Extant Season One Review
Extant‘s quality assessed after the dust settles
Well, it’s been two weeks since the first season of Extant came to a close. Now that the dust has settled, let’s pay this series some closer attention. We’ll start with a brief recap, since this is a lot to take in.
On a solo mission, astronaut Molly Woods sees her long-dead boyfriend inside the space station. After she returns, her required medical testing says that she’s pregnant, and an ultrasound confirms it. This is doubly impossible because Molly has been infertile ever since the car accident that killed her boyfriend and caused her to miscarry. Her husband John tries to secure funding for his android development, but the ISEA board rejects him. The ISEA is also the company that Molly works for, and they knew that something important happened when the space station’s footage went missing. Molly deleted it after her hallucination; the company goons accept her claim that it was an accident to her face, but resolve to keep an eye on her.
Not long after, Molly learns that Harmon Kryger, another astronaut who allegedly committed suicide, is still alive and trying to contact her. He, too, hallucinated that he saw a lost loved one aboard the Seraphim. When he told his superiors at the ISEA, they claimed he was schizophrenic. He believes that they are experimenting on their astronauts. Molly eventually tells her boss Sparks, and he claims that he had no idea and wants to get to the bottom of it. When he gets back to her, he claims that her pregnancy is the result of illicit medical testing and asks her to come in to be checked out. Molly finally tells John what’s going on and decides to go with Sparks after suffering another hallucination. However, she is warned by her physician friend to get out of the car, so she jumps out of the door. John and Ethan went after her, and the ISEA’s agents have swarmed the Woods home.
The Woods flee to Molly’s father, who has a home on a nearby island. They’re not safe for long: ISEA mooks shock Ethan unconscious and abduct Molly in order to remove her offspring. After they’re done, they leave her in the forest with Ethan to be found by John and the police. When Molly wakes up in the hospital, the doctor claims that she is not pregnant and there is no sign of her recently being pregnant. Meanwhile, the folks at John’s lab are having difficulty bringing Ethan back, as the shock damaged his core. For all intents and purposes, he is in a mechanical coma. While waiting for Ethan to recover, John and Molly are able to test some of Molly’s blood from a towel she used at her father’s house when his dog bit her. It reveals that she was pregnant, and with something that was not entirely human. The two decide that the only way they’re going to figure out what’s going on is for Molly to pretend that she believed their story – that everything was a hallucination.
Molly returns to the ISEA and apologizes to Sparks, who lets her back with the warning that she’s on thin ice. Shortly after, Ethan wakes up, but he can’t remember what made him shut down. Harmon manages to get the security director’s, Kern’s, fingerprints when he passes out at some kind of drug salon, and uses them to steal data from the ISEA. He manages to pass the data off to Molly before Kern captures him. After spending some quality time with Kern, Kryger managers to convert him to Team Astronaut.
The encryption stumps John, but not Ethan, who reveals the footage to be a video from an earlier space mission. In it, Sparks’ daughter Katie talks about a virus infecting the crew that’s driving them to kill each other and themselves. She tearfully says her goodbyes and fervently tells the recipients to not go after their ship. Molly notices that Katie displays similar symptoms to her, meaning that Katie was also pregnant at the time.
The ISEA has Molly’s offspring squirreled away in a nefarious underground lab, where it promptly sets to making the techies kill each other. He also has the ability to make people see things, and Sparks has been visiting him in order to “see” Katie again. The three plan to steal the offspring from the lab, but it doesn’t go as planned; the offspring escapes. He ensorcells Sparks with his visions of Katie, and has Sparks look after him. He rents a camping cabin at a park he and Katie used to visit and feeds the child with energy drinks. Kryger attempted to kill the hybrid, and Molly is obviously less than understanding. Kryger believes him to be a danger; Molly believes him to be a frightened child who needs help. In order to keep her from getting in the way, Kryger seals Molly in the lab and rejoins Kern. John eventually gets worried about her and calls Yasumoto for help. Yasumoto invites him and Ethan to his personal apartment (in the same building as John’s lab). He tells John that he had a team search the secret lab and found it empty. In reality, Molly managed to ambush the security team’s leader, escape the lab, and stuff him in a van. The elite mook’s cell rings, and Molly picks up. Yasumoto is there, eager to provide help in tracking down the child. He hands Molly over to Mason, supposedly an expert in this kind of thing. Molly grows suspicious of Mason when a flock of birds attacks the car, apparently directed by her kid. She bolts, but Mason quickly recaptures her.
Unfortunately, one cannot feed a child on energy drinks alone, so Sparks and feeds him a person. He also calls his ex-wife to show her, and she’s completely sold on the idea. The two call a mechanic to come look at their truck, and then hit him over the head and leave him for you-know-who. Molly and the ISEA people get to the campsite packing a whole lotta heat. The mooks stay behind as backup, while Molly and Mason approach the cabin. As those who the child feeds on become his thralls, the child has the mechanic knock Mason out. Sparks invites her inside and she enters a dream in which her boyfriend lived and she never miscarried. Sparks guides her into the rental office and to the computer, where the dream prompts her to input some code. She’s somehow diverted the course of the newest Seraphim mission. However, Kern and Kryger have finally tracked Sparks down, and see him leading a disoriented Molly from the office. A firefight ensues, and Kryger dies. The kid has the mooks turn their guns on each other and Molly and Kern escape.
At the apartment, John asks Ethan to sneak past the heat sensors and down to the lab, where he’ll get help from Julie. Instead he finds Julie’s terrorist boyfriend and goes back to the Woods residence with him. Said terrorist boyfriend uses this opportunity to plant a bomb in him and give him a special “phone” (really a detonator) to call him in case John tries to shut him down, a line that he’s been feeding Ethan for some time now. The folks at the lab notice the shutdown and try to check Ethan out, but he resists and pulls out the detonator. They manage to talk him down and open him up. They call in Kern, who says that this type of bomb can’t be safely removed.
Molly and Kern find Sparks alone in a motel and capture him easily; he claims to have been left behind because of his wavering loyalty. They use this opportunity to call Yasumoto and claim to have recovered the child, using Sparks to vouch for them. They meet in a dark garage, and are able to capture Yasumoto and rescue John. They bring him back to the ISEA, as Kern claims to know his replacement well. Sparks makes an attempt at freedom, but is quickly recaptured. He tells them, “It’s done,” but they don’t know what ‘it’ is.
On the Seraphim, astronaut Sean is contacted by another space crew, claiming that they’ve found a woman adrift in an escape pod: Katie. The communications have mysteriously gone down, apparently Sparks’ work. However, even when the ISEA brings theirs back on, the space station is still dark. They decide to tell Sparks about Katie, and he reveals that he had Molly put the station on a crash course to Earth. Their best chance is to send Molly up there to bring back the communications and change the course. That night, Molly meets her child face-to-face for the first time. He talks briefly about being commanded by another force, but not in detail. Whoever, “they” are, they’re hitching a ride on the Seraphim disguised as fungus. When the ship disintegrates in the atmosphere, it’ll spread spores everywhere.
Molly goes up in a new, spore-proof suit. When she finds Sean, he says that something burst out of Katie and killed her. The communications have also been damaged. Molly manages to get the necessary parts out of the thoroughly-infected shed, but loses a glove in the process, leading to exposure. On the ground, Jackson, Kern’s replacement, tells John that the child’s broken into the ISEA headquarters and they’ve had to evacuate. Ethan volunteers to go in, as the hybrid can’t manipulate him. He brings back the communications and is able to help Molly and Sean leave the Seraphim, which is set to blow. However, the bomb inside Ethan goes off and he appears to die, but actually is able to upload his consciousness into the mainframe.
Now here’s the actual review part.
Molly starts off as a generic protagonist, but she grows a bit as the season go on. We know that she’s brave, intelligent, and fiercely protective of her family, but some more effort is needed to break out of the box. How does she like her coffee? Does she have any nervous tics? Hopefully the next season will fill her in some more. Her husband, John, seems much earthier.**
Also, John. John. John and his massive breach of ethics. As far as we know, John and his team are the first people to create an AI in this way. Why aren’t people freaking out? We see several board members aren’t happy with this idea, but where’s the media attention? Where’s the ethics committee? It seems that no one but John and Yasumoto are monitoring the Humanichs project. They don’t even bother to handwave this lack of supervision. No one seems even remotely concerned with the idea of creating intelligent beings and then (presumably) selling them to others. The Humanichs’ welfare in this system is not brought up even once. Seriously, what kind of awful future is this?
Ethan underwent a lot of character growth, but his arc ultimately feels useless. It starts off with some of Ethan’s Troubling Unchildlike Behavior (killing a bird when he gets angry), and continues with his accelerated (ie, inhuman) learning capabilities. He appears to have jealous feelings about Molly’s hybrid child after seeing her devotion to him. But then it goes wibbly and Ethan sacrifices himself for Molly. It feels like the writing crew was sitting around trying to figure out how to continue with him, and then just gave up. Yes, yes, there’s some fine schmaltzy lesson about what humanity “really” is, but come on. This was such a great chance to explore a character who was sapient but not human and how he would navigate the world and its challenges, possibly in very inhuman ways. There was a chance to force Molly to really consider how she treats her two children, with her apparent favoritism for the biological over the adopted. Instead, they killed Ethan’s body off so Molly can go chase her homicidal, possibly evil hybrid child. Maybe they’ll try to bring some of these conflicts through to the next season, but I doubt it. Someone dropped the ball there.
I wonder if it’s because they didn’t feel they could kill a child character. Speaking of child characters …
Molly’s kid. Molly’s kid who is working for evil aliens and who may or may not be an evil alien himself. This show has basically shown a child character that has left a large amount of carnage in his wake. On one hand, he is clearly being coerced by the mysterious “they.” On the other hand, he eats people. Can he be rehabilitated or redeemed? Are they going to kill him off in order to do so? Will he be the one child Molly can keep? I feel a little bad for the bugger, but he eats people! Molly doesn’t know this yet, but I wonder if her view of him will change upon learning it.
To summarize: it’s been a good ride, if a bit bumpy sometimes. There are cliches. There are some good mysteries.
But there is no ethics board.
*I am not at all sorry for this pun.
**Not this one, either.