It’s funny how significant 10 seconds can be to a drama. This week’s episode looked to be wrapping up with Mia and Ed agreeing to holiday together, as a couple and not as synth and owner, and I was pleasantly surprised that the show had seemingly managed to head off the issue I highlighted last week, of not taking the time to explore matters at the heart of their relationship. Ed’s mate Danny had popped up menacingly, but then it looked like that was that. Until those last 10 seconds, of course, when Ed deactivated Mia, as Danny stepped into the foreground.
Now, if the twist plays out the way I expect it to, then at least there is some meaning behind the sacrifice of Mia’s relationship with Ed. With the bills stacking up, and various references to how much ‘special’ Synths go for, you’d imagine that Mia will be sold to the highest bidder, which just might end up being Qualia, bringing events in a nice loop. It would also give some emotional depth to Ed, who would ultimately be choosing his mother’s care, and the pressure of staying in the black over anything he had with Mia. Which is fine, except it comes directly at the cost of Mia’s development, and ultimately, which of those two characters is really more important to the show?
Mia’s storyline was working brilliantly because it went beyond the fight for freedom, peace and rights, and explored whether life would work for conscious Synth’s if they had such liberties. Obviously, with this twist, we can surmise it’s a folly to believe they could ever be treated as equal, and perhaps that’s the point, but something that strikes at the heart of the show’s themes really needed more episodes to develop. Sure, they both enjoyed the sex (even if one merely enjoyed the ‘proximity’ and the other had more primal pleasures), and made each other smile, but long-term, would Mia have truly been content with that life? It might seem like a lot of frustration for 10 seconds, that won’t actually impact anything until next week’s episode, but it diminished what was otherwise a really strong instalment within that particular arc.Thankfully, though, other arcs got back to their best this week. Mattie’s developments with Odie have been a slow-burner over the second series, with only a couple scenes an episode, but they were strong moments here. Odie, as a character, has been intriguing, as the audience almost knows more about him than he does, having been established last series, only to return this year as basically a clean slate. Mattie, meanwhile, feels like the only one of the Hawkins children who comes across as ‘real’. Her, Toby and Sophie all have characteristics typical of their age, but, whether it’s Lucy Carless’ acting or simply better writing for her character given she plays more of a role in the overall narrative, Mattie is a far better presence on screen.
Toby’s scenes this week weren’t quite so effective. Watching him semi-flirt with Renie while she (largely) maintained her front as a ‘Synthie’ wasn’t cringe-worthy because of how badly he did so, and how he completely misunderstood the reason she acts as a Synth, but because it felt like the entire thing was meant to make the audience cringe. Whereas last year, Toby’s typical teenage boy stylings worked because they were mixed in with outside, dynamic plot points, this year, this stereotype is all he’s been given.
Elsewhere, the friction between Hester and Max peaked, as their opposing approaches clashed. Max saw the priority to be protecting and reassuring each awakened Synth, Hester (and in the end, Leo) felt that it was more important to find ‘the Silo’ and free as many Synths as possible. It was a superb conflict to highlight, as both points of view had merit. Naturally, to rescue ‘all’ the captured Synths is the ultimate goal, yet Max’s position raised the question of just what rescuing them entails. Is it simply the physical act of getting them away from Qualia and immediate danger? Or is it more than that, offering them space and freedom to develop their personality, while significantly offering a positive first impression of the outside world? Certainly, one can’t imagine that time being available when fleeing with such a number of Synths as is implied to be being held at the Silo.Hester and Leo’s view seemed to be that it was merely a postponement of rescuing the Synth nurse they had arranged a rendezvous with, yet, as Hester has shown, first impressions can have major repercussions for who a Synth might become. Rather than be greeted with the idea that not all humans are ‘evil’, and that there is a way to live happily, the nurse instead is shown that outside of slavery, is just more slavery. Worryingly, with Max departing in protest, there is no dissenting voice to counter Hester’s unblinking pragmatism, and Leo’s devotion to ‘the cause’.
Finally, though there were developments in other areas (Athena and Milo’s dinner, for one), the big moments came in the progression of Niska’s consciousness test, with the return of Astrid. The two of them, together, had been what kick-started this second series, and for all the effect it had on Niska, I didn’t see it coming. I had expected Niska to be tested on the memory of Astrid, rather than having Astrid actually turn up. For face value drama, having the two talk worked well, but might it not have been interesting to explore Niska’s feelings for Astrid before that? She could’ve been shown the phone number to test for a reaction, and then Astrid could have been brought in. But that is largely nit-picking, as, like I said, it worked well, and gives a further twist, alongside the warning that Niska may lose regardless of the findings from this test, that becomes ever more labyrinthine by the week.
But labyrinthine is always better than linear, and the show just needs to apply this same kind of pacing across the board. Until next week.