“People don’t just want to be served, they want to be loved. Imagine a machine that can think and feel but can be controlled like a regular synthetic.”
What Hobb (Danny Webb) is categorically describing, of course, is a slave.
Humans (2015) spent all of its eight-episode first season toying with the notion of slavery. It was an undercurrent with an obvious place; if you have a series following the lives of people who possess human-like robot servants designed to assist them in every way imaginable, one naturally draws the comparison. But it wasn’t until Humans’ first season finale when the show directly called attention to the theme. To this point, the motivations behind Hobb’s episodic hunt of Leo (Colin Morgan), Niska (Emily Berrington), Max (Ivanno Jeremiah), Mia (Gemma Chan) and Fred (Sope Dirisu) were ambiguous. What he intended to do with them upon capture was unclear. The finale brings it to the surface in an unflinching way - he wants to make a version of Synths somewhere beyond what they are now, but something less than human. He wants Synths who can feel and emote and think, but who have no free will. Worse yet, the government officials for whom he works sign off on the plan after he demonstrates the software works. Calling Fred to his side, he commands Fred choke him to death. Fred’s arms go out, but he can’t grab Hobb’s neck.
“You’d give us feeling, but trap our minds. You want to make us slaves,” Fred says.
It’s a tremendously frightening territory, and one which Hobb seemingly has the intelligence and resources to pull off, being a member of the original scientific engineering team who originally developed Synth tech.
“This is the most powerful scene in the episode and shows how Humans works best when using the story of artificial intelligence to make more intimate commentary on the nature of humanity and consent. The writers don’t seem to realize the weight that comes with Fred (a black man) explicitly stating that what Hobb (a white man in a position of power) wants to do is akin to slavery, and he is the first example of it.” - Angelica Jade Bastien, Vulture
It’s a very successful pronouncement of something the show has been tiptoeing around the whole season, but never directly addressed.
Contrast that with other potentially explosive components of the episode, such as the We Are People march through London, which go largely unused. We Are People are a human rights organization against the existence of Synths. They have been gaining prominence every week for the past few episodes, and in the finale, a rally is being held in London that will bring a million protestors to the city. It’s a looming backdrop to the finale, and the first two thirds of the episode are spent wondering what the protest holds for the series’ protagonists. It ends up being little at all - the Elster and the Hawkins families use the rally as a means of sneaking away from Hobb. A few curious glances go their way, as Niska and crew attempt to hide their glow-green eyes from the populous - and they do. Then it’s over. There’s an escalation of dread that leads to nothing, which is one example of a few where the episode breaks its emotional stride, and seemingly fails to explore the human-Synth drama it’s built.
It’s quite possible that We Are People will continue into next season, possibly to more utility, but for the sake of this season as an entity, it’s a wonder why they were even introduced.
“Humans’ great triumph has been that throughout most of its early episodes, it stayed incredibly grounded to an unremarkable world populated with remarkable beings. Though synth technology is so incredibly advanced, everything else in the Hawkins household and in the world at large seems just as it ever was — cars, phones, laptops are all familiar to 2015. Humans is a quiet sci-fi series, which not only makes it unique and appealing, but also true to the tone of its story. The synths have sort of quietly taken over — they meld in so well with society that suddenly people are afraid. What if they become self-aware? It’s a parable for our technology-driven time, but also a metaphor with tragic historical precedence. Humans has done an admirable, if imperfect job of combining these two aspects into a worthy tale of A.I., and what it means to be human, and the moral burden that comes with it (and the fact that your creation may turn against you).” - Allison Keene, Collider
“What lies ahead, in the show's second season, feels intriguing. With the A.I. program now harvested, there's liable to be more than a few conversations about the responsibility involved with sparking life inside an adult body. Plus, Hobb's plan - while disappointingly entrepreneurial - also seems like it could lead to some interesting back-and-forths about free will and slavery.” - Matt Fowler, IGN