August 17, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Humans”


HUMANS packed more punch than its compendium of post-Blade Runner tropes initially suggested, but those strengths weren’t altogether reflected in tonight’s season finale.  At its best, Humans told the story of two troubled families, one human and one a group of illicitly sentient “synths,” and followed the members of each, through the course of the series, as they got to know each other and themselves more deeply than they had before.

The finale, though, written by series creators Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, and directed by China Moo-Young, was more concerned with plot than character, and it didn’t prove to be entirely satisfying on either score.  Much of it hinged on the show’s most problematic figure, Karen (Ruth Bradley), whom we had initially met as a seemingly human cop, revealed halfway through the story to actually be a synth.  Karen’s switch from naturalistically human to robotic was too abrupt, and her place among the synths–she’d been created in the image of her inventor’s late wife, to be a “mother” to his son Leo (Colin Morgan), whom he’d rescued from drowning by transforming him into a human/synth cyborg, but Leo had instantly rejected her from the family–was muddled.  Karen started out wanting to destroy the synths and their potential power to give consciousness to the robots around them, but suddenly shifted her loyalties, ultimately joining with the others to download their god-like source code, and she never quite made emotional sense.  It also didn’t make sense that the infected code evil Dr. Hobb (Danny Webb) had put into synth Fred (Sope Dirisu) wouldn’t instantly activate his GPS as soon as it was turned on, a contrivance the writers needed so Fred could take part in the group installation of the magic code (it appeared in the shape of a tree) before the cops showed up.  Nor that Niska (Emily Berrington), all along the most forthright of the synths, would lie about giving the only copy of the code to human Laura (Katherine Parkinson), while secretly keeping a flash drive for herself.  Meanwhile, Mia (Gemma Chan), who had been the central protagonist of the early episodes, was kept in the background with little to do.

Even as the character-based aspects of the finale were failing to cohere, the episode didn’t deliver much action, either.  Oddly, even though the plot had the synths having to make their escape through a demonstration by anti-synth humans, nothing came of the confrontation, and the police, led by Dr. Hobb, were always one step behind our heroes.

Humans was on much more solid ground in the episode that preceded the finale, most of which simply put Leo’s family in the house with Laura’s family, and had them all interact.  Niska’s halting journey from vengeful murderousness to empathy, partly through an earlier unlikely if brief friendship with kindly retired scientist George (William Hurt, in a lovely performance), was sensitively drawn, and the parallel development of Laura from distaste for synths to resolute advocate for them through her bond with Mia was both stirring and moving.

Humans did well enough for AMC (much better, sadly, than Halt and Catch Fire) to earn a renewal, and the show could go in any number of directions in Season 2, having separated its synth characters at the end of the finale, and reunited the humans more closely than they’d been when we met them.  If the writers are wise, they’ll keep the focus low-tech and based on character.  There are more than enough genre stories out there about the gray area between human and machine (Extant and Dark Matter, to name two on the air right now), but what’s given Humans its own sentience has been its willingness to engage with its characters, whether biological or technological, as people.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."