Imagine Brexit Britain, but with robots. That's the picture that Channel 4's Humans is painting in its third series, as the awakening of all Synths across the globe has led to a very dis-United Kingdom.
Relations between the android Synths and humankind are at their most frosty, so appropriately enough it's in a freezing cold power station that Digital Spy sits down with the cast to get the scoop on the new episodes.
What's next after Day Zero?
The new series of Humans picks up 12 months after Mattie (Lucy Carless) unleashed the consciousness code, bringing every Synth to sentient life. We open on the one-year anniversary of what's now being called Day Zero, when tens of thousands died in the resulting chaos.
"The show has always been about the singularity, but we didn't see it until the dying seconds of season two," explains Tom Goodman-Hill (Joe Hawkins). "So we're now going into what it's all about, really. That's brilliant, to now be getting into the nuts and bolts of it all."
"All of the fallout [from Day Zero] has pretty much happened," adds Ivanno Jeremiah (Max). "But the dust hasn't quite settled."
The time jump allowed the Humans writers to skip over the initial "turmoil and upheaval" and, according to series co-creator Sam Vincent, "get to a slightly more interesting place where things have settled down, but nevertheless are very uneasy – all these undercurrents are bubbling away and it's a pressure cooker.
"People running through the streets screaming and everything burning and planes falling out of the sky... that wasn't as interesting. And it would've been a lot more expensive!"
"I think the writers are very aware that the selling point of the show," echoes Katherine Parkinson (Laura Hawkins), "the quality that makes you think about the philosophy of sci-fi more than the tech, is that we keep the world quite humdrum."
Brexit with robots
Entering its third series, Humans feels more relevant than ever, say the cast and writers – not least because of ever-increasing fears regarding our relationship with tech. "In light of recent revelations, I've closed my Facebook page," reveals Gemma Chan (Mia).
But this is also the most blatantly political series yet, with division "a huge theme" according to Vincent, as the "conflict [between humans and Synths] ramps up hugely".
"This series has a different energy to it," suggests Emily Berrington (Niska). "There's this whole new species, almost, that has just suddenly arrived on Earth. And inevitably, there's not room yet. Human beings haven't made room for them. And they have to kind of fight for their place."
"We have quite a few fight scenes in this series," confirms Chan. "So we had to do quite a bit of physical work."
The Hawkins divided
But what of the Hawkins family, who always find themselves caught up in the plight of the Synths? "I think Humans isn't Humans without the Hawkins' family," says Goodman-Hill. "It's really important that it's anchored within the family."
The new episodes find Laura working as a Synth rights activist, joining a government committee – the Dryden Commission – dedicated to finding a solution to the "Synth problem".
"She's quite cynical about the reasons she got on the Commission," Parkinson reveals. "But once she's there, I think she enjoys the discourse and the opportunity to talk about these things... and she meets Dr Neil Sommer, a behavioural scientist."
Sommer is played by new cast addition Mark Bonnar who, according to the actor, shares "a mutual attraction" with Laura, but has "a difficult past, in that his child had died in Day Zero, so he has an emotional tie to everything that's going on."
"Having suffered this incredible loss on Day Zero, it's given him the most extraordinary ambivalence towards Synths," adds writer Vincent.
Joe, meanwhile, ends up "completely isolated" having taken the decision to move to the Synth-free community of Waltringham. There, he's cut off from his kids, but encounters some other familiar faces and, says Goodman-Hill, is "really pushed to his limit" by a surprising experience.
"There's one episode in this, which is hardcore for Joe. It pulled me out of my comfort zone. But t needed to happen, because it's a catalyst for change in Joe."
Niska on the warpath
Having been "very much part of the decision" to release the consciousness code, the formidable Niska has gone into hiding in the aftermath and, says Emily Berrington, "has ended up living this quite domestic, secluded life that's pretty different to anything she's experienced before.
"But something major happens in the first episode that sets Niska off on this path of revenge," delivering, she promises, "the most kick-ass Humans moments we've had so far."
Max the reluctant leader
Post-Day Zero, Max is heading up a Synth settlement, but finds his leadership questioned by restless followers "who disagree with his peaceful stance".
"Many hard decisions have to be made," hints Ivanno Jeremiah.
"Max is the most sensitive of all the Synths, he's the most emotional in many ways," explains Humans co-creator Jonathan Brackley. "He almost feels everything that little bit more than everyone else, and because of that it felt like he was the prime person to be put in charge of the fate of the other Synths."
Leo resurrected – but as what?
Straying into slight spoiler territory here, but given that Colin Morgan has been confirmed as appearing in the new series, it's perhaps not a huge giveaway to say that he won't spend all eight episodes in a coma (after sustaining serious brain damage at the end of the last series).
"I knew that I was signed up for three years!" says Morgan, with a grin. "I was told that it wasn't the end of me, despite appearances!"
Leo is alive... but what state will he be in when he wakes up? "Leo's trying to work out what he is this series," Morgan says. "I think this series really feels like him finding himself as a person, and as a human."
As he recovers, Leo will also grow closer to Mattie, who's spent the missing year paying frequent visits to his bedside. "There's a sort of connection between them," Morgan hints. "They're both two outsiders.
"Having released the code at the end of series two, she feels very guilty and alone in that. I guess Leo's the only one who can really understand exactly what she's going through. So they're these two lost souls who suddenly find each other."
Mia on an unexpected path
"Frustrated" by lack of progress being made in the Synth cause, Mia will go off on "quite a different track" this series, and Gemma Chan warns that her decisions could spell trouble for Elster's children, and the Hawkins family.
"There's a division between her and Max, and between her and Laura as well. Mia goes off on quite a different journey this series, in a direction that's not necessarily expected."
The return of Ed (Sam Palladio) – Mia's love interest who attempted to sell her to cover his debts and his ailing mother's medical expenses – will also bring up all sorts of feelings for Mia, Chan reveals.
"She definitely hasn't had closure over the whole situation with Ed, the first human that she was really very vulnerable with, who betrayed her. Ed does come back this series, so you do get to see some sort of resolution to that storyline, which I think is quite satisfying.
"He comes back into her life at this crucial point and she's got very mixed feelings. He's kind of her weak spot, so she's got to resolve how he feels about that and it's a real struggle. You see real conflict within her."
An explosive ending
When we speak to the cast, they're approaching the end of filming, with shooting going on simultaneously on episodes 7 and 8.
"There are going to be fireworks," promises Jeremiah. "It really is epic."
"There were some absolutely incredible twists, and things that I think fans of the show will be thrilled with," Berrington adds of the third series climax. "There's really heartwarming, and also very tragic moments all happening at once."
"I was talking to Katherine Parkinson about it last week, and we agreed, the last two episodes are some of the best writing for TV I've ever read. Ever. It's really, really good."
Humans returns to Channel 4 on Thursday 17 May at 9pm.
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