So far, in the two episodes of series two, Humans has accelerated the plot considerably. Alongside the continuation of established character and narrative arcs, we have innumerable conscious Synths waking up across the globe (though, incidentally, the marginalisation of this in episode two and here is slightly curious), and a new American angle in Dr. Morrow. Niska alone has, in three episodes, been in Berlin, released the code, developed a relationship, ended that relationship and returned to the UK, reunited with the Hawkins, volunteered herself to be tested for consciousness pending a trial, and began to undergo said test of consciousness. And that’s just one character. By and large, these developments have been consistent and justified, but that’s not to say more time and exploration wouldn’t have been beneficial.
This, broadly speaking, is one clear issue that arises from the show being a transatlantic co-production. It has the same constantly developing nature as some of AMC’s other shows (who, alongside Channel 4 and indie UK studio Kudos, are behind the production) like The Walking Dead or, previously to an extent, Breaking Bad. Yet, to conform to our TV over here in the UK, Humans only has 8 episodes a series (and for us, that’s actually on the long side), unlike TWD’s 16, and isn’t so narrowly focused as to be able to spend an entire episode on the minutiae of one development (or the presence of a fly) like Breaking Bad. Instead, we’re stuck somewhere in the middle, with a fast paced series that’s over fairly quickly, meaning that we spend less time building towards each big development, and less time exploring the impact those developments have. As a result, we get episodes like this one.
Episode three wasn’t bad by any means, and there were few issues with the actual developments themselves. Yet in a number of areas things felt a tad hurried, perhaps clearing the way for big episodes to come, and the plot rushed from one shift to the next. Karen went back to work, had some office banter, and then before the end of the episode was malfunctioning. Joe also went back to work (albeit in a rather less prestigious role), and by the end the effects of that seemed to give way to concerns about Sophie and her, dare I say, increasingly ‘robotic’ demeanour.But most glaring was the pace in Mia’s storyline. The first two episodes built up the dynamic between her and Ed strongly, while also making clear the limitations. Mia’s revelation to Ed of her consciousness was all the more effective because of this groundwork, and their connection felt real. With Mia undergoing emotional and psychological development, it’s an area ripe for exploration – she’s got what she wanted but thought she couldn’t have. What now? As with any relationship, with any desire at all, the reality doesn’t always match the expectation. If a large part of the show is exploring what it means to be human, and indeed what it means to not be, then time needs to be spent exploring that when the opportunity arises. Yet, before the episode had finished, it once again looked like we were already moving towards the next development, with Ed’s mate spying Mia and Ed together. Hopefully, for the sake of the show, he sits on that knowledge for an episode or two.
Elsewhere, the episode did fare better. Athena’s visit to Professor Hobb toyed nicely with how both characters have appeared until now, and her latest talk with V gives a clear indication as to who V is, why she won’t allow her daughter to be taken off life support, and why she wants to transplant AI into a new body.
Niska’s testing was interesting enough, but seemed to overlook one glaring issue with the methodology: why couldn’t she fake the signs they were looking for? It wasn’t quite clear what those signs were – heart rate seemed to be one – but surely she could at least try and pretend. Of course, the difference between impulse and premeditation would be fairly obvious, yet would an attempt to trick the system not be a sign of consciousness in itself? Regardless, the test itself, and that it was seeing how she responded against ‘human’ standards, felt chillingly relevant to attitudes towards immigration and cultural assimilation or lack thereof. Niska was being tested against a false standard: the threshold was how ‘human’ she was, if she reacted to stimuli as a human might. But she shouldn’t react as a human might, because she isn’t human, conscious or not. Human-like reactions wouldn’t prove (or indeed disprove) her consciousness, only that she is capable of conforming. Yet of course, this conformity is at the heart of ideas of assimilation, that ‘my’ way is appropriate and thus by extension all others are not.
Finally, one of the best bits of the episode was what it didn’t show at all – as Leo discovered the ‘escaped’ prisoner at the farm, Hester went to reveal her actions, but stopped herself. As a viewer, this speaks positively to the above idea of letting a development gestate; it also means Hester is learning her own concept of secrets, and of right and wrong. Which, as I mentioned last week, might not be such a good thing.