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Almost Human - 1.13 "Straw Man" (Season Finale) - Review and Speculation

Almost Human's season one finale doesn't yet directly tie back to some of the other things presented in episodes such as "The Pilot", "Unbound", or "Perception" but does get more personalized for John Kennex and does feel like it would eventually be meant to tie into some of those things.

The episode begins at a shelter where one can have their DNA scanned and the machine analyzes what nutrients a person needs and dispenses a capsule-shaped pill. Waiting in line we meet a young woman named Abbie and soon after a man attempts to aggressively pick her up offering a place to sleep and implying something more, but another man in a wheelchair intervenes and the other man backs off. Abbie and wheelchair bound Glen strike up a more pleasant conversation, as he tells her that another shelter he frequents has sleeping pods and offers to escort her there. She accepts only to seemingly be murdered by Glenn. Her body is left at another location.

Meanwhile at the precinct a review board has come to interview people about DRN and DRN's performance. We flip through several interviews including Captain Maldonado's who has nothing but positive things to say, and then to Rudy's, who ends up getting himself into a verbal predicament by being too nervous, and John's who excitedly mentions some of DRN's super strength. DRN too comes in front of the board as he expresses his sincere admiration for being able to come back to force and do his job.

After the interview John and DRN are called to the scene of Abbie's body and it's soon revealed that the insides are stuffed with straw and that this was an MO of a former serial killer known as "The Straw Man" (real name Michael Costa) that John Kennex' father, Detective Edward Kennex, had put behind bars. They assume for the time being that this must be the work of a copycat killer. 

John tries to get his father's case files, but he is denied access, as they have become classified on behalf of Internal Affairs. John asks Maldonado if she can find out what's going on and if she can get them. She tells John not worry and that she'll see what see what she can do. 

DRN and John then go visit Michael Costa in prison knowing that often copycat serial killers try to make contact with the person they're emulating. Michael expresses his innocents and tells John that his father believed it too and that is why his father was killed. John checks prison logs and sees that his father did visit Michael and under an alias John recognized, implying that he wouldn't want anyone to know that he was there. 

Again at the precinct Maldonado was able to get the case file and John tells DRN to go find out what Rudy has come up with in the lab, as he wants to view his father's work alone. John discovers that his father really did believe that Michael was innocent and that there were a lot of other crooked cops who were selling robot parts on the black market, which we come to learn John's father was framed for. He notices that his father had circled images of the former Straw Man's victim's feet, but isn't sure what to make of it.

John catches up to Rudy and DRN at the lab and Rudy figures out that this is not the actual body of victims', but a duplicate that can be made with an organic printer! They come to realize that it had to be an older printer, because the feet are flat and old printers had a hard time duplicating the arches in the feet! (He makes a cupcake in his organic printer to demonstrate! Oh, Walter!!). Trying to figure out the purpose behind such a thing they realise that this is a way to keep drones away from the criminal and that the victims
are being kept alive!

The duplicate pin prick in the finger leads them to the shelters now believing this is the Straw Man's hunting ground. They send out the MXs and themselves to see if they can spook the Straw Man out. Richard Paul goes out of his way to help a guy in electric blue glasses, only to find out a few moments later that he has been assaulted. They are able to figure out from drone camera images The Straw Man is a known illegal tech seller Glenn Dunbar, who's no cripple, and John and DRN track him to a building where most of the victims are in a state of stasis sleeping inside pods.

Soon they come to Dunbar's body only for DRN to discover that it is a replica and that there's a bomb inside. DRN deals with the bomb while John catches up to the real Dunbar, but Dunbar has incredible strength and nearly strangles Kennex before he can break free and John shoots him several times until he is dead! -But what they discover is that Glen Dunbar wasn't exactly human, but some kind of human-hybrid cyborg allegedly due to having a degenerate disease and that he was somehow using his victims as an experiment allegedly in relation to what he had become to combat his terminal illness.

The final scenes go back to the review board where they inform DRN that he passed their inspection and can continue on with the police force. John and DRN go for Asian noodles where DRN expresses his gratitude upon learning all the nice things John said about DRN to review board. He gives John a present: a state of the art-not yet on the market synthetic leg! (I'm surprised there was no Christmas Story lamp joke). DRN gets over emotional, but not before they are called to another crime scene.

Although it's true Almost Human has yet to be heavily serialized, that FOX presented many of it's episodes out of order, and it's unclear how many episodes the season was really intended to have, the first season (as it is) is still full of exciting cases, establishes a culture, has a great set of characters, and indirectly has been building mythology that has recently started to feel more layered.

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!

Inner Child
For Fringe fans like myself, it is it's own special treat as it's stylization, dialogue, and grand allusion to much missed strange-science series can be felt or seen in nearly every episode.

In this episode in particular it was hard not to be reminded of the serial killer "The Artist" presented in the Fringe episode "Inner Child", as Glen Dunbar pretended to be crippled and wheelchair-bound -the same as "The Artist", and in both cases hauled their victims off in creepy vans. But one key difference is that the victims in Dunbar's case were kept alive and the truth of why Dunbar needed to do so was not made clear. "Inner Child" also became an episode that would mark a major mythology point and a major part of Fringe's final season story through the introduction of the child observer we later would call "Michael". The cyborg facet of Dunbar's condition is also reminiscent of The shapeshifters and being reminded of the one who impersonated Charlie Frances, who had some kind of degenerate malfunction and was downing mercury-shake from a bunch of store-bought thermometers and meets his demise in the episode "Momentum Deferred".

Note: Wordplay on DUNHAM with DUNbar and PellHAM.

Be A Better Man Than Your Father
John's father also may allude to Walter Bishop with the Ice fishing story being similar to the story of Walter abducting the other Peter across Redian Lake(s). The Straw Man too could also show us a shared pop-cultural reference to the Wizard of Oz, not to mention the shout out to "2036" on the first case file, but more over I think some of things presented in this episode in relation to what we might be able to relate to Fringe, is pointing to a much bigger story, in which I'm not so sure John's father is dead.

When the series first started I felt that not only did it have several key elements to Fringe, but that it also shared a bend with Person of Interest with artificial intelligence and bromance leads. I had wondered if we were going to get into dirty cops story reminiscent to Person of Interest's HR, which I had thought Richard Paul seemed a likely suspect. For a couple of episodes Paul has not been around allegedly due to something going on with his mother, and although this episode tries to make him look like a bit of a better guy, I have to say I still am not taking the bate and think Paul will still tie-into these cops selling robot's on the black market conspiracy, as he was the one to take potshots at John and DRN from the beginning. Additionally this episode not only made us more aware of "dirty cops", but also showed us the camera from a drone, which style (although circular instead of square) is very much like the way we see camera shots presented on Person of Interest.

All in all I think the stories about John's dad, Nigel Vaughn and his Danica/XRNs, black market tech, and the story behind John's and Mark Pellham's ambushing all stem, along with looking at one's memory all point to InSyndicate and to a robotic army being made "over there" on the other side of the wall. Much like Fringe's second, third, and fifth seasons, it feels like war is coming.

I think if John's father is not dead, I'm not sure if I fully believe that he was as good of a person as John remembers and believes him to be, especially knowing how memories can be implanted, scrubbed, and/or altered. I'm also a bit skeptical if Michael Costa was also truly innocent or if there is a kind of ring of serial killers related to the Straw Man killings and if this also wasn't a ploy to get him released? Another thought that crossed my mind is what if all of these people, including some of the cops, were being abducted to become these cyborgs?

 Knowing that John's father's head was originally written to be the now Danica's/XRN's head in the evidence room, along with the Elton John references, (and before I knew Nigel's character existed) I had a theory that John's father could turn out to be the villainous Dark Vader-esque "Rocket Man" of the series and I even half joked that maybe he lives on board a space station. And even though this doesn't really justify that theory, it is curious as it turns out DRNs have been used for Nasa vehicle repairs and space stations!

 Even if we get some kind of Kennex-double posing as John's dad, I just feel like this episode was meant to open up a bigger door to these things and that we're not really done with any presented despite Dunbar's death, but especially with a possible unknowingly unresolved story between John and Edward Kennex.

See Theory in The Bends Review

Note: Edward Kennex was voiced by actor John Diehl whose credits include The John Larroquette Show, Friday Night Lights, and The Shield. It's unclear should Almost Human return if Diehl will reprise the role in any capacity.

It should also be mentioned that Straw Man could allude to a "Straw Man argument", in which the ends do not justify the means, kind of the way I think the episode doesn't really explain Dunbar or his motives, but also relates to Internal Affairs Agent Reynold's accusation of John's memory and it's timing being too convenient for coincidence ("Perception"), which in itself kennex connects to John's father, his case files, and internal affairs being mentioned again in this episode. A straw man can also be used to describe a Government created decoy (Person of Interest touches on this with referencing Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest.) in relation to conspiracy theories such as The Redemption Movement. Really it's an umbrella term to describe anything fraudulent and/or smoke screening perception.

Additionally I'm also reminded of a Wicker Man, where in Celtic Pagan culture the Druids are sometimes thought to have burned people as a form of sacrifice, despite there is little evidence to prove the practice actual occurred, but in pop culture the idea of burning people or burning objects such as straw, paper,wood and/or plant matter in the shape of people are things that are often depicted in books and films and celebrated at neopagan festivals!

Ultimately I think the series has SO much to offer with so many interesting ideas and likable characters already on the table that I think it would be a crime for FOX to not give us a second season --and where hopefully J.H. Wyman and gang can tell us a more serialized-cohesive story with more of an interrelated structure. Tell us a deeper tale about John Kennex, his andriod partner, his families, and the people they surround themselves with every day. Show us more explicitly what it is to be human.

What did you think of "Straw Man"? Do you think John Kennex' father is really dead? Do you think he was good man? Do you think Dunbar is just the first we have seen of his kind, or do you think he's an isolated incident? How do you feel about this possibly being the last episode of the series? Do want FOX to renew Almost Human? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author - Darthlocke4
Laura Becker (Darthlocke 4) 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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