After a pilot that showed more potential than promise, Almost Human returned for the second part of it's two-night premiere with a much stronger episode. It was hardly perfect, but it was a definite improvement over the premiere. Also: Sexbots!
The episode begins with a man hiring a ludicrously good-looking sexbot (and well done to whoever did the casting for that). But the man isn't interested in sex — he's busy scanning her for a variety of things. The Albanian thugs running the brothel notice what he's doing, spray stuff on their faces rendering their heads completely white on security cameras (so they can't be identified), burst into the room, kill the guy, lead the sexbot out, and drop off a "DNA bomb" — a bomb that contaminates every single bit of evidence they could have possibly left behind. And thus we learn one of Almost Human's new strengths — imagining the bizarre technology criminals could have in the future.
Minka Kelly does her mostly off-camera investigation, and arrives to tell Kennex and Dorian the odd fact that the sexbot left traces of human DNA in the elevator — something that is very illegal (sexbots, by the way aren't — the show makes a special point of saying sex crimes are way down once they were introduced to the market) and furthermore, it's the DNA of a woman who was abducted several months ago. Across town, a young woman is abducted for much the same reason.
John interviews the woman's kid, and bribes him with a small robotic giraffe toy to get him to say what happened to his mom. It all points to a variety of leads: 1) The victim was the inventor of super-advanced sexbots but was being sued by his former partner because he kept sinking all their money in sexbot R&D, this partner's former client used to be the Albanian mob but they stopped a while ago having "eliminated the middleman", the truck that kidnapped the kid's mom is located and John and Dorian find the sexbot from the beginning of the episode, sans skin.
The problem is this: Synthetic skin is still pretty crappy, which is the sexbots' biggest flaw. What the Albanians are doing is kidnapping women and stealing their skin for use on their sexbots, which makes them "ultra lifelike!", to use a sex toy term. It's not the worst plot in the world, until you remember it's 2046 and why the hell can't we create real skin to use for these sexbots? Why do they need the women's full bodies and not just a small sample of DNA? Why do they keep stealing different women for each sexbot instead of using just one? And most of all, why and how are the taking their women's skin by attaching tubes to their necks?
Look, I think we should all admit right now that Almost Human is never, ever going to be perfect with the scifi and its tech. We'll get some good ideas like bar code license plates, sexbots, the DNA bomb, the "flash masks", and the tiny giraffe toy robot, and for story purposes we'll have exceedingly dumb, unlikely shit like harvesting skin via neck tubes. It seems like Almost Human is willing to be even less realistic than Fringe in this regard, but I think we should all just appreciate it when it comes up with good idea like all the tech mentioned above.
And besides, as I mentioned in the recap of the premiere, the scifi stuff is really just the delightful cherry on top of the sundae that is the Kennex-Dorian relationship and the special effects. The special effects were again top-notch — if they can actually maintain this, I'll be bewildered but also impressed — but Karl Urban and Michael Ealy have settled down into a wonderful camaraderie that it seems impossible that this is only the second episode.
Seriously, here's the highlight reel: Dorian making fun of John for scaring the hell out of some kids by stabbing his synthetic leg with a knife; Dorian making John an online dating profile; Dorian making fun of John because of his disavowed crush on Minka Kelly; Dorian making John intensely uncomfortable by telling him he's scanned his balls and John is "backed up." Honestly, I could watch an entire episode of Dorian doing his John impression, and it's a testament not only to Ealy's skills at making Dorian personable but how quickly he and Urban have gelled together that these scenes work so exceedingly well. Honestly, even if the episode's plot were great it would pale in comparison to John and Dorian's banter.
Anyways, the plot needs to be resolved, and John and Dorian find another sexbot with real skin, use some kind of microchip glitch which emits a GPS signal (the hell?) to track down where she was created, and use that to find the Albanians' skin farm and rescue some (not all) of the kidnapped women. In the end, Dorian watches as the police "decommission" the sexbot with the human skin, and John sacks up and finally visits his ex-partner's wife and kid.
All in all, I think Fox made the right decision in airing both episodes so close together, because this second episode represented a much stronger show, one that has both potential and promise. It's too early to tell whether Almost Human will continue to improve or just coast on the charm of John and Dorian's partnership, but at the moment, I think it's safe to say that Almost Human is almost pretty darned good*.
- * Every single other Almost Human reviewer has used an "Almost Human is Almost XXXXX" line in their recaps and reviews; I figured I deserved one too.
- New Dorian powers: Remote hacker, mobile lie detector.
- It's interesting that Dorian is not only willing to illegally hack the sexbot company's computer network without a warrant per John;s request, but that he's able to. They made a robot cop that doesn't strictly need to obey the law? Or who can disobey the law under orders from a living police officer? Hmm...
- So I paid special attention to how Michael Ealy was playing Dorian, because last night I thought he did a wonderful job playing a warm, empathetic character while still seeming somewhat like a robot, and I couldn't figure out how. Well, I think I got it: he keeps his facial expression almost entirely flat — occasionally he has the slightest of smirks or frowns — but he conveys almost every other emotion with his eyes, and he does it really, really well. Do you guys agree, or am I missing something?
- So Kennex's friend who died in the 2046 ambush was his partner… but there were still MX androids running around, and hasn't the show expressly said all human police officers must have a robot partner? Did John refuse to have a robot partner? Was this before the mandate? Was John perhaps a robot and didn't know it? Or am I thinking too much about it and this is a silly detail added in to give Kennex more pathos and will never amount to anything important? Hmm.
- By the way, apparently there's actually a "Kennex is a robot" theory floating around, but I don't buy it. 1) It's an extremely obvious twist, and 2) I can't see them negating the entire premise of the show — a human cop and a robot cop are partners — for the sake of it Other characters secretly and/or unknowingly being robots? Sure.
- All that stuff about death and "going to a better place" was super clichéd and obvious, but goddammit if Michael Ealy didn't still kind of make it work in the scene where the sexbot was decommissioned.