Programs sometimes suffer from “penultimate-itis,” a television disease where the writers arrive at the season’s second-to-last episode, discover there’s a bunch of character development and preparation they want to do, and cram a whole bunch of it into the episode. That ensures that the following week, when the finale comes around, its episode can focus on whatever big, gripping, cliffhanger ending is waiting for audiences.
The trouble is that frequently, packing too much character development into an episode comes across contrived and forced, taking away some of its credibility. If done especially poorly, it can damage the series overall.
While it feels as though Humans (2015) bit off a tad more than it could chew with character scenes in “Episode 7,” it handled its last-minute dose of character building rather well. A handful of character motivations and actions seemed awkward and unrealistic (The Hawkins family home gets raided and everyone’s reaction is almost complete calm, aside from Leo (Colin Morgan)? A trained police officer/Synth accidentally shoots two people by mistake? Was William Hurt that much more expensive than the other cast members?) - but altogether, the episode provided more insightful details about many of its major players, and contained beautifully touching and humorous scenes pairing Synth characters with their human counterparts. It won't be surprising to inevitably see some of these bonds carry into next season.
Poor George (William Hurt), gunned down by his own creations. He took it rather well, but it was heartbreaking to watch Odi's (Will Tudor) final conversation with his long-time owner. Though he's one of the series' true Synths, one couldn't help but anthropomorphize in that moment, and wonder if Odi felt something as old George passed. It's a credit to the writing team for Humans to create a genuinely emotional moment with one of its emotionless characters.
Further humanization of Niska (Emily Berrington) was one of the primary focuses of the episode, as her time with George (William Hurt) gave her some perspective on humanity and behavior. “Episode 7” finds her spewing her usual scoff on the Hawkins family children (“Has your face always been like that?”), eventually playing dinosaurs and dolls with Sophie (Pixie Davies), who has taken to Niska like one of her toy dolls in a manner that is both humorously adorable and equally symbolic of Niska's personality and her origin. Niska is effectively an asocial, abused nine year-old trapped inside the body of a quick-calculating robot. Watching her develop an understanding that consciousness is complicated has been a highlight of the show.
There’s an incredible shot late in the episode when the Hawkins’ see the television news report of a rogue Synth attacking humans at a smash club, only to realize it’s on their couch with their youngest child in its lap. Their brewing acceptance of the Elster Synths’ existence instantly hits a wall, and for perhaps the first time in the series, Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson) are in agreement - the Synths have to leave. It’s the first clear evidence they’ve received that indicates these creations could be a threat to their family.
But before all that happens, Mattie (Lucy Carless) and Leo further their unspoken sexual attraction and mutual love of quickly reading complicated source code to the extent where even dim-witted Joe catches a glimmer of their rising fire.
Outside, playing a game of soccer, Fred (Sope Dirisu) talks about David Elster (Stephen Boxer) being a poor “father,” growing tired of each of his creations as soon as they were finished. This notion lets Joe open up to Toby (Theo Stevenson) to some success, but it’s obvious the dynamic of the Hawkins family isn’t going to be restored during this season. Joe’s prior indiscretions with Mia (Gemma Chan) were too damaging.
On that topic, Mia and Laura form an awkwardly close bond around the house, cajoling over coffee and giving each other life advice. There’s something wildly interesting about a human woman developing an attachment to a synthetic lifeform with whom her husband cheated on her, an act largely made possible because the synthetic's programming rendered her unable to deny the advances, effectively making her a victim of the act in its own right. That’s not even an easy concept to put into words, let alone consider the real-worldness of, which makes for great character dynamics on-screen. While the show hasn’t been too huge on opportunity for Gemma Chan to examine the Mia versus Anita dynamic, but the purpose of Mia's original creation and her years of domestic servitude make sense of the way the character is being played right now. It’s also fun to see glimmers of the Anita character pop through Mia, as she offers to help tidy up the house, and in her various physical mannerisms.
"Episode 7" also revealed the origin of Karen, who had become one of the show's larger mysteries. Developed by David Elster as a replacement for his deceased wife, Karen feels her and the other conscious Synths are an experiment gone wrong, and shouldn’t exist. A nice plot device renders her unable to kill herself, so she strikes a deal with old Elster pal and sentient Synth-hunter Hobb (Danny Webb), offering to help him round up the other conscious Synths in exchange for a few quick bullets to the head. Humans continues to create artificial characters that run the gamut of representing genuine human personalities and emotions, and Karen adds nicely to that depth and conflict.
Throughout all the above, the lead characters are in the process of reviving Max (Ivanno Jeremiah), the Elster Synth who almost died in an attempt to sacrifice himself for Leo. It’s the underlying thrust of the episode that puts all the humans and Elster Synths together, forces them to work toward a common goal, and enables the rest of the developments to happen organically while serving as a vessel for their tensions.
Max woke up, but his mental state is left ambiguous when the episode closes.
While there’s certainly a lot packed into “Episode 7,” and the emotional logic of some behaviors feel more arbitrary and less believable than the series’ earlier episodes. But again, it’s the penultimate episode. It could have been a lot worse, and the finale will likely prove all the character development that was mashed into the episode was necessary. With one episode left, there are a number of directions for the story to take and questions to answer - chief among them being “What did David Elster put in their heads that can spread consciousness?” We have a beautiful mosaic of separate and increasingly complex characters to help answer that question, and inspire more.