Snooty reviews Almost Human: “Skin”

"I swear to God, it was like that when I got here."

“I swear to God, it was like that when I got here.”

Two steps forward, one step back. That’s my glib review of Almost Human’s second, shaky-but-positive step.

To its credit, this episode avoids some of the mistakes of the pilot, eliminating the convenient police incompetence needed to move its plot forward and relying instead on a gruesome, visceral mystery worthy of its Blade Runner-esque setting. Someone in Neo LA is making sex bots with human skin, which is illegal in addition to being horrific, so it’s up to Kennex and Dorian to track down the culprits and reunite a little boy with his kidnapped mother. I’ll be honest, for the first half-hour, I was wondering if the Albanians were simply scooping out human women’s brains and replacing them with hard drives to make the ultimate sex worker. It wasn’t quite that grim, but only just.

Kennex’s and Dorian’s relationship is developing into an amicable partnership. They tease each other, they worry about each other, and they get on one another’s nerves. The progression feels a little fast, but if Fox is developing this show to be more in line with traditional police procedurals, it makes sense: characterization and serialization will probably take a backseat to the COTW (as Goon puts it in his Castle reviews—go check them out). That’s not to say there won’t be either of those two elements. The introduction of the Insyndicate in the pilot proves as much. But we’ll probably be in for a lot of one-off episodes scattered between plot-heavy episodes. Don’t be surprised if the show’s seasonal pacing starts to resemble that of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s not a bad path to take, and hopefully it won’t take the Law and Order route of being boring and repetitive for twenty seasons.

The major issue with this episode is one of pacing. We’re introduced to the episode conceit in an interesting way: a sex bot designer is murdered for investigating the competition, and the criminals cover their tracks immaculately. Then we’re treated to about twenty minutes of plodding investigation scenes, watching detectives watch screens or asking questions that go nowhere. The climax of the episode offers us a fantastic breaching scene, but first we have to go through the rigmarole of a fakeout bust at the Albanians’ club. If you’re looking for ways to fill the time, show, you can always just leave us with Kennex and Dorian. They’ve got enough chemistry to carry more scenes together. Or maybe you could develop some of your side characters, because right now all I know of the brunette detective is that Kennex is vaguely attracted to her, maybe.

But the show’s design continues to exceed all expectations. More than just the visual appeal of the show, its design team and writers have collaborated to imagine some genuinely clever criminal technologies: facial spray that obscures identities on camera, and a DNA bomb that contaminates an entire crime scene, are the kinds of things I want to keep seeing in this show. It’s always the little cleverness that makes or breaks a sci fi show like this, and so far it’s making Almost Human.

In fact, the world-building in this show is so far much more interesting than its plots; for all its gussying-up, tonight’s episode mixed classic staples of police fiction like the dead prostitute and the kidnapped woman, neither of which is going to win any Pulitzers. But an underground lab that clones skin for synthetics? Very imaginative. More important, though, are the questions of synthetic rights and motivations that this episode raises. Dorian, with his emotional processes, is clearly uncomfortable with the legalities surrounding synthetics. The scene where he and Kennex interrogated the sex bot was wonderfully uncomfortable; all throughout, Dorian is constantly reminded that he’s property, not a person. Juxtaposing his discomfort with an android possessed of childlike intelligence made it that much better. I like that there weren’t any easy answers regarding androids’ place in this new society, and I’m hoping to see more facets of that issue. Keep this up, Almost Human, and you’ll leave Sleepy Hollow in the dust.

Oh, who am I kidding? You’re already way better.

 

Musings…

  • Testing your hooker with an extensive set of tools: maybe he’s a reviewer for Zagat?
  • You want to impress a child, and your first impulse is to stab yourself? Good instincts.
  • See, if they’d gone to a seedier hotel, they wouldn’t have needed a DNA bomb to taint the evidence. Hiyo!
  • Sex bots are police-approved if only because they reduce violent crimes. Yay, robots!
  • John’s questioning the little boy was surprisingly sweet. Karl Urban can be such a softy when he isn’t stabbing Chris Pine with hyposprays.
  • The sex-bot store looks like an expensive car dealership. Suddenly I don’t feel so cool about sex robots…
  • “If you answer all my questions, maybe I’ll let you get to first base.”
  • “You’re scanning my balls?” “I didn’t enjoy it.” Sure you didn’t…
  • After re-watching the pilot and this episode, I can now safely conclude that the four-wheeler is the worst vehicle for a cop to ride. Hilariously awful.
  • “Benedict Android strikes again.”
  • For a moment, I thought they were going to feed the sex-bot headfirst and still awake into some kind of crushinator.
  • To find a picture for tonight’s post, I had to google “almost human skin.” I was disappointed when I didn’t get a lot of creepy results. I mean, there were a few, but still…
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About snootyfilms

A tormented genius in a world that doesn't deserve him.

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