The opening of this week’s Almost Human contains some of the most arresting visuals in the show’s brief history. We watch as two young teenage girls, both in the midst of some sort of exuberant, dream-like experience, explore their respective surroundings. While one dances whimsically around a forest dotted with surreal colors and shapes, the other stands in an empty concert hall where she looks to be conducting music, with streams of colors accompanying her hand movements. Suddenly, the two collapse. Dead, we soon learn.
Turns out, the two victims were under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug produced via a pharmaceutical printer. What’s more, it was an overdose of this drug that ended up killing them. Kennex, Dorian and Detective Stahl visit the girls’ prestigious school and begin to question their classmates. One of their main leads is another young girl, Lila, who died several months prior when she drowned in the ocean while presumably under the influence of the same drug.
Just when you start to think that the episode will be just a high school-set rehash of “The Bends,” however, the writer throw in the idea that the two recently deceased girls were “Chromes,” or children genetically modified in the womb to display a heightened intellect and minimal risk for sickness. Lila, meanwhile, was a “natural” birth and, as one of the few naturals attending the school, was often looked down upon by her peers. Here, Almost Human appears to have taken a few cues from the underrated 1997 film Gattaca, which depicted a future where a hierarchy was determined not by class or race but by the strength of people’s genes. Healthy individuals rise to the top of society while those who have disabilities or are susceptible to disease must work in menial labor. Certainly, were it not for the more sci-fi friendly elements that frame the narrative, this story would seriously begin to resemble the kind of episode seen on Law & Order or CSI. (Incidentally, episode writer Sarah Goldfinger wrote several episodes of CSI.) The “otherness” of the Chromes also provides a nice flavoring. When we meet several of the girl’s classmates, they (intentionally or not) display a real Village of the Damned-esque aloofness and menace.
The police’s investigation quickly turns up the school drug dealer, who reveals that someone else had hacked into his manufacturing equipment and created a dose that was far more potent than it should have been.
During the course of the investigation, we get the reveal that Minka Kelly’s Stahl is actually a Chrome herself. The fact that she’s a detective appears to be a big deal since Chromes, traditionally, tend to step into more “high level” work. One can’t help but assume that this is the writers’ way of addressing how someone with model good looks like Stahl would be working at a gritty, overworked police station. More than anything, this feels mostly like the writers trying to throw a bone to Kelly, who has spent the past ten episodes mostly doing research at the station and occasionally flirting with Kennex. Personally, I still haven’t really warmed to Kelly’s presence in the show but, if the writers are trying to give her character more dimension beyond the inevitable love interest, more power to them.
Case of the week aside, the show also takes time to check back in on Kennex’s obsessive pursuit of his lost memories. After a long stretch of stand-alone stories, Almost Human has spent the past three episodes finally building upon the concept that it established in the pilot episode. Once again, I feel like there would be more weight to Kennex’s obsession if we were to have knowledge of ex-girlfriend/Insyndicate spy Anna behind the brief, re-used clips that populate his flashes of memory. Currently, Anna is just an abstract idea, and I’m hoping, with our hero constantly pursuing a way to reclaim his memories, we will soon get flashbacks to their relationship and see firsthand why it has so drastically affected him.
If the episode has a major flaw it lies in how the Kennex storyline is forced to awkwardly dovetail with the drug case. This becomes particularly ham-fisted at the end when Kennex (and the rest of the team) discovers that the culprit shares a similar form of his obsession. The parallels are so explicitly drawn, one feels as though there should be bright lines diagramming it.
Problems aside, however, “Perception” works as a sly take on what could very well have felt like an after-school special with futuristic sci-fi mumbo jumbo thrown in for good measure. It’s a solid follow-up to last week’s impressive hour and hopefully looks to be steering the series towards a promising culmination of events.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.