HUMANS – series two, episode eight

humans - series 2, episode 8
4 out of 5 stars

And so, in the end, Humans series 2 ended in the same way it began, with someone pushing a button and changing the world. Last time, Niska’s (Emily Berrington) decision to unleash the “consciousness code” upon the world only led to a smattering of synths “waking up”, but that was enough to allow Humans to delve even deeper into exploring—and blurring—the line between humanity and synths. The show’s main question isn’t so much what it means to be human, but rather what it means to be alive. And it’s a theme the show continues to explore with admirable depth and, on occasion, subtlety.

The highlights of this finale were undoubtedly the scenes between Hester (Sonya Cassidy) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson), who was taken hostage by the renegade synth. It never felt like Laura was in real danger of being killed off, but the conversations that ensue provided more than enough drama in themselves. Hester and Laura occupy two opposing viewpoints, and their discussions about the merits of changing hearts and minds peacefully, versus doing so with violence, were fantastic.

humans - series 2, episode 8

The writing on Humans is usually good, but Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s work here felt particularly strong. The performances of Parkinson and Cassidy elevated the material, giving us scenes with a real sense of gravity. Their discussion had significance, and it felt bigger than just the two of them. Hester describing exactly why human life means nothing to her was particularly chilling, and suggested the danger inherent in Mattie (Lucy Carless) hitting that switch shortly afterward. Cassidy was a strong addition to the cast this series, and really grew into the role as Hester became increasingly unhinged.

The hour even had one solid surprise to it. While it was a shame that Mia (Gemma Chan) was more subdued throughout the hour than her steely war-face from last week might have implied, the presence of the Qualia chips in hers and Hester’s heads meant that there was a certain weight of threat—and sense of inevitability—about what was to come. There’s a magic switch that kills the antagonist, but it also has the potential to kill the hero? I think everyone saw the potential tragedy that was forthcoming.

humans - series 2, episode 8

And while it seemed for all the world like Leo (Colin Morgan) was set to activate the code and kill Hester, only for it to unwittingly hurt Mia as she suddenly appeared behind him, the show took a more startling option. Right in the midst of their tender reunion (Leo and Hester dappled in beautiful, soft sunlight), Hester seized the initiative and stabbed Leo in the neck.

Having Mia be the one to instigate the self-destruct herself was surprising, and arguably added far more weight to the sequence. However, Humans wasn’t about to lose arguably its two most recognisable stars, and so Leo was still breathing come the episode’s end, and Mattie’s code saved Mia at the last minute, even as it awakened every other synth across the world. Mia sacrificed herself to save Laura, but what was sacrificed to save Mia might have a far, far greater cost.

humans - series 2, episode 8

All around the world, synths are now waking up. Not just one or two, in a staggered or sporadic manner, but all of them at once. It was a wonderful sequence for series 2 to end on, set to a beautiful piece of music, and the feeling of stepping out into a new world—a changed world—was palpable. Humans doesn’t have the budget to convey the sort of large-scale chaos this mass awakening would actually cause, alas, but director Mark Brozel did well to capture it in small moments: a synth-clown removing his rubber nose, a spilled glass of water, and a dog running free of its synth walker.

humans - series 2, episode 8

And it was particularly impactful for Karen (Ruth Bradley), whose sense of being lost in this world was only amplified by the death of her husband last week. She was, in fact, about to kill herself, taking her creepy child synth with her. Until, luckily, her “son” became conscious at the very last second, and leaped into her arms, terrified by his deeper awareness of what’s happening. Karen had bonded with him as a synth, but now he’s awake, she’ll have to do it for real, and the world’s first synth mother and son is something that should be fun to explore. And credit to casting for finding a very effective child actor, as Billy Jenkins is more convincingly robotic than most, with his uncanny lifelessness particularly unsettling.

humans - series 2, episode 8

Somewhat disconnected to everything else happening in the finale, Dr. Morrow (Carrie-Anne Moss), having failed to give her artificial daughter a body, sent ‘V’ away, effectively watching her die all over again as the program fragmented and degraded before her eyes. It was a touching moment, even though V never convinced as a character or a concept, and it became a subplot that never felt integrated into the larger whole, despite some obvious thematic similarities.

Humans tends to do a great job of exploring its central themes, but there are always certain aspects or storylines—like Morrow’s, as mentioned—that feel superfluous or disconnected. These are stories with potential and merit, but that don’t receive the time to breathe and develop, and should perhaps have been dropped in favour of greater depth to other areas.

humans - series 2, episode 8

This finale typified that feeling. Placing Hester and Laura in a room together and simply letting them interact for an hour (their opposing ideologies coming up against each other), was fascinating, but trying to squeeze Max (Ivanno Jeremiah), Niska, and everyone else into proceedings sometimes felt forced. It was as if the writer’s realised they had to give them something to do in a finale, but it wasn’t narratively warranted. Whilst the ensemble is generally terrific, Humans is a show that might benefit from a smaller cast and a tighter focus on its story.

On the whole, though, series two was every bit as good as the first, although it suffered from many of the same niggles. The scope widened, but the strong writing, performances, and characters, meant that it never lost sight of what was important—even as it introduced new American characters and other locations around the world. And what’s more, it remains a distinctly British prospect, even as it covers themes and stories that are relevant to humanity as a whole. It cannot be overstated how important it is to have smart British sci-fi series as good as Humans on our screens, and there are plenty more stories to be told in this world, and with these likeable characters, so long may it continue.

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