an empathetic and reserved character, only for her morality to come into question slightly towards the end, in declaring she’d need to ‘take apart’ Artie, the artist Synth (was the name literally just a pun on that or did they not realise?). I’m all for a morally questionable character of prominence on the show to destabilise the main cast, I just hope that she is morally questionable, and not a straight-up villain with a smile.
That main cast had some effective scenes of ‘humanity’ this week, in particular in the contrast between Mia and Niska. With the former working as a Synth at a seaside café (the set of which looks suspiciously like about a million other British TV seaside cafes…), and the latter soaking up the nightlife in Berlin as a human, they seemed worlds apart. Yet both were held back by worries of expectations – Mia unable to break expected protocol to show her affections for her boss, and Niska unable to explain why it is she can be so distant to her girlfriend in Berlin. Opposite ends of the spectrum – one disguising their humanity, one disguising their technical lack of it, yet both with the same problem that the life they want is still out of reach, or at least, they don’t feel comfortable taking that leap of faith.
As for the Hawkins clan, they continued plodding on and dealing with the mess left behind by their first series escapades. After a couples counselling session with a brilliantly cast Josie Lawrence (whose appearance just made me want to watch Whose Line is it Anyway?), Joe lost his job to a synth, and the human apprentice helping the Synth foreman to fix up their new house mucked up. But even then, things seemed to be settling down, with Joe and Laura’s relationship mending slightly, Mattie not totally angry at everyone and everything, Sophie just being a normal kid (who doesn’t like peas though?), and Toby thus far not doing anything stupid. So of course Niska should turn up at their door and cause chaos once again. Of course.