This review contains spoilers.
“The bomb changed everything” Max tells Mia and Niska. He’s not wrong. Before it, Max preached about hope and reaching out a hand of solidarity to humans. After the bomb, he won’t even reach out a hand to his brother Leo.
Max hasn’t rejected Leo because of a lack of feeling—he says he’s experiencing more emotions daily—but because of too much of it. Leo having been purged of his robotic components puts him and Max on opposite sides of the fissure between human and Synth. In the climate of Synth unrest at the rail yard, Max fears for Leo’s wellbeing, so makes the painful choice because it’s the only safe choice.
Ivanno Jeremiah conveys Max’s complex feelings—desperation, ambivalence, fear, grief—without once betraying the Synth mode of expression. Staying within such a narrow physical and vocal range must be an serious handicap to an actor tasked with telling an emotional story. It’s like having to play King Lear while wearing a balaclava. Jeremiah though, hits the exact balance and gives the stand-out performance of the episode.
It’s satisfying to see the Synth mode of expression evolving. An episode like this one isn’t only enjoyable for its broader plot developments or for Katherine Parkinson’s skilled comic delivery, but also for the eye it has trained on small details. Synth body language has always dictated that movements take the most economical path – eyes move first before the rest of the head follows, and, as little Sam might say, no energy is wasted on inefficiency. In series three, that movement repertoire has expanded. Sympathetic Synths touch foreheads in a less expansive but more intimate version of a human hug. Anatole makes a religious sign to of thanks to the sky, a pared-down genuflection. As Synth society develops, it’s creating its own social gestures.
Synth society may be developing, but it isn’t growing and nor can it. That’s the source of Mia’s current distress. With the consciousness code gone (didn’t Mattie know to always keep a back-up?) and a shelf-life on Green Eyes, there’s no future for her people. Unlike Anatole, Mia has no religious faith and is facing the same question that’s plagued humans for centuries: if life is finite, what’s the point of existence? If Green Eyes will cease to exist in fifty years, what’s the meaning of it all?
By the sound of this episode’s newest intrigue, they might not even have fifty years. After the Dryden Commission police guy let the name slip, Laura is now on the trail of ‘Basewood’, a secret and no-doubt horrifyingly inhumane governmental plan. Knowing more than he’s letting on is behavioural scientist Neil Summer, played by the brilliant Mark Bonnar with all the dry humour and attractive naturalism that being played by Mark Bonnar always entails.
Laura’s not the only one in detective mode. Joe’s sighting of Karen in Waltringham led him to trail her home and discover Sam’s true Seraph nature. Karen and Sam’s scenes are some of the highlights of an already strong series. His ‘A Martian sends a postcard home’-style observations on human life (“she has an excessive interest in dinosaurs”) are old jokes but good ones, and unlike the tension and sadness of other Synth-to-Synth interactions, theirs are utterly cheering.
The same goes for the introduction of Orange-Eyes bodyguard Stanley (Dino Fetscher), who brings welcome comedy back into the Hawkins home (“I do not have a—warning possible obscenity—piss-take mode”). He and Laura make an excellent double-act so far.
Also acting the gumshoe is Niska, who, in her continued hunt for the bar bombers is enacting a classic story – a badass seeking revenge for pain inflicted on the woman she loves. Her close calls with armed police this week were straight out of an action thriller.
Niska’s road-trip with Mia, on the other hand, was straight out of the news. Drowned refugee bodies littering the beach isn’t even metaphor; it’s the thing itself. Writers Jon Brackley and Sam Vincent continue to use their platform to shine a spotlight on real world atrocities, this just being the latest example.
It’s building beautifully, series three. The balance of levity and tension is cleverly managed, the new characters are intriguing, while the old ones are growing in plausible directions. Keep this up, and it’ll be the strongest run of Humans yet.
Read our review of the previous episode here.