Last year, in our review of the spectacular finale to Season 1, we promised that ‘wherever Humans Season 2 is going next, we’re eager to follow’.
Well, pack a bag and grab your passport. The second season of Humans is here and it’s going global, hitting all the glamorous locations on the map. Berlin! San Francisco! Bolivia! Nottingham! Well, I hear Nottingham’s lovely this time of year…
Returning with gusto, the opening episode of Humans 2.0 wastes no time in widening the geographic scope of the show, and in doing so it quickly gives its audience a sense of dramatic perspective. The borders have expanded and consequently the stakes feel higher, but thanks to Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s electron-sharp script no one feels lost in the grand sci-fi globetrotting. We’ve even got time to sit in on the Hawkins’ dystopia-tinged marriage counselling session.
But we begin in Berlin where, at the push of a button, Niska (Emily Berrington under a wig) abandons an opportunity for a normal, human-y life, and sends Humanity careening toward the Singularity of a worldwide Synth awakening. The wide shot of the square, where you can’t tell who’s Synth and who’s Human, is a beautiful visual summation of the show’s dramatic trajectory.
It looks like the all-pervading anxiety this season isn’t whether or not Synths will gain consciousness, but what they’ll do with it once they achieve it. I’d venture to say it’s about the burden of consciousness; the freedoms and restrictions, the pleasures and dangers, that having free will brings. That’s certainly the feel Episode 1 gives off.
Niska is the first to shoulder that burden of a life beyond binary, but soon, thanks to her actions as a conscious being, it spreads. Bolivian mine worker ‘Ten’ (Raphael Acloque) receives the Elster consciousness upload and promptly legs it. On the other side of the world, a chemical plant worker designated ‘Hester’ (Sonya Cassidy) does the same.
Although you do have to wonder how much Synths gaining consciousness really does matter in the grand scheme of things. They’re already everywhere, doing everything; forcing humans out of work or into redundancy. Humanity’s progressed its way into subservience and reliance.
At the Hawkins’ new home (now without a kitchen you could stage a parade in) their Synth builder has a human apprentice. Synths are teaching humans, solving their emotional problems, and taking their jobs. Joe’s made redundant by a Synth. Last year he screwed one, now he’s been screwed over by one, and talking about the repercussions of his actions to another.
Speaking of the Synth he violated, Mia (Gemma Chan) is now working at an affable chap’s seaside cafe, mopping his floors, feeling his wood (steady…), but wishing for more. How very human. She’s keen on experiencing more of the world and the people in it, but Leo (Colin Morgan), who’s still handsome int that ‘needs a wash’ sort of way, is keen to keep hidden.
No wonder too. Just as Ten’s become adorable to us with his talk of radiators, he’s shot dead by shadowy Synth-hunting forces.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Season 2’s disparate locations are connected. At a science institute in San Francisco, Carrie-Anne Moss – and hey whoa, let’s just savour the fact that Carrie-Anne Moss is in this and she is fabulous and will forever be so – is pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence with what looks like a talking microwave.
Her sharp but weary and wonderfully-named scientist, Dr Athena Morrow, has pushed far enough to catch the fidgety attention of Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk simulacrum Milo Khoury (Marshall Allman), founder of the ‘Oh I’m sure it won’t be sinister at all, no not at all’ Qualia company.
Actually the one thing to say about Humans is that it doesn’t feel sinister.
Watching in the unheimlich hangover of a Black Mirror binge, and with Westworld currently ringing in the ears, Humans seems positively hopeful about the future of technology. Well, maybe not hopeful, but open to the possibility that it’s not going to be all horror implants and robot bees. It admits the future is going to be difficult, but nothing good was every achieved easily. Especially on a Sunday night.
As if to prove that, Niska turns up at the Hawkins door, keen to hand herself in for murder, but only if she’s tried as a human. As Synths are beginning to wake up, it’s clear that Niska is going to be the test-case for their future rights.
Of all the fibre-optic plot strands the show weaves in its opener, this is the one I’m most looking forward to seeing uncoil. How we treat others we see as different to ourselves is a question that’s never been more pertinent than at the present, when people are literally dying to wash up on our shores.
Sci-fi is at it best when it’s used to tell a human story rather than forcibly fuse jargon to events – after all, there’s a reason this show’s not called Synths.
Humans managed to do it brilliantly last year, and judging by the strength of this opener, we’re about to watch it do the same again.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 30 October 2016 on Channel 4.
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