Almost Human is at its best when it focuses on its robots

For a show about law enforcement being unable to keep up with criminal technology, Almost Human can be a bit weak when it comes to its technology-aided crimes. Fortunately, the series is much better when it turns back to its real heart: robots and how they interact with human beings.

It feels like Almost Human has been gone for longer than it has been, with some of the earlier episodes from the production slate thrown into the middle of the season. But it's great to see the show returning on such a strong note, working on its robot issues and giving us a tiny peek at the larger world of the City.

We've had a lot of conversations in the recaps and in the comments about why the world of Almost Human feels a bit culturally stunted in places. Should we simply accept it as the 1980s retrofuture and be done with it? Or is there a method to the show's madness? This episode suggests the latter, making much of a part of the City that has been mentioned several times in passing but has just advanced to significant plot point: the Wall. The Wall separates the section of the City where our heroes live from some other, mysterious—and apparently undesirable—section of the City. This begs the question: What happened to the City? What is going on outside of the Wall? And has the City somehow stalled or regressed as a result?

For now, though, we're concerned with robots. I've been wanting Almost Human to turn its lens more on Dorian and his personal struggle as a piece of City property, and this episode did a nice job with its smaller robot touches. We see the way that cops outside of our usual squad deal with their MXs; they speak to them roughly and give them the grunt work. They're useful tools, but they're also vaguely annoying and no one seems too keen on them. I also dug the simple but effective design of the "rogue service robot," which was just plain fun to look at. But the best robot moments surrounded Dorian. When he is unable to call up information about the XRN, we're reminded that, along with a number of strengths, being a robot comes with certain weaknesses. Since Dorian has only been active for a short amount of time, he relies heavily on information he gets from official records. If those records aren't available to him, he's lost, and panic sets in. Many of his abilities allow him to interact with humans better than Kennex can, and it's easy to forget that there are gaps in his super-humanness. It's hard to tell if the people around him are so slow to brief him because they briefly forget that he isn't human and wasn't around to witness the XRN chaos, or because they think a robot will just have to catch up as he goes along.

Almost Human is at its best when it focuses on its robots

It's easy to see why Dorian might be inclined to trust his creator, the roboticist Nigel Vaughn. Years of watching television have taught me to be wary of characters played by John Larroquette, but in a world where Dorian is ignored, manhandled, and forced to live with MXes, Vaughn actually asks permission before touching Dorian. And when he does touch him, it's to caress his face, a father delighting in the sight of a long-lost son.

Vaughn is roped into the episode when he is seemingly robbed and attacked by Danica, a murderous post-DRN who famously went on a three-day killing spree and wrecked Vaughn's career. Vaughn gets a bit mystical when he talks about "Synthetic souls," the bits of technology that give androids their individual personalities, suggesting that the DRNs were noble because he was filled with optimism when he created their souls and Danica was psychotic because of the darkness in Vaughn's own heart. (I can't help but think this mysticism is a signal that Vaughn views himself as Synthetic God, perhaps ready to liberate his chosen people.) But this business of Vaughn's Synthetics having "souls" may be especially important when it comes to Danica. Danica hardly speaks, preferring to let her gun do the talking, but she isn't a "soulless" MX. When a young boy girl in the back of her purloined cab tells her she's pretty, Danica decides to spare her life and holsters her gun. She's not just a killer; she's Dorian's homicidal little sister, and she has some of her own decision-making capacity. We'll have to see how that capacity plays out the next time we see an XRN, or something similar.

Maybe I'm just feeling particularly warm and fuzzy toward this episode, but there were a couple of moments when I felt like Almost Human was also being a bit cheeky, making fun of itself and its scifi cop movie tropes a little. When Kennex recalls the terror of Danica's assault, Karl Urban turns up his long-time cop meter to nine in a way that struck me as lightly self-mocking. And I started to roll my eyes when Danica swapped out her temporary body for one wearing a corset and fishnets, but the way she admires herself in the mirror was so detached I started to chuckle, feeling as if Almost Human was saying, "Here you go. Here's your sexy gynoid moment. Are you happy now?" Did anyone else have that sense, or was it just me?

Almost Human is at its best when it focuses on its robots

There's no surprise when, at the end of the episode, it turns out that Vaughn is the one who has released Danica in an effort to steal the gear he needs to make new Synthetics. What's great, though, is how he exits. Dorian speculates that Vaughn might go over the Wall to build his new Synthetic army, but Kennex and Maldonado quickly write off the idea as insane. Sure enough, though, Vaughn goes up, up, and right over the Wall just before the credits roll. Fare thee well, mad scientist John Larroquette. I look forward to seeing you again.