The Synths in Humans (2015), despite being humanoid robots designed for human servitude, are a far cry from The Jetsons’ (1962) Rosie, or Star Wars’ C-3PO. Truth is, those robots served similar purposes just fine, and didn’t have gorgeous runway looks like Anita (Gemma Chan) or the muscular hunkiness of Simon (Jack Derges).
Viewing Humans, it’s challenging to watch Anita doing the dishes, tidying up the house, handling menial daily tasks, and not think about how great it would be to own such a construct. But Humans is acutely aware of the answer to one important question: If society reaches a point where we can build such artificial intelligence, are we really going to make them look like C-3PO?
Sorry, George Lucas, but no - the esurient nature of human sexuality almost guarantees we’re going to build Anitas and Simons over golden metal mannequins, no matter how much etiquette can be programmed into them.
While moments of sexual tension started brewing in the series’ first episode, "Episode Two" directly starts to address the sexual nature and unreasonably attractive physiques of Persona Synthetics’ machines. The prostitute Synth Niska (Emily Berrington) is given an arc of focus that highlights a more despicable facet of human sexuality, and Toby Hawkins (Theo Stevenson) sees what he thinks is an opportunity to satisfy his raging teenage hormones with Anita, only to set off her “inappropriate contact” alarm. Meanwhile, the tension between Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson) grows thanks to the presence of Anita, and Pete (Neil Maskell) is emasculated by the usefulness of his wife Jill’s (Jill Halfpenny) therapy Synth, Simon.
Sexual responses to Synths are nearly constant, even if the characters aren’t entirely aware of these responses, or are at least unwilling to admit them. Pete knows exactly why he’s jealous of Simon, but he doesn’t say it. He pretends Synths as a whole cause him distress, not the realistic fact the handsome one in his home is capable of providing for his wife better than he. And Humans doesn’t try to make Pete seem unreasonable for these feelings; instead, it realizes his response is authentic, likely, and purely human.
"Episode Two’s" investigation of prostitute Synth Niska is the most prominent sexual analysis in the episode, and likely the most relevant to sexual abuse in our society. While there’s argument to be made that a "robot brothel" would be one answer to accommodating the darker shades of human desire without imposing sexual travesties upon real people, Niska is one of the show’s handful of “conscious” Synths. It’s a situation that offers a solution and a problem in a single setting: Why rape real people when you can program a sex Synth to do whatever you want? Because sometimes Synths gain sentience, making them “real” as well.
Neela Debnath of Express says “Rather than Synths, it’s actually the humans that have been put underneath the microscope: our fears, fallibility, frailty and dark desires. Perhaps all of this is summed in the disturbing scene involving Niska and a paedophilic john. It’s not the Synths that need fixing or upgrading, it’s us.”
Later, Leo visits a Synth chop shop looking for Anita, and the proprietor of the joint says she came and went. He also mentions trying to rape her before wiping her memory. Why? Because these Synths aren’t just robots - they look, act, and feel like people to the point where it’s worth bragging about sexual conquests with them. Do men brag to each other about using their Fleshlights one final time before throwing them in the trash? Of course not. Synths are beyond the classification of a mere personal tool. They may be designed by man to serve man, but they’re designed in the image of our own desires.