Sunday, September 09, 2018

A Political History of the Future: Humans at Lawyers, Guns & Money

My latest Political History of the Future column is up at Lawyers, Guns & Money.  This time, the topic is Humans, the Channel 4/AMC series which recently concluded its third season, about a world in which human-seeming robots have taken over most jobs in the service economy, and begin to develop consciousness.
One core difference between Humans and a lot of other science fiction shows about robots or despised minorities with special powers is that it doesn’t center violence—and, when violence does occur, it is used exclusively to horrifying, demoralizing effect. Synths are strong, quick, and agile, but there are hardly any badass robot fights in this show. On the contrary, it often seems as if synths are a great deal more fragile than humans, succumbing to beatings and abuses that a human might recover from (which makes sense if you consider that these are basically talking household appliances, the sort of thing you’d be expected to replace after a few years). Images of damaged and mistreated synths recur frequently throughout the show, as a reminder of both the danger that our main characters face in human society, and the fact that this is a story where problems will mostly be solved by talking (though some characters, like the belligerent, short-tempered Niska, find this incredibly frustrating). This is a role left primarily to Laura, who over the course of the show’s three seasons embraces the cause of synth rights, and Mia, who becomes a figurehead in the growing community of conscious synths.
I've enjoyed Humans since its premiere in 2015, and I often find it a great deal more thoughtful (and tough-minded) than more talked-about sentient-robot shows like Westworld.  But I also found the third season a bit of a disappointment, setting aside the show's refreshingly low-key approach in favor of shopworn tropes about despised, special minorities that the writers deployed without their typical insight and thoughtfulness.  Still, there's a lot to enjoy, and talk about, in this show, as I discuss in the column.

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