When Channel 4 first aired Humans last summer Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brakley’s technological drama felt like a breath of fresh air. Asking the question what would happen if we had access to computerised lifelike companions, the series saw an ordinary suburban family, The Hawkins, buy a synth to help them around the house. But unbeknownst to them their synth had been given consciousness meaning that she was one of the rare members of her breed who were able to feel emotion and weren’t just programmed to act a certain way.
The synth in question was Mia (Gemma Chan) who was part of a small group of led by Leo (Colin Morgan) the son of the original synth creator Dr. David Elster. The series ended with the conscious synths given access to the programme that allowed them to have consciousness which they supposedly entrusted to Hawkins matriarch Laura (Katherine Parkinson). But in actuality the programme was taken by another group of the conscious synths, the devious Niska (Emily Berrington) who was last seen on a train leaving her family members behind.
The second series picks up with Niska as we find her in Berlin as we start to see her putting her guard down as she enters into a romance with waitress Astrid (Bella Dayne). However her feelings about the programme that she holds in her possession are never far from her mind and she makes the ultimate conclusion to share it with the rest of the synths. This sets off a chain of events that sees synths all over the planet start to gain feelings and emotions that are completely alien to them. These synths include a Bolivian miner (Raphael Acloque) and a Nottingham chemical plant employee Hester (Sonya Cassidy) both of whom are contacted by Leo who promises to help them. However this group are under attack by the companies who employed them in the first place and soon enough one of their number has been wiped out.
Elsewhere Mia has decided to earn money for the group by going undercover as Anita once again this time in a seaside cafe run by Ed (Sam Palladio). Although Mia’s reasoning for being at Ed’s cafe is financial, Leo theorises that she likes being around real people and I believe that the relationship between the pair will get more complicated as this series continues.
Talking of complicated relationships we catch up with the Hawkins family just as they’ve moved house so that elder daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) can attend university nearby. Laura and husband Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) are attending marriage counselling in an attempt to move on from the latter’s indiscretion with Mia during the last series. However there’s more problems for the Hawkins when Joe loses his job to a synth who his company believe can be more productive than their human counterparts.
As Humans is a co-production with AMC, the series seemingly has to have a big American star to attract viewers across the pond. Last series we had William Hurt as retired scientist Dr. George Millican and this time we welcome Carrie-Ann Moss as another scientist Dr. Athena Morrow. Athena is visited by Milo Khoury (Marshall Allman) a young technology entrepreneur who believes he has the key to creating conscious synths. Initially rejecting his idea she’s initially intrigued enough to visit his offices where he introduces her to the conscious synth that has come into his possession. The fact that Athena now wants to take Milo’s discovery apart means that conscious synths may well be available to the general public before the series has finished.
As with any start to a second series the writers always have a tough job in both catching up with familiar faces and introducing us to new ones. To their credit Brackley and Vincent don’t rush these introductions and I liked the fact that the first five minutes or so was dedicated solely to Niska and her decision whether or not to release the programme. The only issue with the slow establishment of where the characters are meant that some of the new characters were ill-served. For instance I would’ve like to have met Athena and Milo earlier in the episode especially seeing as Carrie-Ann Moss’ casting had been one of the big announcements about Humans series two ahead of time.
One element of the show I always enjoyed was how the use of synths affects the human world and vice versa. This was seen throughout the episode as the theme here was very much on how the synths cost less to maintain and therefore were increasingly being employed throughout the world as a way of saving money. I enjoyed how the writers had this directly impact one of the characters with Joe losing his job to a synth and quickly realising that soon the entire company would be populated by robots. Although there is always the suggestion that the synths are being used as surrogate slaves at the same time they are being portrayed as a superior alternative to humans. This was best demonstrated by the fact that the synth who was helping out the Hawkins with their move had a human assistant, part of a government scheme to reintroduce real people into the workforce. The fact that the assistant later installed something incorrectly says a lot about why the synths are steadily populating the workforce and why the sudden influx of consciousness can only be a bad thing.
Humans other selling point are the stellar performances given by the cast especially those playing synths. Emily Berrington continues to excel here as she deftly handled the task of opening the series. Niska is certainly one of the more interesting characters in the series and Berrington makes sure she doesn’t simply become the one-dimensional villain of the show. Instead Berrington got to show the more vulnerable side of Niska through her relationship with Astrid and her struggle with whether or not to release the consciousness programme. Similarly, Gemma Chan does a good job of portraying a synth who also has to hide her consciousness when she’s around the humans she’s working for. Chan definitely provides the emotional core of the series and this was seen through her turn here especially in the scenes in which Mia bonds with cafe owner Ed. Of the new cast members, I was personally impressed by how well Carrie-Ann Moss slotted into the series as she presented us with all we needed to know about Athena almost straight away. Moss portrayed the character as a brilliant woman albeit one who lacked emotion and whose initial reaction to being presented with a conscious synth was to take it apart.
Although this opener was far from perfect it certainly displayed exactly what we could expect from this series. Brackley and Vincent have continued some of the themes from the first series whilst at the same time expanding the story about the conscious synths. The direction and performances are as great as they were last year and I’m excited about where the series is going to take us next. Ultimately if this opener is anything to go by then this series of Humans will be as great as its predecessor and may even surpass it in some ways.
Humans Continues Sunday on Channel 4