Pilots are an interesting breed of television. There have been (too) many pilots that stretch a storyline to its breaking point, trying to cover too much too quickly, and end up inadequately establishing a series for anything more than its basic premise. At the same time, I find it immensely unfair to judge a pilot from its potential plot holes when overall it delivered an engaging story. The hardest part, for me, in connecting with a pilot, is getting a feel for the characters within their environment; I can usually find any number of fascinating aspects to a story, but if the characters don’t seem to fit, that’s where I have a problem.
After one episode of Almost Human, I can say this: from the time period (2048) to the harsh reality (science and technology evolving at an uncontrollable pace) to law enforcement infrastructure (mandatory synthetic partners)…the characters fit.
There always exists a bit of fear, I would suppose, that in the process of developing a story in the near future, the differences in characters’ lives (in regard to advanced technology and a highly evolving societal structure) would be overdone. The changes in technology we see in 2048 are drastic in comparison to what we have available to us now, but they are carefully integrated into the characters lives as needed, not in order to show off all the cool new things the future has. And there was undoubtedly plenty to show off; but give us a main character who likes the way things used to be, a good salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned cop, and there is your in.
John Kennex recently came out of a 17-month coma following an Insyndicate ambush on a mission he led. When the show opens, he is undergoing a black market memory retrieval procedure led by a careful, but unsanctioned, doctor called a Recollectionalist (Hiro Kanagawa). The Doctor says that it is not a good idea to perform these procedures for a year following a coma, but Kennex doesn’t care. He’s ready to push himself to his limits.
The district Kennex found this Recollectionist in is known for its black market clinics and bears quite a bit of resemblance to The Colony from the film Total Recall, but I think to that end it serves its purpose. In the film, Earth has been devastated by chemical warfare and the results produce two nation-states, one that suffers financially from the effects of that warfare but is allowed to continue on. In a similar way, this district Kennex is in (I believe they called it Koln or Kohn), is probably the result of what the opening voice-over alluded to: “Science and technology evolve at an uncontrollable pace. Unknown drugs and weapons flood out streets and schools.” On a large scale, this future is being corrupted by underground operations and law enforcement dances around the heart of the problem because they deal with too many intangibles. The voice over also said that contraband is controlled by faceless criminal organizations as crime increasing at an astounding rate of 400 percent. In this future, the cops are the minority.
The Insyndicate may be the key to focusing the fight, however. It is still unclear to me whether the Insyndicate declared themselves as the terrorists responsible for the ambush on Kennex or if that was inferred from other active cases during the time period Kennex was investigating, but it is made clear they are a significant and known threat. When an armed robbery with Insyndicate tie-ins occurs, Kennex is summoned up from an inactive status to attend to the crime scene. He soon discovers that the Insyndicate was after reprogrammable DNA and, amongst other chemicals, finds Myklon Red was stolen from the vehicle.
Interestingly, when he hears the word Myklon Red it triggers a memory (perhaps a latent effect of the black market procedures he is undergoing?). I couldn’t find much on Myklon Red, so it’s either a fictional product or I just didn’t search hard enough, but I’m sure we’ll get more information on it as time goes on. The biggest thing I take away from this is that his brain is still capable of recovering information and even if he doesn’t recover all of his memory from that time period, he will learn enough to lead him further in his investigation.
Between the crime scene and the next lead Kennex uncovers, he has a bit of a falling out with the MX that was assigned to him. As all police officers are now required to have an synthetic partner, he finds a replacement for the logic-based, rule-oriented MX 758 in the form of DRN, a.k.a. Dorian (Michael Ealy, not JD). Dorian has been inactive for 4 years, but is still sharp and has an emotional core that distinguishes him from the MX 43s. He says: “I was made to feel, and I do.” And unlike a filterless, egomaniac with a prodigy child complex, Dorian has a very unique blend of tactfully applying and integrating data to conversations while still managing to deliver accurate and pointedly astute observations based off reason acquired from multiple data sets.
This could make for a very annoying partner, like having a know-it-all riding shotgun, but the same functions that provide Dorian the means to be an emotion-based synthetic cop also make these behaviors tempered. He wants to be liked, and he needs to be needed, and these two factors are constantly at play in his developing relationship with Kennex. For example, whenever Kennex refers to Dorian as a “synthetic”, Dorian responds with, “There’s that word again.” Most people (emphasis on most), do not call out every time they hear a blanket prejudice-laden statement! But we should! Because the tact that Dorian lacks probably derives from having never experienced adolescence, growing up and witnessing the various targets of prejudice. There are so many things that, as a society, we do not correct and often that list of things is implied (like Fight Club).
The real story for this pilot revolves around something the Insyndicate group is after within the precinct Kennex works for. And along with other science-y things going on, this is quite a chain of events that the terrorist group relies on in order to ultimately attack the precinct (did anyone find a pen at the crime scene?). After Detective Vogel is taken by masked terrorists, Kennex and Dorian follow the advice of one of the captured Insyndicate thugs from the earlier robbery to an apartment complex where a very intricate device is rigged to a box, inside of which is a frantic and terrified Vogel. After Kennex realizes it’s a trap, the device hooked up to Vogel’s cage engages and releases a toxin into the cage, killing Vogel within seconds.
I am desperately not trying to make Fringe comparisons here, but it’s hard not to. This show is resembling Fringe in all of the best ways. The intrigue of science being used as a means to carefully target a group of people, or an individual, makes me think of The Bishop Revival from season 2. In this case, the Insyndicate is targeting cops through the known quantity and substance of the mandatory inoculations specifically engineered for law enforcement agents against a multitude of diseases and pathogens from biowarfare.
More determined than ever, Kennex returns to the Recollectionist and pushes his distinctly not-submerged-in-a-tank procedure as far as he can go. However, this trip is largely a red herring in regard to the ongoing investigation and serves mainly to plant suspicion on Kennex’s ex-girlfriend, Anna, whom he remembered in his first experience at the beginning of the episode (albeit in a safe, romantic way). In this second experience, he catches a glimpse of her through the fog and gunfire on the afternoon of the Insyndicate ambush, back when his leg was blown off.
While the return to the machine itself was a red herring, it provided an opportunity for Dorian and Kennex to connect. The scene where they are sitting at a tasty noodle shop is probably my favorite scene of the episode because it really defines the entire premise of Almost Human. “I suppose I should acknowledge that you saved my life,” Kennex says. Dorian responds that he didn’t do it for John, but that without him he would be back with NASA when he really wants to be a cop. Kennex admits that Dorian isn’t like the MXs, he doesn’t know why, but he is. And like Andrew/NDR-113 becoming sentient in Asimov’s The Positronic Man, and the Martin family permitting him to follow his aspirations rather than doing measly household chores, Dorian can respond to and act on emotional impulses. And these impulses are what sets him apart and makes him invaluable to understanding what the Insyndicate wants.
“I was designed to draw inferences,” Dorian says. Kennex is struck with an idea: an MX cannot make sense of data as it pertains to human actions, but Dorian is programmed to do just that. They plug Dorian into the video feed of Vogel’s MX and are quickly able to discern that the Insyndicate wants something being held in evidence (case 6-663?). As they call to warn Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor), Insyndicate is already about to strike. They utilize a cool frequency pulse device (looked like half of a very miniature world engine) to knock out all the MXs and storm their way into the precinct and toward the evidence they’re trying to acquire. Luckily, Dorian isn’t affected by the frequencius interruptus and he and Kennex, along with other officers, are able to stop the Insyndicate and capture one of the leaders in the process.
There are a couple observations I want to make before closing out, here. First, Captain Sandra Maldonado seems to be close friends with Kennex. It doesn’t seem romantic, more like big sisterly or maybe even motherly. She knows him, she might be the only one who knows him well enough to assign him a partner he can’t get rid of. Also probably the only person to whom Kennex wouldn’t scoff at when she says Dorian is “good for him”.
Second, at the beginning of the episode Kennex says: “I remembered something else this time, my ex-girlfriend. Anna. We were in my apartment.” He says it almost as though he’s trying to remember her, not that he misses her. He might remember her some, but when I rewatched the episode I felt like it could be interpreted either way: either he’s watching and keeping the video because he misses her (she disappeared after his coma, remember), or because he’s trying to remember her. When he deletes the video it could also be interpreted either as he needs to let go now, or it doesn’t matter than he can’t remember her because she’s a traitor.
Third, the MX who asked Kennex at the beginning if he was alright said: “Individuals came over the Wall an hour ago.” This seemed cryptic, but possibly only to the audience who does not yet know this world (Kennex seemed to understand). The phrase “the Wall” really got me, though. Peeked my interest.
Even after just one episode I feel like the mythology for this show is much more contained than Fringe was at its inception, and I hope that means it will be able to draw in a wider viewership. I enjoy cop dramas, but there are so many of them that it usually seems overdone and there are so many that get lost in the massive television viewing matrix. But when I’m watching Almost Human, I feel like I’ve entered a parallel universe of Fringe, a future entirely plausible based on extrapolating current events and taking a couple liberties. John Kennex has a lot to be angry about, but he’s not annoyingly trapped within his own despair. He might be intent on recovering his memories, but as it goes with memory retrieval (a la Sydney Bristow, Douglas Quaid, Jason Bourne), what one expects to retrieve often drives them in pursuit of an end that becomes something much different. And I do believe that is what we can expect, and hope for, from this television show.