The best sci-fi fiction, be it TV shows, films or novels, doesn’t tell us what the future will be like but rather uses a futuristic setting to comment on our current way of life. The season premiere of AMC’s Humans does just that, and it’s beautiful, poignant, and absolutely terrifying.
Humans immediately sets its ominous tone with a stunning opening scene. A lone worker is seen rolling a body bag through a large white room, a number of half-naked bodies just standing around, immobile and silent. They are synths, or synthetics, robots that the everyday consumer can purchase to make their lives a bit easier.
We don’t know that right away though, making this first scene wonderfully tense. The lone worker, earbuds in and music blaring, strolls out of the room and shuts off the lights. The synths are at ease, shut down, except for one. She raises her head and stares up at the moon just barely peaking through the ceiling.
That synth, who seems to be more “alive” than the others, is later bought by the Hawkins family. More specifically, it’s patriarch Joe Hawkins who buys the synth, a desperate move from a man who’s overwhelmed by his job and his children while his wife spends more and more days away on business trips.
When Laura, Joe’s wife, comes home after five days away and discovers the synth, she’s immediately unnerved. It’s in Laura’s feelings towards the synth, which the family has christened Anita, that Humans really finds its dramatic tension and most thoughtful thematic territory.
Across the first episode we see Laura struggle with the idea of being replaced by Anita. Anita, in some ways, represents a physical threat — her eerie, dead eyes and towering presence, coupled with a series of flashbacks that reveal she is more conscious and human than your typical synth, mean that she’s more powerful and perhaps dangerous than the Hawkins’ realize.
As compelling as the mystery of Anita is — she seems to be a thinking, feeling synth who has a human lover named Leo looking for her–it’s the deeper, more human anxieties that pervade the episode that provide the most intriguing thematic musings. With Anita doing the laundry, reading to the Hawkins children, and coming with the capability for sexual pleasure–the manual for which Joe has discreetly (and creepily) kept for himself — Laura is unsure of her role within her marriage.
What Humans asks, through Laura’s anxiety, is this: what happens when we lose the very things that we use to define ourselves as human? We define ourselves through our jobs, our family, our ability to care for and love one another. If a machine can do that all relatively easily, then was it really that special to begin with? If the very things that make us human can be replicated so easily, then what about us is unique? What separates a human from a robot?
This is something Humans is reckoning with throughout its first episode, and the premiere does a great job of balancing the more existential themes of the show with the need for fast-paced plot and action. The action here is largely in the form of flashbacks, which take place 5 weeks before the Hawkins family bought Anita.
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