Almost Human is almost singlehandedly convincing me that Fox has some kind of powerful foresight in determining how to air episodes of a show out of order in a way that improves the thematic potency of a season. If “Perception” had aired as produced, the fourth episode of this season, I don’t think I would be as forgiving as I am now to what would’ve been full-court press for multiple weeks in a row on the Insyndicate case, Kennex’s pill-popping, and the Recollectionist—all centered on Kennex’s ex-girlfriend Anna. Nor do I think I would’ve cared for the CSI: Futuristic Robot City-style plot involving a trio of dead high school girls. A multi-episode arc to start the season with Insydicate undercurrents would have sold the show as far more serialized than it became even a few episodes later. Shifted in such a way that the Kennex-Dorian partnership could grow through cases solved in an hour while doling out the occasional overarching tidbit, this episode plays much better as a part of the season arc despite its weaknesses.
“Perception” adds a layer of Gattaca to the already overcrowded mix of other futuristic properties in Almost Human’s DNA, in the form of “chromes,” or children genetically modified in the womb. The wealthy rectify genetic “defects” like addiction-prone behavior, but it also yields hyper-aware people with superior intellect who as adolescents patronize most of the “naturals” they encounter. Kennex, Dorian, and Stahl are called in to investigate the sudden death of two chromes, both of who collapsed and died within a close window of time, which naturally leads them to a school of mostly chromes.
The new twist, which would’ve been an old twist, is that Detective Stahl is a chrome as well. What’s not clear about that twist: if she attended a similar school, why police work seems like slumming for a chrome, or why Maldonado acts like the only other person who knows Stahl’s status. But this detail goes a long way toward enhancing the gradient that people in the world of Almost Human interact with. Maldonado is (presumably) a normal human, Stahl is a chrome, Kennex has an artificial leg, Dorian is a full android with a soul, and the MX units are logic-based robots. The episode doesn’t particularly delve into what this means to Stahl, since the plot shifts over to Kennex and Dorian, but it’s her first piece of real character development. (And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that old evidence turns up a dead girl named Lyla in a case featuring Minka Kelly’s character.)
All of the technology in this plot, from the genetic engineering to the pharmaceutical printer capable of producing genetically specific hallucinogenic drugs, makes a plot that feels ripped from lesser procedurals a lot more exiting. A suspended chrome with a pharmaceutical printer becomes a drug dealer, offering a substance to expand people’s minds in a way that they can see unbelievable things. But it’s supposedly too much for a natural to handle, because the drug exposes natural limitations in highly wound and academically obsessed students. These are the kinds of genetic and biomechanical elements that the opening boilerplate speech in the credits sequence foreshadows.
The only confusing part for me is the cold open, which shows Scarlett and Eleanor highly attuned to their activities. One is conducting some kind of symphony that fills a concert hall with visions, and the other walking through the woods while seeing biological and mathematical information appear in front of her. Once the drug gets introduced, it’s clear that when given to chromes, the compound enhances sensory experience during those activities.
In the serialized plot, Kennex is still popping pills to jog his memory for more things about his fraud ex-girlfriend/Insyndicate partner Anna. He goes to a recollectionist for the sixth consecutive day, and obsessively takes notes about what he can recall, pasting them all over his place. Dorian takes notice, meaning Maldonado takes notice, and instead of suspending him, the captain takes Kennex for a drink to talk about the visions. He’s blacking out and drifting—nearly getting him and Dorian killed in a car crash in the process. But his obsessive behavior leads to him remembering something about a nesting doll, and keeping meticulous notes all over the place when he needs to preserve a piece of information.
That last point somewhat clumsily comes into focus when the mother of the first dead girl turns out to have paid the drug dealer to up the other girls’ drugs to a lethal dose. She has a room where she obsesses over all the little details because someone else’s money and influence negated her justice. It’s supposed to make Kennex feel as though he does the same thing and needs to get a grip on reality to keep from spiraling out of control. But then his lab tech friend calls him about the nesting doll, and his fears are confirmed: a listening device hidden in one of the shells. That validates his obsessive paranoia, at least to him, for now.
Because of the heavy emphasis on the Insyndicate plot in the early episodes (early in production order, that is) of Almost Human, the show could have started off in a much darker place, with little hope of digging out. But by switching around the episodes in order to build up the most important relationship on the show and tease out the overarching plot for longer. I’m willing to buy Kennex’s continuing breakdown, but not that signs haven’t been manifesting over the last eight weeks. It’s the same problem that shifting runs into: a good endpoint but not enough groundwork to get there. Stahl’s chrome status and the existence of The Wall are two examples of dropping in big information in (what is now) a later episode. I like that “Perception” adds a new subset of human characters on the show, and that it drops some more information about the overarching plot that didn’t end up in a big glut at the beginning of the season before a bunch of episodic plots gummed up the works. This is turning out to be a fun and surprising first season, and even if the individual episodes aren’t entirely polished or making big philosophical statements, I’m still enjoying the little bits of future projection Almost Human dreams up on a weekly basis.
- Elaborate and totally unsupported theory: the Recollectionist is working for Insyndicate, providing him with pills that conjure a specific memory of the nesting doll. Once investigated, Kennex can come to the conclusion that his home isn’t bugged.
- A tiny bit more of the Kennex-Dorian banter this week. But looking ahead to next week’s preview, Dorian probably won’t be joking around much.