AMC's Humans returns to fill the void in synthetic human storytelling

Contributed by
Jan 8, 2019, 11:00 AM EST (Updated)

Way back in 2015, before Westworld existed, there was another episodic drama exploring the ramifications of synthetic humans living among us in contemporary society: Channel 4 and AMC's Humans.

Executive-produced by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, Humans approached synths with a far more grounded approach in its portrayals of normal London families, like the Hawkins, utilizing the services of a home assistant, or factories using synth workers for less appealing labor. How these synths interact with their human counterparts, and vice versa, is where the core drama of the series lives as themes of prejudice, exploitation and marginalization are explored.

Humans Season 2 premieres tonight on AMC and picks up the stories of the humans and synths left dangling from Season 1. The Hawkins family is still in shambles after Anita (Gemma Chan) has left their home in emotional chaos, vengeful synth Niska (Emily Berrington) has the disruptive code that could impact all synths, and part-synth Leo (Colin Morgan) is now trying to help his fellow synths adjust.

In an exclusive interview with showrunners Brackley and Vincent, we talk about their bigger plans for the new season, the impact of other synthetic human series on their story and what might happen in a third season.

This season of Humans is really about the repercussions on the characters after the events of Season 1. What storyline has allowed you to explore that the most?

Sam Vincent: We ended Season 1 showing that Niska has this code of incredible power. We weren't explicit about what it would do, or how it would work, but we knew it was very powerful. It's absolutely the loaded gun, or Hitchcock's bomb under the table. But then we hit upon the idea of doing something unexpected with it, which is how Season 2 unfolds. It allows us to enjoy that story on a character level rather than just on an apocalyptic world level. We get to explore it through one, two, three characters' eyes as the change slowly takes hold.

Jonathan Brackley: It allows us time to live with those characters and synthetics that are waking up. We can experience the things they are experiencing in real time with them. It was a valuable revelation for working out that way to do it.

You jump into a story about a human/synth love story with Ed (Sam Palladio) and Anita (who has changed her name to Mia). What was the interesting angle about that storyline for you both?

SV: We wanted Ed to embody that 'everyman' quality and then he would represent ordinary people's attitudes towards synths. We knew he would be a good person, but flawed, possibly. The more representative we could be of people in general, the more interesting it would be to bring an unusual character like Mia into contact with him. Essentially he stands in for the mass of society so his choices and behavior stand in for most of us. We can empathize with his confusion, his mixed feelings, ambivalence, and his strong feelings he has to question when he starts to realize who he is dealing with. And then when we were able to cast Sam, who can play things with an easy touch and such likability, that's where it really came together. His lovely, warm, everyday quality with the otherworldly quality that Gemma brings to Mia was the idea.

JB: The interesting thing about the two characters is that Mia, after the events of Season 1, experienced something of human life with the Hawkins family. In the beginning of Season 2, she wants to get out and feel and experience things. Part of that is her blossoming affection for Ed. She's tentatively reaching out. But at the same token, when he finds out what she's about, he's tentatively reaching out the other way.

Carrie-Anne Moss joins the season as Dr Athena Morrow as a scientist who has developed her own sentient A.I. named V that she's kept hidden. Was it tough getting her, and what does she bring to the story?

SV: Getting her was wonderful. We got her for the whole season. Our producing partners took care of the scheduling and made it happen. We had a great time with her. We wrote a three-page biography for Athena saying who we thought she was. She said it really helped her. When her scenes started coming in, we realized she gave a tremendous sense of weight and gravitas to the part. There's such a sadness and she sold it from the very first second, which isn't easy. And then when we got the dailies, we realized that we have Carrie-Anne Moss and put her in almost every scene where she just talks to a computer monitor that isn't even turned on. (Laughs) We thought what have we done! Why didn't we put her with other people? But to her vast credit, she completely makes it work. By the end of the season, you are massively invested in this relationship between her and her computer monitor, all done by her, and ably assisted by the voice performance of V. It could have gone wrong in many ways, but Carrie-Anne saved us.

Leo has been on an epic journey of discovery and he's got quite the arc this season. Was that planned from the start?

JB: We had sketched him out from the very beginning and it was all born out of where Leo ended up at the end of Season 1. For the whole of that season, he's a man on a mission. He has a quest. So when we find him at the start of Season 2, just trying to live without that, he's kind of lost. He is someone who needs to be on the move, so we knew we wanted to send him on that quest. It's something deep within him that he needs to do.

SV: He does go down a dark road because the intensity of his purpose gets corrupted. The key character he is involved with in Season 2, they put him on a spiral and it's all about whether or not he can pull himself out. Colin is an actor who brings such intensity that you want to use that in the most interesting way.

Westworld became a big hit last year and it covers some of the same thematic ground you cover in Humans. Has that narrative changed how you tell your story, or how you will tell it?

SV: I think you've got to be true to yourself and your own material. If you get too worried about what other people are doing, you end up with something a bit artificial -- no pun intended -- that's not really the story you want to tell. It's fascinating to see where other people go with it, and what are the similarities and differences. But I think it's the wrong way to approach it to say that we can't possibly do that. You have to be true to your material especially when you have a season under your belt, and you have these characters telling you who they are and where they need to go. Just enjoy the likes of Westworld and Ex Machina and the other stories in this field.

JB: Our root into that world is very different to all the other shows going on. Ours is a very domestic, grounded way into discussing the issues around artificial intelligence. Although there are the genre thriller elements to it, it's still focused on the two families: the human family and the synth family.

Humans hasn't been officially picked up for a third season yet. However, do you have an idea of where you will take it?

SV: I will say there is an event at the end of Season 2 which clearly shows that Season 3 would be a different place and kind of story. When we look at the world, the opportunity this kind of different story gives us seems like it needs to be told more than ever.

JB: If we are lucky enough to get a Season 3, the stories we plan to tell will be more relevant than ever.