What does it mean to be human? What makes us human? Is it something that we understand well enough to recreate? Humans deals with that very question. In an alternate world where synthetic humans are commonplace, we are treated to very separate outlooks on the morality and necessity of artificial intelligence.
The episode opens with Joe Hawkins, a harried father of three whose wife, Laura, is out of town for work-related reasons. Struggling to balance his full-time job with managing the household and his children, he decides that he needs help and rushes off to buy a synth. I was surprised that he gave up so quickly, considering Laura had only been away for five days. Granted, as the episode goes on, we learn that she is often away for work, and Joe clearly feels incapable of keeping up with the workload himself, and it was clear that the kids don’t do anything to help. Still, it seemed as though Joe was quickly latching onto the easiest – and not necessarily the right – solution. Not to mention that he did this against his wife’s wishes.
Thanks to the Hawkins family’s eldest daughter, Matilda, we get another insight into what this parallel reality is like. Matilda is not doing well at school, and when her parents confront her about her slipping grades, she wonders what the point of an education is if a synth will eventually hold whichever job she wants. Later, as the family is watching a news program discussing synths, she questions the expert’s assertion that synths are meant only for work that is too dangerous for humans. “Are we all supposed to be poets?” Which raises another question. What happens to the humans who work those dangerous jobs? What are they supposed to do when their jobs are no longer their own? How are they supposed to support themselves without that income?
And now we have to factor in Leo’s plot. Leo seems to be some sort of resistance fighter, leading a small band of synths as they go…somewhere. In a flashback from five weeks before Joe pops over to the store to buy a synth, we learn that while Leo was off finding fuel for the synths to charge, they were stolen and sold. The Hawkins family synth, whom they have named Anita, is one of these. We discover later that they are a special kind of synth who was created to be as human-like as possible; they can think and feel – Leo admits later that he and “Anita” are in love.
The ethical questions this information raises are numerous. Because Leo has managed to track down one of the missing synths, Niska, and she has been sold into prostitution. First of all, I think it’s bad enough that a brothel of robots even exists at all, but Niska isn’t just a robot. She is a robot who feels pain and is fully aware of what is going on when men visit her cubicle. She is understandably angry when Leo tells her that he cannot get her out yet. Whatever plan they had in mind is falling apart, and he needs to figure out what’s going on. The look on her face at the end of the episode when she has a customer… I predict right now that Niska will become violent and fight her way out of the brothel herself.
But the real question is, what is going on with Anita? The other synths who were traveling with Leo – Niska and Fred, who is discovered and captured – are still fully aware of who and what they are. While it seems that Anita has only flashes of her previous “life,” there are moments in the episode where she looks as though she is completely aware that she is more than just a synth. She forms an immediate, slightly creepy attachment to Sophie, the youngest Hawkins child, which culminates in her stealing the child from her bed as she sleeps and wandering off into the night. What happened to Anita during those five weeks after she went missing?
Humans has all the makings of a tense sci-fi thriller. Anita is sufficiently creepy, with the right kind of stare to make you uncomfortable and wonder just how much she really knows about what is going on. There is enough mystery surrounding Leo and his merry band of synth runaways to make you questions his motives. There is even a secret organization that is after them! Humans also does what true sci-fi should, which is make you question the world around you and I, for one, am hooked.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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