Almost Human review: Are You Receiving?

Previously on Almost Human: Skin.

“You know how I take my coffee?”
“Yes, I, unlike you, I pay attention to details, like what time it is. And what time you’re supposed to pick up your partner for shift.”
“Oh, I pay attention to details, like you just stuck your finger in my coffee!”
“If you like, I could stick it somewhere else.”

And the fanfic just writes itself.

Dorian, John, and a study in chemistry

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to John and Dorian’s chemistry this episode. They’re incredibly good together, both the actors and the characters they play. They bounce off of each other in every scene they’re in together — which, in this case, is almost all of them — and yet, somehow, even the ones they’re not. Within one story, they play on a very broad range of attitudes and emotions, but whereas in other narratives, it may feel forced, here it really doesn’t. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy match each other’s pace effortlessly, they can change the tone several times within a scene and it just feels natural, like we’ve seen them on-screen together for ages, not just three episodes. It’s a rare gift of chemistry they’re giving us, and they’re doing wonderfully. By extension, so is the show.

John trying to fix Dorian before it's too late
Nail clippers and chewing gum. You know, the fixing Dorian business.

This episode was a great case, set almost in real time against a ticking clock and a hostage situation — which only serves as a diversion for the heist next door. Without backup, Dorian and John make their way of 25 flights of stairs (right up until Dorian takes a short-cut through the elevator shaft). In between the first floor and the 25th, however, we see two stories play out parallel to each other, and intertwined by one of the hostage, Paige — an incredibly brave female character not hindered, but driven by her feelings, and with the courage to push through her fear. While we see the team around Captain Maldonado handle the hostage situation, we see Dorian and John handle not only the crisis, but also each other. Having them in that stairwell on their own serves as a nice way of more exposition when it comes to the two, and to give them time — within a fast-paced episode — to get to know each other and show how well they work together as a team. It’s incredibly difficult to pull off something like that, but Are You Receiving? did it really well.

“What’s with the disco face?”

Dorian and John take stock of the situationWithin about 35 minutes, we see John and Dorian argue, tease, worry about, fix, and save each other. (I still posit that it’s likely that FOX insisted on switching episodes again — this plot would make a lot more sense in a second episode rather than a third, especially because John’s leg didn’t squeal like a dog’s squeaky toy last week. But, oh well.) John and Dorian’s interactions are not just funny because there’s so much friction between their very different personalities and Dorian’s blank refusal to take any of John’s grumpy crap. A lot of stuff pinging around between them happens when John has his back turned — Dorian hides his smiles from him, but we get to see them. And later, we see John’s too.

“I just love that you wear your insubordination like it’s a virtue.”

Meanwhile, John likes to pretend that he’d prefer to work alone, but that’s not what happens when he has to re-chew someone else’s gum to fix the bullet hole in Dorian’s head. Then, he refuses to leave him even though Dorian insists that John save himself while Dorian does his job. Except John doesn’t agree — Dorian wasn’t built to die. He may be a DRN, but “dead is dead.” And John doesn’t want to lose his partner, end of. By the end of it, all he wants is to go “get some noodles” with his partner, after saving a lot of people, preventing a huge heist, and getting applauded by most of the bullpen.

“There’s fifty shades of purple in there!”

Dorian and John discover a facemaker on one of the gunmen

Dying is still dying

You know why? Because Dorian was afraid. It may be different for DRNs, technically, but dying is still dying, and that’s another way of John accepting Dorian’s presence in his life, and his state of being (along with his singing). He doesn’t second-guess that Dorian felt fear, he doesn’t doubt his right to feel that fear. He accepts that Dorian can be and feel as human as he likes. Rudy isn’t best pleased with John’s use of pre-chewed gum, and questions whether he would treat his race car like that — implying of course that John would take more care with a car, obviously, than with his robot partner. Except John would do anything he needed to fix what needs to be fixed, and if he can fix either his partner or his car with bubble gum, then that’s what’s going to happen, because he fixes what’s important to him. Another MX, he might have just left there, on the 15th floor, but not Dorian. Now, what I want to know is: how on earth did he get up to the 25th so fast in the same time that Dorian had to climb up through the elevator shaft and take out most of the gunmen? He must have really hurried. That moment between them, John insisting to come with Dorian, is something one would normally expect from a close relationship between partners who’ve been together for ages — but this is new, to both of them, and yet it’s what happens. The concern, the fear, the soul-searching gazes. It just happens.

“You’ve been shot, your head’s full of bubble gum, you can’t go alone!”

Before he gets into that situation, that question of life or death, Dorian gently mocks the story that John told Paige, about nearly drowning while ice fishing with his father, and about being safe just because one’s not alone. That’s because Dorian hasn’t felt that fear yet, and although he’s got nearly boundless compassion and empathy, it’s the same as for us: until we are in an extreme situation, we can’t really imagine what it feels like. For Dorian, there’s an added step of detachment mingled in there, perhaps, because he hasn’t been reactivated that long and the immediacy of feeling may be different for him. But in that moment, down on the floor, looking into the barrel, he can’t hold off on the rush of adrenaline and fear, same as we wouldn’t be able to. In that moment, as in so many others, Dorian is human.

That is why this episode would have worked so well as their first proper case post-reactivation, because it sets them up as walking — pretty much blindly — into a highly dangerous situation together, and shows each of them delivering on their (implicit) promises: John’s to Paige to get her and her sister out of there, and Dorian’s promise to defuse that lightbox before it’s too late. They’re safe, with one another. This episode shows them committing to something — namely, to each other. And to Reginald. I mean, Elton John.

Next: The Bends.

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5 thoughts on “Almost Human review: Are You Receiving?

  1. I absolutely loved Paige. How often do we get a one-off character so well written? And of course including her as an active participant of a hostage situation made us care more that we would have cared for a group of “random hostages.”

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    1. Exactly! I found myself much more drawn into what was happening on the other side of that stairwell than I normally would have been, if it had been “just” hostages. Normally, the way shows go is to include one of the leads in that situation to make the audience care — this was much subtler, and really well done. Adding to that that it was a woman, not a bloke… well done, show.

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  2. I loved this episode. There were so many homoerotic elements: 50 shades of purple; elton john; “If you like, I could stick it somewhere else.” really! i feel like not enough people caught that lol. I really hope they keep going in this direction.

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