THE PERFORMER | Gemma Chan
THE SHOW | Humans
THE EPISODE | “Episode 1.7” (August 9, 2015)
THE PERFORMANCE | There’s a dazzling degree of difficulty — and an impressive level of nuance — to Gemma Chan’s work on Humans. All season long, the actress has played “Anita,” a synthetic servant/lifelike appliance who — unbeknownst to the Hawkins family that purchased her – was originally built with code allowing her to experience genuine human emotion. The “recycled” Anita, as it turns out, was “born” as Mia, but tampered with in a way that made her override those sentient impulses. In Episode 7, though, Mia fully emerged from her computer-generated prison, and the end result was stirring, eerie and quite funny — sometimes all at once.
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As Mia stressed over the whereabouts of her at-risk synthetic family, Chan brilliantly balanced her character’s motherly instincts with her internal motherboard: After wrapping her former master Laura in a hug and cutting to the heart of the harried woman’s problems — “you only doubt [your family’s love] because your own mother couldn’t love you,” she declared with palpable warmth — Chan cocked her ear and let out a robotic warning of possible danger: “Car just pulled up outside.”
Chan also allowed us to see past Mia’s placid, mechanical exterior when Laura’s husband Joe — who’d downloaded “adults-only” software into her system and had sex with her as Anita in a prior episode — returned to the Hawkins home under a cloud of distrust. Chan’s work even in the background of these domestic scenes — casting furtive glances at Joe, assessing the mood of her host family — let us experience Mia’s deep discomfort in the presence of the man who’d violated her, and also the need to somehow repair the damage he’d done to his marriage while under the impression she was only a machine. As Mia reintroduced herself to Joe, Chan’s voice was as flat as an iPhone Siri, but her piercing look told us she was trying to educate the man (and give him a slight taste of rebuke). “No we haven’t,” she declared, after Joe tried to avoid her handshake and say they’d already met. “My name is Mia. I’m a conscious synthetic created by David Elster. I can think and feel just like you.”
Chan had other great scenes in the hour, too: running a makeshift surgery suite on the Hawkins’ dining room table as the humans and synths tried to save the badly damaged Max; revealing to Joe she’d been “there the whole time” during his tryst with “Anita”; and proving, too, that synths have a sense of humor.
“Why are they so scared of you?” Laura asked Mia about the authorities hunting her and her kind. “I think it’s our plan to conquer the planet and make humanity our slaves,” the synth shot back with utter seriousness. “Sorry. That was a joke.” Yep, Mia can do deadpan — and thanks to Chan’s exceptional work, she can do so much more as well.
HONORABLE MENTION | BD Wong is no stranger to playing women, having won a Tony for his turn as M. Butterfly’s Song Liling. But the way he slipped into the guise of Mr. Robot’s enigmatic White Rose was so effortless, had one not seen his name in the credits, it’d be understandable to not spot the SVU alum. The Dark Army leader was as chill as Elliot was anxious, suffering his yammering until marveling, “Finally, you have communicated something.” Wong’s performance was as efficient as his alter ego, leaving no silence unfilled as their precious three minutes tick-ticked. The only sadness? To hear White Rose tell it, this appearance was a one-off. “There are very few people in my life that I have enough time to see more than once,” she zinged at Elliot. “And you are not one of them.”
HONORABLE MENTION | Ever since he began filling the title role in Showtime’s Masters of Sex, Michael Sheen has been a — pardon the pun — master of the monologue, and never has that been more evident than in last Sunday’s episode. Throughout the hour, two scenes stood out as some of Sheen’s most compelling work of the series. First, Masters’ horrifying warning to the young boy bullying his son revealed the mean streak in Masters that is so rarely seen — and, despite how badly Sheen’s words stung, we couldn’t look away. Later, the actor was able to make us forget his character’s cruelty with an episode-ending lecture about the role that love plays in Masters’ work with Johnson. Sheen delivered the speech with such persuasive sincerity that we couldn’t help joining in the rousing on-screen applause that followed it.
Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Tell us!