Almost Human is rounding out its mid-season finale, and I have to say that it was, mostly, pretty stock police action with a smattering of I Robot. Neither pleased nor disappointed, maybe this one checks off enough of the requisite boxes from the odd couple drama to meet Fox’s mediocrity threshold and not get cancelled.
It is, mostly, pretty standard dystopian fair. Which should be right up Karl Urban’s wheelhouse since he’s been in all of them. His resume includes Dredd, Riddick, Priest, Doom, and the newest Star Trek, which gives off an ominous dystopian vibe even though it’s based on a Utopian society.
The show calls back to a lot of other near-furure-with-ubiquitous-robots settings we’ve seen and the parallels with Blade Runner are hard not to notice. But Blade Runner also took place in a dystopia, so maybe that’s just a function of the genre.
Dystopia is odd to me because it is generally like the world we live in. As if you took modern scifi and added just the tiniest dash of post-apocalypse. And yet it’s somehow so diverse. 1984 and Starship Troopers are both in this category.
If I had to describe the quintessential element of dystopia in one word it would be alienation. Whether it’s Robocop or Mad Max (which I would argue is a post-apocalyptic dystopian future) it’s about feeling lost in a world we used to know. For me, these almost-but-not-quite-home settings are a an exercise in exploring disposability.
Usually these places have overbearing governments and horrible crime. They’re places where the people feel powerless and utterly disposable in the face of massive social institutions. Bar codes and omnipresent supercomputer networks are prominent themes because the everyman is just a number. The people are as much commodities for use as they are human beings. Maybe more so.
Some films, like Day Breakers and Elysium, set up the disgruntled protagonist to fight the system and bring the world a little closer to something we recognize. Dystopia represents the alienation we feel in our own lives. It’s that feeling you get when The Man tells you to wait in a 3 hour line at the BMV or informs you you’re behind on your mortgage payments.
Dealing with these systems we are, often literally, a number in a computer. Your handler (they often prefer to be called customer support) doesn’t know your story and wouldn’t care if they did.
It’s no coincidence dystopian fiction is relatively new. Authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley wrote about great systems of alienation in response to the changes brought on by industrialization. Never before had such large numbers of people been concentrated in urban areas. Communication and organization on such a large scale had never been seen before.
Many of these fiction writers wrote about systems that would change the way we relate to each other. Things like empathy and comradary aren’t part of the sterile relationships produced by bearucratic systems.
For much of modern history there has been a fear that the product of human industry would dehumanize our relationships. And it’s not unfounded. We can do a lot these days without having meaningful attachments to other people. And if our internet communication are an indicator, we seem to be drawn further apart by the technology of the future.
So enters the grizzled, old-school protagonist doing his work in the context of social forces he neither enjoys or fully understands. He’s us, just trying to do the best he can in a world that just is.
This is the other thing about Dystopia. You get a few Ethan Hawks and Matt Damons, but many of the protagonists aren’t fighting to change the system. They are just fighting in the system against some of the symptoms.