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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Humans: “Episode 3”

Illustration for article titled Humans: “Episode 3”
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Someday I hope future technology advances to the point where a TV character can successfully cook something in the oven. It’s really not that difficult. You put a bunch of things in a container, slide it in the oven, and set a timer. In fact, Laura Hawkins seems to have done everything right. She’s even standing right there in front of the oven the whole time her bread is baking. She set a timer and everything. But the moment it goes off, she resigns herself to burned bread. Hold on a second, Laura. That’s what the timer is there for. It means it’s the perfect time to take the bread out of the oven. She shouldn’t know it’s burned yet. I mean, she ought to have smelled it already. As I said, she’s standing right there in front of the oven. Joe’s a couple feet further away but also safely in the canary zone. But the fact that nobody smelled it burning, especially in the middle of a conversation at least one of them is trying to get out of at all times, suggests the bread should be okay. Alas, poor Laura. She’s already on the verge of tears well before opening her Al Capone’s vault, and when she does, all she finds is smoke and bread that looks like a waning moon, black around one half. Why can’t she do anything right?

Humans “Episode 3” is contrived in all the wrong places. The goal of the failed bake is to get Laura at her lowest so that Anita’s act of generosity resonates and the central conflict can reach another climax, either in battle or truce. The problem is Humans shouldn’t have even made it to the bake-off, at least not by the route it shows us. “Episode 2” ends with Laura preparing to drive Anita to the retailer she came from. Well, when walking hormone Toby finds out, you better believe he marshals all the testosterone he can muster in the service of preventing the return. After all, he hasn’t even had a chance to use the Adult Options instructions he definitely googled last night. So he’s racing on his bike across town while Laura’s stuck in traffic, and the two are about to meet when a frustrated driver pulls out of traffic and unwittingly aims his car at Toby. Anita’s sitting politely in the back seat when she catches all this, quietly steps out of the car, and stands in the middle of the road between the driver and Toby, taking a hit that could have killed a human.

So that’s several tallies in the pro-Anita column. The problem is there’s a giant mark in the anti-Anita column that takes the cake: Anita has disobeyed a direct order from her only adult secondary user. Think about that. For all of Anita’s talk about the many safety features synths are programmed with, you still don’t want one who may malfunction in such a way as to defy you, especially when it comes to your kids But when Joe gets to the scene of the accident, the whole gang in tow, here’s what Laura says to stick up for herself: Anita doesn’t share data like most synths, and she said something weird. Yes, and she disobeyed a direct command! That’s the crux, you idiots! But Anita doesn’t say that, somehow forgetting about the strange scene she witnessed right before packing Anita up, so the scene ends with Joe driving Anita home to spot-check her entire epidermis while Laura gets saddled with walking Toby’s bike home like this is all her fault. For a show that’s been pretty thorough about thinking through the ramifications of its technology, it’s disappointing to see the plot leak all this air, especially when the story could still pretty much play out how it does even if Laura brought up the single biggest reason to get Anita reformatted. For three episodes now, Joe has been Guy Woodhouse-ing his wife like nobody’s business. He’s not suddenly going to start caring now.

Anyway, as relatively nuanced—and I emphasize “relatively”—as Laura’s emotional arc is afterward, her suspicion finally tempered by genuine self-doubt and even warmth toward Anita but not to the point of abandon, the great Anita climax in “Episode 3” is the scene with Mattie. The hacker sneaks out of bed at night, luckily on an evening Toby is otherwise preoccupied, and downloads Anita’s programming into her computer. Anita tries to warn her about the problems here, the warranty violation, the errors that could result. And then, right on top of each other, Mattie says, “Shit!” while Anita’s talking in her soothing voice about the possibility of fatal error, stopping mid-monologue. Mattie looks at Anita, as if to assess the problem, and suddenly Anita grabs her wrist and says in a panic, “I’m here! Help me!” Her eyes are gray. Humans may not have an airtight plot, but it knows its way around creepiness. And the horror here is a reminder that there are two central stories in the Hawkins household. This isn’t just the story of a malfunctioning synth and a poor, gaslit mother. It’s also the story of a human-ish woman who has been kidnapped and sold into high-tech slavery. “I’m here!” is the bookend to Anita’s earlier moment with Joe, when she reassures him, “I’m not real.” Maybe not, but Gemma Chan is handily walking away with this show.

So what does Mattie do with this information? Nothing. She goes up to her room and tries to decipher the code herself before uploading it to a forum to see if anyone else can make sense of it. (Max and Leo find it. It takes Leo two seconds before he recognizes Mia’s root code, and I don’t know if that’s plausible or not, but I laughed.) It’s like Humans completely lost sight of human behavior. I’m an adult and I would scream bloody murder if that happened to me. But then Anita wouldn’t be around for the Laura slow burn, as it were.

The other thing weighing down “Episode 3” is that the B-story goes not to George and Odi and not even to the Drummonds but to Niska, who becomes some sort of cross between Magneto and Helena from Orphan Black but without their intelligence. All the possibilities of a humanish android in a shopping mall—Under The Skin is right there!—and Humans wastes it on Niska getting blue contacts, the better to embark on her reign of terror.


Meanwhile Drummond and partner investigate the crime scene. Reportedly Niska killed that guy, “said something about how we treat them,” and left. No, she didn’t. She said something about how johns treat women. If you apply what she said to the general human-synth relationship wherein humans take out their aggression on synths, it’s even more clear-cut: Good! For that matter, why does Niska even care about humans abusing the the sex synths? They’re not like her. They don’t think or feel. As Anita says, she’s just anthropomorphizing them.

When Leo sees Niska, he’s pissed. “You took someone’s life!” She replies, “You talk about life like it can’t be manufactured.” Oh, brother. This is exactly why Niska’s a danger to society. She’s already murdered someone. If she were human, she’d be locked up. This isn’t a gray area. This isn’t some provocative science-fiction territory. This is cut and dried. Max is sad she’s leaving. “We’re a family. You’re my sister.” Niska simply says, “Human words.” I’m all for a minority subculture finding its own way to live, but Niska is insufferable, and her revolutionary insight is on par with Charles Manson. She goes to a bar, meets a charming man, goes back to his place, yada yada yada. He says he’s unmarried, but in the bathroom she finds a hairband with long hairs on it. Her response? She walks to the kitchen and pulls out a carving knife. Now, humanity has thought through adultery, murder, and a theoretically fair justice system, but sure, Niska’s way is much better: See a sin? Grab a knife. But then she finds her suitor tidying up his daughter’s room. See what happens when you assume?


Niska realizes she’s not going to murder with righteousness tonight, so she leaves, and she doesn’t even put the knife back. One of the points of a show like Humans is to explore the dangers of a sentient robot. Would it be inherently threatening, or would it only present a danger because of the way it’s treated? How would it conceivably come about in a world of mass-market computer servants? And what would a single dangerous AI do? What could it do? It’s just disappointing that Humans’ answer to HAL and Colossus and Ex Machina is Niska, the synth supremacist slasher who can’t even cover her tracks.

Stray observations

  • Writing credit still goes to creators Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, but there’s a new director for “Episode 3,” Daniel Nettheim.
  • Mythology Files: I think we knew this stuff, or surmised it, but now it’s official that Dr. David Elster created five sentient synths. Hobb doesn’t know what they all look like. Also, the captured synth had a pack full of food and water for some reason, the synth version of Leo needing to charge his battery.
  • It turns out the most popular mod to use on synths is a pain simulation program. I guess that sort of makes sense, because apparently you don’t need a mod for sex options.
  • George wants to bring his bed downstairs, and he shows Vera his plans. “I will consult with your GP, but it seems to be a sensible idea.” So she has the authority to decide when George is doing something wrong, but when he’s doing something right, she has to get it approved? This health care system is incredibly frustrating. Do you think there are patients who get along with their Vera? I hope there are other “personality” types. Maybe it’s just me, but I think ripping off the doorknob should only be acceptable in an emergency.
  • George: “I’d kill for an ice cream right now.” He explains that it’s just an expression, but I’m worried for the next person holding an ice cream cone who comes across Odi.
  • George takes Odi out into the woods and sets him free. Why wouldn’t he just do that at the recycling center? Surely there are support groups for people who have had to part with a long-time synth. Sending Odi into the woods is just littering. That or playing a slow game of boomerang.
  • Anita: “It is self-evident that, in many ways, I can take better care of your children than you, Laura. I don’t forget. I don’t get angry or depressed or intoxicated. I am faster, stronger, and more observant. I do not feel fear. However, I cannot love them.”