Before I rip apart what was likely the worst episode of this show’s young history, what did I take away from the episode’s self-indulgent titles this week?
Kennex refers to Dorian, a different model of android, as one of “the crazy ones,” and after this episode, I truly wished Robin Williams, Buffy or anyone from that show would appear in this lame future and enliven it. It’s still better than Bicentennial Man thanks to its reliable humor and hijinx from Michael Ealy, but “Simon Says” was far too close to that low bar for comfort.
A solar flare has knocked out the police station’s power, or at least its main power source, or something, since the auxiliaries seem more than capable of powering the station for the entirety of this episode. As such, the androids get the short end of the stick, and only get partial charges, a good way to ruin your phone’s battery. We learn this from the “energy marshal,” a self-anointed title for Detective Paul (Michael Irby) that definitely made me snicker/roll my eyes/hate him even more. He deigns himself in charge during this incident, claiming that Captain Maldonado gave him the lead. So now she’s really just absent, sleeping at the wheel.
Paul and Kennex begin to bicker, and Dorian interrupts the proceedings by socking Paul right in the face (netting a cheer from me), immediately apologizing, but still angry, because he got even less of a charge than the MX models. He gets the lowest priority among the low priorities, and his personality matrix goes bonkers because of it. The result is an excuse to amp up Michael Ealy’s antics, colloquial dialogue and personality. There’s literally no other point, as Maldonado resurfaces like nothing has happened after this scene, and we’re given no background or information on the solar flare, a true “plot” device to get Dorian on a half-charge, likely foreshadowing that our favorite DRN has to save Kennex from some sort of pickle with a low battery in the climactic moments of the episode. This episode is like a commentary on those without travel chargers: one’s trying to get an important phone call, with your phone near death, and boom, you’re about to enter a tunnel. High drama.
After Dorian and Kennex make Paul look like an idiot, Paul yells at his MX partner to get coffee either because his machine/partner didn’t have his back, or because a fully licensed cop android is as important as a lowly assistant. These guys clearly haven’t seen RoboCop, a fact that certainly doesn’t bode well for the remakes quality.
The idea that a solar flare occurs, and what that could mean for this world, could’ve been an intriguing entry point into discovering ANYTHING about this world. Instead, we’re forced to sit through one of the worst cases Kennex and Dorian have taken on, something we’ve seen dozens of times over.
This week’s opening cop buddy car scene made me feel like I was tripping on acid, due to how disjointed and weird it felt, partly attributable to Dorian’s wonky personality, and Kennex being way too… alive (yet surprisingly awful). Dorian wants to move in with Kennex so he’d get his own private charger and not be stuck with the MX’s, an idea that could quite literally save this show: by switching genres and flip it into a sitcom. Instead, hope is snuffed out as Kennex refuses because his back room is filled with trophies from his QB days, when they called him the “White Cheetah.” I didn’t know if I wanted the show to be over right then and there, or to get a flashback with Kennex breaking All-City records (again, WHAT CITY?!), turning the show into a futuristic Friday Night Lights. But none of these things happened, and my morose feelings heightened.
A man, Lieutenant Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica, or Ramon (Allesandro Juliani), if you want to know his actual character name, gets stopped in his car by a hoodlum offering an electro car wash. He starts spraying his car, getting to work, without Ramon’s permission. Somehow having an open window during a car wash is one of my most inane and weird fears… and now I know why. Ramon makes the mistake of rolling down his window to give the masked man a mouthful, and instead, he gets sprayed in the face and knocked out. Ramon wakes up with a massive bomb around his neck, like a ticking inner tube of death, and starts getting instructions from a female voice. You know the rest: if he doesn’t follow the instructions, Ramon will get blown up, blah blah blah.
The cliches pile on, as Ramon, of course, works for a bank, which apparently means it’s really easy to walk in to your branch, hold up a friend/co-worker, and get $427,000 transferred into your account, so long as you have a gun and a bomb. Who knows what our future securities have to offer… but if Almost Human is to be believed, it’s not much (and your money isn’t safe). The teller Ramon accosts is as blind to the situation as I want to be: she has no idea why Ramon is doing this… and she’s staring at a guy with a bomb around his neck. Ugh. Oh, and that money part? A plot thread as unimportant as this whole paragraph.
We get to see the vile villain behind this operation, and it’s the skeevy, terrifying guy from The Dark Knight and Prisoners, actor David Dastmalchian. David’s been blessed/cursed with being the perfect creeper, and he’s so good at it, but even he’s less interesting and compelling than normal. It doesn’t help that his character’s name is Simon, a groan-inducing fact that likely threw the episode’s writer into a tizzy of respect and awe for her skillz. A name and a title in one fell swoop?! Clever. Simon is playing his games with these people and putting the video on the internet for all to see. It doesn’t work out so well.
Ramon gets the money and is sent on his next errand, which is when Dorian and Kennex find themselves on his tail, the only cops in this undermanned, uninteresting city. There’s a lame car chase, until Dorian shoots an awesome EMP-like shot that freezes Ramon’s car in motion. The weird technology continues to be one of the few pleasures of the show, even if they’re short lived.
Dorian tries to defuse the bomb… but it’s too late, so he has Kennex activate a pocket shield (naturally), a bubble that surrounds Ramon, so when he explodes, no one else will get hurt. And explode he does. I have to admit, I kind of like the fact that Almost Human will let someone die like that so willy nilly.
Normally, the goal is to save people. It serves to up the stakes, not that it helps boost interest. Or viewers: a live video of a man strapped to a bomb and exploding on the street would likely break the internet. In 2048, when one would assume the internet is apart of our inner psyche, it nets Simon 3,400 views, a laughably low number. I wouldn’t care about the figures if we weren’t shown the viewer counter a million times throughout the episode. Simon is attempting to put on a show…on the “darknet,” an “un-patrolled area of the internet” (try to consider that without snorting). It gets worse when Minka Kelly acts as the “internet” expert, explaining to us what Simon is doing, and intending with his grand murderous gestures.
There’s a strange interlude where Kennex and Dorian arrive to where Ramon was headed, and it’s a dilapidated arcade, straight out of Tron, with a computer screen inviting Kennex to play Simon’s game. Instead of jumping into the computer and into another, likely better world, Kennex…joins the game? I mean, he’s trying to capture Simon, which he was going to do anyways. Sigh.
Simon’s next victim is a woman who works at a flower shop. She’s quite pretty, and very lonely, as she works at a flower shop all day sending joy and happiness out to the world, and not receiving it back. That’s kind of the saddest thing in the world, which explains why she’s online dating, which I feel like will just be called dating in 2048. She apparently went on a date with Simon, and it did not go well (inappropriate sidenote: I wonder if one frequented a “Darknet” dating site, what that would imply. Anal?). So anyways, Simon is going to kill her. Minka, okay Valerie, finds out that Ramon rejected Simon for a bank loan, so she “intuits” that he’s taking revenge on those who have done him wrong. You think?
Kennex and Dorian, after a pit stop with Rudy, who gives Dorian a quick energy jolt, comparing it to a shot of espresso, which is what Rudy could do to this show’s narrative if they just used him as more than just the ridiculously cliche tech nerd. The opportunity is there: on the subject of Dorian looking for his own place to charge, Rudy talks about how lonely it is in his technobunker permanent-Bachelor pad. Dorian: MOVE IN.
When Creeper captures Flower Shop Girl, he has only 159 viewers. He just BLEW UP a guy live on the internet, and less people than my graduating high school class is tuning in for round 2?! Either the solar flare knocked out the internet (it’s as plausible as anything), people are really boring on the internet in the future (passing up violence), or the internet reverts to 1995 in 2048, or another theory: this world only has a few thousand citizens. I mostly jest, but when Simon laughably says “the world is watching you” when the viewer counter is in the 200’s, I start to wonder if there’s something to that. What I do know, is that I detest seeing all the comments on the live footage of Flower Shop Girl, including someone who says “YOLO” when urging Simon to blow her up. I’m going to hate 2048 if that’s still a thing. It can’t be.
Don’t worry: Maldonado, Val and Paul are kinda working back at the precinct, when Kennex and Dorian arrive to make it infinitely less boring. Out of nowhere, my favorite thing of this episode and possibly the entire show happens. Pauly makes a dumbass joke, and Dorian does the most glorious fake laugh ever, and congratulates Pauly on his joke, giving him a placating high-five. I hate Pauly, but I love that clearly everyone else does too, and Dorian and Kennex both treat him like dirt. It’s sad that that’s the most play or importance than anyone else in the supporting cast gets.
Kennex and Dorian manage to track down Flower Shop Girl and save her, as the two team up to defuse the bomb. This sends Simon into a fit, and he may cry, I forget. He certainly cries in every other scene. It’s impressively expressive. He should save his tears for this show’s impending cancellation.
Simon rebounds to capture Kennex, and he changes the game, by threatening to blow up the bomb if Kennex does pretty much anything: if he tells people to run away, if the police arrive, etc. Simon watches on from the clocktower, in full sight of any and all snipers. But thankfully, he’s holding a manual detonator, in the ole dead man’s grip (if he’s shot, he’ll blow up Kennex anyways). Kennex must defuse the bomb himself, with the tweezers that Simon placed him, while chained to a park bench. I love that when Kennex wakes up from getting knocked out…he’s an entirely different outfit (imagine what Simon did during the downtime…gross), and given a bottle of booze, as if he was a homeless drunk, which is the role Karl Urban was born for.
Back at the station, since I don’t think Stahl or Maldonado are allowed outside (are they clandestine Twilight robots that glitter in the sunlight?), Valerie looks on with steely eyed determination, keen to save the man she loves, the man she shared whiskey with once. The man who made her laugh once. Maybe twice. It’s gut wrenching stuff. She doesn’t actually do anything though: she just watches the monitor and tells you what we already know. ALL THE TIME. That’s her job.
Simon gives a long, stupid speech about how he and Kennex are the same. Simon compares his murder to Kennex’s massive screw up in the raid in the pilot, the first time practically anything has been mentioned from the pilot since. I’d applaud, but it’s done in perhaps the worst way possible, strapped on like a band-aid to the episode. Simon mentions that the only difference between Kennex and Simon is… something, but what we were all thinking was that the only difference is that Urban’s good looking. 9,000 viewers look on as the cop is about to fry.
Once Kennex was taken, Dorian decided it was time to stop acting wacky because of his charge, despite the fact that he’s now at 15%. Like every battery, and every good climax, his energy goes faster and faster. Why? Because he’s going to climb up the clocktower, and avoid Simon’s gaze, and stop him with an electric charge, preventing him from activating the dead man’s grip. How did I know that? He told Pauly that that was exactly what he was going to do, and then did exactly that, with no complications. Thrilling.
Back down at the park bench, Urban cut the right wire or whatever at 2 seconds, so he would’ve won Simon’s game anyway, and Dorian did all that climbing for nothing. He runs out of battery and shuts down immediately after “saving” the day.
And then it gets worse: Maldonado and Kennex have whiskey together at the office, which is apparently acceptable at a police station. Kennex admits that Simon is right, that he and Simon both have black marks, that since he’s returned, people are always looking at him (might be the cameras or the fact that he does all the work). I could barely type that sentence without falling out of my chair. In the first episode, Kennex was given some judgment from his peers maybe, but any guff he’s gotten since seemed merely to be because nobody likes him (since he’s a dick), or took issue with his choice of android (because the future is full of dicks).
Then this conversation gets even worse/more hilarious, something I didn’t think possible: Kennex apparently has Captain Maldonado to thank for getting him through it, for being the difference. For ignoring his psych evaluation. I don’t think there’s a better example to describe Maldonado’s character and usefulness on this show: her most important action on the show has been NOT DOING ANYTHING. And providing whiskey.
You think it’s over, you hope it’s over…but then a glimmer of hope festers to the surface. Kennex gets Maldonado to let Dorian move out and in with…RUDY! Rudy is psyched, planning bar nights, replete with girls aplenty. Dorian is scared $#*!less, and the show has already gotten 7 times better. Again, if it was a sitcom with Rudy, Dorian and Kennex sharing a techno-loft, I’d be stoked. Instead, I’m wondering if creator and showrunner J.H. Wyman used all of his sci-fi excellence on Fringe, or if we’re being punished by some shoddy alternate version of him: J.H. Differentman? J.H. WHY?!man? B.S. Wyman? It’s the only logical explanation for what has happened with Almost Human thus far.