What up, Humanites?! That's what you Almost Human superfans like to be called right? If not, consider it your new nickname. It's quite some time (but only four episodes) since we last touched base with the Fox drama, and while I wouldn't say things have changed, they've certainly improved. Two of the last three episodes—"Simon Says"and "Unbound"—were really good, delivering solid procedural storytelling and an exciting look into the show's mythology, respectively. (The third, "You Are Here," was as fine as fine can be, but nothing about it was especially noteworthy.)
As such, I was pretty excited to check back in with the show, and despite some moderate concerns about the wonky episode-order issue that just will not go away, "Perception" rewarded my anticipation. Last week's hour (which aired as Episode 9) was so focused on macro-level storytelling and world-building related to the synthetics' history that when I learned "Perception" was actually the fourth episode produced, I cringed. To go from an information-heavy and exciting effort full of great guest stars like John Larroquette and Gina Carano to a random case of the week? Sigh. And "Perception" did, indeed, eschew any direct mention of the location of Larroquette's Nigel Vaughn, his larger plans involving robotics, or the much-discussed wall separating parts of the city. That was kind of a bummer.
However, even though "Perception" was mostly driven by a standalone case, it managed to weave in some crucial character tidbits and remind us of what happened with Kennex and his traitor gal-pal waaaaaaay back in the pilot (yeah, remember that?). So in that regard, this episode ended up being one of the more successful installments of Almost Human's admittedly short run.
At this point, comparisons between Almost Human and Fringe aren't always helpful. They are two different shows, with different aims. But a number of people from Fringe's creative team moved over to Almost Human, and episodes like this one reflect how the previous show's sensibilities and routines are bleeding into the new one, differences aside. Though I could talk about Fringe's big, ongoing story until I'm blue in the face, that show truly thrived while developing taut, moving standalone stories about the main cast, random guest stars, and sometimes both. Some months back, Almost Human hit that note with "Skin," which featured a great story about Dorian trying to understand life and death, and "Perception" took a similar approach with a case that worked well in its own right, but was also smartly tethered to John's trauma and attempts to regain his memory.
The case, wherein a few genetically modified genius-level teens died of a mysterious drug overdose, did exactly what every Almost Human case should do. It began with a weird sequence of events, it introduced us to some useful information about the show's universe, it created a few opportunities to show off the futuristic technology of that universe, and then it dropped the emotional hammer at the end. That's the formula the show should always broadly work from, even if it's not going to hit every one of those elements in a given episode.
Most everything here felt purposeful and considered. I loved the school set and the location the producers chose for the teen drug dealer Julian's home. Almost Human always looks great when the characters get to go outside/aren't trapped inside HQ, cars, or dingy research basements. More of that! And the story had some moderately interesting developments in how the "chromes," the genetically-modified kids, interact—or don't—with the "normal" kids at their school for the gifted.
But the important takeaway here was the reveal that Valerie is a chrome. The show alluded to this a week or two ago when she had a random argument with Richard, but this was our confirmation. I both liked and disliked that "Perception" kept this revelation a bit low-key. On one hand, I appreciate that Almost Human seems interested in holding many of its cards close to its chest, so that it can slowly unveil them over time, because that gives viewers a chance to get familiar with the world and its similarities to ours. Coming out swinging with IT'S THE FUTURE AND EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT won't work on network TV. So this is part of a larger story, no doubt.
Yet, on the other hand, I did think it was weird that "Perception" was an episode about chromes and their place in the world, yet it barely used the chrome we already know to help us understand and process the chromes' experience. If you're going to reveal that Valerie's a chrome, that's cool, but do something with it, you know? Minka Kelly did some good stuff in the moments she was given, even doing some real acting in the background of a few scenes where John and Dorian were more prominent. But knowing that we've already seen a half-dozen episodes that technically came after this one, and it wasn't mentioned, I'm a bit bummed. That was a weird choice.
Nevertheless, in Valerie's place, "Perception" dug up John's excursion through his own brain to provide more lost information about the Syndicate and Anna. The wonky episode order made it a little jarring to return to this investigation at first, particularly because "Perception" went out of its way to describe how Dorian just recognized that John was acting off, but in this case, it also kind of made sense to picture John putting his brain into overdrive in an attempt to remember and connect the dots. We didn't glean a whole lot of tangible information other than the fact that Anna gave John a Russian nesting doll that was mic'd up—and is still mic'd up. So somebody's spying on him.
However, the final act of the episode did the legwork to draw a line between John's obsession over what happened to him and this week's culprit, a mother whose thirst for answers and some kind of payback pushed her to orchestrate the deaths of two of her dead daughter's classmates. The show probably laid it on a bit thick by showing us that the mother had the same sort of futuristic Conspiracy Board (loosely related photos, articles, and Post-Its) as John, but hey, linking the two worked for me. Almost Human has already gotten tremendous mileage out of the lightweight banter between John and Dorian, and really all of its characters, and that's great. But it's nice to be reminded of some of the more dramatic histories and murky places that everyone's coming from.
Out of order or not, "Perception" smartly set Almost Human up to dive a little deeper into its primary interests. Hopefully the show keeps turning in episodes like this one that serve procedural necessity, character development, and world expansion all at once.
– Tiny pills that are made specifically with an individual's DNA in mind! Nice touch.
– It was kind of weird that John destroyed a police cruiser and then in the very next scene, he and Dorian were pushing forward with their investigation, in a new car, with nary a word about how anyone reacted to the news, what it will cost, etc. Throwing a Band-Aid on Dorian's earlobe didn't do it for me. The captain had to have been pissed, right?
– Good on all the actors who portrayed the chromes here. They were just slightly off in a way that suggested difference, without overdoing it. I'm not sure how that blends with Minka Kelly's relatively normal (but still good!) performance as Valerie.
– Almost Human's ratings have stabilized and with DVR numbers factored in, the show is actually doing pretty well. We could—and should—get a second season. Yay?
Have you been keeping up with Almost Human? What'd you think of "Perception?"
AIRED ON 3/3/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13