“Arryhthmia” was a rather frustrating episode of Almost Human. Certainly not bad, but perhaps the most uneven episode of the series so far. It never felt like it settled into a groove, and it was certainly less lively than previous episodes. On the other hand, it had a little bit less of the straight-up police procedural in its DNA than recent episodes, so I have to applaud it for that. So what’s up with “Arrythmia?” Read on…but be warned, there are some spoilers ahead!
“Arrhythmia” opens in an overcrowded, understaffed health clinic, complete with long lines and malfunctioning equipment. A jab at the conseqences of socialized medicine? A dig at the technical problems plaguing the ACA website’s rollout? Possibly. Like most episodes of Almost Human, they never get too explicitly political with the intent, but there are some implications here. Things get hairy when a gun wielding man forces his way into an operating room demanding treatment to fend off a heart attack he seems to know is coming. As if on schedule, the heart attack arrives before he can get the care he needs, and the man dies on the operating room floor.
Enter John Kennex and Dorian to figure out what the heck is going on. Dorian spots another DRM model (identical to Dorian), now a maintenance worker at the hospital, and he insists that this former police droid should come for a ride along. Dorian’s need to connect to others like him aside, for a character that only minutes earlier was reprimanding his partner for going through a red light (although Kennex insisted it was yellow) to make such a risky (and forgive the Spock-ism) illogical move seemed a little bizarre. The more relaxed and “colloquial” attitude of the other DRM may have seemed like an opportunity to up the comic relief, but considering that Kennex and Dorian already offer plenty of amusing jabs at each other’s expense, this was a bit too much of a good thing.
As it turns out, the dead man was the recipient of a refurbished mechanical heart, the kind that is supposed to be destroyed when the original recipient has died. However, as with most things, there’s a thriving secondary market for these organs, and somebody is cashing in. A-ha! We’re here for the obligatory organ harvesting episode, are we? Thankfully, no, and we’re spared any kind of “waking up in a bathtub full of ice cubes” sequence. The twist here is that these hearts are all modified with a chip that acts as a timer that can be monitored by the folks doing the selling. Desperate recipients on the black market (remember that overcrowded/understaffed clinic at the show’s opening?) find themselves quite dead should they fail to make their extortion payments on time. It’s a clever wrinkle, and the fact that these are willing consumers purchasing these organs rather than passive victims having their organs stolen made the potential victims, even the ones we never end up seeing on screen, feel more real.
Things got legitimately tense by the episodes third act, once the larger plot has been discovered, and suddenly the police realize that by doing their jobs and catching the head of the extortion ring, they’re potentially signing the death warrants of dozens of people. For a few minutes, the stakes were raised and I suspect that they could have gotten more mileage out of it if the rest of the episode weren’t so cluttered.
Even the ending, where some closure is supposedly given to Dorian’s double, fell flat. There’s a human connection that Dorian longs for, and it’s clear that isn’t something unique to him…it’s something that all the DRMs must crave. Perhaps this is the “emotionally unstable” element that led to them being discontinued, and it isn’t something more sinister or violent (not that the show has shown anything to indicate that it might be). It’s meant to be a touching moment, and, as usual Michael Ealy plays it beautifully, but it just didn’t feel earned this time. Compared with the moment he shared with the “bang bot” at the end of Almost Human‘s (as of now) best episode, “Skin” was much more authentic.
There are some intriguing questions here, but they’re likely to go unanswered. Is there really a health care crisis in the world of Almost Human, which, while certainly not Utopian, appears like a future that we might actually look forward to? If there are larger class issues at work in this future, these could certainly be fodder for future episodes, but none of this seems like it can (or should) be introduced and dismissed in one episode. When one of the baddies taunts Dorian’s mechanical nature with “It must be nice to have all the time in the world,” we get a hint of the curse that immortality in any form brings (and perhaps a reference to Dorian’s literary namesake), which is to be eternal in a world that is temporary. But are we ever going to see the consequences of this on a show where we’ve barely gotten to know the supporting cast well enough to even care if any of them die? Why were some DRM robots repurposed for other jobs, while others were simply shut down completely? Does their “emotional instability” not factor in to other careers? Just what are the extent of Dorian’s abilities, anyway?
All in all, the strangely placed subplot, the complete lack of any forward motion from the supporting cast (Captain Maldonado seemed to exist simply to shout “Kennex!” in exasperated fashion this time around), and a less flashy approach than we’ve gotten used to with the show sink “Arrhythmia.” That’s too bad, really. There was a heck of a story somewhere in here (I will refrain from any “at its heart” puns), and this episode might have had something more to say if it only could have ever found its footing. If and when Almost Human ever decides to make up its mind about what kind of show it wants to be, whether it be the simple-but-entertaining sci-fi police procedural hybrid or something a little bigger and more ambitious, it will be better for it.