Science-fiction has always dealt with the moral quandaries surrounding artificial intelligence. From 2001 and Forbidden Planet to The Terminator and A.I., authors and filmmakers have taken turns warning us about the dangers of robots or computers who can think and feel, and chastising people for being irresponsible with the technology they’ve created.
On AMC’s Humans, this philosophical battle plays out in a very modern world. The England of Humans is the England of today, only there are synths, or robots who look just like people. The first season explored how some synth owners abused them, and even families who valued their synths had to protect them from authorities who saw them as nothing but property.
Gemma Chan returns as Mia, the synth formerly owned by the Hawkins family, in season two, which also introduces Sonya Cassidy as the synth Hester and Carrie-Anne Moss as a robotics scientist. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Chan and Moss in person and with Cassidy by phone about the second season of Humans. Here are 11 things they revealed about the new synths and scientists in season two.
In season one, Sophie (Pixie Davies) named her family’s new synth Anita, not knowing she was already Mia. Now that Mia’s consciousness has been restored, Gemma Chan is full on Mia in season two. However, she revealed, Mia sometimes plays Anita to make other humans believe she’s a regular old non-sentient synth.
“In season 2, it’s Mia, but she’s also using the Anita persona to hide in plain sight,” Chan said. “There’s still that duality going on. Mia is still a synth, but as a conscious synth, she’s more expressive. For me, there’s slightly more freedom in her movement and how expressive she is and how emotional she is. A lot of that is still done in the eyes. The Anita persona is much less emotional.”
Carrie-Anne Moss plays Dr. Athena Morrow. Morrow is a humble researcher offered a chance to study the programs of sentient synths.
“She’s more grassroots in her approach and the way that she does what she does,” Moss said. “She ends up being swayed to go over to this company that is promising her some stuff that she doesn’t really think is possible, which is bringing consciousness into synthetics. She’s really interested in that concept, but she doesn’t believe it’s possible. You end up discovering over the course of the season why she cares so much and why she says yes to doing this.”
Sonya Cassidy plays Humans’ new synth, Hester. Hester works in a factory, and when she becomes conscious, she realizes humans have been abusing her and other synths. She flees and attacks anyone who stands in her way.
“Everything that she’s experienced is stored as data,” Cassidy said. “As soon as she comes online, she’s having to process all of that while she’s essentially on the run. It’s a very threatening kind of fight or flight scenario that Hester is in. Thankfully, she meets Leo (Colin Morgan) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah). Hester’s world is a very threatened one, and it drives a lot of her early learning and development.”
Leo and Max are still living in the woods, helping to free synth consciousness whenever they can. Now it’s a rebellion involving guns and bombs. This isn’t how Mia wants to handle things.
“Leo has a desire to rescue others,” Chan said. “I know that he doesn’t feel comfortable unless he has a mission of some sort. That brings him into conflict with Mia, because Mia feels that they should be trying to build a life for themselves and not just be on the run constantly.”
When they take Hester in, Leo and the new synth have a complicated relationship. “Rather unexpectedly, Hester and Leo form much more of a bond than people would initially expect,” Cassidy said. “They need each other and are bad for each other at the same time.”
Moss herself related to the struggle of Humans. Even though they’re machines, Moss found herself sympathizing with synths. She has a scene at a restaurant where a synth host takes Athena’s jacket. Moss’s instinct was to say, “Thank you” even though it was a robot.
“Granted, I am Canadian,” Moss said. “But I felt compassion for that synth taking my jacket in a way that made me really think about what kind of person you would have to be to not feel like you needed to say thank you to someone doing something for you.”
The Hawkins have moved away and Mia now works in a cafe. Chan said she would reunite with the family but in an unexpected way.
“I can say yes, but not in the way that you might necessarily imagine,” Chan said. “The writers have been quite clever with how they bring all the story lines back together. She cares very deeply for the Hawkins family. The bonds that she made with Laura (Katherine Parkinson), even with Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), with the children — with Sophie in particular — that’s a bond that has been forged and she’ll be drawn back to them.”
As Cassidy said, Hester is responding mostly to programming, data she’s recorded to deduce what humans are like. In playing her, Cassidy added that Hester’s coping mechanisms are similar to those of humans.
“As with any human in times of crisis, some people will be very emotional and respond in a very energized way. But there will also be those people that just shut down and go, ‘Okay, I need to get through this because that’s how I keep these emotions in check,'” Cassidy said. “That’s where I took Hester. Although she is a synth and responding in a way that people will go, ‘This is what we’re worried robots would do,’ there’s something very human about how she responds to her new life. That’s what I tried to get across.”
Moss said that halfway through the second season, she has an episode that reveals Athena Morrow’s psychology.
“You get to really see why she is the way she is,” Moss said. “I’m always interested in why people are the way they are. You don’t always get to find out why with a character, but you do get to find out why she’s guarded and why she’s doing the things she’s doing.”
Maybe the anti-synth contingent does have something to worry about. Chan revealed that season 2 explores a new condition in the world of Humans.
“One of the most powerful scenes for me is just a tiny moment,” Chan said. “Sophie draws two green dots in a mirror. She superimposes it onto her eyes and she’s basically over-identifying with synths. There’s a disorder that children are now getting called Synth Overidentification Disorder. If you’re watching it, you’d be thinking, ‘Wow, how would I feel if that’s happening to my child?'”
All the synth actors use makeup to make their skin appear more artificial, and their green eyes are added later with digital effects. Hester’s hair is all Sonya Cassidy.
“The bob, I feel, should get a credit of its own, really,” Cassidy said. “It’s such a gorgeous haircut done by our very talented hair and makeup team. I had the bob cut for the role because we figured an industrial synth wouldn’t have long, flowing hair at all. There’s something very beautifully crisp and linear about the bob. I think a lot of people thought it was a wig but no, that’s my shorter hair.”
Fans might think that veteran Humans stars like Chan would be able to play a synth in her sleep. She revealed that she pretty much forgot how to play a synth between seasons.
“Weirdly I found it harder the second time around, going back into synth school, synth boot camp,” Chan said. “I thought that it would be like a muscle memory thing and it would be easier, but I found it harder. I really hadn’t retained any of that posture in between filming the two seasons. According to Dan [O’Neill], our choreographer, he just said, ‘Yeah, you got worse. You need to do extra homework.’”
Humans returns Monday, February 13 at 10PM on AMC.