Almost Human: Season 1, episode 2. Skin (2013)
So catching up the pilot show with a recap, it seems the criminals were winning so, to even up the battle, the government of the day invested billions in creating androids to stand alongside the weak soft creatures and, when the machines could be bothered, carry the dead bodies home every time the criminals won. This seems an illogical use of taxpayers’ money. For rather less money, it would have been possible to pay for more human officers to man the barricades. Having these androids which can just be switched off if anyone broadcasts a radio signal at the right frequency seems less than sensible. And the first model, the ones with the synthetic soul — well they weren’t called the crazy ones for nothing. Putting this together doesn’t seem to create a very credible future society. Frankly, as technology goes, I prefer the idea of cloning or, if you want a more esoteric idea, the Kiln People by David Brin gives you clay duplicates called “dittos”. Staying on more conventional territory, we avoid all the problems of programming machines to become effective police officers by creating cyborgs, augmenting human biology with mechanical body parts.
Manufacturing womandroids for prostitution is not very original — the slang of this culture dubs them bangbots. I prefer the darker child androids for paedophiles in the Wonderland novels by Michael Shean (see Shadow of a Dead Star). Indeed, ever since AI populated Rouge City with empty sex machines like Gigolo Joe, I’ve been sceptical of the economics and the psychology that would enable humans to find machines sexually attractive. The sample on display at the start of Almost Human: Season 1, episode 2. Skin (2013) seems incredibly human including being remarkably dim — it takes guardian humans to come in, shoot the copyright thief and take their investment property away before it can be copied. This failure to program her to protect herself from investigation by bankrupt scientists, is just one of several appallingly sexist moments in this episode. Since these females are based on the same DRN platform as our heroic android, it would have been possible to make them as intelligent as him. Yet they are stereotypically sex objects for men to lust after while all they do is pander to male fantasies.
The killers use a DNA bomb to contaminate the scene — that’s a nice idea — so much more neat and tidy than actually blowing the room up. And the two guardian humans wear spray-on masks that prevent their faces from being seen by surveillance cameras (remember there’s a paywall on the NYT, but the article “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma” discussing incompetence starts with a man who thought lemon juice would have the same effect). Sorry, I was getting ahead of myself again. The sex machine at the beginning of the episode is leaving human DNA behind from a human woman who was abducted — you would think these stereotypical Albanians would watch her like a hawk and clean down any surfaces she was seen to touch. Anyway, it’s apparently illegal to have androids with human DNA. And then there’s another woman abducted, this time leaving a boy behind as a convenient witness.
We then tune into Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) and note our human hero’s potential dislike of kids and cats. Incongruously, we discover his testicles are also backed-up. I take this to mean his lack of mutual sexual activity is leaving him frustrated, but who knows what Dorian (Michael Ealy), our synthetic with a soul, sees when he uses his radar and other high-tech wizardry to remotely interface with his human partner’s balls. The thing I’m finding slightly puzzling is how this car is being driven. It doesn’t seem to be autonomous which is surprising given the sophistication of AI technology in the androids, yet our hero is not spending as much time as feels safe looking out the front windscreen. Obviously this allows him to have meaningful conversations with his partner (which are actually quite engaging), but the whole experience of the driving feels slightly wrong.
So where are we with this episode? It’s playing quite a sophisticated game with notions of trafficking, problems of identity and the nature of mortality. Human women are being abducted so that their skin and other relevant glands can be transferred to a production line of machines. Obviously, in the medium term, this kills the human woman but, since she cannot be endlessly programmed and reprogrammed, she’s too much trouble for our pimps to manage (unless sadistic men are prepared to pay a premium price for raping human women). Creating the ultimate machine with the look and feel of a real woman in all the right places is a great long-term business model. Except, for reasons taken to be so obvious they need no rehearsal in this culture, laws make it illegal to have machines with human DNA.
This strikes me as distinctly odd. The fact the skin is human (assuming it can be kept alive while grafted onto a machine) doesn’t change the nature of the machine. It’s just like a different set of clothes for the android to wear. Indeed, the only reason for this law seems to be so that the script can “kill” off the rescued machine, while patting the rescued human woman on the head and sending her home with her son. This gives our android the chance to offer hope to the nos morituri te salutamus machine. Yes, there really is an android Heaven and I’ll see you when I get there. I wondered whether Michael Ealy would smoke a last cigarette before powering down the bangbot. Where is his emoticon chip when he needs it? Surely he should be “feeling” something when the humans execute one of his kind for no obvious reason? Could he not leak a little machine oil from his soulful eyes? Meanwhile our human drives himself to the home of his ex-partner so he can be more human and tell the son of that family all about the father he lost. It’s sad that science fiction shows on US television feel they have to engage in sentimentality. Having played with the idea of our hero being sexually excited by bangbots while also feeling attracted to Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly), the human woman working in his unit, it would have been enough to leave him allergic to kids. Having him turn into someone “nice” may win him prizes with the female demographic watching the show, but doesn’t feel very credible. This leaves me still feeling indecisive. Almost Human: Skin has a good relationship between Karl Urban and Michael Ealy at its heart, but the stories are not yet very coherent.
For a review of another episode, see
Almost Human. Season 1, episode 1 (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 3. Are You Receiving? (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 4. The Bends (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 5. Blood Brothers (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 6. Arrhythmia (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 7. Simon Says (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 8. You Are Here (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 9. Unbound (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 10. Perception (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 11. Disrupt (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 12. Beholder (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 13. Straw Man (2014).