You’d be hard pressed to find a show as erratic as Almost Human. Sure, most shows have good episodes and bad episodes, but with Almost Human it seems to be a week-by-week swing between good and bad. Following on from last week’s scheduling-based disappointment, this week saw the absolute best episode so far, as close to perfection as this show will likely ever come.
The central plot was fairly straightforward: a decommissioned ‘XRN’ android – described as being more like a solider than a police officer, and put out of action after killing dozens in its demonstration – is broken out of its police vault storage, before going on what seems to be a mindless rampage. It turns out to be a calculated plot by an antagonist in control. Robot out of control is nothing new in science-fiction, but it wasn’t so much the basic concept that made the episode click, but rather the way it was used, and how it fit into the larger narrative of the episode. In a break from the usual formula where the action takes up the majority of the screen time, this week there was as much focus on the context and backstory, which was the most successfully realised to date.
It added a number of elements to the show’s mythology at the same time, introducing ‘Dr. Vaughan’ the disgraced creator of both Dorian and the XRN. Dorian got a bit of backstory in the pilot, but not enough, and this week rectified that to great effect. Also introduced was ‘the wall’. No, not a giant block of ice protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the Wildings and the White Walkers, in case you had the exact same though as me, but a divide between ‘the City’, and the ‘Old Town’. Even though it was abruptly brought into play, it actually seemed to work, with the mystery of what exactly was on the other side of ‘the wall’ playing into the end of the episode well. This episode felt a lot more fleshed out, with far more going on beyond the action sequences, and even those actions sequences having deeper purpose.
The end of the episode was another positive too. For the first time we saw a true cliff-hanger, as Dr. Vaughan was revealed to not be your friendly ‘robotics engineer-next-door’ but actually the big mastermind. This sense of a greater threat was exactly what the show needed, lending a real sense of scale and danger.
The personal nature of the plot also made way for some great character development for Dorian. The idea that Danica was not programmed to attack at her demonstration, but simply malfunctioned, had a clear effect on Dorian, who worried about the same thing happening to him. This meant that when we got to the ‘boss fight’ between him and Danica at the end, it had an emotional weight to it. We know that he and Kennex will survive each episode, so there needs to be another element that keeps us watching – this was it.
The humour was pretty sharp this week too – Mackenzie Crook showed what he does best with some awkward but funny repetitive lines about a ‘test coming up positive’ and that ‘he has no problems getting it up’ in otherwise serious situations, complete with the pounding electro from The Crystal Method for a true juxtaposition. The Kennex-Dorian chemistry also generated some good dialogue early on, as they displayed their different methods to entertain young kids on a field trip to the station: Dorian offering dull ideas, before Kennex shows them a picture of a dead body, which, as you might imagine, didn’t end brilliantly.
Unbound was a perfect Almost Human episode. Had this standard been maintained from day one, it would have certainly resulted in a second series being commissioned.