Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, the co-creators and executive producers of AMC’s HUMANS, discuss why Leo feels responsible for Hester’s misdeeds, the various types of human-Synth relationships in Season 2, and how much “chaos” might be ahead.
Q: You obviously ended last season with some dangling plots, but in a world with so many interesting avenues, how did you decide which stories to tell for Season 2?
Sam Vincent: One of the things that we knew we wanted to do early on was focus on peer relationships a bit more than we had in Season 1. We thought Season 1 was sort of about two families and Season 2 would be more about one-on-one relationships, particularly romantic relationships of various kinds, but also different friendships. The other key thing – and something that lots of people have asked us a lot about – was bringing back the human family. A lot of people said, “How are you going to bring back the human family for a new series?” and that was a challenge, but we knew we wanted to. We felt like we had to, really, because they’re so vital to the show. They’re our way in and our ground floor. We could have lost the human family and just kept the Synths, but it would have become a lot more of a conventional sci-fi show.
Q: Hester is obviously the cautionary tale of conscious Synths, but also an ideological measuring stick to see how other characters compare to her. Is that what you intended for her?
SV: Yes. Exactly that. With Niska, from Season 1, we’d seen this tantalizing possibility of how a Synth could develop when mistreated badly and given a very dark, slanted and negative view of the world, but we took that character on a different journey and she becomes one of our heroes. We wanted to create a character that goes all the way down that road, who has such a specific, narrow, dark, unsettling experience when she’s born into this world and to also see that moment of her birth and say, “What would that do to a Synth mind to have really terrible memories and traumatic early experiences?” Hester was absolutely the measuring stick. We were also conscious that most of our Synth characters from Season 1 are heroes in many ways. We’re rooting for the vast majority of them and we wanted to even out that a bit and explore how one would become “bad” in a moral sense.
Jonathan Brackley: It’s exactly the way Laura puts it in the final episode when she’s being held hostage. The Synths are just like humans. If they’re treated badly, they’ll grow up in detrimental ways or the opposite. It’s exactly the same as humans.
Q: In that final confrontation, why does Leo try to reason with Hester instead of taking her out?
JB: He ultimately feels guilty and he feels responsible for what Hester has become. He was one of the first people to attempt to guide her in her life after she was awoken, and he sees that he’s failed to do that and was blind to what was going on with her. He’s also been very susceptible to what she was becoming and buying into her worldview. I think he generally feels responsible for the situation they end up in during the final episode and that it’s his responsibility to try and solve that, which is why he attempts to get through to her. I think he’s convinced that he can get through to her and, obviously, he soon finds out that he can’t.
Q: Does he subconsciously think what happens to him is a punishment for having allowed this?
SV: I think in many ways, it’s his redemptive moment because he realizes just the degree to which he’s failed her. He should have showed her the way, taught her and been a mentor figure. They met her just a few hours after she became a conscious Synth and instead of leading her and guiding her, the “bad” in him found the “bad” in her. They just went down this downward spiral together and he denied the truth of what was happening. In that final moment, he wouldn’t risk Laura’s life, but he would risk his own safety to try to make amends. He does see her as a corrupted innocent.
Q: Hester is ultimately put down by Niska, who, in a complete 180 from last year, killed a Synth to save humans. How important is her growth as a character to you?
SV: Niska has gone on a longer journey in terms of her character development than almost any other character. She was an extremist at the start, but her views become more nuanced and she’s forced to face the truth about who humans are and what Synths are. With meeting Astrid in Season 2 and embarking on this love affair, she embraces that there’s good and evil on both sides, and she can no longer draw this line in the sand between humans and Synths.
Q: Athena learns in the finale that “V” outgrew Ginny’s personality. Even though Athena ultimately loses that final piece of her daughter, does she take any peace in knowing that V lives on?
JB: It’s an essential, cathartic moment for Athena when she finally lets go of Ginny. It’s the thing she needed to do in order to move on with her life. Her life was essentially put on hold and she’s thrown herself into her work on this quest to resurrect her daughter. It is an essential realization for her that she’s been unable to recreate her daughter because as soon as she creates “V,” she evolves into something else. She’s a different kind of being and she’s inside a computer with different experiences. Inevitably, she’s going to evolve into a different person altogether. I think Athena does find a certain kind of peace in realizing that and allowing her to move on into the cyber world.
Q: This season also dealt with humans wanting to be Synths. What was the significance of Sophie and Renie‘s journeys for you this season?
JB: When we were thinking about Season 2, we wanted to broaden out this world and take it a bit further. It seemed to us that there would be a large subculture of people who worshipped these things, fetishized them, idealized them, and we can certainly see the attraction of wanting to live your life like a Synth. They are precise, calm, ordered, they don’t have to worry about getting upset or ill or angry. They’re sort of perfect in many ways. We thought a large amount of people would want to emulate many aspects of what it’s like to be a Synth. It’s a mildly satirical idea, but it’s also very allegorical in our minds for how reliant and emotionally connected we are with the technology that exists today.
Q: By the end of the season Joe is fully anti-Synth, to the point he wants to move his family to the Synth-free community. What was the final straw for him?
JB: We were very careful when we were writing those scenes between Joe and Laura at the end. We wanted them both to be right, in a sense. We wanted them both to have a point and for our audience to understand the arguments from both sides. It comes down to a fundamental difference born out of their experiences on the show and probably to a certain extent, their deep-held character. Laura is convinced that you can’t sit back and turn away from these beings, whereas Joe is of the opinion that they’ve had such a detrimental effect on their family, and he’ll do anything to protect his family. If that means totally shutting them out from his life, that’s what he’ll do. He has no qualms about that.
Q: Mia fell in love with a human who ultimately betrayed her. Will that heartbreak continue to drive a wedge between her and humanity?
SV: It’s really a journey of self-knowledge and will continue to be. In Season 2, we hit upon the idea that this is a first love and in that first love you have in your life, you give everything of yourself. You’re completely unguarded and just hand over your heart and then, invariably, it gets broken. It was Mia throwing herself into this thing and then it goes wrong and completely devastates her. We also really wanted to see Mia angry. In the first season, she’s mostly Anita and we never see any darkness in her. We wanted to put her on the ropes and find that dark side. The dark side isn’t just something we haven’t seen, it’s something she’s possibly never felt before. We also knew we would bring her back and that she’d come back to the realization that things are nuanced and complicated. By the end, she can’t help but save the human family that’s saved her so many times. You can’t reject nuance in this complicated, high-stakes world we have in our story.
Q: Can you talk about building Karen and Pete’s relationship this season? How did you decide on Pete’s death?
JB: We knew we wanted to really put them through the ringer as well. There must be something wrong with us that we want to do this to our characters. [Laughs] With Karen and Pete, we wanted to explore just how far things could go and how great their love could grow with Karen struggling with the truth of what she is and how far Pete would go to save her and keep her who she is. He doesn’t go to Qualia that day thinking he’s going to die, but ultimately he does and it leaves Karen with the incredible knowledge that he loved her just how she was. That’s a powerful place to leave her, and we thought it would be an impactful and beautiful story.
SV: The thing we love about that particular image [of Karen crying] is that she spends the whole of the series pretending to be human and constantly being reminded that she’s not, and it’s the obstacle of her and Pete being together. But in the end, it’s an exquisitely human moment that proves she’s as human as Pete wanted her to be, and so is their love.
Q: Where did the idea of Synth children come to you? Was Milo trying to in fact do something “pure”?
JB: There’s no doubt that there’s that slightly creepy aspect to it. In the first season, one of the first things we said was that Synth children would have been made illegal for all of the obvious moral reasons and the nefarious things people might have in mind. As we talked about Season 2 and what Milo’s goals were, we wanted to show that he’s not a simple antagonist in this world. We wanted him to have a very believable and understandable reason why it might be a good idea to make Synthetic children and he outlines that to Athena on a couple of occasions. Ultimately, we thought his intentions – while a little blind to moral complexities of what he was doing – were genuine and born out of his personal experiences growing up.
SV: With a lot of these Silicon Valley guys, their motivations on a lot of occasions probably are quite pure, but they have so much power and talent and can do whatever they like. They have a huge impact on how our global society works, and if they do go slightly awry, there are few systems by which they can be checked.
JB: We always try to do the unexpected thing with this kind of story. It’s not like there aren’t other stories about androids, robots and artificial intelligence around. If there were a Season 3, I think people would be expecting to tune into a wasteland of Synths and humans and war. All we know is we have to give them something more interesting and refreshing than that.
SV: We’ve always tried to show the good and the bad, and it’s about holding onto that. Or else we’d be coming back to a very, very different world.
Read a Q&A with Sonya Cassidy, who plays Hester.
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