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FOX (ended 2014)

Almost Human S01E05: "Blood Brothers"


Hey, that's more like it. At this point, I'm ready to move past Almost Human's screwy episode order issue, which I've talked about quite a bit. Not only is nothing going to change at this point (this week's episode was technically 108, next week we're back to 103), but "Blood Brothers" proved that the show's episode order doesn't necessarily matter when it turns in a solid, entertaining hour of television. Wonky scheduling or not, Fox has now aired four episodes in a row that were meant to be seen in a row; it just so happens that they were Episodes 5 through 8. And although "Blood Brothers" wasn't as strong as "Skin" (which remains the young series' best episode), it delivered on the show's central premise with some solid futuristic stuff, a couple of good set pieces, and a handful of minor-yet-effective character moments. 

Above all else, "Blood Brothers" did a fine job of getting into its primary story and efficiently moving through the story beats without getting bogged down by exposition or overly wrought, forced emotional moments. The last two episodes featured too much of both, with characters doing a lot of time reacting to and explaining events around them. That's basically all shows, but there's a balance to strike with procedural stories to keep my interest and this one did it for me. It jumped right into the case with the extended courtroom sequence and the first witness being murdered over hologram (a nice touch) and motored forward from there. Though John, Dorian, and the rest of the team were a step behind Ethan Avery and his group of clones at first, the hour made an effort to show them actually doing police work. Everyone's mileage may vary, but I generally prefer this structure to the exposition-heavy heist/hostage situation (unless it's done really well) and the undercover stuff we saw last week (despite Mackenzie Crook's best efforts). 


More importantly, this was much more of a group effort than what we've seen from the show in recent weeks. Rudy was partially marginalized here after his big episode last week, but Captain Maldonado and Valerie had more to work with this week and Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly made the best of it. Though the episode cut some corners in establishing Ethan Avery as a one-time villain, it made up for it by giving him and Maldonado a few tension-filled moments together. The first scene between the two of them, with Avery explaining (to really an excruciating detail) why the Captain is alone, too dedicated to her job, etc. was an effective piece of character-building, even if it probably told more than it showed. There's no substantive reason why Maldonado should care about this case that much, but the fact that she does and we don't really know why other than JUSTICE only further underscores that she's really dedicated to the job—so much so it hurts her personal life. The same kind of good-despite-itself vibe was on display with Valerie's involvement in this episode. Anytime the pretty female character is mostly used to be captured and saved by the burly man, I cringe, but hey, at least the episode allowed Valerie a couple of moments where she showed that she was at least moderately competent at her job. That's important. Although the screwy episode order probably hurts the budding relationship between Valerie and John the most, rushing it to a silly degree, Minka Kelly and Karl Urban  have decent enough chemistry at this early of a stage that I'm willing to go with it. I don't know as if we need psychics (or psychic mediums) telling us about their possibly fated romance, but any sort of movement on the character front is a good thing. And the pairing is bound to happen anyway, so let's try it early and see what happens.

Another big part of why "Blood Brothers" worked a bit better than the last two efforts was the strong performances of a couple of guest stars. Alex Miller was sufficiently creepy as Ethan Avery and although I wish the episode would have given us more time with Avery's clones, thus giving Miller more to work with, he did fine bringing small differences to life in voice, facial ticks, etc. Like I said, I feel like there was a scene missing establishing more of Avery's motive for wanting to clone himself, but the character at least had some presence to him that kept the story afloat throughout the episode. Megan Ferguson brought a different kind of energy to the show too as the psychic witness Maya who also speaks to dead people. The more characters that exist to throw John off his grumpy super-cop routine and give Dorian some slightly more substantive beats to play, the better. I liked how Maya kept trying to get her "Medium psychic, and on my good days, a petite psychic" joke over with different characters. That was a very small detail, but one that actually made Maya seem like a real person and not just an exposition machine. And as a result, the final two scenes between she and Dorian where they discussed her dead parents were that much better. Guest stars can really make or break episodic shows like this and they certainly made "Blood Brothers" better. 


And hey, the show remembered its premise a little more clearly this week! Not only did the primary story lean more toward sci-fi territory, but there were some fun flourishes along the way to supplement the case action. The aforementioned hologram came back nicely in the hostage trade-off scene, and I really liked the idea that people in this world can get some kind of experimental brain operation to improve how much of their brain they use, and perhaps even become psychic. Almost Human really needs to work on expanding and defining its world beyond Future + Robots + Cops, and the knowledge that things like the brain surgery and cloning are fringe (hey-o) or illegal but robot cops are not is at least a decent step toward accomplishing that goal. The MX's Ken doll-esque bottom halves help too, even if I'm still trying to wash that image out of my eyes. But seriously, more of that stuff. Be weirder, show. 

I've been down on the last couple of efforts, but I'm not looking for Almost Human to reinvent the wheel. The show is so clearly capable of turning in rock-solid episodes like this every week. It's not rocket—or cloning—science. 



NOTES TO BE UPLOADED

– The headline of this review is obviously a reference to the number of clones. There were four, right? The one who got killed, the two in the photo above, and the one that was in the sniper position in that same scene. Tell me if I'm wrong.

– John is a soccer fan. I wonder if soccer is a bigger deal in the U.S. in 2048. Talk about a dystopian future, am I right?

– Dorian chasing down the van full of clones and just punching it over, leading to an explosion, was pretty cool. But Valerie's right: Why doesn't he just do that all the time?

– You have to guess that J.H. Wyman would have preferred to use the cloning idea to give Dorian an opportunity to turn all introspective, but there was nothing here on that front. Same could be said for Maya's story about her childhood house burning down just 20 minutes after Dorian mentioned that he really wants his own place. Some missed opportunities there, amid what was otherwise a pretty solid episode.

– What's the city or county budget for MXs? Those thing get destroyed so often they might as well be wearing red shirts. There's gotta be a shortage coming soon.


What'd you think of "Blood Brothers"? Did this one feel like an improvement to you?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/3/2014

Season 1 : Episode 13

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