It’s the second night of FOX’s series debut of Almost Human. After delivering solid premiere numbers, the sci-fi cop drama settles in with a case-of-the-week designed to flesh out the world of the show (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Let’s bitch it out…It doesn’t long for Almost Human to break out the skin as episode two immediately focuses on Synthetic prostitutes. Affectionately referred to as “bang bots” several times over the course of the hour, the episode once again helps to expand the world of 2048 in greater detail. After last night’s premiere, which had the burden of introducing the principle characters, the world and the prevailing attitudes/values, this second episode can slow down and breath a bit, reiterating the main conflicts and introducing a few new nifty gadgets.
But let’s be honest, ‘Skin’ is also an excuse to include a whole bunch of lingerie clad ladies onscreen, as well.
There’s an interesting message that can be unpacked here – an extension of the ideas introduced in last night’s pilot about how bots are never given any kind of agency (this is aurally clear when both of the main prosti-bots recite the same calming dialogue, immediately disavowing them of individual identities). There’s a conflict inherent in the presentation of this case, though. There’s the “golly gee” novelty of seeing Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) interact with robots intended for sexual use, and there’s the intended disgust we as an audience are meant to experience in the kidnapping and cultivation of human female skin (evidenced by the close-ups of the greasy, gooey flesh of the imprisoned women held captive in the Albanians’ lab).
Almost Human wants to play it both ways: we need to care about the humans and prioritize their rescue because they’re humans, but we’re also being asked to judge the second class status bestowed upon Synthetics. Both sides are not-so-subtly introduced: there’s the groan-worthy addition of a small child who will be left orphaned if his kidnapped mother isn’t returned alive, and there’s Dorian’s interactions with Vanessa (Ella Thomas), the euthanized sex companion. As a result, we’re asked not to see a distinction between Vanessa and the kidnapped mother, and yet the mother is clearly more valuable/worthy of rescue. It’s an challenging and – dare I say it – uncomfortable argument that suggests a revised world order in which the new bottom rung of the social ladder now consists of robots (the vast majority of whom are clearly more “human” than the humans they service).
In this way the presentation of this new breed of working girl remarks on the need for the rights of prostitutes and the dangers of sex trafficking (the kidnapped woman are essentially mules who are still being used for their bodies; just not in the conventional sense we think of when we think of bodies sold into sexual slavery). These are really interesting, forward thinking ideas and yet you’re probably reading this thinking “whoa…could this guy reach any further?” The unfortunate truth is that these ideas are present, but ‘Skin’ is too interested in showing girls writhing on beds and on pedestals (!) in skimpy underwear or sucking on phallic glow-in-the-dark human DNA breathlyzer tests. If Almost Human is drawing on other texts, I wish someone had made the call to lean more towards Bladerunner‘s nuanced examination of robot humanity instead of the the frat-boy mentality of Austin Powers‘ fembots.
- I may seem down on the episode, but it’s only because the two scenes involving Dorian and Vanessa are so strong. As mentioned, the series isn’t playing its subtlety too close to the vest when it comes to the fact that Dorian is more “human” than the humans that surround him, but his conflicted looks each time Kennex reverts back use disparaging language when questioning Vanessa is nicely emotive. Ealy remains the early stand-out on the show
- While it does seem like Almost Human is drawing from the sexy well a bit early, the simple fact is that sex companions are inevitably one of the first talking points that arise when robots enter a discussion. Human being are nothing if not predictably sex-oriented (though that doesn’t have to be a bad thing…)
- I do wish that Rudy’s (Mackenzie Crook) confession that he employs a sex companion on occasion (for the purpose both Vanessa and Charlene infer: listening) wasn’t met with such a judgmental, condescending look from Kennex. Alternatively, I wish Kennex’s final scene had been of his Internet date rather than the more predictable (and narratively pat/safe) meeting with his dead partner’s son. Gag
- Fun technology of the episode: flash masks that obscure a person’s face on camera. Question: why didn’t the Albanians simply use this trick again when kidnapping the mother from the car park? Why knock out the surveillance entirely?
- Who knew Dorian would be funny? I certainly wasn’t expecting mockery, comments about balls or setting up his partner on a blind internet date
- Kennex is no good with kids or cats. I’m not at all surprised by this. You?
- SPOILER Finally, ‘Skin’ more or less pretends that the dangling mystery threads from last night’s pilot don’t exist: no Anna (Mekia Cox), no Syndicate and no Stahl (Minka Kelly) in an evidence box. On one hand, it’s good that the series is determined to stand on its own without relying on its mythology (at least early on while it’s still carving out an audience). On the other hand, it’s disappointing that there’s no mention at all of these plots because there’s no reward for audiences who did return hoping for a tease… (This part of the review has been edited after it was learned that the scene in question was cut from the broadcast pilot)
- Kennex (when Dorian suggests cats sense tension, anger, frustration): “My issue with cats is none of your business”
- Kennex (after Dorian states the obvious about an Albanian disliking Kennex): “Add him to the list with kids and cats”
- Kennex (after Dorian comments on Kennex’s physical response to the sex bots): “Don’t scan my testicles ever again”
- Rudy (looking to access Vanessa’s data port): “I need to stick my- Oh that’s even worse”
- Kennex (when Dorian sabotages his interaction with Stahl): “Benedict Android strikes again”
Now that the series has two episodes under its belt, what do you think? Is the world coming together enough to get you invested? Were you disappointed that ‘Skin’ opts for titillation over thoughtful investigation? Disappointed that none of the mysteries turn up? Hoping to see Kennex out on a robot date in the near future? Sounds off below
Almost Human airs Mondays at 8pm EST on FOX