Answering Life’s Big Questions With My Celebrity Crush:
A review of HUMANS.
**SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this if you hate spoilers.**
Two Sunday nights ago found me sitting on our living room floor in front of the TV, a sleeping Joss on my lap (it had been a BIG weekend!), tearing up again and again as I neared the season 2 finale of HUMANS. I’ll admit, I started watching the show after finishing “Merlin” because it sounded interesting but mostly because I wasn’t ready to let the very talented Colin Morgan fade out of my television-watching life. But my shallowness was rewarded with a fascinating, thought-provoking science fiction series that explores what it means to be human, humanity’s relationship with technology, and more.
In the world of HUMANS, humans live side-by-side with synthetics (or synths), who are superficially indistinguishable from humans except for their luminous, bright blue or green eyes (and their charging portals, which are usually hidden by their clothing). Synths perform both skilled and unskilled labor, allowing the show to explore implications of job shortages thanks to an increasing reliance on AI technology.
(Quick note: There are some themes in HUMANS that would probably not be suitable for younger children. In its exploration of the relationship between humans, robots and conscious robots, it does not leave out the inevitable issue of sexual exploitation. However, depending on your household’s TV guidelines, I think the show could inspire good conversations with teenage viewers.)
Season 1 trailer
HUMANS follows two families: one human, one synthetic–a group of conscious synths bound together by a common creator and history. Most synths are not conscious–they perform only the duties they are assigned to and follow strict protocol, but the tension of the show, of course, comes from asking, “What happens when robots can think, even feel, for themselves?”
Since it’s been awhile since I’ve watched season 1, I don’t remember everything; I just remember being impressed with the way the show explored so many different philosophical and ethical questions (most of which are pretty relevant to today’s society), while remaining tense and exciting. This review from the New York Times explains it better:
“We are, we keep being told, right on the verge of having robots become omnipresent in our lives. ‘Humans’ invites us to contemplate the consequences of that, and look beyond the obvious problem of what happens when the robots achieve independence of thought (which, it bears repeating, they always, always, always do). One of the show’s themes is how ceding our roles and choices to machines threatens us. What happens to motherhood when a robot can read a bedtime story to a child more entertainingly than Mom can, a reality Laura confronts? What happens to aging with dignity when an eldercare robot bosses you around as if you were a child?”
This morning, NPR was talking about new privacy measures in Europe regarding Facebook and other social media, which brought home just how relevant the questions raised by HUMANS are. In season 1: If you see technology hurting humanity as a whole, but know it could be personally beneficial, would you embrace or reject it?
As more synths become conscious in season 2, there is a simultaneous epidemic going around of human children pretending to be synthetic in response to trauma, neglect, loss, or any reason they may have to wish to repress their emotions and quit feeling. This happens to the primary human family’s youngest daughter, and you get to watch their frustration as this previously unheard-of mental illness takes their daughter away from them.
Another theme of season 2 has to do with oppression, retaliation and justice. Hester, a synth, wakes to consciousness in a brutal work environment. She sees no reason not to liberate the synths by any means necessary. The humans have hurt them, they deserve to pay. Meanwhile, others are working to come up with a solution that will minimize damage to both human and synth communities. Season 3 premiers Tuesday, June 5 on AMC (I’ll have to wait till it joins the other two seasons on Amazon Prime), and it sounds like these issues of justice will come even more to the forefront. According to this review from The Guardian,
“That is the great thing about Humans; it is sci-fi that constantly hints at reality, enough to seduce even the staunchest sci-fi-phobes. It’s not just about artificial intelligence and robots taking over, and the questions – philosophical as well as practical – that are already spouting out of that; it is about injustice, racism and all kinds of prejudice.
It is not even just about the (admittedly near) future. So much of it resonates with bells that are ringing now and have rung before.”
But of course, I wasn’t crying because I was overwhelmed by philosophical ponderings or existential angst–the characters in HUMANS are wonderful and, given the nature of their time, have to deal with a lot of difficult, even heartbreaking, situations. One of my favorite characters is Odi (played by Will Tudor), a first-generation synth (think iPhone 1) who is brought to consciousness in season 2 by Laura’s brilliant oldest daughter, Mattie, after being “recycled” at the end of season 1. While Odi is now conscious, he is still broken/disabled, confused by his new state of being and, unfortunately, Mattie and the rest of her family don’t take the time to help him adjust. When he tries to do what he’d be programmed to do (clean the house), Mattie tells him that he’s free to leave, to explore his likes and dislikes, to take a walk and just experience the world. But all Odi wants to do, and all he knows how to do, is help people. He ends up in a confessional and explains his fears to the priest, who tells him that, if he wants to help people, he should do so. But Odi doesn’t understand society’s rules, and his help just makes people uncomfortable and angry–and if those scenes don’t make you want to weep, well…*insert joke about being a heartless robot here*
I know I gave some spoilers, but trust me, there’s a ton I didn’t write about, and it’s all fantastic. So next time you ask that old question, “What should I watch next?” consider giving HUMANS a try. And let me know what you think 🙂