On ocassion I have the opportunity to sit down and TV binge. It used to be that this was via boxsets, but now my viewing has been opened up by the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, to both of which I subscribe. Over the last couple of weeks I have been binge watching Extant on Amazon and decided to do a season overview review.
Extant – CBS
Created by – Mickey Fisher
Written by – Mickey Fisher
Main Cast – Halle Berry, Goran Visnjic, Pierce Gagnon, Grace Gummer, Camryn Manheim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael O’Neill
Set in the not too distant future, Molly Woods is an astronaut with International Space-Exploration Agency (ISEA) who has returned from a 13 month solo mission aboard the space station Seraphim. She returns home to her husband John, a robotics engineer who created their son Ethan, a prototype android called a “humanich”. Molly shockingly discovers she is pregnant and the search for answers becomes a dangerous journey into the future of humanity. With the unborn baby, referred to as “The Offspring”, extracted from her, Molly goes to perilous lengths to try and be reunited with her baby, and along the way discovers a conspiracy that involves her own employers. The Offspring, able to control people, is part of a alien disease/infection that intents to spread to earth by crashing the infected Seraphim. Molly has to stop this catastrophe happening, eventually with the help of her humanich son.
I went into this not knowing at all what to expect. From the little I had read in the Amazon blurb, all I knew was that Halle Berry was an astronaut returning from a solo mission and her son is an android. I figured it would be Gravity meets AI. And on some levels that isn’t wrong at all. There are definitely concepts and moments inspired by other works such as those, in fact there are quite a few bits here and there that hark to other well told stories. This, I need to point out, is not a criticism. It is incredibly hard to have something fully and completely original and if it borrows from something, does it well, perhaps takes it in a different direction, then that’s ok with me.
Due in part to this borrowing perhaps, there are occasions where you know what’s coming next, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t entertained when it actually happens.
An interesting clue to the story unfolding can actually be found in the credits – the word Extant, meaning existing or still in existence, morphs from the word Extinct, its polar opposite. This subtle hint gives moments in the show intriguing meaning. Talk of a possible android uprising and Ethan’s affinity with robots meant for menial labour, his curiosity about the meaning of extinction. These all plant seeds which make you wonder if what we are going to witness is actually a show about the end of mankind. In some ways it is, though the threat it seems in the end isn’t from androids but from an extra-terrestrial origin.
I feel like somewhere in here there is possibly a message about children. The fact that Ethan, made but raised by Molly and John, is “good” and that the Offspring, conceived by Molly and alien DNA is “bad”. Perhaps something about nature versus nuture, but I can’t quite get it.
Complexity and Coincidence –
Given that my own novel looks at how we can add up coincidences and call them fate, I can’t fault Extant for the mass of coincidences that run through this story. I don’t think it necessarily detracts and it could be that it is nothing more than coincidence, but I do wonder if it is something that might be explored further if there is a second season. That Molly Woods happens to be the astronaut that brings back the infection/offspring, who also happens to be the mother of the world’s only humanich and that her husband who made said humanich happens to want funding from the very people who have secretly been sending astronauts in to harms way and wanting to reap the benefits/offspring is a whole lot of coincidence. This is something I can live but not sure all viewers would.
By the end of this season these aspects – the infection/offspring, theories on an android uprising, and terrorists trying to frame androids – all come to a conclusion, and I felt rather well. There are the loose ends that have been left for a potential follow up – Ethan’s body is destroyed and he becomes incorporeal, and the offspring is now child off out in the world, these are waiting to be picked up in season 2.
Some of the plots are more cut and dry than others – the two that feel slightly underdone are the intent of Ethan and the Offspring. In the beginning it is framed in such a way that we start to wonder about Ethan and whether he could actually be a bit of a psychopath. On the other hand Molly’s devotion to the Offspring, which is stolen from her during gestation, the relationship that seems to exist between them and the help it occasionally offers, leaves us wondering about it’s over all intent. In the end it tries to stop Ethan from saving Molly, and humanity, which leads partially to the destruction of Ethan’s body. From the show down we can assume that Ethan is not gunning for the human race, but the Offspring is despite his earlier efforts to help Molly. It might be interesting to see if this is a bait and switch that unfolds in season 2.
Not so much loose ends, but titbits that might perhaps be explored in a second season, includes the terrorist group and the fact that one of them is married to Hideki Yasumoto, the man funding both humanich and space exploration projects. Considering that Yasumoto is trying to remain young, after having discovered an alien substance that keeps him from ageing and dying, it is interesting if not too surprising, that his wife has strong views on other forms of life. The fact that she is anti-humanich adds an interesting idea to the fact that her husband queries whether his consciousness could live on in an android body.
Considering both of the leads are movie stars, we might expect the calibre of acting to be high, and for the most part it is. That said, both Berry and Visnjic struggle on occasion, in particular some of the more emotional scenes can feel hammy and forced and there arguably isn’t much chemistry between them. Berry is one of those actresses that can be great, but we know has also been not so good. Some of this role she really sells but there are those few off beat scenes where it just didn’t work for me, especially those with more emotional gravitas.
The breakout star by far is young Pierce Gagnon who played humanich son Ethan Woods. By turns chilling, endearing and engaging, Gagnon completely sells the role and is a delight to watch.
The special effects range from amazingly good – such as the various androids and technologies encountered in every day life – to a bit crappy. The moment where ISEA boss Alan Sparks thinks he has killed Molly, but rolls over her body to see it is his daughter is jarringly done – perhaps a little morphing would have been a good idea.
And the biggest let down is the Offspring. From the moment it is extracted from Molly we don’t see it again until it has grown to a child of a comparable age/height as Ethan. We get to see people’s reactions, and from the Offspring’s point of view, but never get to see what all the fuss is about. I think in movies this idea of not seeing the thing everyone is reacting to can be used to great effect, but dragging it out over a whole season to then just be a little boy with weird eyes is a bit disappointing.
I really enjoyed this. It took me an episode to get into it, but then I found it compulsive viewing. There are a few weak points, and Halle Berry isn’t always at her best, but overall it is an intriguing premise and nicely done. I don’t think it necessarily needs a second season, but I’d watch it if they made it.