Not Digging Westworld? You Should Be Watching Humans
When you want your social/political sci-fi, how do you want it served to you?
The advancement of A.I. and how it can create a new culture within our social ecosystem is one of the most important subjects that reflect who we are as a species and all of our flaws that we are incapable of correcting. And the questions it asks about us are all relevant: “Do we treat them immediately as a subspecies or tool, despite their growing ability to express, learn and feel? Should we be referring to this intelligence for guidance or leadership, with it being capable of separating it’s own desires from calculations? What happens when it no longer needs us, but we still try to maintain a dominant posture?” Both TV shows, Westworld and Humans, cover these vital conversations in great detail. But, there’s a major difference for me:
Humans is one of the best science fiction television shows of the past decade, while Westworld wants to show us an unnecessarily complex “hat trick”.
Now, I’m not saying that Westworld isn’t a great show. But, the show has a particular agenda to layer a story under mystery, which gives it an opportunity to hide that maybe, just maybe, there isn’t a whole lot of story there to be told to begin with. Even at the announcement of the series and it’s exceptional talent being brought on, both in-front and behind the camera, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “How is this going to maintain relevance as a weekly TV show”? The idea of robots slowly building a revolution in a park that leads them to revolt in various degrees is a story that moves in a linear line. It must always propel forward to a conclusion that we’re expecting(the destruction of the park) and we’re just along for the ride to watch the twists involving the slow failure of the humans.
So, not only has it layered a mystery under it’s plot; the mystery is now the plot. Instead of giving you the story in a structured layer, it goes abstract with it’s narrative. Does the creativity of how & when these scenes play our serve as strong companions to each storyline? No. Quite the opposite. Even fans of the show have expressed theories and confusion as to when characters die in one story & return to be vital in another story within the same episode. The questions the show leave you are not complex and can be answered in a single, subtle sentence that doesn’t even require exposition: Is Westworld on Earth? How many hours have some of the guests been in the game? What does a reset look like in one side of the park to a guest who returns to that side later and may see a host who died or character changes since they were previously in that area? These questions are obscure for no reason.
While that area of Westworld is frustrating, the key issue where it’s being defeated by Humans is far more critical: intimacy. Humans separates it’s multiple storylines in different adult genres: One with the introduction of an android as either a hero or major threat to a family that is slowly falling apart. The Hawkins family each are individuals who share a first appearance as stereotypical, 2-Dimensional characters that are failing at being family. By introducing the android, Anita, into the fold, it explores the effect of such life-like technology can do to us in the middle of fractured relationships. How it can increase sexual desires, surrogate maternal rejections, loss of dominance in the household and the paranoia all of this brings. Instead of seeing these interactions on a lab table, we see them firmly within a suburban home where the subtle gesture of a potential malfunction has immensely higher stakes.
Meanwhile, the equally important story of Max and his search for the four other members of his android family is an action/mystery that intensifies as we are given more & more detail as to the extreme nature of the situation. Their A.I. is advanced and each one is their own individual who can make their own choices, have their own personalities and pursue whatever goals they desire. Besides himself and one other “brother”, Leo, the rest of the androids have been captured and dispersed back into either the research or retail environment for various uses. One of these androids being Anita.
This scenario brought me the only television show to ever bring me to tears and to question my own faith/beliefs in a simple scene where the “little brother” of the family, Leo, has genuinely no idea or hope of reuniting with his siblings, the only people in the world he connects with. While expressing isn’t a physical motor function for him, his grief on display is so passionate, that it drives the android to try something no one of his kind to ever do: pray. He’s not sure if it will be answered or if it will even amount to anything, but he needs hope & answers. And his desperation drives him to do something that even his own programming would consider illogical.
These multiple storylines also never falter from being part of a greater whole and they never move at a plodding pace, while maintaining the same impact. The parallels of both show’s most dominant female characters, Maeve(Westworld) & Niska(Humans), are very apparent(they are both assigned as sex workers, despite hiding their advanced intelligence, which plays a pivotal role in them becoming far more vicious towards humans than the rest of their counterparts). But, the storyline of Niska has the advantage of being on a show that isn’t on the slowest burn imaginable. Her interactions with the world show her immediate need to revolt, rebel and combat those who treat her species wrong. It causes her character to be an exciting jolt of unpredictable action, comedy and a tour-de-force every time she is on screen and you will never be able to take your eyes off of her, despite who is in the frame.
Most importantly, the character work of Humans is so strong, that I would never guess where this show has left me emotionally about each character by it’s first season’s finale. Not a single character is in a mental or emotional position that resembles them from the beginning of the season. Even minor background characters have held an arc with a specific, well-defined goal and reacted with logical reasoning towards becoming who they are by the last frame. This is no small feat with a show juggling so many characters, storylines and issues to have all surviving members of the main cast in a room staring at one another and creating a level of tension that is arresting.
I can’t recommend Humans enough, but my reservations towards Westworld have remained, despite nearing the close of it’s first season. While it slowly builds towards telling a story that is worth telling, I hope it gains the traction and desire to push it’s story to limits beyond the boundaries that it’s set for itself. I personally like my sci-fi to cover all areas of the questions it chooses to ask, maintain it’s wonder and still give me a satisfying conclusion with each episode. While Westworld assures me we will cross that bridge one day, Humans has made several trips to each side and I can’t wait to take a few more.
Are you a fan of either show? Let us know in the comments or contact us at @FanBrosShow!