Last week’s opening episode of Humans was watched by over 4 million viewers (all of them properly human, I’m sure), making it Channel 4’s highest-rated drama in over a decade.
Couple that with Gemma Chan’s hint that there’s scope for a second season, and you may as well get used to Synths being around you for a while.
Although if you can’t get used to that idea then you’re not alone. Most of the characters in Humans are uneasy with a robo-mannequin sharing the same plug socket as the kettle or the iPhone. And who can blame them?
Synths look like a Cupertino-designed consolidation of our deepest fears: our biggest failings as human beings packed into an ergonomic unnervingly-close-to-human form. They’re blank slates, fresh off the production line, on to which users can project their biggest insecurities. Because how insecure would you have to be to resort to having sex with a robot prostitute after it’s been hosed down?
To Laura (Katherine Parkinson), Anita is a manifestation of her guilt at spending too much time at work and not enough time being a mum. Whether or not you think that’s a natural maternal fear or has the vague whiff of misogyny is an essay for another time, but Katherine Parkinson makes great work of communicating a mother’s unease.
To daughter Mattie she’s emblematic of that terrifying inadequacy that you feel as you’re about to enter the job market. To son Toby she’s a reminder of how sexually immature he is; always a blow to a teenage lad. Although really, Toby, if you’re going to put the moves on a Synth, be a gentleman and do it while they’re not recharging.
Or you could go see a prostitute Synth – always Humans most uncomfortable scenes – as long as you’re ready to risk your life. ‘Seven’ (Emily Berrington) kills a client but it’s okay because he’s an aggressive paedophile, which rather eradicates the moral blow of a Synth taking a human life.
For Dr Millican (William Hurt), his obsolete Synth son is a reminder of his own old age and accompanying bodily atrophy, while NHS Synth Vera (a brilliantly chilly Rebecca Front) is the cold sterile future that he and the rest of us fear being trapped in and subjected to as we age and become more vulnerable.
There’s a comedy to Millican trying to outwit his nurse that Hurt does so well, but he’s not oblivious to the pathos that runs deep beneath it, especially given that, as someone heavily involved in creating Synths, Millican is now trapped by them. ‘Til death do they part.
On death’s door after a good kicking from Paul Kaye (he’s everywhere at the minute!), Leo looks to be in bad shape until he’s hotwired back to consciousness. Hold the phone! What is Leo? He bleeds blood red instead of gooey blue, but he’s filled with wires. Is he the next generation of Synth? And if so then Merlin star Colin Morgan’s made a great job of playing a character significantly more complex than it first appeared.
It felt like Humans had laid out the geography and rules of its world in great depth, but Leo proves that we’ve barely got under the skin of this world. Now we’ll have to wait another week to go deeper.
It still feels like we’re waiting for pieces to fall together, but it’s another strong episode and one that continues to explore without ever alienating the viewer. Proof then that 4 million people made a very wise choice indeed last Sunday. Let’s hope they did the same this week.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 21 June 2015 on Channel 4.
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