Back to the Future: Almost Human Premiere Recap: “Pilot”

Almost Human, FOX’s new sci-fi crime drama may have arrived a few weeks late, but it seems to be worth the wait. Not surprising since the show comes from an impressive pedigree—creator/executive producer J.H. Wyman (Fringe) and Emmy award winning (and general life-winning) executive producer J.J. Abrams (All The Franchises).

Almost Human is set in L.A. 2048, which looks similar to L.A., 2019 (and, to be fair, similar to a lot of future L.A.s). The rapid advancement of technology has resulted in a 400% increase in crime. To fight the rising tide of violence, advanced combat-ready androids are issued as partners to every officer in the police department (with, as we’ll see, varying degrees of success).

Warning: Spoilers!

We’re introduced to Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) on what is likely one of the worst days of his life—mid-battle at a police raid gone awry. His friend and partner Officer Pelham, has been hit and the MX-model androids accompanying them are programed to follow protocol, refusing to help Kennex save his friend. As they struggle to escape, Kennex’s leg is shot off and a shadowy figure emerges from the smoke, throwing a bomb to finish the job. The bomb explodes a few feet away, and the shot fades into Kennex’s golden-toned near-death vision of a beautiful woman’s face, which then dissolves into my theory that Kennex is an android too. But don’t go putting any money on that yet (or, while we’re at it, on any property in future-L.A.).

Almost Human Karl Urban John Kennex

We catch up with Kennex, two years later, trying to jog his memory of the incident by visiting a “Recollectionist,” a black market physician who operates some suspect looking machinery designed to help Kennex regain important details from the day of the ambush. But the machine has dangerous side effects and Kennex’s nose begins to bleed from the strain, just moments after he emerges. This time he remembers the call from Pelham, and his ex-girlfriend, Anna—the woman from his vision.

Back at home Kennex replays a video message from Anna, but the message is 738 days old. Before he can throw on “Pictures of You,” his nostalgia is interrupted by a call from his boss, Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor!). It’s time for Kennex to get back to work. Maldonado mentions a new case—a coordinated armed robbery—that she believes has links to the Insyndicate, one of the “violent, faceless, criminal organizations” that runs guns and drugs through L.A., and the same group suspected of ambushing Kennex’s operation two years earlier. (For anyone wondering how he’s been getting around after the leg injury—erm, and the bomb—his new bionic leg begins chirping at him, “synthetic calibration incomplete,” as soon as he stands up.)

At the precinct, we briefly meet Detectives Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) and Pete Vogel (Toby Levins), who is mysteriously locked out of his case files. We also get a taste of some of the anti-Kennex sentiment that’s been flying around the precinct through another colleague, Detective Richard Paul. Seems like there are a lot of people who still hold Kennex personally responsible for the botched raid and think he should have been discharged. Stahl defends Kennex and is immediately established as a potential romantic interest with a long, lingering gaze across the room at (an oblivious) Kennex.

After running Kennex through his psych evaluation file (depression, trauma-onset OCD, PTSD, among other issues), Maldonado brings Kennex up to speed on the armed robbery case. The target was an armored truck carrying bioresearch. She also assigns Kennex his first synthetic partner, an MX-785 unit, much to his consternation.

At the crime scene, Kennex and the team discover that the truck was carrying programmable DNA (which can be used to grow organs, tissue, etc.) and a chemical called Myklon Red. This triggers a memory of the ambush for Kennex—canisters of Myklon Red were on the scene that day as well. The MX-785 observes Kennex grappling with the memory and later, on their way back to the precinct, confronts Kennex about it, threatening to report it. After the android asks one too many questions (two), Kennex loses patience and calmly pushes him out of the moving car, destroying him.

Kennex is assigned a new android partner, which requires a visit to Gareth’s Rudy’s Creepy Lab. Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) spins through a drycleaner-style rack of skin suits bags until he locates and unzips Kennex’s new partner, Dorian (Michael Ealy). Dorian is a DRN model—a line of androids that was discontinued due to their instability, replaced by the logic-based MX units. Rudy defends the DRN model though, attributing the problems to the fact that these androids were as human as possible—even capable of emotion (“synthetic soul”). They depart and one assumes Rudy is left to distribute lotion in lowered baskets.

Almost Human Rudy Mackenzie Crook

A quick cut to the Insyndicate’s evil lair reveals they are tracking someone and that they seem to be building androids of their own.

Dorian tries to bond with his new partner, but Kennex is having none of it, throwing down the S-word (“synthetic”) several times and trying to Siri Dorian off. Meanwhile, Kennex’s leg starts chirping at him, Dorian notices but says nothing.  Ironically (and intentionally) the first real character connection for the audience comes via the synthetic Dorian, as Kennex hasn’t yet discovered the “likeable” half of his “likable a**hole” character.

Kennex and Dorian find out that Vogel was abducted by the Insyndicate in broad daylight. Kennex decides that this is a good time to talk to the one suspect captured from the robbery earlier that day.  In the interrogation room, Kennex immediately resorts to beating the suspect, while Dorian uses the data to turn him. The suspect gives Kennex and Dorian the address where Vogel is being held. There, they discover Vogel trapped inside a bulletproof glass box with a strange device. Kennex notices they are being filmed, and at that moment the device is triggered, releasing a gas that melts Vogel’s face faster than you can push your android partner out of a moving vehicle.

Dorian Michael Ealy Almost Human

Back at the precinct, they discover one of Vogel’s cases was wiped from the records, probably when he was locked out of his files earlier that day. Meanwhile, Kennex continues to shut out Dorian. “You’re not like me, except in that I might be an android too and at the very least I have a synthetic leg that won’t STFU.”

Kennex gets a call from Rudy with the lab results of the gas that killed Vogel. The gas was a combination of the programmable DNA and the Myklon-Red, something created to specially target cops who are given a special inoculations to protect them from bio- and chemical warfare. This chemical agent works against that inoculation, it’s like “getting a hundred different diseases at once.”

Kennex returns to the Recollectionist, desperate to remember more about the ambush and the people behind it. He nearly dies in the process, but Dorian saves him. After all that, Kennex remembers one important thing: Anna was at the ambush, and worse, she was the one who threw the bomb.

Using a recovered data file from Vogel’s MX, Dorian and Kennex realize that the Insyndicate is after something in the evidence room, tied to Vogel’s missing case file. They call ahead to warn Maldonado, but it’s too late, the building has been breeched. Using an energy pulse to knock out all the MX units, the Insyndicate operatives begin to break in and start hooking up more of the anti-cop gas to the air ducts. Dorian and Kennex arrive to mayhem, but capture the Insyndicate’s team leader before he can break into the evidence room. Though Kennex & Co. don’t realize it yet, it seems like the evidence that the Insyndicate wants is a female android.

Later, Kennex asks Maldonado why she specifically chose to pair him with Dorian. Maldonado cryptically says, “He’s special, just like you who will also be revealed to be an android.”

The pilot did a good job of introducing the characters and their backgrounds without too much heavy-handed exposition. There were a few plot holes that were mildly annoying, but not so distracting that they threw you out of the show: Why would the Insyndicate reveal their secret weapon instead of just deploying it? How was the precinct so easily breached (pay no attention to the helicopter on the roof!)? If the MX units can be taken out with the energy pulse device, why hasn’t the Insyndicate just wiped the whole city that way? Why are the toilets equipped with electric levers, if the levers still need to be pulled? Inquiring minds want to know!

Sunday night’s episode also set up lots of tantalizing questions for Almost Human to answer in the weeks ahead: What is the Insyndicate’s true end-goal? With all the flaws being revealed (and exploited) in the MX model’s design, is it possible that these defects are intentional/sabotage? Is someone inside the police force collaborating with the Insyndicate? Who leaked the raid info? Did Kennex’s girlfriend really betray him?

With two charismatic leads (who maybe do not gaze at each other?) and fast-paced action, Almost Human may draw heavily on its dystopian/robot predecessors, but it is all done to refreshing and entertaining effect.

When Nancy Lambert  doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, she’s busy writing, cutting down restless draugrs in Skyrim, or putzing around online.  She finds it improbable that Segways haven’t been laughed out of existence by 2048.


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