Photo: Colin Hutton/AMC Networks

The first three episodes of Humans season two weren’t comprised entirely of table setting, but things did slow down a bit after the globe trotting of the premiere. So I was glad to see this midseason entry feint throw feints at us while also drawing a line in the sand. In some cases, the table’s just been cleared. A lot happens in “Episode 4,” as the action skips back and forth among various little groups: from Leo and Hester’s ousting of Max, to their stakeout at Qualia; from Ed and Mia’s intimate bedroom moment to an even greater reveal at the assisted living facility where his mom lives (for now); and from the interrogation/testing room to the Hawkins home. We could call it catching up with everyone, but the camera never really lingers; instead, hopes are dashed and new intrigues introduced.

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That sense of urgency is most welcome, and it extends to just about every storyline herein. There’s even a significant development in Dr. Morrow’s quest, as she’s confronted about her ulterior motives. But even with all these changes in focus, “Season Two, Episode Four” still sticks to you. It balances the suspense of Karen and Peter’s search for seraphim—which are definitely not just black-market synths—with the quiet resignation of the scene where Max finally parts ways with Leo. There are also lots of lighthearted moments, including the post-coital conversation between Ed and Mia, in which he’s wondering whether she can experience pleasure. She explains she’s pleased by the intimacy, and although that makes him smile, there’s also the sense that he’d hoped to have fried her motherboard, as it were.

Another set of lovers is also tasked with defining their relationship, as Laura introduces a surprise witness at Niska’s consciousness test: Astrid. Even after the revelation that Niska is a synth, Astrid insists she has human qualities, which is one (not quite accurate) way of understanding synth consciousness. When they’re left alone to talk, Niska tries to assure Astrid that she didn’t drag her into this, so it’s not her fault if Astrid gets hurt. Astrid just smiles ruefully and says “You’re very realistic, you know? Right down to the excuses.”

Although Niska never exhibited the reaction Laura was hoping for—or any reaction, really—she appears to feel guilty about Astrid’s involvement, hence the preemptive denial. But, as someone pointed out in the comments last week, Laura and Niska are in a no-win situation. Chalk it up to my naïvete, maybe, but I was more focused on what the QC might be looking for than whether or not that was actually her goal. I should have known that, although Neha said there’d be no trial, the verdict was already in, in a sense. There’s nothing Laura and Niska could do to convince anyone of the latter’s consciousness, because the system and the people who make it up can’t allow for such a thing. There’s no room to consider that there might be something behind those big green eyes beyond circuitry.

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A “head in the sand” approach is also evident in Joe’s downsizing situation. With Mattie’s help, he learns that the string of emails that resulted in the layoffs were composed solely by synths. These decisions were made without the “proper authorization,” his former boss halfheartedly explains, which means they were made without any human input. The company’s offering severance packages in lieu of hush money, but they’re one and the same, Joe says. He rails at his old boss over just how detached—and potentially dangerous—this is: “This is how we’ll lose. It won’t be robots rising up to slaughter us in our beds, it’ll be machines sending silent messages in the middle of the night, when no one else is looking.”

Chilling observation aside, Joe quickly learns he has as much to fear from walking, talking synths than whichever ones are covertly orchestrating this labor shake-up. A service synth is hacked after the Hawkins admit it into their home, and it warns Laura to drop Niska’s case. The synth’s thrashing of Joe is interrupted by Odi, who’s returned from visiting Dr. Millican’s house with Mattie. Will Tudor perfectly captures his character’s guilt over his initial lack of sadness over the doctor’s death, making an almost indiscernible change in Odi’s affect, even briefly hanging his head.

Odi returned to his home in an effort to understand the changes he’s going through, but found no real answers. Instead, he acts almost instinctively to protect the Hawkins from the renegade/hacked synth. We’ve yet to see just how disorienting he’ll find this, but although he didn’t tear the thing apart, he’s bound to feel conflicted about taking on one of his own. If there’s some battle brewing, how will these conscious synths decide which side they’re on?

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That conflict’s a familiar one, one we’ve seen in various areas of pop culture and in real life. There are the synths who just avoid the conflict entirely and hide in the shadows, and those who want to walk the non-violent/civil disobedience path. That’s the Leo faction, or rather, it was, until he and Hester used a confused, newly awakened synth as bait. The end will justify the means, Leo believes, but Max isn’t buying it. Because of his lineage and his synthetic parts, Leo took up the synth struggle, but now he’s centering it on himself, and that’s not sitting well with Max. For Max, Leo’s callousness here isn’t a far cry from the way other humans treat synths—as something less than.

This exchange is handled so smartly, with Max being railroaded before he even knows what’s happening. Because it serves her purposes—whatever they are—Hester agrees with Leo that they’d attain their goal faster without Max and his, for lack of a better term, conscience. They don’t know exactly what they have on their hands when they discover Qualia’s involvement, but it’s a safe bet that some more lines are going to be crossed.

Stray observations

  • “Season Two, Episode Four,” was written by Joe Barton and directed by Carl Tibbetts.
  • I forgot to ask earlier, but if you’ve watched ahead—and you probably have—please be considerate of those who are catching episodes on a weekly basis.
  • That said, I know these episodes arrived Stateside with some edits, which means certain scenes are missing. Without giving anything away that might come up in a future episode, I understand something was cut from Milo and Athena’s lunch that’s either a false lead or a real motivation.
  • So, if they’re not newly “awakened” synths, what are the Seraphim? And should I upstyle that “s” or not?
  • I really hope Ed isn’t really going to sell Mia to make ends meet. I’d expect no less of a Sam Palladio character, but, come on.
  • The silo’s located at Qualia, which makes sense, given Milo’s keen interest in Athena’s research. Whose consciousness does he want transferred? Surely his own, right?
  • What is it about her family that’s making Sophie look to synths for a “kinder” model of behavior?
  • On doctor’s (psychiatrist’s?) orders, Sophie isn’t supposed to be exposed to any more synths. So, naturally, she encounters three of them in a short span, and quickly picks up Renie’s mannerisms.

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