Wow, this show is just going right for it, huh? Episode 2 and Almost Human is already throwing sexbots and big questions about life and death at us, most of the time in the same scene. Despite the case-based story engine, that's pretty impressive for a second hour, especially because "Skin" didn't really waste time repeating the pilot's big points. There are still some kinks to work out, but Almost Human is an early 2-for-2.
For better or for worse, one of the things that's always on the cutting edge of technology is the pleasure industry. It's no surprise that in a world where robots exist to help the police force, they also exist to provide services—sex, companionship, what have you. And I was a little surprised that Almost Human tackled the topic so soon, but I guess if it's an obvious story to explore, the show might as well get it out of the way, right? Thus, tonight's case saw John and Dorian, already chummy (more on that in a minute), investigating a mysterious death involving sexbots and, ultimately, human skin. You see, harvesting human skin for the sexbots makes the experience more realistic and more pleasurable for the humans who "interact" with them. Makes sense.
The procedural elements of the case were pretty standard and forgettable: Dorian used his technical advancements to analyze information, John didn't feel the need to get a warrant because he's a TV cop and TV cops don't care about warrants, Minka Kelly's Valerie interrupted conversations with PRESSING INFORMATION. Almost Human is going to give us those kinds of moments every week, because it wants to appeal to the largest possible audience. If they're not your bag, hopefully you can grin and bear it while you wait for the show to get to the good stuff.
Thankfully "Skin" offered up quite a bit of good stuff, and good stuff that was shockingly complicated and moving for the second episode of a futuristic cop drama. The episode pretty quickly started asking important questions about the existence and purpose of sexbots in this kind of society; it turned out that sexbots are developed with some of the same kind of empathy that Dorian possesses, which means that their desire to provide their services and connect with people isn't just a 1-to-1 program; it's something they learn to do, want to do, have questions about, etc. Meanwhile, John's comforting of a kidnapping victim's young son pushed Dorian to ask why humans assure each other that everything is going to be okay, and that the deceased are going to a better place. And at episode's end, when a sexbot with human skin was shut down, Dorian asked to watch, only to have to deliver the same kind of speech about everything being okay and going to a better place. It was a weirdly powerful moment, one that I think the episode earned despite the procedural mechanics getting in the way, and one that Michael Ealy sold with aplomb. It's just been two episodes, but that guy is just killin' it. Really strong work. This is the kind of stuff I expected Almost Human to tackle someday, especially with J.H. Wyman running the show. But in Episode 2?* That was kind of ballsy, and it was even more impressive that it worked so well.
*The production code for this episode was 105 (and the next two are 106 and 108), but I haven't seen any information about 102-104, so it's hard to tell really what's going on. Fox might have seen this one, thought it was strong, and pushed it to the front. So in like five weeks, if John is still moping over his ex-lady and limping around, you'll know why.
While those final moments with Dorian packed a nice emotional punch, "Skin" also managed to add a lot of levity through the main characters' interactions in the car. The episode probably pushed a little too hard on Dorian's attempts to analyze John's chilly vibes—with children (he swears he loves them!), with cats (he's allergic!)—and trying to hook him up with ladies through an outline dating profile, but it's not as if the energy in those scenes was off by any means. Almost Human smartly let John and Dorian move past any sense of real antagonism and get straight to the more playful buddy-cop shenanigans; since Ealy and Karl Urban already have great chemistry, it totally works. Urban in particular seemed more comfortable, likely because John wasn't as emotionally wrenched by his traumatic experiences as he was in the pilot. There's a bit of danger in rushing past all that emotion and mystery to get to the police work of it all, basically shoving the ex-girlfriend and Syndicate into a box marked DO NOT OPEN UNTIL SEASON FINALE, but the goofier moments were successful enough that I didn't fret about it too much.
I will say, however, that the character stuff was layered on a bit thick. John had to share the moment with the child to show that he wasn't such a pill, and that set up the last scene where he visited his partner's son, and then the episode also managed to introduce the possibility (really, the probability) that John and Valerie could and/or should get together. Dorian's "You know you just described Valerie, right?" after John explained his dream woman was kind of awful. I mean, clearly I get it. It's Minka Kelly. But pump the brakes, ya know? None of those moments were bad on their own, there was simply a lot going on to establish John as a kind of friendly curmudgeon—as opposed to a traumatized, out-of-touch asshole. It was during those brief moments that I did actually think about the jump from the pilot to this episode. The show just needs to be somewhat careful on that front.
But we can worry about that later. "Skin" was a really solid episode, particularly for a second episode. Second episodes are rarely any better than mediocre. And even if this one seemed good because the episode order is a little screwy, at least we know that Almost Human is capable of this kind of storytelling that mixes the basic procedural stuff with goofball humor and more high-impact questions and discussions. I'll take it!
– I'm enjoying how weird the show's universe is as already. I didn't catch the fake technical terms for them, but I liked the tech that made the culprits' faces appear as bright lights on security cameras, as well as the DNA spray that screwed up the crime scene. Those are fun touches that don't take away from the robot of it all.
– Apparently Dorian's abilities include voice replication (meh) and sperm count analysis. That's nice.
– The scene where Mackenzie Crook's Rudy took apart one of the sexbot's brains was both visually stimulating (the colors!) and uncomfortable with Dorian standing right there.
What did you think of Almost Human's second episode? Better or worse than the pilot?
AIRED ON 3/3/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13