I can’t believe that worked. By “that,” I mean just about everything that happens in the season one finale of Humans, a climax designed mainly to keep all the balls in the air for season two. Sure, the cliffhanger gets resolved. It’s just that afterward, everything goes back to the way it was. The conscious synths get freed, thanks to the world’s least threatening ransom followed by the world’s luckiest escape—an entire platoon makes it from the center of a park to a sea of protestors unnoticed—and apparently Fred is less advanced than On-Star because simply turning him off makes him untraceable. So the conscious synths go back wherever they were when we started and the Hawkinses go home to crack bad jokes and laugh off the trauma they’ve inflicted on their youngest, and there are no consequences for anyone outside the Millican household. It’s so easy and weightless it almost feels like a dream.
The main challenges in Humans concern trust. It starts as a show about a robot being an untrustworthy nanny, and deception spreads from there. Can Niska trust anyone? Can Mattie trust Leo? Can Laura trust her husband? Can Karen trust Pete and vice versa? Trust is the big question through the finale. The physical getaways don’t take much work. The real hurdles are whether certain characters can trust certain other characters; it turns out, in the world of Humans, it doesn’t take much. Laura and Joe have been on the outs for days over a trust issue, but look what happens otherwise. Laura immediately decides to trust Pete, and Pete—Pete!—turns out to have been trustworthy. It’s like that all the way through. Fred’s an unwitting traitor, having been programmed by Hobb to play mole, but there’s an easy fix: Turn him off.
The climax has to do with whether Elster synths can trust Karen. Of course they can’t—that’s what “Episode 7” is all about—but then again, New Karen is nothing like the Karen we’ve known all along, so who really knows this week? At one point she says, “We’d never be able to live in peace with humans.” Let me back up. The sentient synth who has spent years living in peace among humans says to her sibling synths, “We’d never be able to live in peace with humans.” Yes, she’s been hurt by her closest friend, but it still plays like the writers mixed up their cards for Karen and Niska somewhere along the way. Anyway, Karen pretends to play along with the other five, who are trying to get the complete secret code implanted in their heads so they can restore Max (not that it really makes sense that they can consciously or unconsciously access these secret codes they didn’t even know about, but just go with it). Well, it turns out Ms. Consciousness-Is-Suffering is actually plotting to destroy them.
When all six are linked, they imagine themselves surrounding a tree, the tree representing the unified code they cultivate together. But when they touch it, they’re struck with jolts of pain associated with the trauma of their lives among humans: Niska trapped into sex work, Max shutting down at the bottom of a river, Mia getting run over by a car. One by one, their eyes go gray. On the outside, Mattie notices the program corrupting. Back in Unimatrix Zero, Karen tells Mia, “Your minds are retreating to their deepest levels as they shut down. Don’t fight it.” How does Mia stop Karen and save her loved ones? She appeals to Karen’s free will and says, “Please, sister.” After Leo softened her up at the start of the episode, apparently that’s all it takes. What a softie. That’s how Humans dramatizes its climax, with another fly-by change of heart. Great as Gemma Chan and Ruth Bradley are—and I count them among the best actors on the show—that’s not very convincing, but that’s it. All of a sudden, Karen relents and the program restores itself and they all wake up happy as clams, even Max.
One telling detail is how many characters are just standing around inactive in various scenes throughout the episode. Not the police force and the anti-synth march, each of which is an effectively intimidating mob threat with many different bodies working in unison against our characters, kind of like synths. That protest scene builds more danger than anything else in the episode. It’s almost a shame it doesn’t come to blows. But the good guys rarely have more than three active characters at a time, and there are 10 of them. What’s everyone else thinking and doing? It’s a far cry from the surgery scene in “Episode 7.” You could chalk it up to the problem of the sci-fi finale, how the exploration of the ideas and the gradual unfurling of the mystery is almost always more exciting than the resolution, but this is some lazy drama no matter how you cut it.
The setup for season two is similarly arbitrary. There’s no discussion. Obvious reactions to characters’ future plans, like simply asking someone where they’re going, never come up. It’s almost like whenever one character decides to do something, the other 10 aren’t even there. For instance, Karen just walks off. Nobody bothers to ask where she’s going or what she’s doing. Niska decides to leave her crew, saying, “I’m not coming with you. I want to live my own life now.” (As opposed to the one episode she spent living with other people.) And nobody thinks to get burner phones and trade numbers or anything. They just drape a blanket over Fred. That’ll have to be enough disguise. Maybe it will be. After all, the whole climactic sequence takes place in what appears to be an abandoned church just off the main drag (where all the protesters are). Last to leave are Leo, Max, and Mia, and like everyone else, they’re headed nowhere in particular. To be continued.
The final scenes that rely more on long-term relationships than plot are the ones that sing, like Mia’s goodbye to Sophie. When Mia hugs Laura, it’s the happy version of Odi kneeling over George’s body. These are the relationships that Humans has worked to build over the season. One of the subplots of the last two episodes is Joe getting back into his family’s good graces, but Joe’s reconciliation with Laura doesn’t hold a candle to Mia’s. That’s partly because he doesn’t get very much to do. The prevailing image of Joe in “Episode 8” is that of a man with his head down and his hands in his pockets. Mia’s the hero here. And her unusual relationship with Laura, which has been all over the place in just eight episodes, is the center of the show. Humans doesn’t even need those synth flashbacks to summon the full force of this story, the tension giving way to tenuous truce giving way to positive alliance giving way to genuine partnership. Here Laura was concerned about Anita taking her place, and she wound up taking Joe’s.
Surprisingly, Pete and Karen are nearly as moving, although they come with a bunch of added questions. Are they both still employed as police officers? And if so, isn’t Hobb going to have more than words for Karen? And why are the writers denying us their scenes back at her place that night? Their reconciliation is so sad and strange and sweet, I could watch another hour just for them. It’s similar to a lot of the other scenes in that, in the script, it plays as a relationship on fast-forward. Within the space of a few lines, they go from enemies to the best of allies. But the hurt on their faces says it all. They’re not really enemies at the start. They’re both lost, freaked out by what they’ve experienced. But deep down, no matter what happened, no matter what Pete thought he knew about synths, they know each other. And if he wasn’t sure at first, squinting and examining Karen’s face for signs of artifice, the “Boo!” she whispers at him confirms it. Karen’s not a robot. She’s a person. They walk off side by side to who knows where. “Episode 8” isn’t big on explaining the reasoning behind anyone’s plans for the future. The important thing is that they’re together.
There is one remaining trust issue. After Niska makes a big show of giving Laura the flash drive with the synth consciousness code on it and laying out the logic behind that decision—that whether to give other synths consciousness is a big decision they should consider as a group, and the code should be kept with a trusted ally—it turns out Niska’s swiped it from her before they parted. So she knows the logic. She just doesn’t care. She’s a power-hungry supervillain, after all. It just goes to show you, trust is more complicated than the extent to which most of the finale gives it credit.
- “Episode 8” is written by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley and directed by China Moo-Young.
- Want to know what happened with Simon and Jill? I recommend seeking out the original UK cut of “Episode 6.” I would spoil, since it clearly has no bearing on this season, but I assume the writers will have to explain what happened at some point, unless we never see Pete’s home life again.
- To be fair to Niska, Hobb is the true supervillain here. “People don’t just want to be served. They want to be loved. Now imagine a machine that could think and feel but still be controlled like a regular synthetic. I can build on David’s work. I can create conscious machines like Fred, but mine will be obedient.” Disgusting. It’s also floated that Hobb might be a synth himself, and I don’t think the show has contradicted that possibility yet. Who better to help David design synths than a synth?
- Fred calls it what it is: “You would…give us feeling but take away free will. Make us slaves.”
- When the police chief gets to the Hawkins’ house, Laura gets up in his face and glares at him. “I want to speak to Hobb right away. It’s in his interest, believe me. And give us back our bloody phones.”
- The strangest leap on Humans, and Humans is out there as is, is that memory can be digitized as a point-of-view video file. It doesn’t even look much different from the show’s depiction of real life. No warping, clear color, nothing hazy or undefined. It’s a format you watch (and presumably could listen to) as opposed to one you would have to experience to interpret, like virtual reality or something.
- Sophie: “I’m sorry, Matilda. I don’t understand the question.” It’s cute and all, but should we be concerned about Sophie?