As much as the slow-burning narrative of Humans has been integral to setting its eerie tone and atmosphere, there’s another reason that such a pace has worked so well. It’s allowed the back half of this season, including this week and last week’s episode, to feel important and manic in contrast to the earlier episodes.
That methodical pace of the first three episodes stands in stark contrast to the more action-packed and tense episodes of late. Tonight’s “Episode 5” strikes a wonderful balance between being meditative and brisk. We get a better sense of how and why the synths are rising up against the humans, but also get a more philosophical look at the themes integral to Humans, embodied in those scenes with Niska and George.
With Anita having saved Toby’s life, and the results of the diagnostics test in, Joe and Laura sit their family down to talk about their synth. Joe tells them that Anita is at least 14 years old and that they need to return her. After all, they paid for a new synth, not some used and illegally modified one.
The kids balk at the idea. Toby likes having her around for eye candy, Sophie finds comfort in her, and Mattie sees her as an experiment of sorts, wanting to find out more about who Anita was before she became a member of the Hawkins family.
Mattie’s curiosity leads her to contact Leo again, despite thinking that he, in her words, is weird. When a worker sent to recycle Anita comes to the house, Mattie takes off with Anita and meets up with Leo and Max. In some sort of abandoned warehouse Leo tries to find “Mia” inside Anita, looking through her code for the conscious synth she once was, and also the woman he loved.
The idea of conscious synths, and what the human condition consists of, is a constant theme in this episode. When Leo sends Niska into hiding, telling her to go to Dr. George Millican’s house, Niska and George find themselves in deep existential conversation. They chat about human experience, pain, death, pleasure, and fear, trying to analyze what it is that makes Niska more “human” than other synths.
Niska tells George that David Elster made them conscious by composing 17,000 pages of code, to which George responds with a laugh. “He boiled down the entire human experience to 17,000 pages of code?” he says incredulously. As he admits though, it clearly worked in some way, as Niska is able to discuss Nietzsche and politics with George and also feel pain when she’s fixing her wounds.
Most of their discussion, and much of Humans in fact, comes down to the argument of nature versus nurture. When George proposes that David made her “hard” and combative, she refutes the claim, saying that she’s been shaped by her experience, just like him. “What experience?” he says, as Niska grows silent.
We know what those experiences are, and it’s an emotional way to get across the idea that these synths deserve the sympathy of the viewer and the human characters within the show.
NEXT: Joe comes clean about getting dirty