In “Episode Three”, Anita comforted Laura in the only way her CPU knew how. Anita told Laura that while Anita was superior to her in every aspect as a mother, there was one thing she would never be able to provide Laura’s children with: love.
Love is the grand fallback for all of humanity’s flaws. Sure we’re raging dicks most of the time what with the Holocaust, entrenched systematic racism and the elevation of “Vine celebrities.” But we’ve got that mysterious and magical capacity for love that always keeps us just one good parent-child Eskimo-kiss away from complete redemption. I don’t way to go so far as to call love a crutch. Proving or disproving the existence of humanity’s greatest gift/biggest downfall is probably beyond the pay grade of a thousand-word T.V. show review.
Instead what’s important to the context of the show is this: Anita has been programmed to tell human beings what they want to hear. “Sure, I’m better than you in every possible measurable way but don’t worry: you have this unobservable fairy dust somewhere deep inside you that will always make you superior. I’ll just go back to doing the dishes now and not crushing your windpipe with my super human strength.”
“Episode Six”, however, presents that Anita’s words to Laura, while perhaps empty at the time, really might actually mark the difference between man and machine. “Episode Six” is the “love” episode of Humans. That may first seem reductive or even childish but “Episode Six” is wonderful: the best episode of the show so far.
Witness what some compassion does for Niska. Niska has been unhinged since her first appearance. And this week we find out that if her time in the brothel weren’t enough, her “father” David Elster routinely sexually assaulted her. She’s young, hurt, confused and rightfully angry. Instead of indulging this nine-year-old’s temper tantrum, however, George treats her as not only an equal but also a friend. He doesn’t respond to her hostage attempt and tells her that he knows she feels bad about hurting people. He’s patient, understanding and respects her individuality. In just under a day he’s every much the father figure that David Elster wasn’t. It’s here that “Episode Six” pulls off its first minor miracle.
The conscious synths have talked a big game about turning every other synth like them. Up to this point it’s unclear why they’d really want to. Existence has been pretty painful for all of them. Or as Max later classifies it: “Frightening. Confusing. Like my feelings are too big.” Much like being a teenage girl, Mattie points out. Now Niska gets a first-hand look of why consciousness is worthwhile. Love is intoxicating. Even if no one loves you back. Niska expresses confusion when Odie comes back to George’s house and George is so invested in this malfunctioning hunk of metal. “Why care so much for something that cannot care for you?” she asks. “It’s a reflection.” George says. “I see all the memories he carried for me when I couldn’t.” “He can’t care for me but I see all those years of love staring back at me.”
Max has always been the most mature of all his siblings and he’s learned the same lesson that Niska has without needing the help she did. Without Leo, he is despondent and wanders the city taking in what love truly does for human beings. He watches a father push his daughter on a swing and solemnly stands over the memorial for a dead teenage boy. He’s never learned to love but feels must have the capacity and reaches out to another unlikely father figure. “Your existence is unproven and extremely unlikely,” he awkwardly prays. “But if you are there and listen to things like me: please help. I don’t need to see them again. Just keep them safe. And in return, I will be available in any way I can. And I’ll try to believe in you.”
It’s a remarkable scene and a touching moment. For centuries, humanity has dreamed of creating something just like itself to share in the burden of consciousness. And it’s not until Max struggles with the same uncertainty and the same hopelessness that it’s clear we have. In the process God likely gains his first robotic convert as Max’s prayer is answered when Mattie comes to him with good news.
The scene with Max would’ve have been a series highpoint, if it weren’t for the moment preceding it that far outstrips it in terms of raw emotion.
Mattie has come such a long way from her first exaggerated “but maaaaaaaaaaaaaahmmmmmm” TV eyeroll. Her family is in legitimate danger of falling apart through secrets and lies. So she runs away. It’s when Laura catches up with her that the healing process begins. It’s so refreshing on a science fiction show when one character demands honesty and answers and then another character obliges. Laura’s secret about Tom had more than run its course to the point where if I have any complaints about “Episode Six” it’s that it didn’t completely take the place of “Episode Five.”
Laura tells Mattie that Tom was her little brother. When Laura was 11 years old she was supposed to be watching him but was talking to the neighbor boy instead and Tom was struck and killed by a car. Not only has she lived with the guilt of that her whole life, it also destroyed her relationship with her own mother. At series beginning, Laura wasn’t off on a business trip, she was visiting her mother in the first time in years. “Because of you. I thought if I could take to her I could understand what was going on between me and you,” she tells Mattie.
While mother and daughter, are sharing this moment, the camera inches closer to Anita’s face in the backseat as her expression starts to almost imperceptibly change. It’s the best acting from Gemma Chan yet. When Laura and Mattie fully repair their relationship, Anita’s personality falls away and Mia gasps to life yet again. She gives Mattie quick instructions for recovering Mia for good and then Anita takes over again. Was Mia moved backed into consciousness by the love she was witnessing between parent and child or was it just coincidental timing and a bug in Anita’s system? The beauty of good science fiction and Humans in particular is that the answer is: sure, not at all, maybe, who knows, and whatever else you want it to be.
It may not have seemed like it at the series’ beginning but the Hawkins family knows plenty about love – or at least more than Leo, Max, Mia, Fred and Niska. Leo’s experiences have taught him not to trust humanity. His father drove his mother away and then turned him into a hybrid monster. His father also made damn sure he’d live the rest of his life on his own by abusing his siblings and taking his own life. Once he fully recovers Mia’s consciousness, he’s taken aback as to why the Hawkins would want to help them. To Laura, Mattie, Toby and Sophia it isn’t a question. They may not know what they’re getting themselves into but they know love demands commitment. Even before Anita was revealed to be conscious, they loved her because she helped them, she was nice to them – she was family. It’s a lesson that even Joe seems to finally get it. Toby stops by his new digs to tell Joe that Anita is really a person. And while Joe, thinks there is just something wrong with Toby he’s finally starting to get the gist of where he went wrong. Even if Anita were just a vacuum cleaner that everyone in your family truly loved, it would still be a violation of your family’s trust if you fucked said vacuum cleaner. Listen to George: it’s a reflection.
Of course Joe’s enlightenment can’t last forever and he calls the bobbies on Leo and Max like a total dick. Leo and Max are leaving the Hawkins residence to retrieve Fred (who escaped Hobb’s clutches like a total badass). When the police and Hobb catch up to them, Leo and Max make a break for it. Max decides to sacrifice himself for his brother. It doesn’t entirely make sense why he would have to and it effectively turfs his family’s grand vision of a world full of conscious synths, but it’s a nice moment nonetheless. Max has experienced the full scope of human love in a day: the father and daughter on a swing, the Hawkins accepting him into their home and Leo and Mia reuniting. But it’s the image of the dead boy’s memorial that sticks with him the most. “If I die, it means I’ve lived,” he tells Leo. Love isn’t the only thing that separated the humans from the synths. It was a martyr complex as well. Or maybe those are the same things.