Humans, Season One, “Episode One”
Written by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Directed by Sam Donovan
Airs Sundays at 9 pm (ET) on AMC
Robots and how humans relate to them has been a topic of science fiction in numerous forms of media, from films to novels. The newest entry into this subgenre comes in the form of AMC’s new series Humans. Set in a world where men and women have relegated a number of jobs to robots called synths, the pilot sets up a number of conflicts that arise from this arrangement, in a strong opening that suggests a compelling new series.
The show does an interesting job of positing the robots as regarded as second class citizens that would be interesting to follow through on. While the idea has been explored in movies and television before, placing robots as the disadvantaged group opens some avenues that could not be otherwise be covered. Humans goes down this avenue by having the synths be unable to initiate physical contact or have feelings or process emotions, making the development of such facets among the synths an exciting storytelling avenue. The pilot already goes down this road, but also sets up three different ways this can be received. While the company’s dread over the synths developing awareness is the only explicit reaction shown, the way other characters treat the synths also point to potential receptions once this news emerges. The manner in which George Millican treats Odi indicates the possibility that some humans will welcome this transition, already seeing the synths as family members despite the way other members of society treat them. Such a change could even have the potential to legitimise George’s reluctance to give up Kevin. On the other hand, the reaction of the Hawkins family to such a development is unpredictable. While Laura and Mattie express their concerns about the synth’s presence, even Joe, who’s the most vocal proponent for Anita’s presence in the house, doesn’t see her as part of the family, but as a useful accessory. Laura and Mattie also seem comfortable in their belittling views towards the synths simply because they have yet to see proof to the contrary. When news of their development is revealed, how these three members of the family react has the potential to be the most compelling part of the show.
Laura and Mattie’s unease at the synths replacing them is also a fascinating idea the pilot presents. Laura’s concern, fleshed out more in the episode, is the more poignant of the two, though Mattie’s concern also has some weight. Laura’s concern over the synth’s presence, and how it might usurp her place in the house is a nice contrast to her introduction, where she appears to be lying to her family to gain some time away from them, something Joe has clearly picked up on, even though he doesn’t seem to have fully grasped it. The conflict inherent in Laura’s actions would be well worth exploring, especially with regards to how future circumstances affect her feelings towards Anita. If she ends up distrustful of Anita, a turn that would be understandable given the latter’s actions at the end of the episode, that may cause Laura to stay at home despite her desire to get away, something that may affect her mental well-being down the line. On the other hand, if Laura does come to trust Anita, she may indulge more often in taking time away from the family, which may affect her relationship with Joe and the children.
Mattie’s crisis is similarly interesting to consider. The pilot smartly manages to steer away from having the character come off as indirectly racist, as the synths can be tuned to perform any task necessary, pulling away from any real-world comparisons to skilled workers of different nationalities competing for the same job. How people deal with growing up in a reality with synths is a promising story line, and Mattie’s feelings open up the perfect segue into exploring this aspect of the Humans world. In addition, Mattie’s feelings are clearly influenced by her view of synths being nothing more than machines. The discovery that they also have emotions could cause her to go in either direction, as she could end up doubling down on her hatred of them, or begin to see them in a new light. Because of this, her character may become the most compelling one on the series as things develop.
The pilot does come with some problems, however, chief among them the characters of Sophie and Toby, both of whom suffer from a lack of clear characterisation. Leo similarly suffers from a lack of fleshing out, with his quest for Anita, Niska, and the other synths being the most interesting aspect of him so far. George and Odi, on the other hand, are intriguing, in large part due to William Hurt’s performance, and while this storyline still seems unconnected to the other events in the pilot, it’ll still be worth following. Anita’s actions with Sophie to close out the episode is a great way to introduce some ambiguity to the proceedings. While the show could have gone down the route of having all the synths be good, with the humans falling on the scale of the morality spectrum, Anita’s abduction of Sophie proves that the synths can be dangerous too, building on an idea begun by Odi’s accidental hit on the retail worker. This will make any future decisions by the characters much more complex. The opening scene, with the synths all standing in perfect formation except for Anita, is an appropriately creepy image, and the scene with the reclamation agents in the forest is well done. Gemma Chan’s performance as Anita is a strong one, and given the complexity of the character, her work in the pilot indicates that she will handle the upcoming challenges well. The show has a lot of promise based on the pilot, and where it goes from here will be worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.