After nearly two months of ups and downs, Almost Human looks to be finally getting into a groove. And while said groove may not completely deliver on the potential promised by the premise and talent attached, it’s certainly a step above the more forgettable hours that plagued the first half of the season.
“Disrupt” begins with the murder of the Bennetts, an affluent couple living in a high-tech, seemingly secure house; rather than the usual futuristic drugs or gang of trench-coated men, however, the cause of death this time around appears to be the house’s malfunctioning security system, which identified the pair as intruders. We quickly gather, from the couple’s limited interaction and the subsequent info dump that follows, that this very security system had previously been responsible for killing a young man who made the mistake of jumping onto their lawn one year ago. With the help of a powerful lawyer, who positioned the unfortunate boy as a reckless juvenile delinquent looking for trouble, the couple was cleared of any charges.
The police department believes that someone had the Bennetts killed on the anniversary of the incident as retribution for the boy’s death. Moreover, the murderer is also targeting the company who designed the security system. This leads Kennex and Dorian once again to the shady L.A. underworld. This time, it’s in search of the breed of hackers that could manage such an infiltration. Their search leads to a high-level, politically minded hacker named Nico, an obvious stand-in for the Julian Assange-style figures in today’s society.
Tracing the premise of the episodes, it’s hard—what with the questions raised about when defensive action becomes flat-out murder—to not draw some comparisons to the controversial Trayvon Martin case. As presented, the controversy surrounding the boy’s death does seem at least partially influenced by the very real national debate surrounding Martin’s killing. The notion is somewhat complicated, however, by the fact that the boy killed here was white whereas the Bennetts are African-American. Perhaps this stands as an attempt by the writers to distance themselves from such comparisons. And honestly, if you really want to draw a strong analogy, the better example would be the 1999 Disney Channel original movieSmart House, in which a top-of-the-line, technically advanced house turns on its owners. That certainly becomes the case in the episode’s climatic battle, which takes place in the heart of the security system company where all the latest models suddenly turn against their creators, Skynet style. And while the overriding battle boils down to two hackers battling over control of the system, the fact that the show places Kennex and Dorian smack dab in the center of the chaos lends the climax some visceral thrills.
Besides the house, however, the episode incorporates several other notable sci-fi/futuristic touches that give the world some real flare. Chief among them is the idea of a virtually simulated rave party that hackers from all across the city participate in. This is especially amusing after the socially awkward Rudy has spent the previous scene building up the party as the epitome of debauchery, only for our characters to discover that it’s basically a more advanced party version of World of Warcraft.
If the main storyline stumbles, it’s in the last third, when it pushes the “emotion” button a tad too hard. This is perhaps best illustrated by the reveal of the central villain. The fact that the character is not really given a scene or even an on-screen appearance prior to their unearthing somewhat diminishes the impact of the inevitable part where Dorian has a heart-to-heart with the perpetrator in order to convince them that violence is not the way
Then again, speaking of Dorian, the show manages to promptly hit its “heart” quota via Dorian’s subplot. The episode begins with our favorite android waking up to find Rudy fiddling with his head. He’s naturally a bit shaken, feeling as though his privacy has been invaded. Shortly after, he begins having flashes of an idyllic childhood—presumably, his own. Of course, being a robot, Dorian should have no such visions. And while Dorian understandably takes some peace in these pleasant memories, he finds their existence both confusing and frightening. Let’s not forget, his model was discontinued precisely because they became far too human and ended up being driven crazy by the distressing emotions. Later on, while Dorian is resting, Rudy reveals to Kennex that the memories were implanted by an unknown entity, but there’s no telling who did it. (My money is on Larroquette’s Vaughn.) Unlike last week, when it felt like the writers were overreaching a bit by attempting to parallel the main case with Kennex’s growing obsession with his lost memories, Dorian’s story feels more delicately woven into the case-of-the-week. Frankly, this is mostly because the plot as written does not insist on so explicating synching up with his emotional journey and is given room to breath.
What’s more—perhaps it’s the ambient, atmospheric music that plays during the episode’s quieter Dorian-Kennex interactions, but there are moments in this storyline that feel highly reminiscent of the more low-key sequences from Blade Runner, the show’s foremost influence. Listening to Dorian describing his memories to Kennex, you can almost close your eyes and hear Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty talking about “tears in the rain.”
“Disrupt” may ultimately prove to be a more mid-level episode in the broad scheme of the season. Yet, in its more intimate moments, it hints at how sci-fi, despite its reputation for catering to the more cold and cerebral audience, can often offer up some of the most emotionally grounded storytelling in all of fiction.
Also, last but not least, the episode manages to incorporate a way for Karl Urban to break out his authentic Australian accent. Bonus points just for that.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.