This week on Almost Human‘s intro: the narrator trumpets a “forever altered criminal landscape” thanks to it being 2048 and the burgeoning technology that has come in the future.
Over 9 episodes now, while yes, we’ve seen some funky new technology, we haven’t encountered a single criminal that could be called unique or any different than what we see on the news or in every other crime procedural on CBS. In fact, it’s been mostly more of the same. What does a “forever altered criminal landscape” even mean? The show sort of just throws sci-fi tropes against a wall, skims off the juices and puts that into a blender with cop procedural DNA, hoping its BS jargon will fool people. It shouldn’t.
The “funny” joke at the beginning involves Dorian and Kennex leading a field trip of kids into the police station. Dorian’s playing it boring and straight, whereas Kennex wants to show them the guns, or where the criminals are kept. Dorian asks the kids if they’d like to meet Captain Maldonado…and unsurprisingly no one does. Hilariously, Kennex even yawns and snores at the suggestion, like he’s in on the joke of a character that Maldonado is. Then he shows the kids a photo of what happened to a criminal…and a fat kid pukes. High minded stuff.
But back to Captain Maldonado, who’s character from now on can also be referred to as the human drinking game. Lili Taylor is a respected actress; she’s been nominated for Emmys for her guest work on Six Feet Under and The X-Files. She’s fashioned a strong career and has been in fantastic films since the 1980s, including Mystic Pizza, Say Anything and High Fidelity. There’s overwhelming evidence that she’s better than what has transpired with the “character” of Captain Maldonado, who’s the biggest joke on a show full of ’em. She overacts with gusto, gesticulating every part of her body like she’s in Crank and might die if she stops moving. Because it’s nearly impossible to get through an episode of Almost Human without drinking, I present to you the Captain Maldonado Drinking Game:
– Take a drink whenever she moves her hands, eyes, neck and face wildly, or in a distracting manner
– +1 drink whenever the Cap’n squints her eyes like she’s confused, or doesn’t understand something
– Have another when she says the most cliche sentence possible in the context of the scene
– Drink whenever she’s exasperated, or complains; take two if it’s about something seemingly inconsequential or blown out of proportion.
– Rejoice and drink again whenever it’s clear that she does absolutely nothing and is useless, yet she’s the Captain of seemingly the entire police department in this Future City.
Please drink responsibly, and back to the episode…
A nice woman buys flowers, and her reward is a bullet in the chest from a hooded figure. The shadowy villain quickly gets surrounded and pumped full of bullets. Its mask is ripped off to reveal…Shriek from Batman Beyond? Bullseye Without a Face, Daredevil’s arch-nemesis? Or some weird Power Ranger morphsuit? Or just a robot with a face that looks like a Magic Bullet? Whatever it is, it’s toast, and brought into the evidence locker and left alone. But you didn’t believe it was actually fried, right? The circular eye thing turns red, like Hal and every robot after it, and comes back to life. It replaces its head with a hot robotic female one, grabs some weapons, and kills the hapless guard on its way out. That was easy.
Back at the station, Kennex and company look at the footage, until the Captain rushes in dramatically. “We have a huge problem. We need a new angle.” She’s very worried about the angle of the footage. Her next line is just as great: “Anybody recognize that head?” It’s an…XRN, played by Gina Carano (Haywire, Fast & Furious 6). This means “a lot of people are gonna die.” Crap. But what’s an XRN? Don’t worry, this episode piles on more exposition than my roommate piles ranch dressing on his salad. And even with all of it, I still had no idea what the hell was going on. Talk about empty calories.
Let me try to decipher the mess that was this episode: the DRN’s were made by Dr. Vaughn (guest star John Larroquette). They began to malfunction, and go crazy, including many robotic suicides. The program was immediately cancelled, Dr. Vaughn’s company’s contract was revoked, and his company ended up in a big pile of debt. His last ditch effort to escape it was the XRN, a more militaristic soldier than a cop…so RoboCop, or Terminator. Dr. Vaughn staged a demonstration for the XRN, which led to 26 cops being killed, and even more MXs (but who cares about them) destroyed…and they were only facing one XRN. So clearly, the XRN is hella dangerous, dawg. They thought they had destroyed it, but clearly they hadn’t learned from Terminator, and didn’t trash the head. Now, some genius engineer has commandeered the XRN, and is presumably planning a terrorist attack. We get all this from dialogue, when Dorian asks Kennex about his maker.
That’s not the kicker though: we learn our first nugget about the world so far, in its 9th episode – “The Wall.” Apparently there’s a wall that protects the city from the outside world, and from what we gather, the other side is dangerous, uncivilized, or whatever. It’s not a unique sci-fi construction by any means (Equilibrium, District 13 in Hunger Games, every rebellion that has come from outside a capital city), but it had potential. Instead, it’s announced and brought up as if WE ALL KNOW it exists, like The Wall has been a part of the previous 8 episodes. I had to text friend(s) that watch this show to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind, or that if the aforementioned drinking game had taken a permanent toll. No, The Wall is a new thing, and we’re expected to believe it wouldn’t have been mentioned until now? It seems like a big deal, and considering J.H. Wyman said that these episodes are now IN ORDER, it makes even less sense.
The XRN needs a new body, so it naturally chooses one with better cleavage, and fishnets. Even more naturally, Vaughn refers to her as Danica. I guess Xorian doesn’t sound as good. This is about when Dr. Vaughn, the God of Robots, arrives to help in the investigation. When Dr. Vaughn starts rubbing Dorian’s face, Kennex asks what we’ve all been wondering: “Is there something I’m missing?” He, of course, created Dorian, and loves his creations, and is tickled that DRN is still active in the police force. Dorian is just as tickled to meet his maker…and the consequences of that are the only worthwhile thing in this episode.
Nigel Vaughn bemoans losing his license to practice robotics, like we should feel for a guy whose unhinged technology led to dozens of deaths. It’s unclear why the guy isn’t simply in jail for his experiments gone awry. Rudy’s on Dr. Vaughn’s side, however, as Vaughn is essentially the Flynn from Tron-like messiah of robotics in his mind, and an inspiration. It’s a testament to Mackenzie Crook’s appeal and charisma that we can like him, even under these circumstances.
And COME ON, it’s obvious from the moment John Larroquette struts on screen that he’s behind the XRN’s escape, and has a nefarious plan up his sleeve. He agrees to help them track down the XRN, while making googly eyes at his synthetic soul vials that Rudy brings out to get stolen.
One of my favorite unintentionally funny moments from this episode comes when Detective Paul calls Kennex and announces, “It’s me,” like that means something. We hadn’t seen Detective Paul (who I have to look up on IMDB every week to even remember his name) all episode, and they’ve never been on happy speaking terms like that whenever they do chat. Anyhow, apparently some CNA processing units have been stolen, and while I had no idea what that meant on the surface (and neither does Kennex), it was obvious it was only leading one place: the XRN and its boss are planning on creating an army. Even when the show is nonsensical, I can get to the conclusions before the characters can. Sad.
They bring in some robotic expert to take a look at the renegade bot’s tech and speculate as to who created it. Someone young, rich, smart…”someone from the other side of the wall?” DON’T BE CRAZY NOW! Not beyond the wall! Nobody intelligent or rich would be beyond the wall, they claim. So…this guy is from beyond the wall. Or going there.
Nigel works on trying to track the unique XRN energy signature, and delivers another exposition-laden sermon about the XRN’s origins. The DRN’s were like his sons, he was proud, there was another fleet ready (FORESHADOWING?) before his contract pulled. He made the XRN when he was full of resentment and anger, and his creation took on those characteristics, like that’s a valid excuse. Vaughn, of course, manages to track the XRN, which is making its way to attack a bar filled with a “who’s who of the city’s power players.” Unreal writing.
Vaughn gives Kennex some super sonic syringe to inject the back of the XRN’s skull to stop her. No idea why he didn’t give it to Dorian…but of course, Kennex has to take on the robot first. They’re en route, and there’s a tremendous sequence when the XRN starts showering the bar with gunfire, and Dorian shouts “Gunshots fired!” (thanks). Then the Captain’s feed goes down, and she panics hilariously: “John?! What’s happening?!” She loses visuals (“I can’t see anything!”) and it’s the best.
When Kennex jams the needle in the XRN’s spine…nothing happens. Oops. So, Kennex tries punching a robot in the face repeatedly. Instead of breaking his hand/wrist/arm, he merely takes a beating. He gets headbutt, and instead of his brain squirting out the other side, he’s just dazed until he can get back up and save the day. Dorian and the XRN get a stand off in the meantime, when the XRN mentions some vague sacrifice. Instead of asking what she means, Dorian exclaims: WE’RE NOTHING ALIKE! Then, Kennex attaches a grenade to the XRN’s forward thinking jacket, and super kicks her into the other room, and she explodes. Oh yeah, HE HAS A CYBORG LEG. Nice to have, and to use, like once.
In the aftermath, Vaughn has escaped (clearly the man behind it all), and the XRN’s head is still on the pavement and not completely crunched (step on it John!), dooming us to another episode of the XRN in the future, probably.
Dorian’s concerned about malfunctioning, understandable since his villainous creator didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Kennex and Dorian realize he’s building an army (no $#!*). They brainstorm various places one could build an army that mean absolutely nothing to us, and Dorian suggests the obvious: beyond the wall. The classic response? “He’s crazy…but not that crazy.” Oh boy.
Vaughn, with his synthetic souls in tow, gets picked up by another one of his Hal-bots, and reaches the wall, and jettisons up it, to get to the other side. Yes, he’s that crazy. And Almost Human is that bad. There are seeds of cool…like the idea that our Dorian will have to lead an army of DRN’s (the fleet aforementioned by Dr. Vaughn) against the new army of XRN’s, with the fate of the city in the balance, but the journey to get there is likely going to be a painful one.