8.5

Almost Human Review: “Arrhythmia” (Episode 1.06)

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<i>Almost Human</i> Review: &#8220;Arrhythmia&#8221; (Episode 1.06)

“Arrhythmia” is the episode I’ve been waiting for since Almost Human first premiered. Everything about the episode works, from the high-concept, sci-fi premise (Kennex and Dorian investigate an extortion racket involving remote-controlled hearts) to the comedic set pieces (a hilarious Rube Goldberg-esque wreck scene) to the emotional turn towards the end (a robot reveals the moment he felt the most human).

The episode opens with elderly Asian man named Leonard Lee breaking into a hospital and holding a surgery team at gunpoint. Hysterical, he claims he doesn’t want to hurt anyone but that he needs to be put on life support. His heart, he claims, will stop in mere minutes. As if on cue, he falls to the floor and goes into cardiac arrest. “They killed me,” he whispers before dying. (This marks one of my only major complaints with the episode: does he really have so little time that he can’t even elaborate on who “they” are? Way to be unhelpfully cryptic, man.)

Kennex and Dorian soon discover that this poor unfortunate soul was but one of several citizens mixed up in a devious extortion plot, whereby a group of underground criminals provide desperate heart patients with surrogate hearts that run on timers. If the victims are not able to provide payment before the timer runs out, the hearts are switched off. Naturally, with each payment cycle, the price of keeping the hearts beating goes up and up.

Besides the inherent ticking clock element (always a great formula for suspense), the plot represents the kind of Almost Human case I’ve longed to see—one that takes the general outline of a traditional cop drama case (in this case, a high-stakes extortion case) and uses sci-fi elements to give it a heightened, original spin. The show attempted such a dynamic back with its second episode, “Skin,” which took on prostitution and sex trafficking, but this one resonates on much more a visceral level. Of particular note is how the episode characterizes the case’s victims. Oftentimes, in shows of this breed, such ancillary characters are used more to give the proceedings an almost requisite sense of emotional weight that frequently feels wrought. Even Almost Human has fallen into this trap on occasion. “Arrhythmia” however manages to humanize and create genuine sympathy for the ill in a way that’s both effective and concise. When Minka Kelly’s Detective Stahl asks one victim why she would keep the heart, knowing that the devious individuals who control it are sucking her dry, she responds, “I just want more time with my family”—a sentiment that any could see as proper justification for entering such a dangerous situation.

The episode also switches things up by having Dorian discovering another “Dorian” model. Rather than working as a cop, however, “Dorian 2” (as I’ll call him) serves as an engineer at an office building. To Kennex’s annoyance, Dorian abducts Dorian 2 and restores his original “police” mode. The newly minted cop’s first action is to jump out of the car and arrest a man with an outstanding arrest warrant. In the funniest moment in the show that must be seen to be appreciated, his actions cause a chain reaction that results in a hovercraft crashing into an MXN robot. Only then does Dorian 2 update his files and realize that the man he just violently arrested has already served jail time for his offense. Though I previously complained about the show pushing its humor a bit too far on the broad spectrum, this set piece alone invalidates most of my criticism.

Luckily, Dorian 2 is not just used for comedy. “Just because something is used doesn’t mean it has no value,” a character states at one point. Though said character is referring to the use of previously owned surrogate hearts, he could just as easily be referring to Dorian 2. In some way, by reactivating Dorian 2, Dorian is attempting to prove his own worth. He may be a used, outdated model, but he wants more than anything to have worth and purpose. Likewise, after the mission is completed, Dorian 2 reveals the reason he was taken off the police force. While investigating a domestic dispute, Dorian 2 ended up killing a man before he could hurt his young stepchild. Afterwards, the young boy came up and hugged him. This, as previously mentioned, was the most human moment Dorian 2 had ever experienced. It’s a beautifully written monologue expertly delivered by Michael Ealy, who gets major points this episode for successfully playing two versions of the same robot model while still being able to communicate their subtle differences.

If I had one another critique of the episode, it’s that the identity of the ring’s mastermind can be seen from a mile away. (Note: anytime you see a seemingly incidental character being given an unusual amount of screen time, be very suspicious.) Ultimately, it’s little more than a personal annoyance. “Arrhythmia” offers up a fantastic direction for where the show can go and the high quality it’s capable of when pushed down the right path.