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ALMOST HUMAN “Straw Man” Recap

Look, the thing is, my biggest gripe about Almost Human is this; it’s neither cerebral, nor emotional enough, to pack the gut-blow of impact it wants to. By God, it wants to; it really, really wants to. Why else hire the considerable talents of Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, if not to headline the show as one with proper star power; and to ensure that said star power could carry the weight of messages and questions on subcultures and our current predilection for technology, all embedded within a framework whose primary, flashy feature was that of AI? Given that artificial intelligence’s something of a perennial favourite — and by extension, then, many of its topics have long been worn-out — Almost Human’s first season feels like it’s only just given the grounds a perfunctory treading when it comes to questioning its central premise; that of what it means to be just close to human.

Tonight, the thought gets a proper look-over.

We open with a seedy, underworld set of cubicles and waiting lines, the environment of which borrows from the Matrix and a host of other post-apocalyptic movies I can’t quite think of; but with that said, clutter and grime in the lower class is pretty much a given in a dystopian sphere. Others might argue otherwise when it comes to determining Almost Human‘s prognosis for our world, but the show’s been picking apart the fundamental imbalance of classes over the past few episodes — and with the addition of those over the Wall, which is what this community turns out to be — it’s becoming rapidly apparent that there’s a fundamental and necessary corruption within society. Abbie, the girl featured in our cold open, seems to be particularly aware of how these imbalances play out; aware, and yet not so street-secure that a brief show of kindness sways her usual scrappiness. For once, the crime set-up isn’t that of gunfire lights, nor is it set to that unwieldy tech score; and I’m nowhere close to miffed at the anticipatable switch-and-bait setup of tonight’s opening, perhaps primarily for the fact that the wheelchair-bound Glenn makes for an oddly charismatic antagonist in his first few minutes of screen time.

At the precinct, Rudy, Maldonado, and Kennex, are currently being questioned by an outside review board, whose primary aim is to determine whether a DRN can serve in the police force. Rudy, out of the lot, is the only one that poses a serious threat to Dorian’s continued employment, given his knowledge of the tampered memories Dorian possesses. To his credit, he faffs and stumbles about in actually responding to the question’s posed to him — but he reveals precious little that would see Dorian terminated. Make no mistake; no matter the sterile apathy of the review team, this is surely the threat that hangs over Dorian, should he be found wanting; that, or the isolation of simply being retired from the force altogether. For him, both are akin to death sentences. A new development in Almost Human‘s construction thus far seems to be the show’s toying with tonality; Rudy’s humour jars against the palpable seriousness of the review board, while Urban holds up an impressive, seething appearance of Kennex, happy to have spilt his past resentments of the android to the review board, before cheerily informing Dorian that he’s just been screwing with him; he hasn’t reported any of Dorian’s questionable actions in the past.

(As always, it’s the chemistry between these two that the show runs upon.)

Duty calls, and the two are spirited away to examine the body of a girl — Abbie, it would seem — whose organs have been plucked out of her body, prior to her being stuffed with cash and zippered back up. It’s a gruesome nod to the black market and a twisted nod to the concept of providing payment for one’s services. More importantly, it’s a copy of the crimes of a serial killer, who Kennex’s father put away, prior to his death. The killer in question is named Michael Costa, and has suffered paranoid schizophrenia in the past; and it shows. He’s placid. Mild-mannered. He speaks of Kennex Snr’s suspicions that the man he put away, Costa, was innocent with a kind of quiet gravitas that lends itself to his role as the titular straw man.

Here, the episode attempts to work on several levels; to convey the idea of creatures put up simply to be punched back down in lieu of proper gratification or fact analysis, while also crafting the show’s title in honour of the serial killer’s moniker. It’s unwieldy to say in the least.

Rudy’s the one to patchwork the growing body count tonight; and fittingly so, given how easily one aligns the scientist with the lonelier profile of the isolated victims the Straw Man targeted. Much of the killer — Glenn’s — intentions are fed in throughout the night, beginning with his mention of how one will do almost anything for good health; but still, Crook manages to make Rudy’s revelation that the corpses were fakes and that the killer must have some designs on their organs feel fresher and more immediate than the show’s been able to in the past. Almost Human‘s made no secret of the fact that the body of the tech they introduce mirrors the advances we’re currently making: and tonight’s “organic printer” is no different. What’s a far more curious conceit is that of the killer himself: a human with a degenerative design, who harbours a plan to restore himself to full health in constructing himself cybernetic organs, thereby transforming himself into some warped sort of cyborg. (Bless the show’s script for not pushing such a concept too far; they’d find themselves in a mire of ethical questions and thematic concerns if they’d pursued it, particularly when their ability to commit to one outside the norm in the past has been questionable.)

Among the rest of our almost-human-sort-of-inhuman cast, Glenn slots in perfectly; and the cash he stuffs his fake victims with is a cynical little nod at the price of his needs; an understanding of his self-visualisation, that’s not a far cry from how Kennex might have behaved or perceived himself in a similar milieu. Speaking of Kennex, and his family’s ongoing involvement: Urban handles the doggedness with which Kennex pursues the clean-up of his father’s name with a very specific sort of grace, though his expository monologue to Dorian, detailing his father’s ways falls flat. There’s no overwhelming amounts of simmering here; over the course of his relationship with Dorian, the original volatility’s been tempered.

It’s difficult to predict whether Almost Human will be renewed for another season. As I’ve previously mentioned, precious little fresh ground’s been broken. The show, at it’s highest and lowest ebbs, remained a careful examination on the concept of technology and it’s capacity to warp a society already fraught with sociopolitical issues, further out of shape.

But what Almost Human‘s been willing to pursue —  the discussion of those lost in and in lust with the consumption of technology — remains thoughtfully sketched in the bevy of misfits that parade across its universe; and if for little else, the heart that’s been injected into the show’s central premise  should be reason enough to revisit select episodes of the show, should it not be commissioned for a second season.

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The Author

Viv Mah

Viv Mah

Viv Mah's quite likely far too invested in theatre, film and TV. Currently she studies Journalism at RMIT and has also written for Signal Express, Australian Stage Online, Buzzcuts and Battle Royale with Cheese. She also has a terrible penchant for overanalysis and waxing poetic about cool one-liners.