This review contains spoilers.
Having leaned so heavily on real-world politics until now, in its series three finale Humans took an abrupt swerve towards the mystical. It capped off seven hours of earnest storytelling about intolerance, social integration, terrorism and civil rights with a magical ending. You could say it went full Battlestar Galactica. (To wit: the half-human, half-Synthetic baby with regenerative blood that may or may not be able to cure cancer.)
The problem with artificial intelligence drama having what people will insist on calling ‘a moment’ is the danger of bland cross-pollination between shows. Despite being a remake, until now Humans has largely stood alone from glossier US versions of the AI consciousness story. And despite it being a transatlantic co-production, it’s remained British-feeling and intimate, largely thanks to the naturalistic comedy of the Hawkins family.
Even series three’s overtly political bent has been bound to a certain place and time, specifically, the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum and during the refugee crisis. This finale though, sweeps away the specific and flattens out the show’s quirks, bringing it closer to sci-fi and fantasy stories we’ve already been told.
Niska’s quest ending in her being rewarded with god-like knowledge and power, for instance, is a sci-fi staple. In her new incarnation, Niska is Neo-from-the-Matrix-unstoppable. She’s season four finale Buffy. She’s Rose Tyler as Bad Wolf. She’s Maeve in Westworld.
Mattie and Leo’s baby being a hybrid destined to be the first of her species too, falls remarkably close to events in the Battlestar Galactica remake. The idea that Synth blood plus human blood equals a genetic evolution that’s turned Leo into Superman and made his child the first of a new race simply feels as though it belongs to a different show.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. Evolution is natural. And for Humans to survive into another series, it will need to work an angle other than political allegory. The one chosen however, will take some getting used to. Until now, the joy of Humans has been its quotidien believability. It’s sci-fi, but plausibly so. If Niska had started hovering six inches above ground and sprouted angel wings in this finale, it would have been as easy to swallow as what actually transpired.
More positively, the return of series two’s ‘V’ in Odi’s body was a deft continuation of both storylines. The thought of Odi reawakening on Day Zero, having just made the choice to refuse the dubious gift of consciousness, has been a pestering one for fans since the series two finale. Him being “not exactly” back in this form provides a neat ending for the character.
The same goes for V, last seen being uploaded by her mother Dr Athena Morrow to an undisclosed online location where she couldn’t be reached by Qualia’s Milo Khoury. When the Synths awoke on Day Zero, V heard their pain, and deleted its source. Presumably, she then spent the next year reading the sort of books they stock next to the incense sticks in crystal healing shops, which would explain the peace, love and understanding quest on which Niska was sent.
It does make sense for Niska to be the chosen one. The always-pacifist, always-loving Mia being the recipient of all that glowy-eyed knowledge instead of her hard-nosed sister wouldn’t have proved the point that Synths are capable of change. (Cynically though, you might add that unlike Gemma Chan, Emily Berrington doesn’t have a Marvel and a Harry Potter franchise cluttering up her diary for a potential series four.)
As V said, Mia had a different role to play – that of the martyr. We’ve seen so much of Humans’ story play out through Mia’s eyes, it was affecting to see them drained of colour as the pixel of life behind them switched from on to off. Employing a motif used time and again in series three, Mia reached out her hand in peace, but was met with violence.
That wasn’t the only sad moment in the finale. It was a litany of plans gone wrong and characters being overtaken by events. Neha’s attempt to leak the Dryden Commission failed. Max’s Norway escape plan was stopped before it could begin. His plan for passive resistance was scuppered by Sam throwing an almost literal spanner into the works. (Sam trying to make the same sacrifice Karen made for him in the face of that angry mob was a moment of beautiful naivety that felt undermined by his strange choice later on to start the fight.)
Even Mattie’s plan to give herself up in exchange for her mother’s freedom was stopped in its tracks by Angel-Niska. Lord Dryden dropped the thumb drive before he was bundled out of the room, so where does that leave things? Will Laura be freed? Will Leo stick around to help raise the messiah? Does Joe know where the fabric conditioner is kept? So many questions.
In death, Mia’s sacrifice furthered the cause. Would it be too hopeful to think that Mia’s earlier promise to ‘son’ Leo that she will “always come back for” him contained a hint that there could be a return route for her character? Probably.
The need for hope, along with compassion and faith and humanity, was the ultimate message of Humans series three. The words Laura spoke on the BBC news were its call to arms. Don’t turn a blind eye to suffering, it urged viewers, embody the best of the human spirit and act.
To carry that admirable message inside an exciting, tense hour of television, deserves recognition. Characters grappled with moral choices while countdowns counted down and existential threats drew near. The finale had action, momentum and a conscience. If only its boldest moves hadn’t all been seen before.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.