This episode really got under my skin. And in the interest of full disclosure, I did not have high hopes for this episode due to its rather flamboyant and risqué promo following the pilot. Sometimes second episodes are worse than premieres, but once again I was too quick to judge a premise by its trailer (I’ve really got to stop watching them). Leave it to Joel Wyman and JJ Abrams to come up with a story that appears to appeal only to a superficial culture and instead lace it with deep observations about the human condition.
Even so, I remained skeptical for a good third of the episode. Despite laugh out loud moments between Kennex and Dorian (the first being when John stabbed himself in the leg for the children, and then Dorian’s line: “Capricorn, who loves danger”), the hook for me in this episode was definitely the scene when they were driving in the car following Kennex’s successful interrogation of Kristen’s (the abducted woman) child, Victor.
Kennex: “You tell them that the person who has died has gone on to a better place.”
Dorian: “Why would you tell someone that when there’s no way to really tell where living things go when they stop living?”
Kennex: “It’s designed to give hope, comfort, to ease the pain. People believe it because they need to.”
Dorian: “The data I’ve studied suggests that the best proof of one’s existence, is if one is remembered after they’re gone.”
In a story that deals with creation, and of utilizing the superficial exterior of a real human being in order to cover the machinery that hides beneath it, this was a surprising conversation. And yet it fit. As Dorian continues to interject his not-so-tactfully-worded questions of the world into conversations with John, there is a lot exposed about the things we take for granted as human beings, things that we’ve grown up learning through cultural osmosis.
In the premiere I noted one such thing is our ability to accept (or otherwise ignore) casual prejudicial statements that reflect opinionated stereotypes in lieu of factual observations. Well, in this second episode I find that we tend to pacify those who suffer loss with empty words and assurances more than we assert our desire to honor the lives of those who have passed. Pacifying the living does nothing to honor the dead, but remembering the dead honors both the deceased and the living.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Almost Human’s second episode introduced us into the highly advanced technology of Sex Bots (that noise you heard was Karel Capek rolling over in his grave). Sebastian Jones, an artist of the trade and formerly employed by Orillian Sapients (the irony of the name might have to wait for another time), was investigating a sex bot created and deployed by the Albanians who used to be one of his biggest clients. Now out of work and obsessed with the next best thing, Jones was running all sorts of tests on the bot named Charlene. Since the Albanians creepily eavesdrop on all of their bots engaging with clients, they stepped in before Jones had a chance to act on the data he’d gathered. Jones is murdered in the hotel room, his briefcase is taken, and Charlene walks out with her Creators, never batting an eyelash at Jones’s odd behavior or of the Albanians’ violence. As the small group departs, Yuri sets off a DNA bomb that drives cops and forensic nerds nuts.There’s so much new technology in this episode, it’s hard to decide what to talk about. The flash masks the Albanians wear is such a cool idea, and it didn’t even look like they were wearing anything on their heads or faces! I hope they take a closer look at this tech sometime. The flash masks prevent the police from knowing who the men are, but Charlene touches every surface within arm’s length on her way down the elevator and from her prints, forensics lifts human DNA. My interest peeked here because this could go a number of ways. I was starting to get The Same Old Story vibes.
Captain Maldonado, Detective Stahl and Kennex start their investigation with the sex bot: she’s got to be registered, it’s the law. Find her and the perps won’t be far away. The problem is the bot isn’t registered. Kennex and Dorian must pursue the case by doing good, old fashioned police work. However, before they go talk to Jones’s former partner, Kennex is given a couple minutes to become three-dimensional.
I haven’t seen Karl Urban in much. Red is one of my favorite movies, and he’s hilarious as Bones in Star Trek, but I was asking myself before this episode aired whether I’ve ever seen him truly smile on screen. He’s so brooding and serious (which, hey, who’s really complaining?). But when Dorian tells Valerie that John’s not good with kids or cats, we see him grin, in a very real way, and then make a connection with Victor. Bribe or not, John connected with the kid and got what they needed. Following this discussion, Dorian expresses his surprise to John and they share the conversation I outlined above. This conversation is awesome for two reasons, other than the obvious of a Human vs Robot point of view. First, Kennex is reflecting on the passing of his ex-partner as he tells Dorian what the usual human response is to loss (pacify) while Dorian details an inferred response based on acquired data. Second, the conversation mirrors the final activities for both characters at the episode’s conclusion.
The discussion that takes place with Jones’s ex-business partner, Lorenzo Shaw, is fairly original. There is a new type of candidness within this future, and that probably rolls over into the realm of information sharing. Shaw must know that, to some extent, he can’t withhold much information from a DRN, and suffers slight hesitations along the way while ultimately giving the cops what they need. Surrounded by mostly-naked women, he’s not hiding his business. It is a lucrative line of work he is in and the relieving thing is he doesn’t have anything to hide.
The only thing I want to mention from this scene is John’s Freudian slip: saying naked and meaning dead. “What happens to the [intellectual property] rights now that Sebastian is naked?…..I mean, dead.” While the obvious reason he did this was because he’s letting his libido permeate his brain while trying to do business, it’s also an interesting parallel to man’s origin story. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame before they ate of the fruit on the Tree of Good and Evil. After they were tempted and ate of the fruit, God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” This initiates the chasm formed between God and man, because mankind became dead in their transgressions and sought to cover nakedness out of shame.
What’s my point? Naked and dead are heavily intertwined, not only biblically, but also throughout literature. I’m certainly not here to stand on a pedastool and claim I know anything best, but despite the advancements made in robotics to bring sex bots to this point, and despite Rudy’s defense against using sex bots for something other than sex, there is something dead and purported about this business. Earlier I mentioned that Karel Capek is rolling over in his grave after this episode, and if you don’t know who he is, read this.
In the play R.U.R., which popularized the term “robot”, there comes a point when Helena begins to question why women are no longer bearing children. A trusted friend, and a doctor of physiology, responds: “Because there are robots being made. Because there’s an excess of manpower. Because mankind is actually no longer needed. It’s almost as if making robots were an offence against Nature.” The price Capek’s world paid for a robot-run society was facing the slow eradication of humanity as the robots became sentient and desirous of control.
Now, I know I’m spiraling here, but I want to point out that I don’t believe these sex bots will be the demise of civilization as Damon was in Capek’s R.U.R., but I do believe that it is important to John’s journey that he recognize the difference between finding replacements and seeking reality. He has a synthetic leg, but is largely at odds with its integration. The challenge this show is presenting us with, overall, I believe, is where that line is… Where is the line between taking advantage of robotic technology while not letting it become society? Dorian makes that line so gray it’s almost opaque!
Still lacking a solid lead, Kennex, Dorian and a CSI team test all of the sex bots’ DNA at the Albanian’s night club. Kennex is approached by Yuri (portrayed by Rowland Pidlubny, whom I actually recognized from a short film that caught my eye a little over a year ago), and given a clear warning to back off. Like that will stop him!
Luckily, as they leave the night club, Detective Stahl calls with news on the big silver car that young Victor described as having abducted his mom. Its trajectory leads our buddy cop team to an industrial warehouse where, supposedly, they dumped the silicone, skinned corpse of Robot Charlene. Upon a close examination, courtesy of Mackenzie Crook’s technofabulous Rudy (I may slip and call him Ragetti, apologies), the team finds that the robot has been carefully destroyed so that her memory cannot be recovered. Kennex and Dorian make the connection, finally, that the abducted women are being taken for their DNA so as to grow skin on the sex bots.
With this in mind, the team tracks down the transportation of one of the Albanians’ sex bots, Vanessa, and brings her in for questioning. And like the scene last week, where John and Dorian have a conversation in the “black market district”, Dorian’s silent correction of John’s verbiage in the interrogation room serves to solidify him as a strong partner willing to stick by his convictions. Kennex might have accepted Dorian in the previous episode, but overall he still only sees robots as things. He refers to Vanessa as “it” and Dorian gives a look that suggests he takes offense to this. Then, John asks her: “Where were you made? Who owns you?” The most intriguing part of Dorian’s interjection is that he says she is probably not conscious of the terms, not necessarily meaning she does not know the answer, but that she doesn’t know how to answer. In the process of being created, she was made to connect with people, and in doing so programmed to understand emotion. “Made” and “ownership” are emotions that a sex-bot manufacturer probably doesn’t want his creations to be conscious of.
Vanessa can’t understand why Yuri would want her destroyed. There are much better uses for her. And then she touches on the heart of the episode: “You know, people look for connections in different ways. That’s all people are looking for, is someone who cares about them. That’s what I’m here for.” Skin is the first layer of contact in physical touch, and here is this robot who has been designed for one purpose: to connect. If the skin is wrong, it just doesn’t feel right and Kennex should know this better than anyone with his synthetic leg.
The remainder of the episode unravels quickly, but wraps the story together nicely. Vanessa gives up Yuri and Rudy uses her chip to determine where she was “born” (i.e. where the lab is the other women are being held at). Interestingly, Dorian IDs some UJune Pendant Learning Modules that were utilized in the DRNs back before they were deprecated for an inadvertent memory leak. While the chip is then useful to the team to find the true location of Yuri’s lab, what does this little tidbit of information mean for Dorian? Does he have this chip? Does he have the potential to be exploited in this way?
As I mentioned previously, the conversation Dorian and Kennex have in the car about dealing with loss and death comes full circle at the end. Dorian stays with Vanessa while she is deactivated and begins by using John’s assuaging euphemism: “You’re going to a better place.” But ends up telling Vanessa: “I will remember you.” Because Dorian claims that it is impossible to know where “living things go when they stop living,” it would seem silly that he’d know where robots go when they stop…roboting. The application of John’s advice was ill-fitted, and he uses his judgment to determine that his own data collection would be the more appropriate response to Vanessa’s deactivation. Beautiful.
And John visits his dead partner’s family, embracing the wife who welcomes him warmly, and then telling young Marty that he’s going to tell him all about his father. I can’t think of any higher honor of the deceased, keeping them alive through memory.