One of the biggest mysteries Humans (2015) perpetuated throughout its premiere season has been the construction and history of the Elster family, and how its conscious Synths fit together. The main focus of “Episode 6” was to answer these questions and transition the sentient AI characters to the next level of their collective story.
In a clever twist, we learn Anita/Mia (Gemma Chan) is not a former lover of Leo (Colin Morgan) as context previously implied, but was designed to serve more as his mother and caretaker. She is the oldest of the conscious Synths created by David Elster, Leo's father. After her, Elster created the other sentient units: Fred (Sope Dirisu), Niska (Emily Berrington), and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah). Leo was David’s human son who was involved in a car accident that killed him, until he was resurrected by his father using Synth tech.
Learning the backstory of the Elster “family” was excellent, but even more intriguing is the way Humans is developing the personalities of each Synth character. Much like the authentic humans they simulate, each has a definitively different outlook and perception of the world based on the lives they’ve led. In the years since David Elster’s suicide and the disbandment of the Synth family unit, they have undergone unique experiences that have colored their worldviews, establishing each as a particular character and further blurring the lines between human beings and technology - the key theme at the core of the series.
Mia was developed as a caretaker and mother for Leo. She’s the oldest of the Elster Synths, the matriarch of the family unit. She shows compassion and concern for Leo, as well as the other Synths she calls brothers and sisters. Her programming is focused on nurture, and her life experiences both as a sentient Synth and a household robot have been tailored to that end. She’s seen organic and manufactured versions of family, and has served them both. The show implies that Mia has possibly been aware of her existence in the Hawkins house while operating as Anita, explaining her "beyond-the-programming" dedication to the Hawkins children's safety, and furthering her domestic worldview and nurturing constitution.
Niska is violent, angry about the past, and appears to have been disrespected and objectified since birth. Her actions in the series to date were seemingly fueled by her time in a Synth sex brothel, servicing depraved clients while secretly having the ability to feel emotion. But Episode 6 takes it one step beyond when she confesses to George Millican (William Hurt) that even as a young Synth, her creator David Elster “didn’t always treat her as a child.” Her history of sexual abuse thus dates back as far as she can remember, and the lewdness of being used sexually by her creator is even worse than the men at the brothel. There, the clients were unaware of her sentience, believing they were copulating with little more than a machine. Revealing that she received similar treatment from her creator, a man fully aware of her consciousness, a man she viewed as a father, is a new level of degeneracy that gives her violent and negative worldview more weight.
Max is the youngest of the Elster Synths, and easily the most innocent, open-minded, and accepting member of the family. His opinion of humanity is one of understanding, and on numerous occasions serves as a reminder to Leo that everyone isn’t inherently evil. His character seems appreciative of the consciousness he’s been given. He is often Leo’s moral compass; a nice twist since Leo is, technically, a real human. Sometimes, Max appears more human than Leo - he's even inclined to do extremely human things like pray at a church, just in case God exists. Max's interactions with the world have always been side-by-side with Leo, who has offered protection and care. It’s no surprise that Max sacrifices himself for Leo at the end of Episode 6 in a move that is definitively human. “If I die, it means I’ve lived.” What truly becomes of Max will be interesting to witness.
Leo is a human resurrected by Synth technology - a Frankensynth who isn’t sure exactly where he fits in with society. He’s paranoid and afraid of people, existing with no true identity. There’s a social message about the future of humans and technology at play within this episode, when Hobbs (Danny Webb), the man pursuing the Elster family, mentions he has a pacemaker that keeps him alive. This reliance on a piece of technology to sustain organic life is shown at its extreme in Leo, who is Hobbs tenfold. While it’s still unknown exactly what’s going on inside Leo’s body (his memories are digital, so that’s pretty intense), it’s a nod to the future of human existence in the real world. How long until Leo-like technological medicine is possible? Are devices like Hobbs’ pacemaker hints that someday we may all have Leo-like opportunities for survival? Either way, the technology “doesn’t exist” yet even in the Synth-filled world of Humans, so in that context, Leo is unsure how he fits in. He refers to his Synth family as brothers and sisters, but they know he’s not exactly the same. He also seems to harbor some human guilt, being that his father created the other sentient Synths, Leo feels responsible for what becomes of them.
The last Elster variable is Fred, the Synth who spent most of the season on his back in a laboratory. While he seems to possess many of the same humans-are-jerks qualities as Niska, it’s hard to say exactly what’s up with him at this point. He hasn’t had enough screen time to flesh out his personality, but I’m sure we can expect him to represent another unique perspective on humanity.
Overall, the Elster Synth family represents a spectrum of personalities. Humans is making a case for our future as technology continues to advance, and coloring the characters of its Synths through relatable human experiences is a beautiful nod in that direction, and one which holds more weight with each episode.