This review contains spoilers.
There’s a real sense of convergence in Humans series three. This show’s always been good at keeping everyone busy, but not necessarily at keeping everyone busy in the same direction. George and Odi, Toby and Reenie, Laura and the secret of her brother’s death (remember that?)… the previous series were scattered with discrete plots that ran alongside the main intrigue. Series three’s various offshoots spur from one central stem: can Synths ever gain acceptance from Humans?
Almost everything the characters did this episode was in service of answering that question. Mia tried to hasten the acceptance process by bravely living among people that hate her and peaceably facing their abuse. Agnes plotted rebellion in the belief that acceptance would never come. At Laura’s behest, Max invited the Dryden Commission into the rail yard in the hope that it would. Niska continued her hunt for the bombers whose actions have made acceptance almost impossible. And by risking his own life to save Sam’s, Joe proved that, even to a Waltringham resident, Synth lives matter.
Only Leo is telling a different story. After the coma, he’s Ariel the little mermaid, a clumsy fish-of-out-water to whom ordinary human life is strange and exotic. (Perhaps that explains the new hairdo – he’s been combing it with a fork?) Raised by Synths, Leo missed out on normality – school, Bond films, Sebastian the crab. Colin Morgan gives a compellingly detailed performance as the new Leo. Purged of his Synth parts, his voice and mannerisms are subtly different, as is the way he carries and expresses himself. It almost feels like meeting a new character, which is a fascinating twist this late in the game.
Leo and Mattie were granted a night devoted to their characters rather than the acceptance question. They trailed around town at night, reminisced about how rubbish school was, poured their heart out, then got naked. It was blessedly ordinary young people stuff for the ex-cyborg and his mass-murdering hacker genius girlfriend, and played affectingly by Morgan and Lucy Carless. A wartime love story sweetens this otherwise bleak series.
Leo and Mattie weren’t the only ones forming a bond. While Mia and Niska went it alone on different but equally dangerous missions, Laura basked in the first flush of romance with Neil, and Joe’s fatherly instincts won out over his Synth anxiety as he helped to protect Sam.
Were Joe to form an attachment to Karen and Sam, it could be the perfect redemption for him. No matter how likeable Tom Goodman-Hill makes Joe, next to Laura’s staunch campaign for Synth rights, his move to Waltringham seems small-minded and regressive. He may think he’s made the safe choice, but he’s chosen isolationist denial. Laura isn’t just telling their kids that standing up for what’s right is “the most important thing”, she’s actually doing it. Joe caring and standing up for Sam and Karen would show us the version of him that Laura must once have fallen in love with.
Joe loves his kids and is clearly pained by living two buses and a train away from them, not to mention Mattie’s estrangement. He’s a natural dad, and as we saw this week, Karen’s programming means that she isn’t able to protect Sam alone. All three of them need each other, which is as good a definition of a family as there is.
However much Sophie might enjoy having a Synth little brother, the risks of forming new attachments while the world is in such a perilous state are great. There’s the existential risk to Karen and Sam were they to be discovered by Qualia or the people of Waltringham. There’s also the emotional risk Sam, Joe and Karen would face if they were to dare to love each other when it could all be so easily taken away. That’s a gamble we all take with our feelings though, a quintessentially human dilemma.
Laura warned Mattie of the danger Leo presents as David Elster’s son, but Neil Sommer is just as risky a prospect. He lost his child because of Day Zero; Laura’s child caused Day Zero. What would Neil do were he to find out that Mattie was indirectly responsible for his son’s death? The many pairings of series three are fraught with potential conflict, which makes them gripping viewing.
This episode added another few mysteries to the growing series three list. In addition to ‘who are the bar bombers?’ and ‘what is Basewood?’, we now also need to know who is “the Synth that sleeps”, who sent that Orange Eyes to Niska, and whether or not Max deliberately sabotaged the battery given to the now-dead refugees. Agnes’ anger at her discovery could make the Dryden Commission visit a disaster. She already doesn’t trust herself around humans; what might she do to Max if she believed him to have deliberately caused the refugee deaths?
The Dryden Commission visit could well be a disaster anyway. Antipathy and resentment run deep. What Laura needs is a way to force the hostile authorities see Synths as people. If only she knew about lovely little Sam. The Commission might not be quite so heartless about Synths being lynched if they met one with the appearance of a child. In 2015, the awful sight of drowned three-year-old refugee Alan Kurdi temporarily snapped the national sensibility back into sense after a summer in which certain papers had baited public intolerance and bigotry towards victims of the war in Syria. Should something happen in the public eye to lovely little Sam, it could change people’s minds.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.