How Does “Humans” Make Heroes Out of its Female Characters, Especially in the Season One Finale?


The first season of Humans (2015) ended on sentimental but safe ground while setting up plenty of directions for the series to take in its next confirmed season.

Early in the season, episode reviews of Humans commonly declared the synthetic creatures more likable than the actual human characters. That assessment, while somewhat hastily issued, didn’t come without merit - plenty of human behaviors seemed unjustified, and characters showed resentment and fear and annoyance that didn’t seem to have enough basis. Laura Hawkins (Katherine Parkinson), matriarch of the show’s primary human family unit, was one of the more tiresome characters. It was clear that Anita/Mia (Gemma Chan) was more than she appeared, but somehow Laura’s dislike for her seemed obtuse. Of course, as the season moved forward, Laura’s early uncertainties proved meritorious, and her development become one of the more fully-rounded pieces of writing in the entire first season.

By the time the finale rolls around, Humans has taken a decidedly female-focused approach to its heroics - particularly in regard to the true humans. Laura kicks off the show as adamantly anti-Synth, and by the season’s closure is doing everything in her power to ensure the safety of an entire Synth family - from blackmailing government officials to harboring fugitives. And she wouldn’t have been able to do it without the assistance of her massively-intelligent daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless).

“What’s remarkable, and not to be lost in all the plot, is how Humans has positioned its female characters as complex and heroic. That’s truly cemented in this finale, where Mattie and Laura, who have compassion, knowledge of the law, and killer hacking skills, are charged with saving the synths. Joe and Toby are by no means apathetic to the cause, but the synths don’t get saved if it isn’t for Laura and Mattie.” - Kyle Fowle, Entertainment Weekly

That’s the nucleus of the point - the men are there, and they’re doing their part, but their contributions aren’t vital. They aren’t the defining players in what’s required to save the Synths.

And it’s not just the human women whose actions facilitate the narrative to its closing point - it also wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of Karen (Ruth Bradley), the sentient Synth who feels the existence of her kind is a mistake. Though she initially attempts to destroy the other conscious Synths by corrupting their root code when they’re all connected, she has a change of heart and enables them all to link - a climax the plot had been driving towards for several episodes. This link brought Synth Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) back to cognition, and unearthed the source code that allegedly allows Synths to gain sentience. Where the show takes these events next season is unknown, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Karen’s assistance.

And even though the character of Mia seemed to lose attention after her consciousness was unearthed, her nurturing contributions throughout the first six episodes can’t be forgotten. Hopefully the writing regains traction with the character and allows her to return with some utility in season two beyond the scope of a morality prop.

Of course, women aren’t completely commendable in Humans, as the series ends with Niska handing Laura the sentience source code for safe-keeping, only to reveal she handed off a dummy and kept the code for herself. As the series’ wild card character with proven distaste for humans and a history of violence, it will be interesting to see where she’s headed.