Following last week’s somewhat underwhelming instalment, episode four of Almost Human needed to be something special, because whilst there’s always likely to be a core audience retained no matter what, given the genre, actors and concepts concerned, there isn’t a lot here right now for the fringe audience to go on. With each week it’s becoming clearer why ratings dropped quite so much over the run in the US. However, whilst episode four is an improvement of sorts in some areas, it offers more of the same, and worse, in others.
This week’s plot saw a drug kingpin, ‘The Bishop’, resurface after 10 years out of the picture, ordering the killing of an undercover cop, and forcing the police into action. But rather than the action (only) entailing Kennex and Dorian taking out a tonne of ‘redshirts’, it focused on Rudy going undercover as the new drug cook, to flush Bishop out. The undercover bit didn’t go quite so great, and then, inevitably, came the shootout and resolution.
There were some good things to come from this narrative. Firstly, the start in media res was very smart. Showing Rudy escaping from a situation, running and being shot in the leg immediately made the viewer wonder what was happening. This doesn’t work with any old scene, but the combination of the technique and unusual situation for the show – with Rudy being in the field – worked well.
So did the focus on Rudy throughout the episode, as we learnt more about him, not least due to Mackenzie Crook’s perfect comic timing and experienced acting. The scenes with Rudy getting into character with his fedora and glasses, only to have his wings clipped by everyone else, was particularly funny, and while perhaps as the tension rose this comic relief was slightly less appropriate, it was good to see the show be self-deprecating. Alongside this, there was more development of the friendship between Kennex and Dorian, particularly in an early-on scene where Dorian sets up Kennex at a sushi bar, again displaying the great chemistry of the two leads.
Yet away from this, and the plot was again just too familiar. The episode followed nearly to the note the classic ‘undercover’ trope: scenes showing a test of the cover, surprise meeting with a high-ranking gang member, loss of contact due to zealous antagonists, cover blown, gunfight, end. It’s an enjoyable trope sure, but as was said in last week’s review, have they not got any plots that are unique to the world they’ve created? Whilst the show was sold as a futuristic police procedural, the futuristic part has been almost optional. That’s the area where this should be breaking new ground, wowing audiences and drawing interest, but instead it just seems to be wasting its potential, and going for plots that could be seen in any other established procedural, such as CSI or Hawaii 5-0.
This can all be explained partly by the revelation that the order of broadcast is not the order of the narrative, but rather a forced one. While episodes two through to five are consecutive to each other, they’re actually episodes five to eight in production terms, meaning we won’t see the episodes intended to be early on in the run until later on. Maybe these will have sold the format better, and what we’re seeing here is the show building upon a stronger start, but really, the fact that this isn’t noticeable on screen speaks volumes about the problem that there needs to be a lot more carried over week-to-week, if not in the form of a series arc then at least one two-part episode.
So, episode four was an improvement, yet perhaps not quite enough. While Rudy’s undercover assignment made for interesting viewing, it couldn’t hide the fact that the show seems to be treading water week by week, and in familiar waters too.