Almost Human: Skin.

Previously on Almost Human: Pilot.

After a strong pilot episode, Almost Human continues on a really good path — 90% of the time.

The completely unnecessary boy meets girl trope

almost-human-s01e02-3

As I said a few days ago, I’m not thrilled about the writers pushing John towards Valerie — relying on the boy meets girl trope to write their story for them is just incredibly lacking in originality. I mean, why? Just because they’re of the opposite sex, of roughly the same age, and in the same place at the same time, of course they’ve got to be drawn towards each other? Because, obviously, neither can resist the sheer novelty of having an attractive character working in close proximity? Of course, being attractive will be cited as a reason — when, really, everyone working on a TV show is attractive, that’s kinda what the business is all about…

[Insert long-suffering sigh.]

Also: yes, we get it, John isn’t good with either kids or cats. These scenes were funny, and heartwarming and all, but — isn’t John traumatised? On-set obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD… we also saw him having a drink for breakfast in the pilot. This episode, he has neither touched any alcohol nor taken any black market drugs. Now, we all know that FOX likes to mess with broadcasting schedules, going against the order that writers and producers set. Which I’d like to discourage them from doing, because it seriously fucks with story lines and character development, if you ask me. Anyway, my point was that John is being portrayed as Detective McGrumpy-Pants, but nothing worse than that. No nightmares, he hasn’t mentioned his girlfriend again… he just gets upset that Dorian scanned his balls. (It took me a while to recover from that one. As from the blatant flirting…)

2048, sex bots, and the sociological implications

What I did absolutely love about this episode, though: the case, and its implications. Tackling prostitution in an episode and setting like this is great. There are a lot of questions that you get to asking yourself — not a lot of questions that the episode actually answers, but perhaps that’s not its job; though I do feel that a few avenues were sadly left unexplored.

Darla Taylor as "Charlene"

How do you handle sex bots? They were made to satisfy clients who wish to pay for sex, they were literally built and programmed to accommodate the sexual tastes of humans. We only saw the sleek, high-priced side of the deal — but is there still human prostitution? Actual human women still owned by their pimps, clearly what John had in mind when he kept asking Vanessa, instead of where she was “born.”

Other questions left unanswered: do these bots do… everything? Regardless of sexual play? And the more unpleasant connotations — can sex bots be raped? How far, if at all, is their autonomy developed? If some parts of them are of similar make as Dorian, if they are capable of emphatic bonding, then what happens to components of free will? Or do they just take anything a client does to them? Surely, the makers — their keepers — will sue for damages if something gets… out of hand, but then that’ll be a business transaction, nothing more. What all of this points towards is that, just because they’re robots now, the same underlying social problems still exist. I’m supportive of the existence of the sex trade, but the workers need to be protected and supported, and respected. What this ep does is illustrate that, by taking their humanity away from them, we realise how badly our society now is already treating sex workers — as though they had already lost their humanity, although they’re still flesh and blood in 2013.

Dorian and John watch as Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) examines a destroyed bot.

In that sense, Almost Human also offers us a vision of the world — of the human soul as expressible entirely in ones and zeros, in computer code. The human brain, the mind, the soul, encoded in numbers, built with hardware: circuits, wires. It’s The Island of Doctor Moreau in 2048, just that Rudy isn’t redrafting animals into humans. The idea behind it, however, is the same: taking the hardware and experimenting until the software becomes advanced enough — through programming, not social conditioning and torture, granted.

And then, there’s the gender aspect: countless female bodies, built to please clients — is that better? Don’t they deserve the same respect as human women, the kind we’re demanding — and mostly still not getting — now? The usage of terms such as ‘bang bots’ suggests that the people of 2048 may not think so. Also, there were mostly female sex bots, I only spotted one or two male bots in that showroom.

Dorian (Michael Ealy)

Dorian’s learning curve is a little understated this episode, but there is one thing that he connects with: humanity’s compulsion to believe in something. Not necessarily God, or the afterlife specifically, but something that will give us hope, make it easier for us to deal with tragedy and loss. John offers Dorian an explanation — an incomplete one, perhaps, but Dorian listens, observes, and adapts. Of course, during that scene in the car, the writers were clearly pushing John close to the edge of saying, “I will. I’ll remember you if you die,” but we’re not that far down the rabbit hole yet. It hung in the air there, though, very much unsaid and yet clear as day that that’s where they’re heading. I look forward to watching them get there.

Next: Are You Receiving?

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