Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Almost Human, Season 1, Episode 11: Disrupt

Rudy is doing some technical stuff – some nefarious technical stuff that apparent involves Dorian. Until Dorian wakes up and isn’t impressed to see Rudy messing with him; Rudy tries to downplay it but Dorian isn’t buying it – messing with his body and head while he’s unconscious is not ok. John arrives and thinks Dorian is overreacting but Dorian questions whether John would really be happy with someone, for example, shaving him while he was unconscious.

The question goes unanswered because they have to go cover Detective Richard Paul’s shift who is off work due to… an infected intimate piercing. Ok, the less we dwell on that the better. Rudy returns to his nefarious work and gets an error message – unknown foreign batch file. That’s not good.

Cut to the likely future case. A man returns home (a wonderful hi-tech home showing a lot of the shinies future technology can bring) with a very secure security system which seems to have caused him problems. The implication is that it “did its job” and killed a teenager and the man and his wife are now getting death threats.

She goes for a swim and he sits to watch the TV while their house computer, Sam does everything for them… until he goes all HAL on them and closes the pool over the woman, Linda while making her husband watch footage of the dead teenager and locking him in the house. He is forced to break his own windows to go out to try and rescue his wife from drowning – and the security system shoots him. She then drowns.

In come the police, Maldonado handling the press and John telling someone else that Richard is out for explosive haemorrhoids – methinks trusting John to give an accurate account of Richard’s diagnosis is not a good idea. Officially the cause of death is the house security malfunctioning – exactly one year at about the same time as it “malfunctioned” and killed the teenaged boy. Statistically unlikely, as Dorian points out.

They talk to the house computer, Sam, who confirms that he was remote accessed but all security files have been deleted. He does give them the literally thousands of threats the family received.             

Dorian takes a moment to criticise John for making up stories about Richard – though he does it under the rather dubious excuse of respecting Richard’s privacy, but he’s only using it to try and bring up what Rudy was doing to him. John puts it down to part of what it’s like to live with other people – you lose your privacy.

They visit the company that creates the Sam computers, Centurion, – their new models use Sam androids, not Sam holograms – which also doubles as a bodyguard/security bot. They go to see the head of the company, Kay Stenson and her lawyer Peter Newsome who both assure John of their eagerness to co-operate (and Dorian has a little moment where he freezes due to the weird files Rudy put in his head). Anyone who tells you how eager they are to co-operate is just stalling you while the shredder works at light speed. They’re especially eager because the Sam androids (I will not call them Samdroids, I will not!) are just being released and the bad press would be… unfortunate.

Despite their eager co-operation, they’re very defensive when Dorian questions whether an employee or ex-employee may be behind the hack. And John makes a sharp comment on how when a kid jumped into your back garden you used to yell at him, not kill him with laser guided gunfire. Kay hits back – she joined the company and the industry because she was assaulted by 3 men who broken into her home when she was 15 – and the police didn’t get to her in time. They mention the group Disrupt, which has been launching cyber attacks against the company after the death of the teenager

Meanwhile Valerie interviews Cynthia Kasden – the mother of the teenager, Aaron, who was killed by the house. She has an alibi at a church vigil for her son and wasn’t online during the attack (how much of an alibi can you have for this? Couldn’t it be hacked ahead of time and given timed instructions?). Her campaign is against the Centurion company selling these houses at all – and Peter Newsome, the Centurion lawyer, apparently smeared her son in court, painting him as a criminal.

John and Dorian are doing their driving/talking thing and Dorian tells John about the weird images he had – a memory of playing with a toy as a child; obviously Dorian has never been a child. Dorian realises that Rudy is responsible but they’re interrupted by every light in the city going off – and the giant screens being replaced with messages saying “Justice for Aaron” over his picture.

To the police station where Maldonado briefs everyone; Disrupt has claimed responsibility and presented Aaron as their reason. Of course tracking Disrupt members down is hard since they’re anonymous – they only have a handle Crispin X

They go to Rudy, who has a history of hacking, who admires Crispin X’s skills – but he’s not a member of disrupt, he’s a mercenary who will work for anyone. But there’s an easy way to find him – after a big hack everyone (whoever everyone is) gathers together in a great party (kind of destroys the whole “anonymity” thing. And the whole global thing which also tends to be an element of online groups). The plan is to send in Valerie, posing as Rudy under his old handle, Aphid, and using some of his old hacking computers to show her credentials.

John is also going in as backup so Rudy has to alter how they look so they aren’t seen as police; so they have to play dress up and John putting on a British accent. To go to a “party” which is lots of people who have apparently gathered together to sit in chairs and put on virtual reality goggles so they can party virtually. They eventually find Nico who may or may not be Crispin and arrest him.

Dorian talks to Rudy about his odd memories and Rudy dodges around it, suggesting it’s a random fake memory caused by his cortex messing with data – and reveals that while he was supposed to be turned off he activated Dorian repeatedly and they had long discussions and numerous hijinks – all of which Dorian doesn’t remember because Rudy erased the files when he was being reactivated

Valerie and John question Nico who admits to hacking the tribute but not to killing anyone – Disrupt, who hired him, are protestors not murderers. (John questions protestors who hide anonymously –uh-huh, because their society looks like it’s going to be so welcoming of dissent!)

But there’s another murder – lawyer Peter Newsome was killed when his Centurion Sam house decided to suck out all the oxygen to stop a non-existent fire (John also takes the chance to spread more nasty information about Richard’s supposed illness). Investigating they find that the house was hacked while Nico was in custody – and that one of the death threats with Aaron’s picture on it isn’t posed or a stock photo – it’s from someone who must have known Aaron.

They offer a deal to Nico if he can trace the photo – which he does, showing a photo of Aaron with a girl. Dorian accesses his creepy creepy database of everyone and tells them her name (Emily), school record, testing and how she was expelled and now home schooled and how she was recently filed as a missing person. Yeah, definitely dystopian.

And Kay, head of Centurion security, gets one of the death threats, while Nico finds that Emily has already started compiling info ready to attack her.

John and Dorian rush to Kay after sending her a warning while Emily and Nico battle over control over Centurion’s Sam computer system, it’s locks etc to help Kay escape the Sam android (nope, not going to do it – it will not be the Samdroid). Nico also thinks Emily must be in the building to do what she’s doing

Dorian and John enter the building and Nico manages to temporarily shut Emily out which means when she gets online she unleashes just about everything – 5 minutes until oxygen is gone. And a legion of Sam androids to play with as well!

Dorian finds Emily (yes, they really did think it was best to send John to protect Kay against whatever the building threw at her while Dorian went to find Emily. No I have no idea why). Dorian fights one Sam Android which he defeats while John gets to fight more by having Nico giving holographic copies of himself to hide who the real one is. He goes on to rescue Kay from the remaining Sam android – what, was there ever any doubt of John not saving a woman?

Nico stops the oxygen being sucked from the building while Dorian talks Emily out of suicide.

Aftermath – Detective Richard Paul is actually taking his mother to Mexico for her birthday – and doesn’t need the haemorrhoid ring the nice people want to buy him. And Valerie has a twee moment showing Aaron’s mother all of his online friends, proof he wasn’t alone.

And to add some more twist, Rudy tells John he lied to Dorian. He found the memory deep in Dorian’s mind – and they’re organic data, actual memories. Memories that have been there a long time since before Dorian was reactivated – Rudy has closed them off so no-one can plant more in. John wants to tell Dorian but Rudy is worried that if it gets out Dorian will be decommissioned like the other DRNS

This episode again fills me with hope that we’re going to tackle some of those meaty issues. Rudy rooting around in Dorian’s head while he’s asleep makes the point I made in a previous episode – even Rudy, one of Dorian’s fans, doesn’t treat Dorian as a person due respect. Again with John, not understanding the issue. Even Rudy having all kinds of adventures with Dorian then just erasing chunks of his memory points to a lot of ways how, even though Dorian may be regarded as sort of a person, he isn’t seen as human.

I liked looking at the future home with the tech, but I don’t think anyone would want their email to open up on their walls; do you really want “HORNY BLONDE….!” and “GET A HUGE WANG!” as your new wallpaper?

Obviously, at Fangs we’re all very much in favour of more diversity but I question the depiction of a Black man’s self-defence (albeit via house) causing the death of an innocent white teenager given several recently well publicised cases with White people claiming self-defence (and getting away with it) in the murder of Black teenagers. Especially since, unlike those White killers, this Black family end up punished for it. The parallels only become clearer when they mention things like Aaron having his reputation smeared in court. Flipping a narrative like this doesn’t work – especially when it is so very much in the media at the moment, because it tries to present race as a neutral or irrelevant factor (“it could have happened the same way if they were reversed”).

Kay presents an interesting attempt to counter the narrative of the brutal, over-reacting self-defence but it’s shallow; apart from anything else it’s clear that the defence systems her company sells are extremely expensive. Presenting her work as an attempt to protect people against the victimisation she suffered falls flat when that protection comes with a price tag.

As for the story – we have HAL, a dash of really poorly understood Anonymous and Hackers who apparently regularly gather together for real world parties after a successful illegal hack yet at the same time know so little about each other they can easily be infiltrated. And they actually travel somewhere to party remotely rather than… partying remotely at home. Add to that that any random person you choose apparently knows where Crispin X – a mercenary hacker with presumably criminal inclinations – happens to be. Ooookay, because that all makes perfect sense. The writers were damn lazy with this one.

At least, compared to the demonising of social media we have seen on the show, there’s a nice acknowledgement that having a lot of online friends doesn’t mean you’re sad and lonely – it means you have friends just not so close.