That’s more like it, Almost Human. For a show that had such a tremendous one-two punch with those first two episodes, Almost Human has drifted perceptibly away from nearly all of the elements that made it feel special. The feeling that virtually anything could happen in any scene, a nearly limitless amount of plausible sci-fi eye candy, great sound design, all were slowly sidelined in favor of obviously re-written police procedural plots…but with robots. But never fear, “You are Here” is a return to form for the show, and all of the things that drew me in during the early part of the season are here in full force. While this is probably more a result of the show being aired out of production order than anything else, after last week’s dreadful episode, I’ll take what I can get. There may be a spoiler or two in this, so read on with caution…
The first thing to note about “You are Here” is how much better it looks. We’re back in what is, at least on the surface, a fully-realized sci-fi world, so that’s a nice touch. You wouldn’t quite notice this from the opening sequence, which deals with Kennex in his anger management class, goes for some cheap laughs…but they’re still laughs. But this scene provides the first clue about just how out of order things have been aired. It seemed like forever (practically since the pilot) that we had any mention of Kennex’s girlfriend’s betrayal and double life, yet here we are, with this suddenly foregrounded.
There’s more. Michael Irby’s Detective Richard Paul is much more in his full-blown dickhead mode that we saw in the pilot episode, even threatening Dorian at one point. After weeks of seeing what appeared to be a somewhat kinder, gentler Richard, this was a little off-putting as well. The friendship between Kennex and Dorian is a little more tentative and businesslike, and considering what these guys have been through over the seven episodes we’ve seen, well…it was goofy. Ah, but then I used that great resource, THE INTERNET, and it was revealed to me that “You Are Here” is actually supposed to be the second episode of the series. So, when FOX made that big deal about premiering Almost Human as a two-part, two-night event? You’d think that maybe they would have actually used the second episode of the series for part of it. Instead, they used “Skin” which, to be fair, I still consider the best episode of the series so far, but I digress…
Armed with this newfound knowledge, “You Are Here” made more sense. The characters are still finding their voices (Captain Maldonado was especially shouty, Detective Stahl is particulalry flirty, Detective Paul is a cartoonish dickhead, etc), the world is still being established (hence the “wow factor” of the tech in virtually every scene), and all in all, things are less fully-formed, but the show looks and feels like it’s still trying to impress us. Although, I’ll confess…it still makes me worry about the future of the show. The lazily-written, cheap-looking “Simon Says” was supposed to be the tenth episode of the series. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this season.
Anyway, back to “You Are Here.” Essentially, this is the “magic bullet” episode. A man is killed in the opening moments by a bullet that could have only done the damage it did under a number of impossible circumstances, elegantly described by an ill-fated MX Unit (yes, it’s early enough in the show that Kennex is still dispatching MXs in gleeful fashion). When John and Dorian go to give the victim’s girlfriend the bad news, Dorian realizes that she (and the dead guy) work for a company that develops software for personal, targeted advertising. It’s not much of a step from there to weaponizing this technology for unsavory folks, and it appears that’s just what the unfortunate victim did…and it ended up leaving him on the business end of one of his own heat-seeking bullets.
Unsurprisingly, the girlfriend-who-knows-too-much becomes a target of these nifty magic bullets, and it’s up to Kennex and Dorian to protect her. Ah, but we’re spared at least a few of the tropes of the “protect an endangered witness” cop show episode (but not all of them). When Dorian catches one of these persistent little bullets in the line of duty, it damages his language circuits and leaves him speaking Korean. It’s a fun gag…but one with a lessened impact after last week’s episode also focused on Dorian with strange speech and emotional patterns. It’s a nitpick, and not strictly the fault of the episode, but for a show that’s struggling to find its footing, this is just one more example of how airing these episodes out of order is hurting the show.
Like the best Almost Human episodes, it’s the stuff that’s hinted at that remains the most intriguing. The concept of “scrubbers” who remove painful or unwanted memories seems like the kind of thing you can build several episodes on (if not half a season), especially considering Kennex’s painful recent past and the disastrously failed romance it involves. It’s kinda glossed over here, although Kennex makes reference to the fact that he’s not too fond of the practice, which fits with his traditionalist take on a number of matters. But knowing that things like his girlfriend’s betrayal are hardly mentioned in what would be, chronologically, the next five or six episodes doesn’t help add to this bit of knowledge, and the larger issue that Almost Human has failed to build any meaningful sustained character arcs over this season once again raises its head.
All in all, “You are Here” is a solid little piece of television. For those stuck in the airdate vs. production order loop, it feels like Almost Human hit its stride again this week. For those of us trying to piece together arcs for these characters based on what we’ve seen, it’s a damn shame this wasn’t aired as the second episode. Almost Human still has issues it needs to work out, and even a good episode like this one, when looked at in a larger context points them out. But I remain firmly in this show’s camp, simply because I want to see it live up to its considerable potential. More episodes like “You are Here” could help it do just that.