Conscious, huh, Dorian?
This sequence struck me as strange and counterintuitive the first time I watched this episode. After all, from the POV of Vanessa’s creator/programmer, why wouldn’t they program her to know she was a bot or different from humans, a piece of machinery with a homing signal, an imprint telling her who owned her? Hell, my phone and iPad both have both of those things. I can even locate them using GPS. Why wouldn’t Vanessa know she was a machine owned by someone else? It doesn’t make sense - what if she got lost? But of course, she can probably be located using the Almost Human-verse equivalent of GPS, too. And why does Dorian look so chagrined at listening to all of this?
Then it occurred to me that Vanessa wasn’t programmed to know she was owned because her purpose was to provide the perfect facsimile of eager, consensual affection. She was programmed to provide the perfect facade of a willing sexual and romantic partner, an illusion that would be ruined if she gave even an inkling that she wasn’t real, anything less than human. That would be off-putting and defeat the purpose for people looking to “make a connection.”
Because unless you are creepy and rapey and don’t care about such matters, we want people to desire us of their own free will, not because they’re brainwashed/programmed to. That radically changes the dynamics of your interaction with such an android, so she had to be programmed to give the appearance of total free will. And that’s why she didn’t know she was “owned.” Dorian realized all of this; that’s pity we see on his face.
That’s the great irony of sexbots - the phenomenon of the uncanny valley prevents us from wanting to be intimate with anything that looks human but isn’t. So for a sexbot to be a good sexbot, it has to look as human as possible. It has to feel as human as possible, both inside and out - that’s why they were harvesting human DNA for the skin, after all. So in retrospect, the episode was actually quite brutal: about a cartel of people looking to make androids as human as possible to dehumanize them even more effectively. Dark, show. Dark.