Almost Human Review 1×13 “Straw Man”

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Almost-Human-Cast

Just Can’t Say Goodbye! Season Finale

As the season finale for the FOX series Almost Human, “Straw Man” leaves viewers with more optimism for the future than despair, a stark contrast to the violence often shown onscreen. Even though the central plot revolves around a serial killer with personal ties to the LAPD, it’s not really a surprising course of action for a season finale. In a way, it borders on being a little typical, however, it does provide a lot of the episode’s highlights. The strongest part of Almost Human is the way it uses the action sequences to set up an emotional journey for its characters. This week Dorian (Michael Ealy) undergoes an evaluation to determine whether he’ll remain an officer while Kennex (Karl Urban) tries to tackle one of his father’s old cases. In all honesty, the story felt secondary to the way the entire cast played out their scenes. Their performances, particularly those between Kennex and Dorian, are well balanced. It’s a shame the show seems to be finding its feet so late in the game. Still, a lot goes down as well as more insight into the way the world has changed in 2048.

There’s A Pill For That!

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a future where synthetic robots patrol as officers that poverty and the means of feeding the less fortunate has evolved as well. The opening scene starts with a crowd of people huddled in a tunnel area; after a few moments we can see these are a far cry from the genetically privileged Chromes. Rather than a soup line, people have a pill line of sorts where you are injected with the nutrients you need to survive. It’s the perfect breeding ground for creeps and crazies like the “Straw Man” who uses it as the place to select his victims.

When a young girl is found dead near The Wall—a danger zone that is off limits to most citizens, Kennex and Dorian are left to inspect the scene. Not only do they discover the perpetrator may be a copycat serial killer, we learn Kennex’s father helped close the case shortly before being murdered.

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It’s at this point the crime itself seems to drift to the background as my attention turned toward Kennex, whose life felt so mysterious and vague until now. Sure, we got bits and pieces, but never a full picture to what makes him tick. This is a great episode which uses Kennex’s backstory as an opportunity to make us connect more with him. Whereas Dorian is easily the most empathetic character on the show, Kennex has been the polar opposite for far too long. It’s great seeing the focus hone in on him with a story that just works to his advantage. Daddy issues definitely explains his personality as well as his train of thought. We see this when it appears the evidence from Papa Kennex’s case files reveal some shady things. It’s a chance for Kennex to explain to Dorian why he knows his father is honorable. And what starts as a homicide case quickly turns into desperate search for justice to clear his father’s name.

Kennex: “When I was a kid, my dad patrolled downtown, a real tough beat, gang controlled…A lot of cops were on the take. One day his unit takes down this dealer, a real heavy hitter. They find seven million dollars in cash underneath the floorboards. Now the task force leader tells everybody to take a cut. My dad refused. So the guy takes a scatter gun to his head, tells him if he doesn’t take a cut, get his hands dirt like everyone else, then he’ll blow his brains out. Still, my dad refused…that’s who he was. He’s the reason I became a cop, there’s no way he was dirty.”

DRNs Do It Better!

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Balancing out drama with some humor is Dorian’s performance evaluation from the city. Although there is major suspense regarding his future in working with the police department, it also offers some humor as everyone reflects on their experience with him.  Not only do we see how others view Dorian’s contribution to the precinct, we also observe how he has grown from his interaction with everyone. It’s such a fulfilling moment which has in large part to do with Ealy’s performance. He really knows how to work Dorian’s minute expressions, and even a subtle smile can turn a simple scene into something very poignant. There are also shout-outs to past episodes, moments Kennex best sums up:

Kennex: “I told them you have no concept of personal space or boundaries; that you scanned my balls;that you abducted a DRN from a hospital causing millions of dollars worth of damages…And you like to expose yourself while riding shotgun in the cruiser.”

Dorian: “You asked to see it.”

Kennex: “I didn’t ask, you showed it to me.”

Dorian: “I apologize for scanning your balls.”

Kennex: “I’m just  kidding. I’m messing with you. I didn’t tell them any of that. Should’ve.

Never Tear Us Apart

When the episode reaches its pinnacle moment, Kennex finally saves the day with the help of his team. I really love how the scenes return quickly to the dynamic between Kennex and Dorian’s partnership. When we learn that Dorian is the one presence in his life that motivates him to continue his work as a police officer, you can sense how far Kennex has come since the start of the series! The end scene where Kennex is in the Chinatown area of the city brings us back full circle to the “Pilot” episode. However, this time around, Kennex is not alone. Dorian’s gift to Kennex, a high quality synthetic leg, is really one of the best moments of the series. We see these two individuals who would never have crossed paths were it not for harsh circumstances make a connection. It definitely goes back to the heart of the show which is examining the critical aspects that make us human.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, what I found eerie and fascinating about “Straw Man” is the gritty side. For a long while we’ve only heard about the dangers of The Wall where transients and those without a home venture. This is a side of 2048 Los Angeles I wish we saw more of throughout the season, rather than staying neatly within the safe city limits. As a closure for the season it wasn’t as explosive as I had originally anticipated it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but felt it could have kicked it up a notch. In fact, I might have preferred a bit more of a somber and reflective ending like in “Beholder” and wonder what it would have been like if that were the season finale.

Although the fate of Almost Human remains uncertain, looking back on the series’ debut season as a whole, it hasn’t been a bad ride. It definitely deserves a second look if not for its great special effects and vision, but because there are major open ended storylines that need closure: Dorian’s organic memory, Insyndicate’s involvement with Ana, the reason Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) chose to become a chrome, life on the other side of The Wall, and finally the real reason Detective Maldonado  (Lili Taylor) paired up Dorian and Kennex.

What caught my attention about this futuristic series is beyond the visual eye candy and remarkable special effects. I felt captivated by a show that uses very relevant issues in our relationship with technology today, and then explores it in an extreme world; all the while seeking answers to the eternal question: What does it mean to be human? I love that often times I forget that Dorian is an android, and that Kennex is the one who has to learn how to reconnect with society. Also, the social commentaries between America’s relationship with guns, beauty, and technology is something you don’t really see inclusive in a single show; well, nothing quite like this one. The series has potential to be as epic as the topics its tackles weekly with strong performances, well executed visuals, and writing that continues to get stronger.