What an odd season of television this was. Throughout its 13 episodes, Almost Human seemed to be at war with itself as it tried to decide exactly how much information to reveal and how much ground it wanted to cover, story-wise. That's to be expected with freshman shows, especially those with sci-fi leanings airing at plum times on broadcast television. You have to play the game by airing a few fairly procedural episodes that don't overly emphasize the futuristic setting, the androids, the multi-year conspiracies, and more.
But after a string of good efforts in the middle of the season, the final few episodes illustrated that Almost Human is more confused than ever about how much show and tell it wants to play. We received more information about the chromes and their development, but we didn't learn any more about the Insyndicate or John's ex-girlfriend. Last week's hour suggested that someone was inserting memories into Dorian, but it didn't appear to be connected to Nigel Vaughn, who was last seen jumping over the wall. And despite some really good moments, the season finale, "Straw Man," continued that weird late-season trend; ultimately, few of the questions raised in the pilot were answered, or even really addressed.
The curious thing with episodes like this one is that you can see how the show wants you to view something as IMPORTANT. "Straw Man" not only had a wild hook—people were getting kidnapped only to reappear with their organs missing and their bodies stuffed with straw—but it tied that hook back to the "mystery" surrounding John's father. I put mystery in scare quotes because, if you recall, Almost Human's original pilot hinted that John's dad was actually a synthetic himself. Until now, it hadn't been clear whether the show planned to explore that idea in the future, but "Straw Man" suggested that it doesn't want to go that direction, as John and Dorian found themselves investigating the aforementioned wild case, which just so happened to be the most prominent case John's dad had worked.
To be fair, that personal connection gave this episode's procedural stuff a more immediate bounce than some of Almost Human's other recent offerings, and the development of the case itself worked fine. The visual impact of cutting open a body and only finding straw was pretty cool, and the thought that people in this world are working in the dark to bring cyborgs to life is the kind of fascinating stuff that J.H. Wyman could easily build entire seasons around in the future. The problem was that Almost Human hasn't spent enough time on John's history, or his relationship with his father, to make digging up daddy's old case files particularly compelling. The show wanted us to think that this was a big deal, especially once John and Dorian discovered that John's father had started to figure out that something fishy was going on in the precinct and that it ultimately got him killed, but I certainly didn't feel the impact in my living room. And once our heroes caught the right guy and all that, all I could think was "That's it? Seriously?" Now, Almost Human could easily return to other ideas about John's father in a possible second season, but for a finale, this wasn't much.
The instinct to try to make the finale MORE IMPORTANT—to RAISE THE STAKES, if you will—is a good one. But what was so disjointed about "Straw Man," and by association this whole season, is not just that the resolution about John's dad was silly, but that Almost Human already had two or three other threads to pull at if it wanted to finish its first season with a big boom. If the writers weren't interested in providing more information about the Insyndicate and John's memories, fine; I disagree with that approach to storytelling, but okay. But why not go with something easier, like bringing back Vaughn, or making Dorian's secret memories cause him to go haywire, or heck, having a bunch of chrome purists kidnap Valerie? Those elements were already in play within the narrative, and the show could have mined them for more drama—not to mention more sensible storytelling. Choosing to introduce something else, and then wiping it away within the confines of an hour, did not work.
What did work was what has been working all season: Karl Urban and Michael Ealy. Although the episode didn't explore Dorian's mysterious memories, it did build a basic but satisfying character story using one of the oldest tricks in the book: performance reviews! It was time for the higher-ups to determine whether Dorian was fit for continued duty, and "Straw Man" mined some nice material out of Dorian squirming about the potential consequences of his review and John trying to hide the fact that he does indeed want his partner to stick around. The banter in the car was as good as it's ever been, especially the scene where they reminisced over some of the previous banter—the ball scanning, the showing of the android penis... you know, the cool stuff. And that final sequence, where Dorian learned that he passed his review on the back of big praise from John, was just great. Almost Human didn't necessarily develop the two characters that much, but it went to great lengths to establish their bond. Though it's not like they weren't already buddies, Dorian getting John a new leg was just the nice little cherry on top of 13 episodes.
Putting the good and the bad together, "Straw Man" was quite representative of Almost Human's first season. The primary story didn't have the impact it could have, especially with everything that was left by the wayside, leading to an unfortunately muddled and disappointing conclusion. But the character stuff? Strong. Very strong. All the elements are in place for Almost Human to be very, very good in Season 2. Assuming Almost Human gets renewed, I hope that Wyman and company have the confidence (or freedom) to make the show more complicated, or at least to be able to commit to stories in the longterm. Its world should be expanded better and stories shouldn't come and go so freely. Of course, we don't yet know whether there will be a Season 2, but I'm hopeful.
– Richard returned, suddenly not an asshole. If you told me that the character was going to be dropped between Seasons 1 and 2, I wouldn't be surprised at all.
– Valerie didn't have much to keep her busy in this episode, but the show actually did some nice things with her character throughout the season. Casting Minka Kelly as a near-perfect test tube human is about as spot-on as it gets, right?
– What happens to John's current leg now that he has a new one? Does it get recycled? Does he keep it as a spare? Does Rudy throw it in a pile? These are the important Qs I ask.
– So, any theories about all the ongoing mysteries and threads not addressed in this episode? What's up with the Insyndicate? What's going on beyond the wall?
How'd you feel about Almost Human's finale, and the season as a whole? Are you hoping the show will get renewed for Season 2?
AIRED ON 3/3/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13