Almost Human: Season 1, episode 6. Arrhythmia (2013)
As is my way, I’ve been musing about the dynamics of any relationship that might form between a “man” and a “machine”. When I bought my first car as a young man, I confess to giving it a name and talking to it as if it was alive. The fact it was highly unpredictable in whether it would actually get me where I wanted to go without anomalous noises or breakdowns punctuating the journeys reinforced the impression this was one cantankerous beast. So transposing this into a science fictional world in which human-shaped machines amble around and appear willing to interact with us, how should we react? We could just be indifferent. These are machines which have been designed to do the drudgery or the dangerous work. Apart from the need to issue instructions, we don’t need to be nice to them.
Indeed, we should really be querying why these machines were designed to replicate human body-shape when there are usually forms which could do the tasks more efficiently with multiple appendages, different forms of lifting capabilities, faster locomotion, and so on. The closer these machines come to human norms of physical perfection, the more creepy they might seem to mere humans — they become more obviously competitive. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “like” the androids, but it might explain why the more obviously machine-like model is now the norm. Humans know how to relate to a servitor machine. They get confused when the machine looks like one of them and so might expect to be treated as if one of them.
In the past, there was a test to weed out the whacky DRNs (presumably administered by Rick Deckard). The government was supposed to fix the crazy ones but, when it realized the size of the potential bill, it just decommissioned them all. Or perhaps there was another reason. . . Suppose, for argument’s sake, a DRN got all emotional and shot a human to protect a defenceless boy. If he had waited for backup as protocol required, the man might have been subdued and the boy rescued. But he was not prepared to take the risk. That might make him seem more human or too unstable as a machine to be allowed to continue functioning in the field without direct and continuous supervision. Either way, he might end up depressed and welcome being decommissioned. It’s always disturbing to take a life. It might be a kindness to such a machine to let it forget the past trauma.
Anyway, Almost Human: Season 1, episode 6. Arrhythmia (2013) decides to dig into the grey area between human, cyborg and android with a medical devices storyline. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) has a prosthetic leg. That puts him on the slippery slope to cyborgdom and makes us wonder why he never seems to get any benefit out of this limb now he’s discovered the healing properties of olive oil. He should be leading the charge into buildings, kicking down doors like they were made out of cardboard. Yes, well. . . So here’s this picture of a hospital where people queue up to have their consultation with AI systems which project the image of a doctor on to public screens. When the image freezes up just as the system is explaining a potentially serious diagnosis, this is disconcerting for the patient and all those in the queue behind him. Is this what Obamacare is going to do to American hospitals? It’s a frightening thought. Anyway, the man with the gun demands access to a machine to keep him alive. He seems to know exactly when he will die and, yes, he’s got that right. It makes one wonder why he didn’t come in earlier to explain the problem.
Did I mention Dorian (Michael Ealy) has seen another version of itself as it entered the hospital. Now there of two of it in the same car as Kennex and, as a neat piece of blackmail, Dorian demonstrates that, if it wanted to, it could drive the car. Sorry, should I stop using the third person impersonal to talk about Dorian? That’s a tricky authorial problem, isn’t it. Almost human doesn’t quite cut it for “him”, or does it? So Dorian gives his lookalike access to its old case files and, of course, Dorian forgets to update them. The lookalike therefore charges after and arrests a man not knowing he’s already served his time. Oops!
So beyond this preamble, here comes the plot. The mortuary is extracting the artificial hearts and selling them on to the black market. Without a flicker of hesitation the guilty attendant justifies this resale as only a socialist can. The capitalist corporation requires the hearts destroyed to maintain its high price to future buyers. If a secondhand market began, the capitalists would lose their market dominance and shareholders would complain at lost dividends. The attendant is therefore redistributing the hearts to the poor and needy. Whoa! That sounds too good to be true. And it is. He’s actually selling to a criminal organisation running the ultimate extortion racket. They input the vital organ with an off-switch installed. If the patient then neglects to pay the monthly premium, they switch off the organ. We then get into the ultimate cruelty of a police procedural. Instead of waiting for the crooked surgeon to implant the heart with the off-switch installed, they arrest everyone and wake up the patient. “You’re safe now,” they tell the dying woman. But because this is a US-made series, it must all come right in the end. We can’t have the serve-and-protect brigade responsible for causing the deaths of several hundred people because they caught the bad guys.
The plot basically plodded through the expected steps and we arrived at the end — it got all fuzzy when asked to consider how the criminals recovered the bodies of those they’d offed for nonpayment and we should be wondering why there’s no talk of decommissioning Dorian for reactivating an old DRN, thereby being responsible for the destruction of property and a false arrest. Almost Human: Arrhythmia is an insulting failure to deal with the real issues raised. There was real meat here and we could have had a feast of an episode in which we really began to get to grips with the technology and the dynamics of the different relationships. Instead, we got a trivialised police procedural and a few pauses where we were supposed to imagine the intelligent discussions taking place. I’m seriously considering not bothering to watch any more of this series.
For reviews of other episodes, see
Almost Human. Season 1, episode 1 (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 2. Skin (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 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).