‘Humans’ Episode 4 review: We are forced into a moral maze

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With its big sci-fi concepts, questions of consciousness, and sexy robots, Humans can invariably bring out the Sunday night philosopher in you.

Especially when you ponder age-old Asimovian questions such as ‘where is the line that separates AI from human consciousness?’ And, at what point do you mark the definition between £20,000 electro-sex-doll and someone who can actually consent to intimacy?

Just as the world is what you want to make of it, so a Synth’s proximity to ‘humanity’ is governed by how humanely you want to treat it. If you want to believe it’s human and take it to see Death of a Salesman, then to you it will be human. If you want to treat it as a punching bag, or throw away your masturbatory toys and treat it like a sex doll or a teenage fantasy, then that’s probably all a Synth will ever be to you.

Humans 4 Karen Voss (Ruth Bradley)

While Laura is off trying to find the legal border between fleshy life and microchips, her husband is at home, drunk, and with the X-rated scratch card that unlocks Anita’s ‘bom-chicka-wah-wah’ mode. He activates it and – I don’t know why I was surprised – uses it to its full potential. Has he not seen that episode of Futurama, ‘I Dated a Robot’?

It’s very uncomfortable to watch, given that we know there’s a consciousness somewhere deep inside Anita, screaming for help. But if this were just an ordinary Synth he’d unbuckled his belt for, would it feel like he’d cheated on his wife? Would it be any worse than firing up the iPad and single-handedly browsing the stickier corners of the Internet?

At the same time we’re presented with another case study in robot/human relations, with the party dickhead who deactivates a Synth so he can molest it. It’s heavy with connotations of date-rape, and we’re on Mattie’s side as she intervenes, but in the back of your head there’s the question, ‘is it possible to sexually assault a machine’?

Humans 4 Niska (Emily Berrington)

There’s not meant to be anything flippant about these queasy questions. Far from it. That’s the beauty of the moral maze that Humans forces us into. There are no easy answers. This is great drama, and like all great drama it demands that we think seriously about what it’s saying.

Fortunately Niska’s on a ass-kicking crusade to save her fellow kind from all kinds of abuse, breaking up (literally) a Synth-smashing ring before using a nail gun to evade the police in a very ‘Milla Jovovich in every Milla Jovovich movie’ sequence.

It’s a nice action break amid all the big thoughts and revelations. Just when you think handsome stray Leo (Colin Morgan) being some kind of electric Pinocchio to replace Dr. Elster’s dead son is the big surprise, Humans pulls a whopper out of nowhere.

Humans 4 DS Peter Drummond (Neil Maskell)

Analogue man Pete (our Utopia favourite, Neil Maskell) is thrown out and seeks solace with his co-worker and friend Karen. She jokes with him, eats with him, comforts him, and then bids him goodnight before unhinging her jaw and pulling a sack of masticated grub from it, like she was some self-emptying pedal bin. It’s surprising, chilling, vaguely nauseating, and a scene that should make it onto any big list of great sci-fi moments. My jaw dropped open as wide as hers.

Karen’s a Synth (we’re going to have to re-watch previous episodes now for clues), but to the oblivious Peter she’s human enough for him. To the inhabitants of Humans parallel-present, a Synth is as human as each individual needs/allows them to be, whether they realise it or not.

It’s not so much a line between AI and consciousness as a big cloud of interpretation and intercourse. One that makes for the kind of strong storytelling we’re being treated to right now.

And after such a strong episode, that’s as philosophical as we’ll get this week. Phew.


Aired at 9pm on Sunday 5 July 2015 on Channel 4.

> Order Humans on DVD on Amazon.

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