Detective John Kennex awakes from a seventeen month coma after a terribly botched raid on the criminal Syndicate gang. He is partnered with an old model, emotionally programmed android named Dorian. An officer gets kidnapped as part of a criminal scheme and Kennex regains his lost memories from the ambush. Kennex and Dorian get to know each other.
In 2048, technology is advancing at an incredible rate. Dangerous new drugs and weapons are being created and sold by faceless criminal organizations and as a result the crime rate has risen 400 percent. To help in the fight against technological violence, all law enforcement officers are partnered with advanced, combat model androids.
The show opens with John Kennex (Karl Urban) in the middle of a heavy combat situation. His human partner is injured and trapped inside the building being surrounded by a gang we come to know as the Syndicate. Kennex consults with an MX, one of the assault androids, to try to get his partner to safety, but the logical thinking MX refuses to put the mission at risk for the life of one man. Kennex goes in to help his partner anyway. The MX analyzes that Kennex’s partner is dying and won’t help save him. Kennex still tries, but gets caught in a blast that kills his partner and takes off Kennex’s leg. A grenade is thrown and Kennex gets caught in another blast. The screen fades to a glowing memory of Kennex and a woman we later find out is his ex-girlfriend (Mekia Cox). Kennex then awakes, hooked up to some kind of advanced neural machine, a black market medical device meant to help retrieve lost memories. Kennex spent seventeen months in a coma and awoke with massive memory loss of the event in question. He is attempting to recall the identity of the people involved in the ambush before he goes back to work. Kennex leaves the Recollectionist establishment and runs into an MX who has suspicions regarding his presence in an area known for black market medicine.
Kennex goes back to his apartment and watches an old saved video message from his ex-girlfriend, which he apparently watches from time to time. Maldonado (Lili Taylor), his boss at the police station, calls him up to see if he’s coming in to work. Kennex tries to put it off another day, but Maldonado says she’s already given him too much time, that there’s been a coordinated armed robbery that looks like it might have been the Syndicate. As he leaves, we see that he has a synthetic leg that replaces the one he lost in the ambush.
At police headquarters, Detective Vogel (Toby Levins) discovers that he’s been locked out of all his files. Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) puts it down to a prank or a forgotten password. As Kennex returns to work Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby) discusses how he resents Kennex, not only for being the one survivor of the ambush he lead his team into, but for being welcomed back to work after the debacle. Kennex doesn’t want to work with an MX, resenting them for making the logical decisions that lead to his partner’s death and the loss of his leg, but MX partners have become mandatory since Kennex’s coma. Maldonado and Kennex review video of the robbery of an armored truck carrying biological research, carried out by a mysterious masked gang, possibly syndicate related. One of the thieves was shot during the robbery and is in custody.
Kennex gets to the crime scene and meets Stahl. The biotech that was stolen was a bunch of programmable DNA and a thing called Myklon Red, which can be used for anything from growing organs to creating biological weapons. Kennex has a flashback of the ambush in which he remembers seeing canisters of Myklon Red. His MX partner notices the episode. On the surface, the robbery looks like it was committed by a local gang, but was probably committed by someone else trying to make it appear that way. On their way back to headquarters, the MX questions Kennex about his flashback experience, expressing concern about his ability to do his job. Kennex tries to convince the MX that he’s fine and that there isn’t anything to report, but when the MX pushes the issue, Kennex pushes him out of the car into oncoming traffic. As a result, he has to be assigned another MX partner. There aren’t any regular models readily available, so he’s assigned Dorian (Michael Ealy), one of the retired older models from the Synthetic Soul program. Kennex calls them the “crazy ones”, but in reality these models just have difficulty expressing their emotional programming, making them more unpredictable than the newer logic driven MX models.
Dorian is different and Kennex has a difficult time knowing how to interact with him. Dorian has a personality and certain sensibilities when it comes to the term “synthetic” when used to describe what he is. Meanwhile, the masked gang kidnaps Vogel. Vogel’s MX partner, while damaged and unable to help, records the abduction. Kennex and Dorian return to headquarters to interrogate the suspect from the masked gang. Kennex roughs up the guy to no effect, but Dorian deduces that the suspect shot himself in the leg, leading them to believe that he shot himself in order to escape his own gang. The suspect gives up Vogel’s location in return for protection.
On his way back to his cell, the suspect pretends to need a toilet and coughs up a tiny flashing device that he hides on the back of the toilet. Meanwhile, it seems that the cops might be walking into another ambush. When they arrive at the location they discover a mysterious device with a trip wire that leads into another room. In that room they find Vogel in a bullet proof glass box which is attached to the trip wire. Before they can find a way to get him out, the device releases a gas inside the box and Vogel is killed by some horrific reaction. Kennex tries to warn the officers taking the suspect to a safehouse about the setup, but they are ambushed on their way there.
Dorian injects himself with Vogel’s blood and downloads the information to Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) for analysis. They find out that there’s a file missing from Vogel’s terminal. Cops get mandatory injections to protect them from bio-warfare. There was a mixture of Myklon Red and programmable DNA in Vogel’s blood that turned the inoculation against itself. Whoever is behind the crimes is targeting cops specifically.
Kennex goes back to the Recollectionist to remember more from the ambush, hoping to discover who is behind the attacks. He has the same flashback, but this time with clearer faces. He recognizes one specifically as his ex-girlfriend, Anna. Dorian saves Kennex from dying in the Recollection chair and Kennex tells Dorian what he has discovered about the Syndicate ambush and how Anna set him up. Same flashback but with clearer faces, it was his ex-girlfriend who set up the ambush. Dorian saves Turns out, Anna mysteriously disappeared after Kennex awoke from his coma. Kennex realizes that Dorian isn’t like other MXs and they seem to come to an understanding.
Kennex realizes that Dorian’s intuitive programming might be able to make sense of the footage of Vogel’s kidnapping in a way that a logical MX can’t. Turns out that the gang is after something in the evidence room at police headquarters. Kennex tries to warn everyone, but the gang is already in the process of breaking in. The device planted by the suspect connects to another device that turns off all the MXs and the power in the building. Dorian runs on a different frequency and is unaffected by the sabotage. In the end, they stop the raid and capture the gang leader. They still don’t know what they were after, though, and have to catalogue the entire evidence room to try and find it. Somewhere out of sight a female MX appears to be in the process of activating.
Maldonado promises they’ll find Anna and tells Kennex that he saved a lot of people by coming back to work. Turns out that Maldonado assigned Dorian to partner with Kennex, saying that they’re both special and good for each other.
While the setup for the series is pretty intriguing and the plot moves at an exciting, attention grabbing pace, there are some details that tend to get lost in the stream of exposition. To be fair, that sort of information overload is normal for first episodes, especially as you are introduced to characters and themes for the first time that will be integral to the future of the series. Here’s hoping that the information from here on out will flow in a much more natural, easily absorbable way.
As for the show, it is stylish and flashy – sort of Blade Runner meets Fringe meets iRobot – and full of interesting and relatable characters. There’s a certain connection we tend to have with characters in search of their humanity and their place in the world – characters who aren’t quite human but strive for humanity and self-understanding. Spock from Star Trek is the epitome of this kind of character, and we see that in both Kennex and Dorian. Dorian, who is in many ways more human than Kennex, can never really be human, while Kennex strives to leave behind his humanity while taking pride in his humanness. Their interaction in this first episode is captivating to watch, the contrast between them making it all the more delicious to witness. In an interview, Michael Ealy expressed some difficulty with his characterization of Dorian, saying that there were things in the script he wanted to play for laughs but couldn’t because of Dorian’s programming. However, Ealy doesn’t seem to have any issues conveying humor. Dorian is often quite funny, even while not always meaning to be.
There’s also a heavy emphasis on technology, both its advantages and its dangers, its place in our world and the balance of new and old. Dorian is an out of date model, but in many ways seems more helpful than the newer MX models. As he says, “newer isn’t always better.” While obviously the exponential advances in technology is half the problem in this future, it also has its uses and wonders. This is a world that is going to continue to explore that balance of new and old, the consequences of unregulated progress, and how advancing technology relates to our humanity. There’s a lot that’s been opened up in this one episode about how the future of the series will unfold, and there’s certainly plenty to relate to considering the insane rate of technological advances in our own world.
Given that Almost Human is brought to us by the team that created Fringe, I have very high expectations for the quality of the running storylines and character development. Although, given the difficulty Fringe had staying on the air for all of its five seasons, and FOX’s tendency to cancel what in hindsight are its best shows, I can only be cautiously hopeful for Almost Human’s future on television.