Welcome to Los Angeles in 2048.
After technology has advanced so far that it was nearly impossible for governments to keep up with the acceleration, organised crime has soared. To fight back, the LAPD developed combat-ready androids.
Two years after Detective John Kennex’s team was ambushed on a raid against the Syndicate, human officers are routinely partnered with the MX kind of droid. John Kennex, however, isn’t your usual human cop.
Enter Dorian, a DRN droid, part of the decommissioned Synthetic Soul programme. He’s almost human, too. And thus begins the story of two unlikely partners — both special. Both almost human.
Merging the known and the unknown
Now, the world-building on this show, as so many others have already told you, is seriously damn impressive. It doesn’t feel like CGI, it doesn’t feel weird, it feels utterly and absolutely real, which is very difficult with entire cities and landscapes. And then there’s small details like the lights and circuits pulsing underneath Dorian’s skin, or the holographic crime scene tape that they just march through, the perimeter lighting up with their authentication shimmering on the screen for just a few seconds; those are the details that just sell it. Their science department is a good mixture between conveniently speedy Dorian-read-all-of-Vogel’s-files-within-five-seconds-and-found-the-one-that-was-missing and Dorian still needing to send the data he pulled from Vogel’s blood (hardcore, dude) to Rudy to get it analysed. The MX-s — and Dorian, especially — thus aren’t just plot shortcuts whenever one is needed to jump the line at the coroner’s office and get a jump on those fingerprints.
What many pilots either neglect or try too hard to do is introduce all of their characters, plus the new setting, plus the new world they’re living in, plus the conflicts the protagonists are up against. In this case, Almost Human made a few choices, and I think they made the right ones. We’ll get to the characters as we need to — something that, for instance, MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t manage so well this summer, I found. This pilot focused on a few points: the world-building, the Syndicate, and John and Dorian, with a little background on the team thrown in wherever possible.
“You’re lucky you got the partner with a bleeding heart.”
The unlikely partnership of Dorian and John Kennex
My god, they were made for each other. They soon realise that, too.
Within about forty minutes, the relationship between John and Dorian takes quite a turn. It’s not 180°, not quite, but John learns very, very quickly, that Dorian isn’t one of the droids who abandoned him and his partner. Dorian is one of those droids who doesn’t listen to the statistics or risk assessments — but to his gut. Who’s willing to march into a dangerous situation, gun first. It’s beautiful to watch how John ends up trusting Dorian with the revelation that his ex-girlfriend was the one who betrayed him. (I hope that we’ll see more of her soon, so I don’t have to mark her as fridged.)
Speaking of the ladies: with Vogel down, the numbers are now almost even in the bullpen. Minka Kelly’s Valerie Stahl is smart, compassionate, gutsy. (And if she becomes Kennex’s automatic love interest, I’m gonna punch someone. Don’t think I didn’t see those goggly eyes.) Lili Taylor has snapped up the role of Captain Sandra Maldonado after it had, originally, been written for a man — she persuaded the producers to gender bend the character, and it’s done the show a great service. She is afforded both emotions and a sense of command, which is rare for female characters in her position on the telly, even now.
SciFi explores the boundaries of human understanding
To wit, by reflecting the world we live in back at us from a distorted mirror. We recognise things, we don’t understand others, and what we see in that new world tells us something about who we are. Almost Human has the ambition to not only ponder what it might mean if we, indeed, could one day build ourselves proper robots and substitute our own limbs for robot parts when necessary, if we really could integrate synthetic life into our own this seamlessly. It also drives at the heart of what it means to be human, and what it means to fall short. Echoing Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick), very clearly, Dorian explains to John the difference between him and the MX: for them, memories and experiences are just heaps of data, something that the Androids in Blade Runner also continuously grappled with (and which usually exposed them as Androids, even those with memories implanted in their brain chips). Dorian, however — he may not have had a childhood, he may not have been born, but he acts out of free will, and his memories mean something to him. He has feelings, he has a soul, as much as John does.
Except John can’t remember much of what happened during the raid, and due to his loss of memory, he doesn’t trust himself. Dorian insists that, if you can’t trust yourself, you aren’t yourself — and if John isn’t human, then what is he? For the moment, his psychological evaluation doesn’t have anything kind to say on the matter.
Everything happens very fast in this pilot — the two leads are pushed together, nearly torn apart by John’s stubbornness, and then they weld themselves to each other of their own free will, choosing to become a team, all in the span of about a day. It does John credit that he still recognises a good person when he sees one — and that’s the point. A person. It took for John to accept Dorian as almost human for the two to stay together, but it took Dorian’s act of compassion and caring for them to even find each other.
Karl Urban plays a marvellously wounded, stubborn, grouchy John Kennex, and Michael Ealy plays Dorian with such incredible range — it’s John who’s on autopilot here, until Dorian pulls him out of it; Dorian, who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s understanding, determined, concerned, disappointed, and then furious all in the space of a few seconds and camera movements, and it’s him who’s driving that first huge argument right in the middle of the bullpen. (Walking away from an argument isn’t winning it, John.) Auton!Rory Williams comes to mind — Doctor: “Why do you have to be so human?!” — “Because, right now I’m not.”
Dorian, by the very virtue of being almost human, will show us exactly what being human can mean. He belongs neither to the one or the other category, technically. He’s not an MX — they consider him faulty. So do most of the humans around him. Call him crazy, call his habits bugs, remind him of the fact that he’s not flesh and blood, just flash memory and wires. Just for the possibility of him breaking down, Paul uses the very human metaphor, ‘snap.’ Dorian will have a lesson to teach: that being human means exactly what you want it to mean. It’s not up to others to decide who he is, it’s up to him. Nevertheless, John accepting him for who he chooses to be obviously means a lot to the DRN.
I’m very much looking forward to finding out more about the Syndicate and what exactly they’re looking for in the evidence storage, I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the supporting characters. And, most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing Dorian and John’s relationship evolve. ’cause that’s what humans do.