Almost Human recap: 'Are You Receiving?'
Welcome to the Almost Human recaps!
Last week we met Detective John Kennex and his android partner Dorian in the two-night premiere of Fox’s new sci-fi series from creator J.H. Wyman (Fringe, Keen Eddie!) and executive producer J.J. Abrams. We’re three episodes in, and so far the show is a fun (if somewhat uneven) throwback to classic sci-fi/cop drama mash-ups of the ’80s like Robocop, Blade Runner and Alien Nation. (Remember Alien Nation, the movie and short-lived Fox show where the aliens could be killed with salt water?? Why hasn’t that been remade?)
Since this is our first Almost Human recap, here’s a quick overview of the show before we dive into this week’s episode:
The year is 2048. In a dystopian metropolis that for copyright reasons is nothing like Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles or Robocop‘s Detroit, crime has gotten so out of control that cops are now paired with android partners that basically serve as walking deadpan smartphones. John Kennex (Karl Urban) is a gruff cop who lost his partner and his leg in a shootout with Insyndicate, a criminal organization whose members have bar code tattoos on the back of their necks for some reason. (The name is also an awkward portmanteau of “insidious” and “syndicate” that unfortunately doesn’t sound nearly as threatening as the writers want it to.)
After waking up from a two-year coma, John now has a synthetic leg which his body is rejecting. He’s also undergoing illegal back alley medical treatments to help him remember just what went down during the shootout (it was an ambush and Insyndicate was probably/definitely tipped off by someone inside the police force) and also what happened to his girlfriend who we’ve only seen in a cryptic video message. John is assigned an MX — stiff, by-the-book androids that every cop has to work with — which he promptly sends hurtling from a moving vehicle once it gets too nosy about his back alley clinic visits. He’s then partnered with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an early android model that was decommissioned for displaying too many erratic, human-like attributes. (You might say Dorian is “almost human,” or you might also say he’s like a more easily agitated version of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.) John doesn’t trust android officers since he blames one for leaving his partner to die, and it takes him most of the pilot to warm up to Dorian. But, as Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor) tells John, he was partnered with Dorian because they are both “special.” (Does that mean John is also a robot???)
So far, John and Dorian have investigated a heist with ties to Insyndicate and shut down a group of Albanians who were using human female DNA to create advanced pleasure androids. This led to Lili Taylor delivering the line, “Her DNA was found on the sexbot” with a straight face. If you’re not on board after that, it’s gonna be rough going from here on in.
So for episode three, perhaps we’ll get more hints about the mythology Wyman teased in a recent interview? Or maybe we’ll get to see more of the seedy underbelly of the city. After sexbots, just where will this show go? If you guessed “headfirst into a generic hostages-in-a-highrise plot straight out of a ’90s Die Hard knockoff that would’ve starred Jeff Fahey,” then you’d be correct. Also, ugh.
Let’s dive into episode three, “Are You Receiving?”
Next: It’s Die Hard…in a building!
The episode kicks off with John at home taking Dorian’s tip from episode one about using olive oil on his synthetic leg. (Hey, whaddya know, it works! Dorian should totally write a listicle of helpful “android maintenance hacks” for Buzzfeed.) We cut to Nakatomi Plaza, I mean, the Sanderson Corporation, where James the security guard is flirting with a receptionist in a way that just screams “this dude will die a horribly painful death in less than five minutes.” Suddenly, a team of gunmen storm the building and kill poor James and plant a device.
Next, we find Dorian complaining about John’s punctuality and the distinct odor of olive oil permeating the cop car. John retorts by using Dorian’s internal core to heat his coffee. (Since Dorian knows what temperature John likes his coffee, does that mean he also has a built-in Nespresso mode?) Dorian points out that unlike John, he pays attention to details. (This seems like it’s going to be important later in the episode, but it actually isn’t.) The duo get a distress call and head over to the Sanderson building. The building’s cameras have been cut, but Dorian accesses the archived footage and sees the gunmen take out the security guard and head to the 25th floor. John orders the building to be evacuated and heads up the stairwell with Dorian because who needs to wait for the SWAT team when you’ve got your robot buddy by your side, am I right?
Meanwhile, the thugs, who look like they could be on Hans Gruber’s B-team, are emptying out offices and taking hostages. The lead thug decides it’s time to get the cops’ attention and sets off the device in the lobby, creating a huge crater. Back at HQ, Detective Stahl (Minka Kelly) tells Captain Maldonado that John and Dorian are ascending the building. Maldonado tells John to get out there you crazy loose cannon, but of course he doesn’t listen to her and instead suggests she jam all communication coming in and out of the building so that the thugs can’t, uh, upload selfies to whatever Instagram is in 2048, I guess. Seems like they would want to be able to communicate with the bad dudes taking over the building, but whatever. John then pretends like he’s losing the signal on his phone, because apparently even 35 years from now “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up” will still be the easiest way to hang up on your boss.
NEXT: A Breaking Bad cameo! (No, it’s not Badger.)
The thugs realize their communications have been jammed, and also aren’t too happy about the snipers set up on a nearby roof. (Perhaps they too are tired of that particular hostage movie cliché.) Meanwhile, John and Dorian are on their looong trek up the stairs. Since signals are now jammed, Dorian is picking up local emergency calls, including ones being made from within the building. (He’s basically a walking cell tower. Just go with it.) He answers a distress call from Paige, a hostage who is hiding out in a utility closet. (Paige is played by Emily Rios, aka Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea on Breaking Bad. Among her post-Breaking Bad roles are a reporter hunting a serial killer on The Bridge and a hostage in a bleak, crime-ridden future. Someone please give this poor woman a nice heartwarming CW show, stat.)
Paige is worried about her sister who came to visit her at work and is now among the hostages. She has reason to worry, because the thugs decide to shoot one of the hostages and toss him out of a window as “the next phase” of their plan. (They also attach a helpful note to the poor guy that reads,”No cops, stay out” in case there was any ambiguity there.) Maldonado then tells Det. Paul to “initiate hostage protocol,” which you’d think she would’ve ordered back before the sky started raining hostages.
Because of the whole blocking communications thing, the cops have to send up a flying drone to deliver a phone to the head thug so that he can tell them his demands, which is kind of dumb but at least the drone special effects look neat. He wants getaway vehicles on the roof, a clear airspace to the border and a fission ignitor, a piece of military grade tech that Maldonado doesn’t have the authority to give him. (She doesn’t say it’s above her pay grade, but she might as well have.) Luckily the lead thug is on the phone long enough for the facial recognition software at police headquarters to ID him as Lucas Vincent, a member of the Holy Reclamation Army. Lucas gives Maldonado a timeline of 43 minutes, which is conveniently how much time there is left in the episode. (It’s too bad Fox didn’t haul the ticking onscreen clock from 24 out of retirement for the occasion.)
Meanwhile, John and Dorian are still going up the stairs and chatting with Paige. Dorian tells John that a fission ignitor is a trigger device for a megaton level explosive and Paige is all, “Hey, scared hostage over here!” John then tells her a story about the time he went ice fishing with his dad and how he fell under the ice and thought he would die, but he knew he’d be safe cause his daddy was there and even Dorian is bored by this story and he’s a robot.
NEXT: Gone Fission
Back at HQ, Maldonado is having a heck of a time getting that fission ignitor, but thankfully Rudy has an idea. (We’ve so far only ever seen Rudy in the dimly lit lab/storage warehouse where he maintains the androids, so it’s a little weird that he just happens to be right behind Maldonado at this exact moment. That said, Mackenzie Crook is great as Rudy, so the more scenes he’s in the better.) Rudy suggests building a replica fission ignitor and passing it off as the genuine article. As long as the thugs don’t try to use it right then and there, their harebrained scheme just might work. Stahl tells Maldonado that Lucas is a high level operative in the Holy Reclamation Army, a terrorist group that hates the West and has a history of violent hostage situations. Basically, they mean business, like pretty much every other terrorist group who has ever taken over a building.
Back on the longest stair climb of all time, Dorian is explaining the likelihood of humans tripping on stairs (is this how he plans to “accidentally” kill John someday?) when (finally!) a couple of machine gun-toting terrorists show up and a shootout ensues. They split up, and during the firefight John uses the alarm on his phone (second alarm on the show this week — are alarms Almost Human‘s answer to origami unicorns??) to draw out the gunman, who takes a hit and runs off. (Not sure why a phone alarm would cause the gunman to reveal his position, but whatever.) Dorian takes down the second gunman but unfortunately also takes a ricochet shot to the head. John and Dorian then discover that the dead gunman is wearing a facial hologram mask, and is actually an armed robber and not a member of the Holy Reclamation Army. Even worse, it seems Dorian’s “dynamic voltage scaling” has been damaged, meaning he could lose the ability to walk. Apparently androids are like zombies in that the key to taking them down is also a shot to the noggin.
Meanwhile, Lucas is getting impatient waiting for his fission thingie, and Dorian determines that all of the terrorists are using hologram face projectors. John finds a used Q-tip in the trash and attempts to repair Dorian. Turns out he has to cut the magenta wire to fix Dorian’s programming because the writers needed to check “cut the colored wire scene” off of their action movie cliché checklist. Naturally, John cuts the wrong wire and Dorian turns off. Ruh roh!
NEXT: At least he wasn’t named Levon…
Back in his creepy lab, Rudy is working on the decoy device while Chip, who is easily the jerkiest MX on the force, orders him to hurry up already. At the Sanderson building, Paige (who I guess was on hold during the shootout and John’s botched repair job? Wouldn’t she be concerned that the cop who is ostensibly going to save her life just accidentally shut off his robot partner?) is still worried about her sister, so John tries to calm her down by telling her that his middle name is Reginald. (His dad was a big Elton John fan, a reference Paige doesn’t get. Sorry, Sir Elton! Turns out everyone has pretty much forgotten that you ever existed by 2048.) John uses a piece of chewing gum to patch Dorian up because while nobody knows who Elton John is anymore, MacGyver reruns are clearly plentiful in this dystopian future.
The terrorist who escaped the shootout tells Lucas that John and Dorian are in the building, which of course angers him and leads him to yell at Maldonado some more. Paige wants to be with her sister if they’re all going to die, so she leaves the safety of the utility closet and somehow isn’t noticed by the terrorists when she joins the hostages.
The fake ignitor is now finally ready, and is sent up by one of the flying drones we saw earlier so the show can make the most out of its effects budget. Paige tells the terrorists, who obviously don’t keep a very good headcount of their hostages, that she has to go to the restroom and then leaves her phone out in the open so that John and Dorian can hear what’s going on. The drone arrives with the fake device, and Lucas tells his man to send a message to the “other crew.” Turns out the fission ignitor was just a red herring, and he isn’t even going to use it! Dorian wonders if the ignitor was just a diversion (ya think, super smart robot?) and John tells him to scan nearby buildings for anything of value. He finds a nearby building filled with the precious metal Palladium, and John realizes that the bad guys are pulling the old “pretend to be terrorists in order to stage a heist” scam. (Clearly no one on the police force has ever seen Die Hard.) Cut to the other crew, who are indeed loading precious Palladium into bags while the cops sit there worrying about the hostages like a bunch of suckers. Lucas then has his men plant a light bomb and gather up some hostages as insurance. They’re going to kill the other hostages after all! No good terrorists, er, common thieves pose as terrorists!
NEXT: Robots, they’re just like us…
Still somehow not on the 25th floor, Dorian finally gets the brilliant idea to climb up the elevator shaft and crawl through the air vent. (Why he didn’t do this on, say, the 10th floor is anyone’s guess.) Lucas then grabs Paige’s sister, but she goes full-on Katniss Everdeen and is all “take me instead!” Dorian then comes down from the air shaft blasting his machine pistol like a boss, which he should’ve done like 15 minutes into the episode. Dorian loses his gun, and Lucas gets the drop on him and asks him his name, which is his bad guy schtick, like when Joker asked his prey if they’d ever “danced with the devil by the pale moonlight” in Batman. He says he’s never killed a man he didn’t know, but as the show likes to remind us every 10 minutes or so, Dorian isn’t a man. Suddenly the dead thug from earlier shows up. But wait — it’s John using the hologram face maker thing! John takes out Lucas and the other thugs and tells Maldonado to stop jamming the frequencies. Jammer off, everyone’s cellies blow up, and the alarm system at the building with the precious Palladium goes off, conveniently trapping the last of the thugs inside. Dorian deactivates the light bomb at the last second and everyone is saved.
Afterwards, Paige hugs John and thanks him for saving her and her sister while totally ignoring the android that did most of the work. (I was hoping it would turn out that Paige secretly hates androids, but the show hasn’t really delved all that deeply into android/human tensions other than a couple of officers making fun of Dorian for having emotions which he was programmed to have. That’s like yelling at a toaster for evenly toasting your frozen waffle.) Back at the station, the officers who in episode one were all suspicious of John and Dorian’s partnership now applaud their efforts. (Nothing like a hostage situation to bring a squad together.) Maldonado and John exchange some awkward banter about how she told him to get out of the building, but there are zero repercussions for his insubordination because, you know, cop show. Rudy scolds John for fixing Dorian with chewing gum, but it clearly worked so shut up and go find your stapler, Gareth.
In the car, Dorian thanks John for fixing him (“Nobody messes with my coffee warmer,” John says, a little too smugly) and mentions that when Lucas had him dead to rights he had the feeling that he didn’t want to die even though he technically wasn’t going to “die.” John offers some comforting words but then tells Dorian to put on some music, as if it wasn’t already clear enough that he’s basically using him as a walking Siri. Dorian uses his inner version of whatever Spotify is in 2048 to bring up…”Bennie and the Jets”! Ha ha, turns out Dorian heard what John said about his middle name being Reginald despite the fact that he was deactivated at the time. Hey, Michael Ealy has a really nice singing voice! Maybe in three seasons we’ll get an “all musical” episode where the cast performs songs from the 1980 sci-fi rock opera The Apple!
So, yeah, this was the weakest episode so far by a wide margin. I get that Wyman doesn’t want to do a deep dive into ongoing mythology so soon, and that in essence the show is a futuristic take on a cop procedural, but at the very least the writers need to get crazier and have more fun with the many sci-fi tropes on display. (I was hoping that Dorian’s injury would cause him to become erratic and give Ealy some fun stuff to play with, but nothing ever really came of it.) Episode two wasn’t perfect, but the sexbot/human trafficking plotline was at least a novel spin on your average Law & Order: SVU episode while also shedding some light on the role of robots in the show’s world. And again, it also gave Lili Taylor awesome lines like “We need to get information from the sexbot.” I want Taylor delivering more lines that sound like they were written for Judge Dredd and not a police captain in any random Steven Seagal movie. The cast is strong (particularly Ealy and Crook), but this episode was a bit of a backslide into generic cop show-dom at a time when the show needs to hook in viewers. Also, Minka Kelly desperately needs something to do. Her character is ostensibly a criminal behavior specialist, but so far she’s nothing more than an exposition delivery machine. And there are plenty of actual robots on the show that could serve that purpose.
What did you think of episode three? Do you want more mythology, or are you happy with the one-off, crime-of-the-week plotlines? Do you buy the theory that John is actually a robot? Would that be a cool twist or just another sign that this show is lifting too much from Blade Runner? When will we learn more about John’s missing girlfriend? And will we ever find out if his late partner was only a few days away from retirement??
Next week: Mackenzie Crook goes undercover!
Bonus video of the week: Check out the opening theme song of Holmes & Yoyo, the short-lived 1976-1977 sitcom that featured TV’s first human/robot buddy cop duo. (Hattip to Kevin Maher.)