Almost Human "Arrhythmia" Review: 2 Robots, 1 Grump
It's weird to think about it, but this was technically Almost Human's fall finale. Obviously, the show started much later in the fall than most newbies, but it has also put forth an uneven, sometimes random-feeling collection of episodes. The good news is that "Arrhythmia" was a really strong episode to finish 2013 on and quite possibly the best episode we've seen from Almost Human thus far.
I praised last week's episode for remembering the show's anything goes future premise and this one did that and then some. This episode provided us with a solid procedural story about the off-market selling of synthetic organs, primarily hearts, and did so with a few enjoyable wrinkles to keep the story interesting. The idea that synthetic organs from deceased people were being sold on to second customers, only with high price strings attached worked really well for me. It was pretty clear early on what was going on and who was involved, but the show has done a nice job in the last few weeks of showing the characters work through the procedure of doing the job without over-relying on technology or simply stumbling into epiphanies after a group chit-chat.
More importantly, the organ selling story allowed the episode to at least partially engage with some relevant moral questions, which is the kind of material J.H. Wyman shows tend to mine especially well. It made sense that the synthetic organs shouldn't just be destroyed once the original host passed on, but the criminal activity here--implanting a chip that required the new host to pay an increasing amount of money to keep the organ or it would be turned off remotely--forced the team to think about the consequences of their actions just a little bit. The episode didn't push it too far in this regard, but included a couple of brief moments that saw John, Dorian, and company wonder how their choice to shut down this illegal operation would negatively impact the people who had lined up to pay them (admittedly illegally).
Of course, the conclusion to the story bailed the characters out when the corporation decided to give all those originally denied (because of insurance, so apparently Obamacare didn't really take off in this version of the future) their necessary synthetic organs. But hey, I'm fine with tacked-on happy endings for random episodic characters if it means that Almost Human is going to use its premise to consider at least slightly fascinating questions about the intersections between technology and "right" and "wrong." Even last week's successful clone story didn't quite manage to do that, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the show engaging in that kind of material. It's not especially hard to do, and it gives the procedural stuff more obvious heft.
Speaking of heft, "Arrhythmia" also smartly went back to another one of Almost Human's strengths, which is letting Michael Ealy do his almost-watery-eyed emotional acting thing while Dorian confronts difficult realities of being a DRN in a world that has already proven that it doesn't really want them. Here, he and John stumbled into another decommissioned DRN model (one that looked just like Dorian obviously) who had been relegated to glorified custodial duty at one of the local clinics. Dorian, both curious and compassionate, convinced John--or should I say annoyed to the point where John just gave up?--that it would be good to bring the other model on a ridealong for the day and of course that went pretty poorly. This story permitted the episode to fill in some important information about what happened to the DRNs when they were decommissioned, including that someone created the Lugar Test to determine if various versions of the model were defective, and that when they got booted from the police station their "minds" were wiped and the necessary pertinent files were deleted. I've said a few times in five weeks that the show could do a better job of filling in its history and world and although you would have expected Almost Human to save the big Michael Ealy acts against himself scenes until sweeps (and not in the third episode, which this technically is), this was a decent step towards that goal.
And more importantly, the other DRN's presence forced Dorian to think about what could--and I guess, did--happen to him if this were to all go away in an instant. Despite the fact that he's growing closer with John (no matter how much John doesn't want to admit it) and is generally doing a good job as his partner, it probably wouldn't take much for Dorian to get pushed out of the force and either back in the bag or working on mop duty at the local YMCA. The second DRN also showed a commitment to police work that Dorian has, and they were able to share that great moment where the former recollected on the proudest moment of his time as a cop and how it was really all about the human connection. Unsurprisingly, Michael Ealy did a great job acting against himself and bringing different things to the scene in both roles. Again, like the minor wrinkles with the morality of the case, doing stuff like this isn't hard. Just let Michael Ealy loose and he'll do all the work the scene needs. Dorian being forced to wipe the other DRN's files and send him back into manual labor, only to leave the really memorable case in-tact in the second robot's mind, was really simple, but pretty wonderful.
Episodes like "Arrhythmia" show that Almost Human can make good on its premise without doing big, sweeping serialized stories involving multiple layers of a conspiracy and MacGuffin-esque chemicals, toxins, technology, etc. I'd be fine if the show went that direction, but I'm also fine with this procedural-heavy stuff if this is the kind of episode Almost Human can put together. This one is really starting to live up to the promise of its premise, and that means it's worth coming back to in 2014.
NOTES TO BE UPLOADED
– Despite the screwy episode order, this one still hinted at the possible love connection between John and Valerie, and thankfully didn't show us anything that confused the progression of the pairing.
– Dorian dropping his eye in John's coffee was pretty funny. No matter the episode, those moments in the car between Dorian and John (and in this case, another DRN) are pretty much money. Almost Human could do three straight episodes of just that and it would probably be awesome.
– I haven't talked much about The Chemical Brothers' doing the score, but I really noticed it in this episode—for whatever reason. It's solid and different enough.
– Although there might be some budget issues in play, shouldn't we see Dorian do some kind of cool physical feat each week? Bursting through the wall, Terminator-style, was great.
How'd you feel about this one? And will you return to Almost Human in 2014?
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