Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Almost Human, Season 1, Episode 4: The Bends

We start with that most annoying of narrative devices – a glimpse into the future of the episode. Rudy being apparently held hostage in a lab while his kidnappers call someone and that person doesn’t pick up. He hits a steam pipe and in the obscuring cloud he makes a run for it as he does, one of the men shoot him in the arm.

We then flashback to 24 hours earlier. Of course we do. Why tell a story in order?

We actually begin the episode with Dorian tormenting John in a sushi bar – first by talking to the owner in Japanese about his terrible table manners then by ordering him something still alive and moving to eat. I approve of tormenting John, it’s always fun – less so of the depiction of non-western food though. Though I suppose the same would work if he went to a local restaurant and was served up tripe (merely think of tripe makes me nauseous so I need to take a minute).

Switch to a man lying to his hard working partner on the odd hand-phone about going to the grocery store. Instead he’s going to a nefarious meeting with a group of men (including one with android lights on his face who scans him for weapons) to introduce them to his “cook”. Why do I think “cook” is a euphemism? They call in the boss, a man called Bishop  and the cook hands over a sample of his talent (a vial of green liquid and, no, it’s not the secret sauce). The android guy confirms the green stuff is 84% pure which is apparently very good.

However Bishop is apparently suspicious – and shoots the cook in the head (he’s pretty extreme with his suspicions) then his goon rips out a subcutaneous wire from under the man’s skin. Nefarious man is an undercover policeman. Or was, rather, before being shot in the head.

Dorian and John are called in to the crime scene and find the police officer, Cooper, has a boot full of the green stuff: a new drug called The Bends. It also seems that the police didn’t know about his undercover operation and believe he is dirty – much to John’s anger and outrage because he knew Cooper (albeit 5 or 6 years ago). But Dorian also picks up that Cooper was wearing a wire

To the police station and, of course, Detective Richard is still deeply unpleasant and reminds us of the fact (is there actually a point to this character?) Cooper’s wife Kelly also arrives and goes to John for reassurance

Cooper’s boss, Alexio Barros talks to Captain Sandra Maldonado. Apparently Cooper was a good officer but hadn’t been undercover for a long time. He was working on the Bends investigation since he thought it was about to hit the streets in vast quantities but after he failed to get sufficient evidence after being undercover for a short time, funding was cut by the higher ups (who, by Sandra and Alexio’s tone, are too quick to cut money and tend to expect instant miracles). But Cooper didn’t let it go (just like John – only without John’s plot armour); Alexio is sure Cooper was running a rogue investigation and the drugs were planted to deflect attention from a cop kill. Sandra’s less convinced because they’ve found an account in Cooper’s dead dad’s name – and Cooper’s dead dad has been moving a lot of money around for a zombie. Sandra has to investigate but agrees to keep Alexio involved (he’s so reasonable he’s bound to be dirty, it’s a rule).

John gets a lead from Kelly about John’s cabin so they head out to the very beautiful wilderness to investigate. The cabin has been ransacked; they quickly realise that if his enemies knew enough to ransack Cooper’s cabin then they also know where he lives and have a protection team sent to Kelly’s house. (and have an odd byplay over “friend” as John assimilates the idea of an android being a friend). There follows more snark, of course and they find the recorder his wire was transmitting to

They return to the police station and play their findings to Valerie, Richard and Sandra - who is impressed that Cooper got to see the very elusive Bishop. Richard is still a git. Valeria fills us in on the looming crisis – the Bends are extremely addictive and dangerous but hard to mass produce son hasn’t been a problem – until now with the Bishop finding a way. That means he can make a load of it, flood the market then jack up the price making him a lot of money and causing a lot of chaos.

That switches to the sight of a teenager dying from Bends overdose and Sandra telling John they’ve had 25 deaths by overdose already. John wants to go undercover and pretend to be a Cook to take over where Cooper left off – except, as Sandra points out, he can’t cook ramen. She’s also more interested in getting the drugs off the street than letting John play crusader for his dead friend. He claims to have the same goal – but they need a chemist to make it work

Hello Rudy. He’s very nervous but is talked into it with some strange James Bond fantasy he seems to have. They leave him with Valerie to set him up with an actual criminal identity and Richard who, for once, isn’t being a git to actually school him on being undercover and not treating it like a game. He’s harsh but has some very good advice and is very good at training him even under pressure.

To set up the meeting John and Dorian head to an impoverished part of town to meet a low level dealer for Bishop – though Dorian has to stay outside since they don’t like androids. Judging by the way he’s quickly thrown through a window back outside, they don’t seem to be his biggest fans either. Backed up with Dorian this time, it’s the dealer who is thrown out the window and agrees to make a deal – he will set up the meeting with Bishop so long as John gets the charges dropped against a woman arrested with lots of firepower – John does, with no authorisation.

The meeting is set up and John continues to railroad Rudy into the role. He goes in (and got to keep his hat) and they follow him with cockroach cameras (nifty). He almost ruins the meeting at the first hurdle by giving his real name but he recovers poorly. Dorian goes in to back him up – taking a huge risk and turning off all his communication so they can’t track him – John is quick to agree (not even hesitating to risk Dorian). Randy finally gets his head in the game and claims Dorian was a police android he found scrapped after he was decommissioned and he repurposed him to his use.

They take Rudy to a lab and he cooks up the Bends for them – in record time and producing some that is 95% pure. And Bishop arrives – allowing the police watching to get a full ID of him. Rudy is taken aside by the man and begins babbling – and is given something to drink. When he does, it turns off the GPS he’d swallowed. John and his team move in – but it’s too late, Rudy has been taken to the “real lab”. John is bemused because they were covering every exit

But not the tunnels, apparently, as Rudy emerges from them into the lab we saw at the beginning of the episode. Meanwhile John and Dorian both torture one of the injured goons left behind; and he reveals that the man they saw, Maxwell, isn’t the real Bishop.

Valerie checks the vial that Rudy was made to drink from and discovers it’s the counter agent to the GPS he swallowed – but the liquid GPS is brand new police tech, it’s never been used before, so how could they know to have a counter agent ready? Only if there’s a mole inside the police. Sandra does some digging on Maxwell and finds he managed to dodge a major charge due to “lack of evidence” – and his release was signed by Alexio Barros, the real Bishop (damn, I’m good at identifying tropes).

Who then goes to meet Rudy in the lab. Sandra calls Barros on the pretence of keeping him updated on the case – and her people can then track the call and his location. Meanwhile Rudy babbles on about why he is so very good at his job – his passion and dedication. Then we join the beginning of the episode – Barros gets one of his men to call someone to bring the rest of the supplies and he doesn’t pick up. Because he’s dead on the floor after the police raid… Realising Barros is suspicious, Rudy breaks the steam pipe and runs, being shot in the arm as he does.

Rudy hides while the men follow the deceptive blood trail he’s laid – running right out into an ambush by John and Dorian, guns blazing. They hide behind their android who appears to be bullet proof. Dorian and John split up, John chasing Barros (ending up in a fist fight after he runs out of ammo) while Dorian and the other android face off in a fist fight. The other android looks near invulnerable and much stronger. Yes they both have convoluted reasons to put down the guns (if androids can be bullet proof, why isn’t this no.1 priority for police droids?)

Dorian loses until he manages to plunge a metal hook into the back of the other android’s neck and then have that hook lifted by a crane – suspending the android by its head until that head comes off. Meanwhile John is knocked down, grabs Barros’s dropped gun and shoots him. Barros chokes that it’ll be a mistrial because he’s a captain – and John shoots him in the head while he’s helpless.

Ooookay… what? Murdering helpless men? We’re doing this now?

Back at the police station everyone fusses around Rudy, Kelly says thanks to John and Dorian pokes John into taking Rudy to John’s bar to celebrate and to thoroughly embarrass him.

I hate hate hate shows that do this. I hate books that do this. If any plays do it, I’d hate it when they do it to. Do NOT start your story half way through then flash back to X amount of time earlier. Don’t show us the middle – or even the end! – and then tell the story leading up to it. Tell the story in order. It’s not hard, it’s quite sensible and really common sense. Why you want to drop a spoiler in the beginning of an episode is beyond me.

I feel John fell back a lot this episode in terms of treating Dorian as a human – perhaps. Or maybe it’s a sign of how focused John can be on a task to the exclusion of other people’s safety – he’s quick to agree to Dorian going into extreme danger but then he virtually railroads a grossly underqualified Rudy into the same danger first. We see a lot of the “rogue good guy” protagonist willing to risk himself for his goals – but not so much someone who is so willing and eager to throw away others so eagerly even without any soul searching (though, admittedly, that is usually because the rogue protagonist could never share the limelight).

And on the rogue cop front – we’ve moved from John beating people up and Dorian disapproving to them both getting in on the action. And now summary execution? We’re on a fast train to me disliking the protagonists… This needs addressing, this needs addressing really fast.

Also not impressed by the convoluted fist fights and that tiresome trope of the goodguy having to be beaten up for 10 minutes before winning – why do we always have to do this? It doesn’t even make that much sense here.