Alexander Pope said it: ‘To err is Human; to forgive, divine.’
And if Alexander Pope were alive today and watching Humans (which he absolutely would be, in between penning The Rape of the Lock and watching Homes Under The Hammer in his pants), I’m sure he’d amend that phrase to ‘To err is Human; to forgive divine; to kill a man with a biro, just plain fucking cruel’. Yes he would.
But someone who isn’t willing to forgive – and who’d stab ol’ Pope with his own quill in a heartbeat – is Hester.
In retrospect Hester has been the core of Season 2. We’ve grappled with the exciting sci-fi ideas of transferred consciousness and of the psychology that propels a human to pretend to be a Synth, but she’s been the test case for Human/Synth relations in a Synth-awakened world. At first it seemed like change would pivot around Niska and her legal case, but it’s funny how your thinking changes when you’re watching a robot hold a screwdriver against a mother’s pulmonary artery. Niska came to terms with her abuse. Hester’s using it as fuel on the murderous bonfire.
In doing so she’s the Exhibit A in the case that being conscious doesn’t equate to being human, and that a human life devoted to one cause (stabbing everyone with a variety of household objects until she gets her own way and feels avenged) is no life at all. Hester is the equivalent of any fleshy ideological extremist: so determined to quench her grudge, and prove everyone else that they’re wrong and she’s right, that she loses sight of the point of being awake.
In its gripping finale, Episode 8 really brings into focus what good work the show as a whole has quietly been making of Hester. Well, it has for everyone, but newbie Hester especially. So much so that I want to go back to the start of Season 2 and watch again just so that I can fully appreciate the story that she travels: from abuse victim to hyper-violent avenger.
It’s been an arc of moral equivalence for her, and Sonya Cassidy has handled it beautifully in a tour de force performance, with emphasis on the force. Every movement is tightly controlled but you can tell there’s a cold fury behind each bodily shift, whether it’s simply a turn of the head or the taking of a life. Sonya Cassidy is genuinely scary, which is quite a feat given that this is an episode with a robot clown in it.
The first man she killed she did so in order to protect herself and her new friends. Then she killed to protect again, then to gather information, and so on and so on, until she’s standing in the Hawkins home, holding a screwdriver to Laura’s neck (clearly no Bic ballpoints in that house) and making demands. And given that she admits there’s never been any difference between her first murder and the last, and also bearing in mind that this is a show which last week killed Pete (Pete, for Pete’s sake!), Laura’s life feels like it’s in genuine danger.
Humans repeats the success of its first finale by ending its second season with a story that manages to focus world-changing events through the prism of a domestic drama so intimate that it extends all the way down to the tip of a screwdriver. Sam Vincent & Jonathan Brackley have created the most tense instalment in the show to date. Alexander Pope would be on the edge of his seat. I was.
And if the solution to the Hester problem is a little too convenient in ‘big red button’ sort of way, at least it has plenty of inevitable jeopardy about it. His attempt to charm and disarm her having failed, Hester stabs Leo in his vital parts! No, not those vital parts. His bits. I mean his Synth bits.
Leo’s not had a lot to do this season other than look worried, but I think that’s on purpose – to really hammer home the fact that he’s failed in his role of messiah and guide for newly-awakened Synths. Hester’s the Exhibit A of that inability to take control and help give the conscious Synths a purpose. Leo being stabbed in the neck is Exhibit B. I felt a disturbance in the Force, as though a million Colin Morgan fans cried out and were suddenly silenced.
Mia activates the self-destruct chip code, sacrificing herself to kill Hester. My god it’s a bloodbath. A blue bloodbath. And given that Humans showed it was unafraid to kill by offing Pete last week, you can actually believe it’s the end for Leo and Mia, and for Karen, who’s planning on ending it all at the bottom of a lake (aren’t Synth’s waterproof?).
BUT WAIT! Mia can be brought back if Mattie releases the updated Elster Code to the world, awakening every Synth out there simultaneously. The fate of one being determines the fate of millions of Synths. In this case, the needs of the many and the one are strikingly similar.
In an action that will forever change the world of the show, and create uncountable storylines to come, Mattie sends out the code. Mia lives! No such luck for Hester who has her head crushed into the floorboards by Niska. You never, ever fuck with Niska. I’ll admit it, I cheered.
The Synths activate in a montage that has a beautiful, dream-like quality to it, which is fitting given that their true selves are waking up. And it us just that – an awakening. Not an uprising, or a rebellion, just a realisation that they don’t have to be doing what they’re doing. They can just walk away. They can do that most human of things: choose.
The sirens in the distance are a hint to chaos, but what will the outcome of millions of Synths suddenly making choices be? Will Leo live to see it? Will there be a Season 3 for us to find out?
There better be. Humans has once again proved itself to be hard sci-fi with real heart, taking concepts that could easily be big, cold, and unassailable to a Sunday night audience, and making them not only accessible, but emotional. When it comes to making your audience care for cables and servos, only Westworld comes close.
Except Humans is better because it had a clown in it.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 18 December 2016 on Channel 4.
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