Detective Valerie Stahl has been hanging around in the background of Almost Human, offering support and a flirty smile to John Kennex. In this episode, we finally get some hints of Stahl's background—although the episode is still all about Kennex.
Once this season is over, I am going to go back and watch all the Almost Human episodes in order of their production codes, because it's really annoying watching the story of Kennex and his allegedly traitorous girlfriend out of order—not to mention that I never know where we are in the Kennex-Dorian relationship. But it's nice to know that the writers intended to give us more Stahl in the fourth episode of the season instead of waiting around until the tenth.
My expectations for "Perception" were fairly low, mainly because this was an early episode following the plot-advancing "Unbound," but really it was a very pleasant procedural episode that adds a little bit to the show's overarching storyline. We've got a transcendental drug that seems to have killed two students at a school for genetically enhanced kids ("chromes"), and Stahl is part of the investigation—in part because she happened to catch one of the bodies, and in part because she herself is a chrome.
We don't get a ton of Stahl here, but what we do get is intriguing. Chromes, we're told, are genetically altered in the womb for top physical and intellectual performance and free from physiological addictions. People who are familiar with chromes can tell that Stahl is one herself, but apparently cop (or "detective" as she quick to point out) isn't the expected career path for a chrome. I wonder if this is the reason Stahl says that she rubs the parents of chromes the wrong way—because she somehow fails to live up to expectations of what a chrome should be. I hope we don't have to wait another ten episodes to learn more about Stahl and her background.
It is fitting, given what we learn about Stahl, that this episode was about the pressures that parents place on teenagers and that teenagers place on themselves. One "natural" student of the chrome school had been found with the drug in her system a few months earlier, a girl whose mother saw her as just as smart and talented as any chrome. After a dose of the transcendental drug made her realize that she would never be as special as she wanted to be, the girl killed herself. Her mother, upset that the school swept her daughter's death under the rug, hired a hacker to reprogram the drug delivery systems so that the chrome girls overdosed—so that their rich and powerful parents could feel what she felt.
My main beef with this story is something that is a recurring (but very fixable) problem for Almost Human: it doesn't have a lot of texture. I went to a crazy high school and I'm always curious to see those intensely academic school portrayed on television, but we don't get much of an impression of the school other than the fact that it's filled with unnaturally brilliant kids who have wealthy parents. What is day-to-day life like there? How is it similar to or different from modern schools for the gifted? A few small details could do a lot to create an image of the school in viewers' minds. (Although we got one small piece of world building in the name "McGregor" used in the same breath as "Einstein.") At least this won't be the last time we visit the chromes or the stratification of wealth and intellect. Hopefully, we'll see it more fleshed out in the future.
While Kennex is investigating perception-altering drugs, he's taking a rather shady neuro-drug himself. It's certainly no coincidence that the drugs are similar, but instead of opening up his perceptions, Kennex is reopening his memories. And it's nice to see our friendly neighborhood Recollectionist again. Again, I can't shake the idea that Kennex's entire arc this episode would have felt less disjointed if the episodes had been aired in order, but the big revelation of the episode—that the nesting doll his ex-girlfriend Anna gave him contains a listening device that has been spying on him since he came out of his coma—is nicely integrated with the main plot. This may be the first time that I've been particularly interested in the Anna/Insyndicate portion of Almost Human's storyline, because suddenly Anna feels present, even if only in the form of a listening device. It's a good thing, too, since there are just three episodes left in the season and we're due for a face-to-face confrontation.