Chris Watches TV: Humans, Episode 01July 3, 2015
I’ve always loved a good science-fiction story about robots. More than space travel and post-apocalyptic futures, my favorite science-fiction stories are the ones about blurring the lines between man and machine, between real and artificial intelligence. Whether the robot seeks to help or harm, when the servos start to click and turn, I start reading, or as in this case, watching.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into Humans. I had seen the commercials, and I was intrigued. It wouldn’t be the first story to question the line between humanity and robotics, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But, the production value seemed high, and I like William Hurt, so I felt it was something I should try. Ultimately, I’m happy I did. While the first episode felt a little slow, there was enough there to bring me back next week, which I suppose is all I can ask from a serialized TV show.
Humans tells the story of a parallel present in which the world is obsessed with Synths, androids that are programmed to serve humankind. The first episode is split into three different storylines, each of which focus on a different relationship between humans and their Synths. The first is about Joe Hawkins, a stressed father trying to take care of his home and three children in the absence of his wife, Laura, who has been called away for some work issue. At the end of his rope, Hawkins purchases a new Synth on a 30-day loan, which the family soon names Anita. Throughout the episode, Anita serves the Hawkins family as a faithful servant, though she has moments here and there that tell the viewer that things with her aren’t quite what they seem. For example, early in the episode, while the other Synths in the factory are shut down the for night, Anita stares up at the moon. It’s a subtle touch, and one that becomes more and more overt as the episode progresses. When Laura finally returns home, she is taken aback by her husband’s actions. She distrusts Anita, but also feels pushed to the side by the rest of the family.
The second storyline also involves Anita, but begins five weeks before the Hawkins ordeal. Five figures are walking through a forest, Anita among them. One of them, the clear group leader, asks the other four about their charge levels, cluing us into the fact that at least four members of the group are Synths. Later, three of the Synths are captured by junkers, leading the group leader, Leo, to head off to London to track them down. Included in the synths stolen is Anita, which explains how she eventually comes into the service of the Hawkins family.
The third, and final storyline, is my favorite. Hurt plays an old man, who is attempting to keep his older-model Synth from being replaced. The viewer quickly learns that this man is a widower, who feels an almost fatherly kinship to the Synth, Odi, who appears to be some sort of connection to the man’s deceased wife. It’s a touching story, and one that drew some real emotion out of me. It’s a relationship that I hope the show explores into the future.
Throughout the three storylines, there emerges a very common theme: the emotional impact that occurs when the line between human and android begins to blur. If there’s a point at which artificial intelligence surpasses the human mind, Humans takes place right smack dab in the middle of it. Humanity is on the cusp of some real stuff going down, and we, the viewers, are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe. The writing, at least in this first episode, is fantastic. The three storylines are weaved throughout the entire first episode seamlessly, and the acting, especially from Hurt, and Colin Morgan, who plays Leo, go a long way to show how strong the bonds between humans and Synths can get within this world. There’s a subtlety to a lot of the interactions between the characters, and as an emotional character drama, they hit the nail on the head.
That said, with as much as I enjoyed the first episode, I’m not sure Humans has me hooked quite yet. It’s well-done, but I’m not seeing them break much new ground in this series so far. Books, movies, and even other TV shows, have focused on similar themes and explored them fully. I’m not sure if Humans can find even a sliver of an original statement to make on such heavily tread ground.
The series is only eight episodes long, so they don’t have much time to prove me wrong, but I still hope they do. As I said in the intro, I am a huge fan of science-fiction focused on robotics, and I’d hate to see such slick production values wasted on a boring and overdone story.