‘Humans’ review: Season 2 Episode 2 sees more fantastic world-building

With the Elster software spreading like a virus, Humans starts to explore the idea that acquired consciousness doesn’t automatically mean instantly acquired intelligence.

For instance, my 10 month old nephew possesses a consciousness, and he keeps smushing broccoli into the carpet and repeatedly forgets that he’s scared of Mr. Pontipine’s moustache on In The Night Garden.

Newly awakened Synths aren’t doing any of that – think of the global flooring disaster if they were – but Mia is correct when she likens them to children. Emotionally inexperienced, intuitively naïve, incapable of expressing themselves in quite the right way, but capable of doing to a human what my nephew does to broccoli, they’re not only going to be a challenge to Humanity, but also each other.

Hester is made the prime example of that, and we’ll get to her, but Humans also cannily shows us the reflection of the Synth awakening by showing us the degradation of human consciousness.

Ed’s mum is the human representation of a conscious mind attempting to express itself and failing; of attempting to understand surroundings and coming up short. As Mia sits with her, we’re watching two people struggling with the disparate ends of the same spectrum: both trying to deal with a re-arranged mind, both trying to find themselves through the fog of the unknown.

The only difference is that one is full of possibilities and one is slowly shutting down. The moment when Mia breaks her Synth act and comforts her? One of my optical units developed a fluid malfunction. You’d have to have blue goop running through you not to have felt something.

Likewise, you’d have to have a charging port in your side not to smile wryly as Synth Karen and Pete (Ruth Bradley and Neil Maskell) enjoying/enduring the mundanity of shopping for furniture.

As a man who once catastrophically lost his cool in the middle of the wardrobe section of a Famous Swedish Self-Assembly Maze, the line ‘Don’t panic, we’re allowing ourselves a single pleasurable detour into rugs’ is at once hilarious and terrifying on a deeply Pavlovian level.

Karen’s looking forward to going back to work and pretending to be something she’s not. Or rather, something she is. Or something else to what she is. She, like all the other awakened Synths, is still finding an exact place in the world. Picking an aubergine headboard is a good start.

And though there’s something curious about how much she’s looking forward to going back to work and pretending to be someone else (but I can’t put my finger on why). Still at least she seems comfortable as an awakened Synth. She’s had time to adjust.

Hester’s brand new and dangerous, and Sonya Cassidy’s performance makes her quietly terrifying. Mentally, Hester’s a child. She’s constantly questioning and testing the limits, and not even the sagacious advice of paternal Max can stop her from making mistakes. Well, what child doesn’t disobey their elders?

Kind, sweet Max (I’ve never encountered a TV character I want to hug more, other than Bungle from Rainbow) frees the Synth-hunting grunt Jansen, only for Hester to follow. She smushes him into a puddle in the damp carpet of the forest like so much broccoli. Jensen drowns, and Hester treats it as a learning exercise, although what she’s learned is unclear and will define the position of her character from now on.

Continuing the show’s theme of disobedient offspring – albeit without all the death – Mattie goes in search of Dr. Millican’s Synth, and finds him. Yes, Odi’s back! What a lovely surprise. Lovely broken Odi, who we last saw kneeling over the corpse of Dr. Millican (William Hurt. Miss you, Hurtsy) has returned.

Will Tudor still does the best ‘damaged robot’ work in the biz, and if the show isn’t going to go down the Real Humans route of having Millican return as a ‘Grief-Synth’ then this is a great second prize.

Mattie plans to upload the Synth consciousness into him, which, if it’s anything like the latest update to my phone, will go just about as well as Dr. Morrow’s attempted upload of ‘V’ into a Synth body. And as Mattie’s approaching the Synth awakening from an anarchist’s angle, her mum’s doing it by the book, cutting through the red tape to make sure Niska’s treated fairly as she hands herself in for an interview that will determine the future of Humans and Synths.

And behind all of this there’s some more fantastic world-building, made more fantastic by how effortlessly it’s slotted in. Humans has such a knack for coding the small details into the world that the background details become just as interesting as the characters.

There’s Joe searching for work under the category ‘Jobs for Humans in London’, or Ed’s mate asking if the bacon is human-farmed and, most interestingly, the school girl who identifies as a ‘Synthie’.  You could devote a whole show to that topic alone. Hopefully we’re going to get more of it this season.

That’s a chief beauty of Humans. Every episode leaves you eager to explore. I’m glad this is on Channel 4, because if Humans was available in any binge-able format, then by now I’d be laying in my pyjamas, covered in Rice Krispies shrapnel, and begging for the next season to hurry up.

But like the Elster Consciousness code, good things come to those who wait. So wait we will.

See you next week.

5star

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 6 November 2016 on Channel 4.

Buy Season 1 on DVD on Amazon here.

Pre-order Season 2 on DVD on Amazon here.

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