Humans is a joint production of Channel 4 in Britain and AMC in the US that focusses on humanlike robots called “synths”, some of whom have become self-aware like Real Humans, which just happens to be the name of the original Swedish version of the show that this remake is based on. The first two seasons are currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Season 1 follows a human family, the Hawkins of London, who acquire a synth when the dad, Joe, becomes overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the house and kids while his wife travels frequently for work. The family mom, Laura, and oldest daughter, Mattie, are suspicious of the new synth from the start, with the mom bordering on paranoid.
Their new synth, Anita/Mia, does turn out to have a past and a family of her own, which has been wiped from her memories. She is a self-aware, conscious synth, made by synth creator David Elster in his later years when he’d become a recluse. Elster made at least four conscious synths, who have become separated and are trying to find each other again, along with Elster’s son/their brother, Leo. Besides the Hawkins, the show follows the conscious synths, the people who help them, and the police who are chasing them.
Episode 1, with catchy title of Episode 1, begins in a room full of deactivated synths, clad only in underpants. One is wheeled out of the room, sealed in packaging. The lights are turned off, the door is closed, and the synths are alone. They do not start chanting “one of us, one of us” because the writers are stronger people than I. One synth, who will go on to become Anita/Mia, does look up through a conveniently placed skylight at the moon. She doesn’t sing “Somewhere Out There” to her lost brothers and sister, so pop culture references are clearly lost on synths, which is a terrible, terrible waste, and may require a return to the factory.
Moving on, the Hawkins family is a normal middle class British family, with three kids, a working mom and dad, and a big house to maintain. The dad, Joe, has a random job which doesn’t matter to the plot, so it remains a mystery. The mom, Laura, is an attorney who travels frequently for work. When Laura is unexpectedly out of town for most of a week, Joe gives up on the housework and buys a synth to be the new maid. She just happens to appear to be a gorgeous woman in her 20s. I’m sure that was the only model left in the store.
Joe and youngest daughter Sophie activate their synth right in the store. Anita is keyed to her primary user, Joe, through a DNA sample. She drives them all home from the synth store in the family car.
Laura returns home from her business trip around dinner time. Anita has already cleaned the entire house and started on dinner. Laura is against having a synth in the house. She feels like a synth will take over her place in the family, and particularly feels creeped out by Anita (named after Sophie’s friend who moved away). Anita moves through the house silently, lurking in doorways and halls, catching the family during private moments. She catches Laura looking at a photo album from her childhood.
Flashback to five weeks earlier. Anita/Mia hikes in the woods with three other synths and a young man,
Merlin Leo. Leo asks their charge levels and tells three of them, including Anita, to set up camp, then recharge. He takes one synth, Max, with him to find more fuel. While they’re gone, two men come and knock the recharging synths out, then kidnap them.
In the present time, Leo approaches Salim Sadik, a synth repairman who trades in stolen synths. Salim swears that he doesn’t deal with stolen synths anymore, and sends Leo and Max to Silas Capet. As they walk away, we learn that the other two missing synths, Fred and Niska, have already been in contact with Leo and Max. They are growing very worried that they haven’t heard from Mia at all.
Dr George Millican, one of the early pioneers of synth research, receives a visit from his caseworker. He hasn’t been keeping his appointments. Since he’s a widower who lives alone with an outdated synth she has to insist that he trade in his old model for an upgrade to the latest, greatest medical model, Vera.
After the caseworker leaves, George retrieves his synth, Odi, from where he’s hiding in the closet. Odi is very glitchy, to the point of hardly functioning, but he’s the repository of many old family memories, which makes him like a son to George. George’s own memory is failing, making Odi’s memories that much more precious.
By the end of the day, Laura has caught Anita staring at her several times, and found her standing in the doorway to Sophie’s room, watching her sleep. Laura tells Anita not to check on Sophie while she’s sleeping any more. Laura will take care of watching out for the little girl.
Things are also tense between Laura and her two teenage children, Mattie and Toby, because of Laura’s frequent absences. She and Joe are angry at each other over the travel and the synth purchase. Joe explains that he doesn’t want to replace Laura with the synth. He feels like Laura has become distant with the family, maybe because she lost her parents so young. He wants to make home a less stressful place for her to return to.
Leo and Max get a call from Fred, one of the missing synths. He’s now working as a gardener, and ready to escape. Before he can put his plan into action, Edwin Hobb, an investigator who is trying to capture the missing synths, finds and questions him, revealing that he knows exactly what Fred is: a conscious synth. Fred tries to run, but is caught. Leo and Max wait for Fred at their rendezvous point, but eventually realize that he’s not coming and quickly leave.
Leo goes to visit Niska, who has been enslaved at a brothel. He tells her that he can’t get her out yet, because Fred didn’t escape, and they all need to go together. Once alarms are set off, they’ll all be in danger of their true natures being discovered. Niska is furious that she has to continue being a prostitute and throws him out.
Gotta side with Niska on that one. He thinks turning off her pain is enough to make multiple daily rapes okay, while Fred was a gardener and he and Max sleep in old cars. Really, really not comparable. And Leo explains that Max is just so much needier than Niska, so it’s okay for her to be raped while he makes sure Max stays with him and is okay. Bros before hos, literally.
Laura and Joe get a notice from Mattie’s school saying that her grade in her computer class has dropped from an A to a D. When they confront her, she says that there doesn’t seem to be any point to working hard, when synths will soon be able to do any job better than humans, with a few seconds of programming instead of years of training.
George takes Odi to the grocery store, where Odi malfunctions and repeatedly drops glass bottles on the floor. He strikes the woman who tries to stop him, causing him to be turned off and the police to come. The police insist that Odi needs to be recycled and replaced immediately, today, but DS Drummond takes pity on George and allows him to take Odi home to recycle him.
Once home, George tinkers with Odi until he starts up again, but he has more functional issues than before, including a stutter. George and Odi look through an old family photo album. It’s clear that Odi’s memories are deteriorating.
George gets a pair of sledge hammers as he gets ready to destroy Odi. He tells Odi that he can’t let Odi be recycled. Just as George is about to start breaking Odi apart, Odi remembers the day in the photos that George showed him earlier, and describes it to George. George is unable to hurt Odi.
DS Drummond goes home to his wife, who has disabling injuries and is receiving intensive physical therapy from a synth.
Fred is held in a lab, unconscious, while Hobb and representatives of the synth manufacturers argue over him. They’ve been funding Hobb’s investigations for years because he said there were conscious synths out there. Now that he’s found one, they want to get a good look at it. Hobb refuses.
He explains: Back in the 50s a mathematician coined the term “The Singularity” to describe the point, in the future, when technology surpasses humans. The point when the machines can improve and reproduce themselves without humans, when humans become inferior to the machine. The world is already on the verge of becoming dependent of synth labor. Elster gave some synths consciousness, which means it’s possible to give all synths consciousness. Conscious synths won’t want to be slaves any more. Fred and the synths like him are The Singularity.
The Hawkins family has gone to bed, after more tension over synths taking jobs from humans and Anita’s slightly odd behavior. Laura hears the back door open. When she checks it, Anita is outside, staring at the moon. Laura tells her that she’s not allowed outside alone at night. Anita comes inside and says, “The moon is beautiful tonight, isn’t it?” A synth shouldn’t be thinking about or asking questions like that.
Mattie watches a broadcast in which a scientist argues that machines/synths will never be able to equal the human mind in complexity, emotion and psychology. Leo and Max mess with a car battery in a junkyard while Max worries that they’ll never find Mia. Leo assures him that they will, because he and Mia love each other. Niska looks darkly, furiously intense while a man has sex with her in the brothel. With rain falling against the window panes, Anita/Mia has flashes of memories, which she’s had at other times in the episode, remembering when she swam with a child in her arms to the surface of deep water after a car accident.
Anita/Mia stands in Sophie’s bedroom and watches her sleep. She gathers Sophie up in her arms, still sound asleep and wrapped in a blanket, and carries her down the street.
The salesman introduces Anita to Joe and Sophie by touching her chin to turn her on. As Anita opens her eyes, the salesman says, “There she blows, then. Your brand new synthetic. Unique styling, one of a kind, and a standard domestic profile installed that will cover all your basic housework.” Yes, she can also be used as a sex toy.
This show is very bingeable. I watched the first five episodes in one sitting, and had to stop myself from watching the whole season, since I hate writing recaps when I know how the season ends.
The synths are all fascinating people so far. The humans are hit or miss.
The synths can be distinguished by their turquoise/teal eyes with mechanical looking irises, stiff, slightly jerky movements, and blue blood. And their strange emotional affect, of course. At this point, Niska seems to be the only synth who could pass for human, with contacts.
The synths are programmed to follow Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, as is traditional in robot stories:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Isaac Asimov wrote his rules 75 years ago, and they’re both the science fiction standard and surprisingly controversial, with many looking for a way to update them.
Despite Asimov’s Laws, Anita let Laura get burned, ostensibly because she prioritized Sophie’s safety. The accident could have been avoided if Anita had been more alert to her situation while she was carrying a hot, heavy pan. As a robot, keeping an eye on the positions of the other people in the vicinity should have been second nature. Sophie may have run in, but she wasn’t quiet about it, and her trajectory was obvious. There is something a little odd about the way Anita watches and reacts to Sophie and Laura.