Yes, this review covers the entire 8 episodes of Season 1, despite the name “5 Episodes In”.
Overview: HUMANS is an eight-part drama from the makers of Utopia and Broadchurch. The series takes place in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a Synth – a highly developed, artificially intelligent servant eerily similar to its living counterpart.
Featuring a talented cast including William Hurt (A History of Violence, Damages), Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, The Honourable Woman), Colin Morgan (Merlin, The Fall), and Gemma Chan (Sherlock, Secret Diary of a Call Girl), HUMANS takes a riveting look at the advancements in AI and the theories that become a little less hypothetical every day.
What impact will this advanced technology have on the human population? Will this new way of navigating life be detrimental or beneficial to us as a human race? And who will we become when this technology arrives?
Humans is a compelling look at the drama that happens when technology, artificial intelligence, and the overwhelm of daily life in a world where more and more people have less and less time to connect with each other and be human all collide, and begin to redefine what humanity means and if it can evolve to something more.
The story begins in a world that has somewhat adapted after synthetic humans have already become a large part of society, large enough that some people can’t fully function without their Synths, and to the point where government agencies use them as in-home caregivers to provide services for the elderly and the disabled and act as both caretakers and health monitors.
Joe Hawkins misses his wife Laura, a very busy barrister, and while she’s away on travel, he decides to buy a Synth, without consulting her but hoping that she’ll accept it as his way of letting her know he wants to remove some of the basic housework and caretaking tasks from her plate so they can spend more time together as a couple.
Everyone in the family is amused and intrigued by the new Synth, Anita… except for Laura.
The problem is, “Anita” is really Mia, a different kind of Synth, one who has awareness and emotions just as a person has. No one knows her true nature because she’d been stolen and reprogrammed, but there are a few other conscious Synths out there, all connected to one man who’s looking for the family that was stolen from him. Leo Elster, the son of the man who developed Synths and secretly created this handful of conscious synthetics, is desperate to find Mia, Niska and Fred, but while Leo is human, he is far more special than anyone else can imagine.
Mia is one of three conscious Synths who were stolen from Leo and resold on the black market; while she was sent to a legitimate Synth dealer to be resold to the public, her sister Niska ends up in a brothel that provides synthetics as sex workers, and their brother Fred ends up as labor in an agricultural center. Problems ensue for both the police and Niska and Fred, as their situations collide… Niska can’t stand being a sex toy for very long, and in a burst of rage kills a human who’s paid for her “services”. Fred comes to the attention of a mysterious man, Edwin Hobb, who leads a team working for the company that developed Synths investigating unusual Synth behaviors, but harbors several secrets of his own.
We also see glimpses into the life of one of the co-creators of synthetics, Dr George Millican, and his attachment to an original model Synth that he can’t bear to part with, and of DS Pete Drummond, a detective caught in between the world of people and the investigations into crimes involving Synths… of which there aren’t any he’s allowed to work on until Niska’s rampage, which is kept quiet and covered up by his superiors. His partner, DI Karen Voss helps him keep his thinking and investigative direction on point, but she harbors a huge secret of her own.
The secrets behind what these advanced Synths could represent is echoed throughout, with “real humans” holding protests against synthetics replacing them in the workplace and in the home, showing the darker side of humanity’s reaction to the perceived threat of being supplanted, replaced or doomed to obsolescence by something humans created.
The financial impact of people thinking Synths might be dangerous is why the company desperately wants to keep Niska’s actions suppressed, but when presented with the possibility that Fred’s advanced awareness and emotional capacity could be replicated to other Synths while still controlling them as the original Synths are, the financial limits are unfathomable to them. Exploring that possibility gives Hobb free rein to pursue and capture Leo, Mia and the others without fear of expense or interference from the police, which doesn’t sit well with Pete, whose own life is being torn apart by what he perceives as his wife’s decision to divorce him because she’s becoming enamored with the male Synth caregiver assigned to help work her through rehabilitation after a bad accident as well as take care of her and everything else around the house.
Seeing how George Millican’s history with the development of Synths and providing some revealing backstory into his former partner David Elster’s path to creating Mia, Niska and the others ties in with his own attachment to a worn out and obsolete Synth named Odi that he can’t bear to get rid of, and also echoes the themes of comparing affection, loneliness and emotional attachments with Synths to the same types of relationships with people.
Everything changes for the Hawkins family and Anita/Mia once the eldest daughter Mattie, a high schooler and gifted computer programmer, begins to investigate what makes a Synth tick by trying to hack Anita, and what follows after her tinkering with Anita’s code. These actions accidentally start to revive the real personality of Mia that’s been hidden by coders for the thieves who reprogrammed her to hide the fact that they’d stolen her, and deeper investigations bring Hobb, Leo, Pete and George into the mystery and reveals more secrets. While some secrets threaten to unravel the Hawkins family altogether, it’s their involvement with the conscious Synths that will prove crucial to everything.
The intersection of normal family life and work life, and the different perspectives on what defines love, affection, and genuine connections between hearts and minds — and if those connections can exist or change when a Synth is involved — becomes an integral part of the story as it unfolds over the 8-episode arc.
I do hope that American audiences will have the chance to see these episodes as aired on Channel 4 in the UK, with their missing 5 minutes or so each edited back in (I’m assuming they were edited out for those darned US commercial slots rather than content, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those minutes were removed because of some combination of both).
Either way, this is one show I’m glad has already been renewed for a Season 2, and I’m eager to see what drama unfolds over those next 8 episodes as the merging of humanity and technology continues to blur the lines even further.