Early on in “Episode 2” of Humans, the mysterious Hobbs gazes over conscious synth Fred as he’s poked and prodded by scientists. “He’s the Mona Lisa. He’s penicillin. He’s the atom bomb,” Hobbs says. He’s not wrong: the creation of true artificial life (is that a contradiction?) would arguably be humanity’s finest achievement: accidental or not. Hobbs leaves one thing out of his list of remarkable things a synth is, however. “Non-conscious” Synths are potentially the greatest masturbatory tool since the invention of the right hand.
One thing that Humans gets undeniably right early in its run, which is highlighted excellently in this second episode, is the ravenous sexual nature of humanity and how the machines we create are often built with that in mind. Just like porn decided the victor in the HD DVD/Blu Ray battle, our more prurient interests have turned our robots into impossibly beautiful human-looking creatures when mere C-3POs would have sufficed.
When dealing with a subject as grand and aspirational as the creation of new life, it would be easy for a show to discard the idea of how this new invention fits into the vast sexual spectrum of human beings as being too base. But it’s an important question and Humans refreshingly gets to it early and often. Episode 1 touched on this with the introduction of prostitute synth Niska and Toby’s innocent “crush” on Anita and now Episode 2 dives further in.
Niska is the most prominent example. She is a prostitute synth, forced to endure an assembly line style and never-ending series of creepy male clients. She also happens to be one of the few conscious synths. When a client tells Niska that he wants her to act scared and “young” she refuses, chokes him to death and finally takes her leave. Hers is a fascinating case of “what would you do if your fleshlight suddenly developed sentience?” Humans mercifully doesn’t let her stick around in her situation long enough to find out, but given humanity’s track record of treating other human beings it’s likely her sentience would be treated as an annoying speed bump to her continued job rather than a humanitarian crisis. Or as Niska tells a woman as she leaves: “Everything your men do to us they want to do to you.”
When Leo arrives at a kind of underground synth chop shop under the guise of looking for a mod for Max, but really looking for Anita, the creep running it alludes to attempting to rape Anita before giving her a full memory wipe and selling her off. If this man truly viewed Anita as an object he wouldn’t recite this story to Leo with such obvious relish and cruelty. He may not know Anita is truly sentient but there is something human enough about these synths even if only appearance to encourage men to use talk in terms of sexual violence against them.
Ultimately Leo fights the man and needs an assist from his synth companion Max to get out alive. But is Leo “alive” in the traditional sense? Max takes Leo to a public bathroom where he “plugs” Leo in to a power socket and Leo’s eyes light up. All signs point to Leo being a synth and while I don’t know where this plot will go in future weeks, for now I’m not that thrilled that a potential human-synth romance implied was really a synth-synth romance.
Elsewhere, the men on Humans react to synths sexually even if they’re not fully aware of it. Obviously, Toby Hawkins is having a fairly sexual response to Anita. In a scene that any male who grew up with a dial-up modem on the family computer will recognize, Toby sneaks downstairs and approaches Anita while she’s charging. When he steals up the courage to reach for her boob she immediately wakes up and barks “Inappropriate contact between me and a secondary user must be reported to my primary user!” Cock-blocked by parental controls yet again. “Why’d they have to make you so fit?” Toby opines as he heads back to bed.
But D.S. Peter Drummond has a sexual response to his synth in a way that’s a little less obvious. He’s jealous. His preposterously “fit” male synth knows how to take care of his disabled wife better than he does. As he and his partner Karen investigate the scene at the chop shop left behind by Leo, his frustration reaches a boiling point. “We’re losing ourselves, Karen.” To which she responds: “Oh really? Because all the bad things that have happened to me were done by other people.”
Humans is slowly but surely building the case that human beings are our own worst enemy. This is not a rare theme for any art in general or science fiction specifically, but it’s still interesting. The “conscious” synths are in their relative infancy as species and it will be fun to watch them struggle to find an identity in relation to their creators. Even the still, unconscious synths illustrate this “our own worst enemy” trope well. George is finally assigned a new synth to replace Odie (who he has hidden in a garage). On the surface, Vera appears to be severe and unyielding and Millican is shocked that she touches him without his permission. “You’re not a helper, you’re a jailer,” he says. Vera is able to touch George without his permission, however, because the state has programmed her that way. The state does not trust George to take care of himself so they’ve created something that will. Vera doesn’t reflect how robots will one day treat us; it’s about how we treat our elderly right now.
Given that sad state of affairs, we may be in better hands with fully awake synths than we are on our own. Laura reaches a breaking point with Anita and decides to return her when Mattie reveals Anita doesn’t “talk” to other synths. Before Laura gets to return Anita, however, Anita in a moment of erie humanity tells Laura: “I will always keep Sophie safe.” It’s too early in Humans run to confidently conclude anything but I believe her. That robot’s got a bad poker face.