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Almost Human - 1x01 "Pilot" & 1x02 "Skin" - Review & Speculation

From executive producer J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burke (Alias, Lost, Star Trek), creator/producer/writer Joel H. Wyman (The Mexican, Fringe, Dead Man Down), comes a futuristic buddy-cop crime series featuring androids and advanced technology, while exploring existential questions pertaining to around the corner cultural identity.

The Pilot introduces us to a lot of great characters including a disgruntle detective with a advanced prosthetic limb waking up two years after being in comma from a devastating crime scene in search for answers. It's a time where all police officers are required to be partnered up with an Android.

John Kennex (Karl Urban) is first tasked to a MX-43; a model that only thinks "logically" and has no emotional capacity. Out on his first crime scene in two years, we see the MX model question Kennex about his off duty activities and John quickly resolves his irritation, as he allows for the MX model to become expendable...

He then must go to the facility where he is to pick up another model and we're introduced to Rudy Lom  (MacKenzie Crook) a technological genius, and the more human android model DRN (Michael Ealy). Lom admits to DRN having a few "bug"s, but ultimately defends Kennex's attack against DRN that, "These are the crazy ones!".

The introduction of DRN is also accompanied by Depeche Mode's, "Your Own Personal Jesus", which is quite fitting song and artist in terms of looking at the pros and cons of being able to create "life" and technology, but also because it's already easy to see DRN as a "savior" figure with his easy going, but yet concerned disposition. It's also fitting using new wave music with it's electronic pop contrasted with overly emotional vocals to add a romantic layer to this kind of story. Depeche Mode is also French for "Fashion Update", which we could apply to Almost Human being synonymous for "Cultural Update" playing to the futuristic landscape.

It should also be noted the the electronic pop band Crystal Method is also providing the series score!

The rest of the Pilot episode weaves a menagerie of technological goodies with some nice action sequences, while a cop named Pete Vogel  is taken hostage by a group that Kennex and Maldonado refer to as The Syndacate, while they too seem to have caught one of their members; a guy named Trevor. Unfortunately it's all a set up! The cop brutally dies in a bullet proof glass container that fills with some kind of skin deteriorating chemical agent in a room at an apartment building, and the caught Insyndacate member pretends to be sick, coughs up a devise and plants it on the toilet, which begins a raid against the police department for something they have in evidence. It's right then when Kennex connects the dots and calls in his suspicion of such events. The MX-models fall pray to a frequency jamming device when Kennex and DRN arrive and Captian Maldonando (Lili Taylor) has put the department on lock down. All the human (or non MX) cops begin to fight. Reinhardt (Tim Kelleher) comes upon officer Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) with gas in hand, but doesn't make it far, as John shoots him in the shoulder and he is taken into custody. In the end the Syndicate were not successful!

The episode also introduced John Kennex's emotional journey back into the force and a soon discovered realization that his former missing ex girlfriend Anna, was there among the Syndacate the day John's friend and fellow police officer Martin Pelham died and the same day John lost his leg and went into a comma. DRN too proves his weight in gold, as he saves John from having a seizier, while attempting to retrieve more memories...

Briefly commenting on the second episode "Skin" , I found the bigger story taking a back seat, giving it a more procedural feel, but still holding great emotional caliber. I loved how a conversation about death and John telling DRN why we tell other people that lost loved ones are "in a better place" and how that emotionally resonated through DRN and the death of Vanessa the Sex Bot, John's experience with the little boy Victor (and what a cool giraffe), which also prompted John to go visit Martin Pelham's remaining family, including his son to tell him his father is in a better place.

"The Pilot" was written by J. H. Wyman and directed by Brad Anderson, who is also serving as co-executive producer. "Skin" was written Cheo Hodari Coker by and directed by Michael Offer.

I found the characters extremely and immediately likable in the first episode. Karl Urban's John Kennex and Micheal Ealy's DRN already feel n'sync, while Lily Tyler's Captain Sandra Maldanodo  provides a strong female backbone and sister-like relationship with Karl Urban's Kennex. Rudy Lom is great supporting character, comic relief, and philosophical springboard to examine ideas along with. Minka Kelly's Valerie Stahl is uniquely sweet, but yet mysterious and capable. She provides an interesting duality that isn't common in female leading characters and is written in way where she is less established than the other characters, possibly hinting that a mystery may lie within her. Michael Irby's Richard Paul seems to provide an nice "in house" adversarial role towards Kennex and by extension DRN. I even find myself interested in Chad Riley's Martin Pelham, John Kennex's former friend he tried to save featured in the flashbacks!

Visually Almost Human gives a rather familiar look for those that were also Fringe fans. The production values and visual effects feel like either Fringe's red universes or the final season's (also Dystopian) 2036. What was nice about Fringe, and what seems to continue in  Almost Human, is despite the advanced technology and futuristic looks of certain things, there is also visuals of things that we would relate to the every day, such as common practice of filming older houses and/or run of the mill apartment buildings or grabbing a cup of coffee. It reminds us that perhaps technology and culture isn't exactly at the heart of the human condition, as much as what we choose to use our technology and/or tools for and that psychologically the human condition continues to be the same as it always has been, because our motivations do not change. It's true Almost Human is more futuristic looking, but it's not too far removed to not be able to relate to it.

Mystery and story wise I was expecting to be disappointed, as J.J. Abrams and J. H. Wyman have been making the rounds these past couple of weeks insisting that it's different than Fringe in the sense that is designed to be more of a police procedural than it is was a heavy serialized show, but I found the "Pilot" and "Skin" full of Fringe elements and it's not like Fringe didn't also start out with (and occasionally continue to have) story of week feel while also building a towards emotional stories and mythology. I really don't find the structure of Almost Human that much different yet. I thought the reveal of John remembering Anna was part of the Syndacate was a nice treat and was smart not to drag this reveal out.

I also thought the technology was pretty cool! From android frequency, in air digital menus, skin suffocation bubbles, digital head creation, DNA modification, human to android skin experiments, flash balls, DRN's digital blood analysis download, and the fact that anyone may be part,-- if not all machine, definitely makes for thought provoking fun!

So far my hunch is that Valerie Stahl is another android, but I don't think she's a mole, unless she's a sleeper agent, as she seems more like a Kennex potential love interest. If anyone reeks of HR-esque crooked Cop, it's probably Richard Paul. After the second episode I also had thoughts that maybe there will be a catch Martin Pelham.

In terms of what the Syndacate are all leading up to, besides their obvious hate for cops, it's hard to say, but they seem like they will be the primary villain of the first season. I'll be very interested when we see who will be cast in Syndacate leader roles!! (This may be where actor John Larroquette fits in! He could easily play that older corporate sudo-villain character) Their name and the idea that they "know" when and where things are going to happen remind me a great deal of theories I had about Fringe characters John Mosely and Jessica Holt being time traveling terrorists, although I could easily see it just be a piece of technology that gives a set of probabilities (like the Machine on Person of Interest, or the abilities of the Observers on Fringe) and/or having a lot of agents embedded everywhere. I also think we should be on the look out for other DRN's, even if decommissioned except for this specific model, there's always the black market! As for the woman Syndacate has created, I have no idea who she is, but I suspect she's somebody who can get access to something needed.

I believe the sex bot company Sebastian Jones and Lorenzo Shaw had worked for was called Insygnious. It's very similar sounding to Syndacate and perhaps there is a relationship. The Albanian club manager, Yuri also had a tattoo on the back of his neck behind his right ear, but unlike members of the Syndacate, his was three dimensional star-like, while theirs were 2 dimensional sets of lines and more centered to the back of the neck.

Possible Pop Cultural References To Look For:

Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark/Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The evidence room looked similar to the a warehouse of Indiana Jones' depiction of Area 51.

A Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic novel by Oscar Wilde, which has had several revisions, due it's controversial content of it's time.

The story is about a beautiful youthful man named Dorian Gray who becomes a mode for a painter named Bassil Hallward. Dorian also meets and becomes obsessed with Hallward's friend Lord Henry Watton, who introduces a new hedoism and believes that the only thing worth pursuing in life is the beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Dorian realizes that his youth won't last forever and on a whim decides to sell his soul, so that the painting of himself will age, but not himself. The painting then serves as a painful reflection of all the sins Dorian inflicts upon himself with his indulgent actions. The rest of novel shows more apparent ramifications including murder. The only way Dorian feels he can absolve himself is by stabbing the painting, ultimately killing himself. Dorain is later found stabbed through the heart and severely aged, while the painting restores to it's original image.

The novel is an example of Faustian literature (where the protagonist makes deal with the devil) and explores the art movement known as Aestheticism: where one values [superficial/sensual] appearances rather than social or political ideas. Art was only meant to reflect beauty, not be concerned with social issues or ideology. By exploring crimes and technology of the future, especially with the second episode titled "Skin", might we see similarities with these ideas, as Androids are even designed for human pleasure, such as The Sex Bots!

Some other general pop cultural references I'm on the look out for would be works pertaining to Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick. One reference the two share would be Scott's adaptation of Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? also known as the film Blade Runner. Philip K. Dick also has Minority Report and Ridley Scott again sudo-explores androids, creationism, advance technology, and scientific discovery with LOST writer Damon Lindelof in his Alien prequel film Prometheus. I found the "Pilot" to be very reminiscent of Blade Runner.

I also suspect we may see winks or references from Star Trek and Star Wars, while also thinking of science fiction works such as I Robot, Robo Cop, Battlestar Galactica, or The Terminator.

The Bad Robot Factor:
Each week after my review I will bring this section relating to many things Bad Robot in relationship to the episode, as I feel certain Bad Robot often makes a point to reference themselves with similar characters, subject matter, riffs, easter eggs, aesthetics, contrasting situations, & occasionally shared pop cultural references. So this section is to explore the possibility of those things, which may provide some and insight speculation and at the very least food for thought and/or trivia. I also think it's just fun to be able to reminisce!

So to start us off lets go with the obvious Fringe connections. Almost Human clearly shares a visual aesthetic with Fringe, but mostly with it's final season, which setting time lines aside, is also futurist with Almost Human taking place in 2048 and Fringe's final season taking place in 2036. It's no wonder either, as Almost Human also films in Vancouver and has nearly the same exact Fringe crew filming, that it would have a similar visual feel. Additionally creator, writer, and executive producer Joel. H. Wyman was originally going to work on Almost Human before getting involved with Fringe. It is then also easy to speculate given that androids might be something initially thought of to be 'other than human', that like that of Shapeshifters and/or Observers, will Almost Human tell similar interesting emotional human identity story.

Another thing it has in common with Fringe is it's criminal element. It's true that Fringe's overall subject matter leaned towards the paranormal, but at the very beginning of it's first season really had more of a crime-detective case of the week feel along with the likes of John Scott (a possible reference to Vertigo), Peter's dubious semi-criminal background, sprinkles of Film Noir aesthetic, and ZFT being a terrorist organization causing the fringe events in relation to "The Pattern" that keep stemming back to William Bell and Massive Dynamic.

China Town!
LOST and Fringe both tended to have an Eastern Thought sub current running threw their series, but Fringe used China Town as a place of mystery and dubious plots, as Observers met in secret there, some interesting drugs were hidden there, and even Alternate Olivia was taken to the other side's version for some baby birthing acceleration! So it was nice to see that China Town is still a place where secretive and shady things may still occur, as John Kennex goes to "The Recollectionist" for a seemingly dangerous memory retrieval procedure.

Memory Sensory tends to be something the Bad Robot also likes to play with, including memory loss and memory retrieval. John Kennex, like Olivia Dunham in Fringe's "Pilot" (which may also owe much to Alias season 3 episode "Conscience") is also trying to retrieve memories (just not her own) to help solve the first crime of the series. John Scott, Olivia's partner and love interest, was like John Kennex put into a comma, but like Kennex's love interest Anna, is thought to be working with the enemy for a time. Valerie Stahl is also good a figuring out crime related patterns and in that respect has similar abilities to Olivia Dunham and Astrid Farnsworth.

Reference back to Newton, Shapeshifters, and Tattoos!

In Fringe Shapeshifter leader from the other side Thomas Jerome Newton, whose name and head he takes as his own,  is stolen from a cryogenic facility. Here we see the the Syndicate also play with synthetic facial modification. Newton also has a tattoo on the back of his neck, which somehow William Bell already knew about. The Syndicate members all seem to have tattoos on the back of necks like Newton.

Both episodes also had some crime-related elements similar to things seen in Fringe, such as skin suffocation ("Ability"), and body deterioration being suffocated by a substance in contained space ("The Pilot")

But the criminal element of a police procedural and male lead bromance factor also leads us to share a bend with Person of Interest. Both shows feature a pair of male leads and both delve into artificial intelligence in relation to solving crimes and/or saving lives. Unlike Fringe, Alias, Revolution, and the short-lived Alcatraz, Almost Human is more like Person of Interest or even Star Trek and LOST in the sense that it is not a family saga story, as much as it about strangers coming together to become a family.

What's In A Name?
On a first glance with have John Kennex with Kennex most likely being a pun for "connects", as in a detective who "connects the dots" to solve crimes and mysteries. John is a popular character name for a few iconic Bad Robot characters such as John Reese (Person of Interest), John Scott (Fringe), and John Locke (Lost).

Thinking of John Locke for second, might we see parallels of crippled characters, as both characters seemingly have problems with their legs, but personality wise, I think John Kennex is more disgruntle much like earlier seasons of Lost's James "Sawyer" Ford, but speaking of cripples, Harold Finch (Person of Interest) also has a leg disability. But uniquely, we also have Nina Sharp (Fringe), whom like Kennex, actually relies on a advanced piece of machinery acting as a body part (but it's a hand instead of a leg).

Dorian (DRN) might be near anagram for "android" (minus a second "d"). Dorians are also the name given to a certain ethnicity of Grecian people around the 5th century BCE.

It should be noted that Fringe had some light Grecian references (So does Lost and Person of Interest) that never seemed to fully flesh out, such as the iconic phrase that translated to, "Be Better Than Your Father." and is one of the time periods featured in the history that Peter time travels through in the cannon comic "Peter and the Machine", which expands on events presented in the season 3 finale, "The Day We Died".

On a comic con promotional poster the following was stated:
DRN-0167 - Protect Yourself. The Future is Coming.

Looking up Dorian's serial number "0167" I found Unical 0167 which relates to The New Testament and Gospel of Mark. Some scholars also believe that Homer's work The Oddessey may incorporate and show influence of the Gospel of Mark, as Christianity continued to spread through Greece. Mark, or really, JOHN Mark, is also known as "the companion of Peter".

John Kennex was also holding onto a necklace that his ex-girlfriend had given him. DRN comments it is the charm of St. Christian, an Irish Saint. St. Christian (Croistan O'Morgair) was a Bishop and brother to St. Malachy. I could not find a lot of information on St. Christian, but at the very least it should be seen as an additional spiritual theme.

Additionally Dorian is also the name of a musical mode and it's common for Bad Robot to use music thematically and metaphysically, such as with Fringe's final season with September's son, Michael and his music box, which played Greensleeves. (Be on the look out for young Bo singing in the upcoming Believe series).

Valerie Stahl - The surname Stahl may be associated with a famous German Physician, but it's literal translation is metonymic occupational name for a "smith" or "armorer", from Middle High German stal 'steel', "armor'. At the very least it implies that she is strong, but this could also be hint that she is "a machine" (android). Stahl also could be a pun for stall (trying to slow someone down). Valerie is also the name of minor Fringe character, Valerie Boone (wife of Nicolas Boone) who was turned into a kind of spinal fluid-sucking vampire in the episode "Midnight". It could be hint that she could be a sleeper agent.

The character name Rudy Lom is similar to LOST character name Ethan Rom, and although Rom was a doctor, his name is thought to thematically tie into a "memory" (Read Only Memory) themes and motifs relating to Empirical Philosophy (The Experience) and ultimately the metaphysical concept of "collective conscience" in relation to time lines, reincarnation, astral projection (smoke monster), The Island being a time machine (giant computer), and/or identity. Rudy Lom character wise is similar to other geeky and quirky scientific and/or technological geniuses such as Marshall Flankman (Alias), Bill Hoyt (Undercovers), or Daniel Faraday (LOST) or even the more famous main character Walter Bishop. (Fringe).

Sandra Maldonado - Maldonado is of Spanish origin and generally means "Ill-favored", but Sandra is a female variant of Alexander, which is Greek based and means "Defender of Men".

Richard Paul - His Character name Richard Paul might be allude to LOST characters Richard Alpert and Dharma Initiative member Paul (Ankh-Ancient Egypt Theories-immortality) . Paul in it's own right might also be a Biblical reference. The Utilitarian Philosopher Jeremy Bentham had wrote a work titled, "Not Paul, But Jesus", believing that Paul's teachings undermines the work and words of Jesus and thus could be perceived as a kind of adversary for DRN and John, who may be a Jesus-like figure, but other scholars and Theologens insist that Paul and Jesus compliment each other. Richard by itself means "Brave Power" and Paul of the Roman family Paulus means "Small" or "Humble".

Sebastian Jones - Although Jones has made a couple of breif appearances as surnames in Bad Robot works ( Alias, LOST), this reference is most likely associated with Fringe's David Robert Jones and Revolution's Sebastian Monroe. Monroe is known to be a bit of a lady's man and there was a possible other reference to DRJ in the pilot as man was covered in bandages.

Some other shout outs may go with Almost Human's minor characters: Hugo, Cortez, (LOST), Shaw (Person of Interest), and the name Martin and Maria Pelham is similar to Olivia Dunham (Fringe).

Butterflies/Moths are iconic to Fringe in both episodes and promotional art ("Dreamscape", "Johari Window", "Snakehead", Tales of the Fringe #2, Butterfly w/ hand skeleton Glyph) and relate to things 'above and beyond' and/or visual deception, but also hope.

Butterflies and/or Moths are also featured in LOST ("The Moth", "Ab Aeterno") and another blue butterfly is featured in the promo for the upcoming Believe Pilot and may relate again to telekinesis, hallucinations, and/or things that are paranormal in relation to hope.

Red and Blue

These two colors tend to be aesthetically contrasted quite a lot in Bad Robot works, (Lost, Star Trek, MI:GP)  but made most iconic in Fringe. Sometimes they show up as elements: Fire and Water (Lost, Super 8). There were quite a few times I saw the red and blue contrast in Almost Human's first two episodes...

Doppelgangers and Near Counterparts - More Than One Of Everything
Another trade mark of Bad Robot is there continuous use of Doppelgangers! Whether it's counterparts from other universes and timelines (Fringe, Lost), Shapeshifting technology (Alias, Fringe), fighting ourselves in dreams (Alias), Twin Siblings (Fringe), or an astral projecting Smoke Monster (Lost), one way or another their tends to be at least one actor playing several parts comparatively.

So far Almost Human offers them in the form of androids, as there seems to be many of  the MX-43 model. (Joe Smith, Anthony Konechny, Darren E. Scott, Garfield Wilson). This model also being a rather Caucasian and practical model, it's also then easy to compare them to Fringe's Observers, whom although like the MX's aren't identical clones, are similar looking and tend to follow the same lines of "logical" thinking. (It's also similar to the concept presented in Fringe episode, "A Better Human Being")...

Bad Robot Alumni:
So far Karl Urban is only well known Bad Robot Alumni to be apart of this series. For those unfamiliar with Karl Urban, he plays an alternate version of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McKoy in Star Trek's new time line (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness). In some ways John Kennex and "Bones" are similar in that they tend to voice their strong opinions and both are seeking to help humanity in terms of their professions, but "Bones" really has a much better outlook than John Kennex and isn't quite as obviously broken, but his relationship with the enthusiastic easy-going DRN, is similar to Bones' relationship with the advantageous Captain James T. Kirk.

Mieka Cox is also a Bad Robot alumni appearing in the unsuccessful Undercovers in the role of Samantha Bloom's recovering alcoholic sister Lizzy Gilliam.  And speaking of Undercovers and the Blooms, a minor character's DNA is left behind by a sex bot android in Almost Human's second episode with the surname Bloomquiest (sounds like a pun for Bloom Quest and Bloom Heist). I'm glad that Cox got this role. While viewing Undercovers I always thought she would have been a more convincing spy than Gugu Mbatha-Raw and thought she would eventually join the family business!

Micheal Irby has appeared on one episode of Person of Interest in the episode "C.O.D."

Hiro Kanagawa played the executor in Fringe episode "The Box".

Brad Anderson has directed many Fringe episodes such as "And Those We Left Behind", "One Night in October", "Entrada", "The Road Not Taken", and "In Which We Meet Mr. Jones" to name a few. He also directed an episode of Alcatraz and an episode of Undercovers!

What else to expect?
Always hard to exactly say, but thinking about the comic con promotional poster and it's tagline "The Future is Coming" might not just imply that the show will be showing us a possible up and coming future, but it could be relevant that even for 2048 the future is coming...I'm hoping down the line time travel of some sort could be possible...Imagine if you could use time machines to change outcomes of criminal activity!! Another thing I'm hopeful about is that the procedural aspect will eventually fall away to a more serialized series with a mythology that builds. I have seen Bad Robot shows start out that way too many times and see them morph into a more serialized-myth-heavy show for me to believe that this can't eventually go that way too. Most likely there will be themes of life extension, fate, free will, faith, and survival of the fittest.

So what did you guys think? Did you enjoy the first two episodes?  Have a favorite character? Find any other possible references? Any android theories out there? Let us know in the comments below!

LAURA BECKER (DARTHLOCKE4) is a long time commentator, TV addict, and aspiring writer participating with other fans on SpoilerTV. She writes reviews and analytic type articles. Some of her other interests include philosophy, cultural anthropology, reading, drawing, and working with animals, as she grew up and continues to work on her family's horse farm.

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