I often will grouse at Almost Human for being beholden to the police procedural format. At the very least, this week’s episode, “Disrupt” is an example of how Almost Human can follow more traditional network procedural paths while not necessarily falling into the same traps over and over again. “Disrupt” is the first of the final three episodes of Almost Human season one and, for the first time all year, we’re assured that they will actually be aired in the correct order, and there will be some plot threads leading directly from episode to episode. “Disrupt” is a good start and a sign of what Almost Human could be capable of if it gets a shot at a second season. There will be some spoilers ahead, so beware.
This isn’t to say that “Disrupt” is a particularly exceptional episode. It’s good, but it never even flirts with greatness. There are flashes throughout where it appears that Almost Human is going to do something daring, but it never quite does it. Opening with a couple in their home, dealing with the one year anniversary of the controversial (and accidental) death of a teenager on their property raised my eyebrows. The boy was killed while climbing over their back wall, and their “smart house” security system took drastic action. In theory, it did exactly what it was supposed to do…except the boy was guilty of no crime. Was this going to be an episode about whether technology or the user is responsible for crimes committed? A Trayvon Martin allegory about the right of the individual to use whatever legal means are at their disposal to protect themselves? Nope. It’s just a murder-mystery with technology, with a sloppy, sentimental ending taking the place of any broader themes.
If there’s one thing I would like to see from television writers in the immediate future, it’s for them to agree to a comprehensive ban on using “hacking” as a stand-in for what is, essentially, “magic” on their shows. It’s a little more forgivable on Almost Human (because it’s…the future!) than it is elsewhere (the can’t think of any other way to get it done, so we’ll “hack” on Agents of SHIELD, for example), but at this point, an actual wizard with a pointy hat and long beard saying backwards-sounding spells and writing in runes is just as credible (and a less tired archetype) than the “edgy young hackers” who are now the antagonists of every third episode of anything even resembling a genre show. At one point, Dorian warns someone to “drop the tablet and put your hands up.” I’m still not sure if that was meant to be played for laughs or not.
“Disrupt” has its moments, though, complete with some fascinating “smart house” technology, security androids, and a climax involving Dorian kicking the crap out of another android and some cool holographic sleight-of-hand. The revelation that Rudy and Dorian have a friendship that goes back before Dorian’s official “reawakening” (and one that Dorian doesn’t remember…but wants to) was actually rather touching. Just as I was getting beyond tired of the ongoing prostitution jokes at Rudy’s expense, the show goes and does something that not only gives us what might just be our first genuinely sympathetic peek at this character (and, to be fair, he’s been reasonable comic relief throughout the season), a better indication of just how isolated both Dorian AND Rudy are, and a crucial plot point to round out the season. All with just a few lines of dialogue.
The idea that Dorian has had some kind of organic memories implanted in him is definitely the most interesting mystery we’ve gotten all season. Is this just Dorian, or will it tie back into the idea of “synthetic souls” which probably can’t be all that synthetic in the first place? Is this a symptom of the larger problem that makes DRN units ultimately unstable and unreliable? These are big questions, and ones which probably should have been addressed more consistently throughout the season. After the season finale, I’m going to go back and watch Almost Human in the correct order and see how many of these story problems resolve themselves. I’m sure it won’t be all of them, but I’m betting it will be a few.
There are some other bits of stealth cool scattered throughout, as well. For one thing, this is one Almost Human episode where the entire budget ended up on screen, which is always a good sign. The show’s opening, with the murder via hacked security sytem, was pretty tense and horrifying. Just as I was about to complain that every party in every vision of the future has looked like the exact same rave that took place in 1996, Almost Human threw us a fun curveball with the virtual reality angle, and the idea that this party is exclusive because, if you can’t hack into it, you can’t get in. I’m still not sure how I feel about the running gag with Kennex explaining Detective Paul’s absence to fellow officers. First, Detective Paul has been such an infrequent character, and his characterization has been so wildly inconsistent (is he just a hardass, or is he a full-blown asshole?) that I’m not sure that this did much more than make Kennex (admittedly, not the easiest guy to be around, I’m sure) look like a bully.
So basically, almost everything that was in the background of this episode should have either been foregrounded the entire time, or at least been seeded earlier in the season. There’s a lot to like and almost nothing to hate about “Disrupt” but there’s not quite enough for it to really distinguish itself, either. Almost there, Almost Human. Finish strong and prove to everyone (including this writer) why you deserve a second season.