Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Almost Human, Season 1, Episode 6: Arrythmia

In a very busy and overwhelmed hospital, complete with holographic, malfunctioning doctors, a man pulls a gun and holds one of the staff hostage. He burst into the back room and demands a surgeon – he says he’s going to have a heart attack. He reads from a list the exact machine he needs. The doctor tries to calm him down – and the man has a heart attack and collapses. The doctor rushes to him and the man gasps an apology and that “they killed me.” And he dies.

Over to John and Dorian in the car – which means lots and lots of Dorian tormenting John because it always does. John complains that Dorian needs to break the rules occasionally (what?! NO! No this murderer should not tell Dorian who is already happy with torture to break the rules more! NO NO NO! More rules please! More!)

They head to the hospital, responding to the call, and find another DRN android repairing the broken machine – he looks exactly like Dorian. John thinks it must be weird to see a copy of yourself but Dorian finds it weird to see a DRN on repair duty – DRNs were made to be police.

On to the body of Leonard Lee who had terminal heart failure – 3 years ago. Yes, it should have killed him 3 years ago and yes he was still walking around. He apparently had a biomech heart – expensive and nifty (not as good as a stem-cell regrow which is implied is more expensive), but he’s not on any transplant list (would you really need a transplant list if you weren’t transplanting actual human organs?). They show them a record of how the dead man acted and Dorian translates what he says in Cantonese “it’s almost 9:18” – his time of death.

As they leave, Dorian brings DRN 494 with him… much to John’s bemusement – he insists that Dorian take him back since he’s hospital property though 494 says his shift is over. John objects to 494 calling him “man” which shows that he may see Dorian as human, but his general attitudes towards androids haven’t changed (Actually this episode was filmed before earlier ones for reasons unknown which may be why his attitudes have changed). John refuses to drive with 494 in it, so Dorian starts remotely moving the car forwards while John splutters. Yes he’s breaking some rules.

Dorian gets his way and pokes John with extra taunting because you have to and 494 keeps up the annoying noises that John stopped Dorian making. John stops the care and demands he gets out – and he does, running to tackle and arrest someone much to their shock. This causes a car to roll into a fire hydrant, the hydrant to fly off and hit a hover drone which then crashes into a police android. Oops.

The man 494 has tackled? Was wanted for armed robbery – years ago. But he’s been released since then. Dorian gave 494 his case files back that are badly in need of updating. Oopsie again.

Maldonado is not amused, very very very not amused. John is also not amused and he asks Dorian why they’re putting up with 494: when Dorian was decommissioned he hoped that someone would turn him back on, that someone would bring him back into police work. John was that person – he wants to do the same for 494. John melts a little.

At the police station, Valerie interviews Mr. Lee’s mother who tells how desperate they were, unable to get insurance and just hoping for some miracle to save her son. She gives them the location of where he had the transplant a year ago. The location is now demolished and even then it was abandoned

John and Dorian finally get to their destination, a company called Vastra, and Dorian pokes John to donate to a charity that helps children get medical technology they can’t afford – pointing out that John benefits from his synthetic leg – which leads on to tricksy questions as to whether John is ashamed of his leg and how much money he does donate – he finally donates to shut Dorian up.

They go up and talk to Pauline Rivera who confirms that Mr. Lee’s transplant was one of their hearts. There’s an extra piece to the heart she doesn’t recognise – it’s not from their company.
John rreminds her it’s illegal to re-sell a biomech organ and she checks the serial number: it was given to a Sylvia Valinski who died 2 years ago. After death the heart is supposed to be destroyed by the funeral home and confirmed in writing to Vastra – which isn’t the most secure measure on the planet

Brief interlude with someone cleaning off a heart and a Dr. Keating meeting a woman called Amelia to tell her he has a heart for her.

To the funeral home to talk to Henry Mills who is using a nifty future cremation machine which reduces bodies to dust in seconds. With a little pressure, Henry folds quickly and confesses to selling the heart and he’s sold a hundred or so over the years – he thinks the law against reusing them is only a law so the manufacturers can make more money; he’s saving lives of people who need hearts when these hearts would have been destroyed anyway

They get a call from Valerie confirming that Mr. Lee has been paying out $5,000 a month for the last 25 months – and Rudy puts in his analysis of the little addition on the heart; it’s a timer. If it’s not resent every 30 days, it stops the heart working. Henry agrees to help however he can and call the contact he gives the hearts to.

In the car, 494 asks why he was decommissioned and Dorian tells him how the DRNs were considered unstable – even crazy. He asks how they knew which DRNs were unstable – and apparently they had a test to weed out faulty DRNS, but the powers that be decided it would be better to discontinue the whole line; though Dorian admits he’s not sure how accurate the test was anyway

The stakeout begins and Dorian drops his eye in John’s coffee (as you do). Henry passes the heart to his contact, Oscar, complete with tracker in the box. The police follow the heart to a warehouse where Oscar delivers the heart to Dr. Keating who attaches the time-limit chip. They go in (494 left in the car) before Dr. Keating starts the transplant on Amelia (and Oscar wants to watch Dr. Keating cut into her – uckies). Oscar and the doctor are arrested – and Amelia woken up, tearfully telling them she needs that heart to live. Time for John’s angst face.

But they may not have the whole operation – we cut to Henry cleaning another heart off for sale and he gets a call. A woman tells him they need to shut down – and not to reset the timers on any of the hearts. He has a full bank of timers counting down.

Richard (the arsehole) questions Oscar while Valerie questions Amelia – who tells Valerie that she’s killed her. John questions Dr. Keating and it seems he doesn’t know what the mod does – he thought it was for remote diagnostics, not a timer. He and Oscar both give up Karen, the woman who runs the scheme

As the questioning continues at the police station, Henry gets nervous – the counters are heading towards zero and people are trying to pay. But the woman he’s talking to fears being tracked. Around the city, more and more transplant recipients desperately try to contact Henry or Karen to pay their money.

At the police station there’s a meeting and they realise that Karen may shut down the operation – all these people may die because of the investigation. Cut to John and Dorian called out to the first death – she had a bitcoin on her for the payment, but she died anyway. Valerie is at the scene of another death and his shocked, sedated wife. But she does make a connection between the three dead and Amelia – all of them were turned down by Vastra’s in-house aid programme, all rejected by the same case administrator for lack of insurance. Pauline Rivera.

They interview her and Maldonado shows her picture to Dr. Keating – but she’s not Karen. Her assistant, Jacinta, is Karen. John and Dorian hurry to Jacinta’s home and find that it has been industrially cleaned – John realises she must have cleaned up the bodies. After all, Mr. Lee can’t be the first man who couldn’t pay and they only found him because he went into a hospital with a gun. So other people dying with artificial hearts must have been claimed by “Karen” – especially since their expensive hearts can be removed and used again. Someone must be disposing of the bodies – and there’s Henry with the convenient body disposal machine.

Off to the funeral home; Dorian tries to make 494 feel useful by having him stay in the car and stop anyone leaving according to protocol and offers him access to updated protocol. 494 doesn’t want to… he tells Dorian that he’s terrified, he can’t.

In the building, Dorian and John chase Henry, who has a gun (shots are exchanged) and Dorian uses his map of the building to burst through a wall and knock the guy down. He’s arrested

At the police station, Valerie confirms that Vastra will replace all the second hand hearts at no cost (John sees it as a PR issue). Henry, in the interrogation room, verbally lashes out at Dorian, how amused he must be seeing humans fighting for a longer life when he has all the time in the world.

494 also tells Dorian of his last case, when he broke protocol and killed someone to save a child. Of course, Maldonado sees 2 DRNs and yells for John. They deliver 494 back to the hospital and he thanks them for the chance to take part – and Dorian removes the memories from his case files: but lets him keep the memory of the child he saved.

John still won’t let Dorian drive.

That whole donation scene – ok I love any time when Dorian teases John and donation is certainly a good thing, especially to help those less fortunate to enjoy what you take for granted. But, at the same time, the way it’s presented puts a special duty on the disabled to donate to charity. What percentage of their income is, for example, a blind person expected to donate . By linking the donation to John’s own artificial leg, we create a situation where John, as a disabled person, has a special duty to donate rather than John, as a person with a decent income, has a duty to help those less fortunate. It’s also not really ok for Dorian to then tell the receptionist about John’s leg – yes there’s lots to be said about shame and pride and no reason to keep it hidden, but it’s John’s leg and it’s John’s business what he wants to tell other people.

In this distant, hi-tech future it seems there’s a very unjust healthcare system, with quality of care based on your wealth even when organs can be manufactured. It’s a good display of the injustice of a healthcare system based on ability to pay – and the desperation of those who are unable to do so. It also very nicely shows how the healthcare industry, when treated as an industry and profit making, can be more about making money and profits than providing care to people who need it – and how regulations of that industry – the laws around it – can often be in place to support that (after all, people weren’t dying from the second hand hearts, they were dying from the hearts being modified. Henry appears to be telling the truth about the law against second hand applying to make the company more money). Ultimately, the illegal hearts kill you after 30 days if you don’t pay up – but with a legally acquired heart, if you don’t pay the massive sum for the heart in the first place, you’re still dead. Only sooner and probably costing more money. One is extortion, the other is business. This is all what I've extrapolated, the episode missed a major opportunity to actually explore it. Seriously we get to the end and it's like "yay, these sick people get new hearts" but they continue with the same policies for everyone else - can't pay the bill? DEATH!

Some wonderful musings about androids and humanity in this episode - well, if they were explored anyway. Which they weren't. From a product point of view and public safety point of view, it made sense to decommission the DRNs, if a significant portion of them are unstable (and dangerous – since we’re talking police situations) then a test to weed out the faulty ones which may not even be accurate isn’t sufficient. But if we consider the Androids as human or living, then assuming all of them are dangerous and need to be put out of action is an inhumanly cruel response and generalisation.

But we need to go further than that. If we’re taking the Androids as human and/or sentient and therefore it’s morally wrong to deactivate some of them for the faults of a few, then the “crazy” ones shouldn’t be considered “faulty” either – they’re insane. If it’s inhuman to deactivate the DRNs because a few are “crazy” then it is equally human to deactivate a DRN that IS actually “crazy.” And that’s aside from the fact if we consider them alive then the fact Dorian and 494 are OWNED is problematic in itself.

Oh there's also lots of emotional stuff going on with 494 but I have no idea why or what

So mid-season hiatus.
There are some things I love about this show. I love the way the technology has been integrated and there’s been some real imagination behind some of the gadgets. Ok, there are a few hiccoughs, but it generally works really well, I like it.

The banter between John and Dorian makes this show. Seriously, the whole show could just be made up of Dorian and John snarking. It’s truly excellent, there’s a great connection and it pulled this show up from its rather poor first episode (though meta was laid down in that episode which has been completely ignored since – desperate retcon?)

We also have a disabled main character – his disability doesn’t inform many episodes and the supertech they have pretty much renders his disability moot in most cases, but it’s there and there are references to it and certain parts of John’s character are derived from it.

But there are some pretty huge negatives:

Firstly, a large amount of the racial inclusion rests on Androids. Dorian is an awesome character don’t get me wrong, but the main POC on this is show is quite literally not human. This becomes more uncomfortable when the narrative covers a lot of Dorian pushing John to recognise his humanity which has unfortunate parallels and implications

Maybe if there were more racial inclusion away from the Androids (we have background characters and weekly characters both android and otherwise who are POC), but in the main cast we have Dorian and, maybe, Maldonado.

I also think this show is missing the opportunity of its premise - "Almost" human is about Dorian being almost human - yet still being property, a thing, etc etc. Between the Sex Bots, Dorian and now 494 there are lots of opportunities to examine these apparent sentient beings being tools and it just... isn't

Then there’s the rules, ethics and procedure. John has murdered and tortured people. He has beaten up prisoners. Many people are killed by police blazing in firing guns without even an attempt to make them drop their weapons first.

This isn’t just a fault of Almost Human, it’s a fault of many, if not most (maybe even all) police procedurals – we always have the rogue cop who breaks the rules for the sake of “justice.” Sometimes they’re not even presented as rogue – they’re a good cop who just ignores the rule book. The rule book is treated as oppressive and ridiculous, a hindrance that gets in the way of justice. Police abuse and criminality (and it is most certainly criminal) is presented as “just” up to and including breaking and entering, fraud, abuse and even killing suspects. It destroys protagonists to me – you do not have a “good guy” who breaks these rules – and the only way this comes close to working on TV is because we can wave the magic writer wand and make the good guys right and the bad guys so very bad. But this sends a toxic message that has an effect on real life – that the police can do no wrong, that the rules that bind the police are excessive and there’s no problem in ignoring them and we ignore the consequences of police abuse. I’ve said it before and I say again, the messages our media sends are not neutral they contribute to a culture that can cause very real harm.

This shows has some female characters – in particular Valerie (designated love interest) and Maldonado (who I’ve already spoken about). It’s… lacking. Neither have an involved role. There are also zero GBLT characters which seems depressingly standard this autumn.

I’m not disliking the show, far from it, but it has issues.