Almost Human has had more than its share of ups and downs this season. A promising concept, a dynamite cast, stellar production values, and a comfortably familiar sci-fi near future should really have been enough to carry Almost Human to almost runaway success. But for everything that it has going for it, Almost Human has had just as much working against it. Far too many episodes have been straight out of the network police procedural handbook. Just as bad, Fox insisted on airing the episodes out of order, which occasionally nullified the sometimes incremental change and character development, and muddied a few season-long plot points. And now we have the final problem of the season (and if we're unlucky, the final problem Almost Human will ever face), a 13th episode season one "finale" that doesn't at all feel like a proper season finale. "Straw Man" isn't a bad episode at all, but I was hoping for considerably more for the last episode of the season, especially considering Almost Human's uncertain future. Spoilers await, so please be advised.
"Straw Man" refers to the villain of the week, a serial killer who takes transient teenagers, removes their internal organs (including the brain), and replaces it with (you guessed it) straw. This particular M.O. may seem more appropriate for Gotham City than the world of Almost Human, but that's not really the big problem here. The problem with "Straw Man" is simply that this is a "business as usual" episode of Almost Human, and not, in any way, an actual season finale. Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that the producers were likely hoping for a 26 episode season, and thus couldn't expect to really drive the show home with "Straw Man." It is, nevertheless, a little disappointing.
There's a little bit of fun meta-commentary running throughout "Straw Man." Dorian (much like the show itself) is under review from the folks at internal affairs, who are wondering why a decommissioned unit is given so much time on the force. We get the expected bits from Captain Maldonaldo and Rudy, but the most fun is had (as expected) by Kennex, who, in appropriately dry fashion, is seen recounting an event from an earlier episode. "He flipped a van once. Pretty cool. Didn't know he could do that." Neither did the viewer, and we've seen little indication of those kind of overt superheroics from Dorian since. In fact, if we've learned anything about Dorian during Almost Human's inaugural season it's that his abilities are only limited to the imagination of the writers. He can do whatever it takes to let them write themselves out of any corner they find themselves in.
Those bits of character recap extend to Dorian and Kennex's interactions. We've come to expect the comic relief segments in the police cruiser between these two in every episode, and this one played like a "greatest hits" album. Might this have been irritating? Perhaps. But as usual, Ealy and Urban are in top form, and really, how can you go wrong with a line like, "I apologize for scanning your balls?" It serves as both a reminder of some of the fun we've had with these characters throughout the season, and, possibly, an affectionate farewell to them, as well.
The link to Kennex's past is a tenuous one, which then sets up the episode's plot device and solution. Kennex's father, killed in the line of duty, had been accused of stealing robotics equipment from police evidence rooms and selling them on the black market. This is also complicated by the fact that he put the Straw Man serial killer behind bars...so how can he be killing again? The connection between these two seemingly unrelated pieces of plot are what ultimately solve the mystery of the week and allow our Detective Kennex to exonerate his father. While this should have been a fine way to get into our hero's head, the fact that we've never been given much indication that this is something that weighs heavily on him just makes it all feel a little empty.
And then there's the bit with Detective Paul. Clearly set up early on in the series to be the bigoted hardass of the team, his characterization has been wildly inconsistent throughout the show. His touching display of generosity (in between your usual bits of ballbusting) for a down on his luck youngster, while nice, still felt jarring considering how all over the place this character has been (some of which is the fault of seeing the episodes out of production order). But is this supposed to be a look into Detective Paul's past? In a full season, might we have seen more of this? We may never find out.
And speaking of Dorian, what about those implanted organic memories from a few episodes back that seemed so significant? That sure felt like something that would play a big role in the march to Almost Human's finale, but it's not to be. How about John Larroquette's mysterious Doctor Nigel Vaughn and his daring escape over "the wall?" And while we're on the subject of that wall, how come it was only mentioned one other time, and in passing, no less, since then? All forgotten, perhaps victims of the 13 episode order, and perhaps never to be heard from again if Almost Human doesn't get another shot next year.
Now, here's the big question. Does Almost Human deserve a second season? I believe it does. There's simply too much for the show to explore and the cast is too good to let this one get sabotaged by an inconsistent airing order and some first season jitters. After all, television shows often take more than one season to perfect the formula that eventually carries them to unbridled success. While Almost Human could certainly do with a shift away from police procedural storytelling and towards a more thoughtful, character based approach in order to really distinguish itself, it's not an insurmountable task. With the towering charisma and chemistry of Karl Urban and Michael Ealy and an above average supporting cast, anything should be possible. Here's hoping this isn't the last we'll see of Kennex and Dorian, and that FOX will treat the show (and the viewers) a little better next time around.