Humans s1 ep 4

“Synths can’t get scared…..can they?”

I mentioned last week that the formerly terrifying Anita had softened considerably. This week, that transformation seems complete: after her Mia moment in episode 3, she seems scared and vulnerable, to the extent that Laura and Mattie, previously so suspicious and angry that she was replacing them, become worried and protective of her, changing their attitudes to other synths in the process. So much so that Laura investigates a case relating to synth “rights” and “feelings,” while Mattie – who was taking potshots at synths and trying to beat them up herself not that long ago – steps in to prevent the rape of a synth at a party, significantly describing the victim as “an unconscious woman” instead of the machine-related terminology she’s been using till now.

Ironically, however, as Laura and Mattie’s sympathies shift, so do Joe’s, in the opposite direction. Having persuaded Anita to break the rules and spy on Laura for him, her kindness and empathy mixed with his jealousy and marital discord prove a potent combination. Like Toby, he’s attracted to Anita; unlike Toby, he can do something about it, so he activates her “Adult” programming and gives in to the fantasy in a mercifully short sequence which manages to raise all sorts of uncomfortable, difficult questions about personhood and capacity to consent, while simultaneously grossing the entire audience out.

Joe opts for the easiest answers to those questions in the end, but they’re still not enough to salvage his conscience, so he transfers his guilt and shame onto Anita, meaning that, while Laura is now insisting on having her examined and refusing to give her up, Joe is now the one saying “she’s just a machine” and trying to get rid of her. Oh, Joe. Anita’s not to blame for you cheating on your wife. You are.

Mattie, however, is making her own enquiries about what’s wrong with Anita, leading to a disastrous meeting with the increasingly stupid Leo and Maxie. Being a bright girl, she has no difficulty extricating herself from that pair forthwith. That line of investigation exhausted, then, Leo tries another, tracking down Dr Millican for some exposition and chat about magical mystery computer programmes. Neither Leo’s plotline nor George’s is improved by their crossing paths. Leo’s, in particular, feels like it’s designed for children’s TV, especially when compared with the adult themes and questions explored by the Anita and Niska storylines.

Still, I suppose Leo’s storyline gives the show the requisite McGuffin for the rest of the season since presumably all sides will be after this super-synth programme in due course. And all after Leo, once they find out his hybrid nature, and assuming Niska doesn’t get them all killed, first. The devastation she wreaks at the underground “smash club” – for people to “smash” up synths – is both understandable and hard to watch but, more to the point, it’s altogether too visible, bringing those hunting them far too close to her and the other “special” synths. Of whom there seem to be more than we thought – I wondered if there was something different about Karen! That final scene showing us exactly what is like something from Alien – disturbing, exciting stuff and a great way to finish off another very good episode.

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