Through two episodes, AMC’s Humans has struck a balance between being a fun thriller and a more meditative drama. While the actual plot isn’t forwarded that much in tonight’s episode, there is a lot going on in terms of character work. After last week’s cliffhanger of an ending, the second episode quickly resolves it and spends some time deepening each story line.
The episode begins by teasing that cliffhanger, with Laura waking up and finding that the top floor of their home is rather quiet. She stands outside Sophie’s closed door and pauses before going in. To our surprise, Sophie is there, sound asleep, Anita having returned her from their midnight excursion at some point before dawn.
But where did Anita take Sophie the night before? That question is part of the larger mystery at the heart of Humans. Laura finds that Sophie has changed her pajamas, the ones she was wearing when she went to bed now lying wet in the hamper. It must have something to do with Anita’s strange flashbacks, where she’s underwater with someone.
That someone seems to be Fred, who’s being tested by Hobb and his colleagues. They’re attempting to tap into his memories, and while doing so find a recurring one where he’s underwater and reaches out to grab Anita. It’s unclear what Hobbs wants with Fred and the other conscious synths, but he’s worried what would happen if knowledge of them got out.
Hobbs understands what Fred means to society. “He’s penicillin. He’s the atom bomb,” says Hobbs when asked why Fred is so important. The description is pretty cringe-worthy, a slice of hacky dialogue, but it does signal why Hobbs is so determined to track the other conscious synths down.
That’s one of the few times where Humans has slipped into trite sci-fi territory. So far, the show has done a wonderful job of trusting that viewers will grasp the underlying messages of the series. The focus is instead on tone and character, and through those storytelling aspects, Humans becomes so much more. It largely avoids pointing out how the synths are like “atom bombs/penicillin,” and that’s part of the show’s charm; the world feels very-lived in and the narrative isn’t heavy on the exposition.
That means that Humans can spend an episode like tonight’s just jumping around from one character to the next, checking in on them without pushing the narrative too far forward. This is a much more meditative episode than the first, but considering the show’s elements—from its sparse score to the clean look of its “contemporary future” setting—it’s a mood that fits the show.
That pace allows seemingly smaller characters like Peter, the Special Technologies Task Force agent, to become more than minor players. Humans doesn’t really have any “villains” per se; rather, there are just a bunch of people trying to cope with the world that’s been given to them. For that kind of show to work, one that doesn’t derive tension from a clear clash of forces, you need a more patient style of storytelling.
Peter, initially positioned as a bad guy of sorts who works to shut down old synths, including Dr. Millican’s, is given some sympathy in this episode. We see how he feels emasculated by his wife’s synth/physical therapist, Simon. Much like Laura, Peter is struggling with the notion of being replaced; of understanding what value he serves in his marriage if his duties can be so easily replicated by a machine.
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