Robots stealing flesh-and-blood humans’ jobs is something that happens a lot in science fiction and in real life too. But usually, the concern is robots stealing less-skilled labor: physical stuff like factory work, construction, or driving a taxi cab. But in the season premier of Humans, the Synths are starting to take cushier jobs, like marriage counseling and middle management. And the best, or perhaps scariest, part is that it’s pretty realistic.
Spoilers ahead for Humans Season 2, Episode 1.
Having a robot marriage counselor might seem outrageous, and at first, the scene in the new episode of Humans with a Synth encouraging the Hawkins to open up about their couplehood starts out as laughable. At first, a sci-fi savvy viewer might be repelled: The old trope of overly logical robots — complete with halted speech patterns — seems to briefly rear its beeping mechanically head. Why would anyone want a robot therapist? Joe Hawkins even protests, saying that the Synth has no working knowledge of feelings. But then, there’s laughter, and both Joe and Laura realize that the Synth isn’t just doing as good of a job as a human therapist, it’s better. And the audience feels the same. In real life, you don’t want to think of your shrink as a person, so, it actually might be better if your shrink was a robot.
Later in the episode, when Joe is told by his boss that his middle-management position is being given to a non-human, the realism is resounding. Of course companies would put robots in middle management if they could! Employees often think of their bosses the same way the Hawkins see their therapist: a voice telling them what to do. By making these jobs literally being staffed by robots, Humans is making a slightly more profound statement than robots being used for sex or to operate space crafts, like in Blade Runner.
While the latest episode has a lot of Westworld-style paradoxes about what is required to prove a Synth is sentient, the best stuff comes from the more personal drama. Hiding out in Berlin, escaped Synth Niska gets into a relationship with a human woman named Astrid. Like many relationships between humans in real life, Astrid thinks Niska is distant and cruel. If Niska wasn’t a robot designed to look like a person, the audience might demand a reason for this behavior. Why did she get Niska get into a relationship with Astrid if she was only going to dump her right away? The intriguing thing about Humans is there’s a built-in answer: Niska has never had a girlfriend before not because she’s a weirdo, or because she’s exploring different modes of sexuality. She’s just a robot.
The episode also introduced a new Synth-on-the run, a woman named Hester. And though these scenes contained the most legit car chases and guns being brandished, they were the least relatable, and instead, felt like a lot of other TV shows. Because on Humans, the brilliance happens not when Synths are acting like they’re in a sci-fi heist show, but instead, when they’re doing regular stuff, slogging through the mundane aspects of life, made startlingly interesting by these new-age robots.
Humans airs Mondays on AMC.