Disclaimer: Spoilers follow.
Dorian’s leading a bunch of school-kids into the police precinct in an educational trip; while he enjoys himself, Kennex tries to derail the group into more questionable kid-activities. Urban is particularly charismatic in that moment: single mothers, steel yourselves. That brief flash of enthusiasm is almost immediately stamped on in the form of one lone ginger (why ginger?) kid emptying the contents of his stomachs, to which Kennex derisively says, “Bedwetters.”
He’s bringing his sassy, steel-hearted A-game this week. I can feel it.
Cut to: a pretty girl gets shot squarely in the heart by a hooded man, who then takes her pulse and bolts. As I’ve previously mentioned, I enjoy Dorian and Kennex’s interactions far more than I do the standard chase scenes; that said, there’s something to be said about the dislocated echo effect of the MXes demanding the faceless service bot to stand down. What’s particularly interesting tonight is the show’s fresh focus upon the MXes, who command most of tonight’s opening sequence, and in turn, their being featured leads to a vested interest in the featured bad-bot-of-the-week.
(At some point, I’m sure we’ll discuss how strange it is to wear that facemask as a costume.)
Despite having been supposedly downed, the service bot, which has been reprogrammed for felony, reawakens and locates a female bot head in one of the evidence boxes. What unfolds is a series of confusing looking technical instruments waved about, prior to the reinsertion of this female bot’s head (from the evidence box) atop the previously faceless one’s torso.
Watching over the videos, Kennex and Maldonado recognise the bot. They call it a XRN, and its arrest was intended. Dorian’s left in the dark; cut off from communication from the humans, who are now far too involved in discussing whether the bot belongs to the syndicate or otherwise to speak of the concept he can’t explain. No files list out the details of the XRN for Dorian, though we might guess at what the XRN might be, given how the end letters echo the “RN” of Dorian’s make. When it settles down, Kennex explains that the company which made Dorian — Lunar Corp — found that the DRNs they’d produced began to malfunction. This led to Lunar Corp’s failure, and faced with their debt and poorly-functioning robots, the Lunar Corp’s scientist created a new robot intended to be more soldier than human: the XRN. At the demonstration night, the casualties were near insurmountable. The way Kennex tells it, with Urban’s signature dark gravitas, feels somewhat campy; coupled with the way he lifts one finger to explain that the XRN they’re currently hunting is the one who massacred dozens doesn’t help much.
That said; this is science fiction, and what foolishly familiar dramatic moves the show’s laced through with, can be stomached.
Rudy phones in to say that someone’s reprogrammed the bot in a manner that’s “ingeniously modified”; it has a way of leaching power from beyond its primary source, and its torso is virtually untraceable. XRN, as we’ll call her for now, rids us of that first concern near straight away: her first task, beyond killing a man, is to claim what appears to be a sex-bot’s torso for herself. Kennex and Dorian are on the scene almost immediately, given the trail the XRN’s left behind — and the old man who she appears not to have hurt, despite his sneaking up on her previously.
More to the point, he knows Dorian — and must therefore be from Lunar Corp, despite the fact that Kennex’s purportedly-sharp senses don’t clue him into this connection straight away. It’s the scientist — Nigel — who created both DRNs and XRNs. He’s a frail-faced, white-haired thing, who’s been padded with scientist cliches up the wazoo; wire-frame glasses and a vague grasp of social exchanges. Thankfully, he’s a little more assertive when it comes to his declaration of his innocence and his lack of association with Danica, the XRN. His following speech feels a little on-the-nose, ‘specially given Almost Human‘s previously peachy record of subtle nods to the themes it explored; that said, the entire set-up of tonight’s episode leans more towards the stagey or tends towards a Blockbuster-premise rather than a smaller-scale character or technology-centric story, thus making each movement feel like hyperbole.
As I might have said episode in, episode out previously, Almost Human‘s cast work seamlessly in grounding the material. In one key scene, wherein a stuttering, gushing Rudy, impassive Kennex and Nigel stand in Rudy’s lab and consider Nigel’s invention, the Synthetic Soul, we’re granted a chance to see these figures pared back to their very basic blocks — and bless, do the cast commit to these ideas and simplify a loaded script to a calm set of exchanges between police figures struggling to track down a time bomb. Ealy moves from strength to strength each week — and in due time we’ll discuss his need to be celebrated as an actor more — but the glint of
Another call comes in: Danica’s stolen five hundred processing cores, which could “conceivably” mimic her to the same number.
While the rest of the team track Danica, Kennex and Urban speak to a new player who tells them that the worker bot body Danica originally recollected her head with is cutting-edge; many of this work is only just being “theorised about”. I’ll admit to being a fan of whenever the show throws neat technical terms conjoined with ones we’re familiar with: robotics university, for example, may not sound like much, but it makes a difference in turning the show’s content into something accessible. Meanwhile, Nigel’s created something to track Danica by. Rudy’s granted a brief chance to empathise with Nigel wherein the pair discuss the nature of Synthetic Soul, and the disengagement between MXes and humans. Partway through the conversation, Nigel confesses to creating the XRN out of sheer desperation: he’s lost everything, you see, and he resents himself and his own limitations and the world’s shackling of him — and in turn, wonders if that fear has somehow transferred it’s way through to the Synthetic Soul created for Danica. But while I’d prefer to linger on this idea of the matter of who’s to blame for our personalities, if any — and if the scientist is emblematic of a deity and their unwillingness to further intervene should they concoct any further disaster — we speed onto the complex personality Danica possess, of which Nigel speaks.
She spares a mother and child.
Herein lies my problem, as I’ve previously discussed, with Almost Human: the females in this show are often pared back to little more than females. Admittedly, this has become less prevalent as the episodes have gone on. For example, it’s difficult to imagine any one that wouldn’t balk at the idea of harming a family; similarly, her current “profession” could make up for it not being ambition that cripples her ability to function in her mission, though should they only watch the episode once, it’d be just as easy to ignore the way in which Almost Human‘s weighed the scales for this.
Danica’s energy signature shows up at a fundraiser party for a senator, where power players who attended the XRN’s original demonstration will be gathered. Dorian calls in to try and have the party evacuated, though not before Danica opens fire on the lot. Neither smoke nor diversion, nor the juice Kennex was given to take Danica down seems to work.
There’s the signature fight scene, replete with the soundtrack I’ve often criticised in the past. Glass shards pepper the floor. A thin mist of smoke — or just hazy lights? — hangs over everything. It’s not half as atmospheric as I’m trying to write it as.
But what all this leads up to, as it must invariably lead up to, is Dorian and Danica’s stand-off. While Ealy’s been mostly a background player, with minimal to nil scenes with partner Kennex this week, Almost Human‘s been shifting gears this episode; it’s been pushing Dorian towards an inevitable struggle with his humanity and existence outside of his relationships with the, say, organically human figures he’s innately linked to. Danica’s blown up. Hollywood ending?
No. The scientist, Nigel Vaughn vanishes off from the precinct. The councilman Danica appeared to be targeting, James Hart, who demanded the destruction of all DRNs, is in hospital. And dear, loveable, muddled Nigel is legging it with the Synthetic Souls — alongside the felony-programmed bots. Where the show’s previously lacked the determination to fixate upon one villain alone, with the Syndicate only occasionally getting a look in, Dorian voices a question that hints at the direction in which Nigel’s now moving down: how could the man who made a bot who murdered so many, also make Dorian? We’ve played with the idea of the amorality of bots before, specifically with MXes, but a man — a human man — who’s played god before, could just as easily transition this ego through to his creations or have it inflated by his growing successes and similarly, utterly destroyed by one loss; and this makes Nigel a viable, dangerous force with a lot to less and far more means to ensure he wins by. Despite the ways in which he’s so perfectly slotted into the kindly roles we’ve cast in him before, perhaps the most disarming matter of Nigel is the warmth in which we might still view him — it’s something about Larroquette’s soft face, I reckon, and the cross he dots on himself prior to scaling the wall.
Or, put more simply, it may be because we might recognise his almost romantic delusions of creating new souls.
With four more episodes due, it’s odd to see scatterings of ideas dropped in; the Wall, for example, appears to come entirely out of the blue. But my longings for Kennex and Dorian’s regular banter aside — there’s a time and a place, really — I’m intrigued to see what path Vaughn might carve out after him, and how his creations might follow him.