Extant: Re-Entry

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from a science fiction show on CBS, even from Steven Spielberg, so I was surprised at my visceral reaction to this pilot. It was full of sci-fi tropes, but wow, it brought on the creepy, and it brought it well.

Molly Woods (Halle Berry) is an astronaut who just spent thirteen months alone on a space station called Seraphim, and has returned home to her husband John (Goran Visnjic) and their son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon from the exceptional sci-fi movie Looper). Molly and John make an astonishingly gorgeous couple, and Ethan looks like the perfect blend of the two of them. And yet, we learn almost immediately that the Woods are childless and Ethan is artificial, a "humanich" prototype created by John.

Little Pierce Gagnon was awesome. He was cute and normal, believably naughty, and then, he was super creepy. When he told Molly how pretty her hair was, I immediately flashed to Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed -- "I've got the prettiest mother! I've got the nicest mother!"

I found John Woods to be somewhat creepy too (something Goran Visnjic does so well) although maybe he's just so passionate about his creation that he refuses to consider the obvious Frankensteinian possibilities. The presentation where he was refusing to even consider a kill switch in case his little robot got out of hand was chilling because he was talking about it in front of Ethan. Does John really believe there is no chance of a robot turning on a human? Has he never seen Blade Runner or Battlestar Galactica?

Later, John and Molly had an argument about their artificial child while surrounded by bits and pieces of earlier versions of Ethan. Wow. Message received. The exploration of "what is human" is one of my favorite science fiction themes. Is John correct that raising Ethan as a normal child will actually make him human? Ethan's behavior was ambiguous enough that I couldn't tell. Was he just acting out earlier in the episode like any child would? Did he find the bird dead, or did he kill it?

Or is Molly hallucinating problems with Ethan, as well as what happened on the Seraphim? She remembers that her late husband Marcus showed up at the airlock and that she let him in. (Just like John has never seen Battlestar Galactica, Molly has obviously never seen a horror movie.) "Marcus" acted exactly like an alien in her husband's form (very Starman) by staring at her and parroting her words. But when he touched her face and she passed out, I actually got seriously creeped. After she woke, Molly checked the video feed to see what happened while she was unconscious, and "Marcus" wasn't there. Freaked, she deleted the log. And of course, now she's pregnant. Again, very Starman. Except Starman was sweet. This most certainly didn't come off as sweet.

Because Molly doesn't have enough problems, she was also visited by Harmon Kreiger, a workmate who committed suicide. "Kreiger" told her, "Don't trust them." Don't trust who? We can assume "Kreiger" was referring to the Yasumoto Corporation, who controls the ISEA space program and whose CEO just woke up in a puddle of organic goo. Extinction was mentioned, and of course, the word "extant" is formed from the word "extinction" in the credits. Extinction, to be replaced by what? Artificial people like Ethan? Creatures like "Marcus", "Kreiger", and possibly Yasumoto?

It may be one sci-fi trope after another, but there's something about the quality of the production and Halle Berry's performance that is attracting me to this series. I won't commit yet to reviewing all thirteen episodes, but if they're all as good as this pilot, I just might.

Note from later: In case you're thinking you might try Extant at some point, let me add this postscript. I got bored halfway through the season and just stopped watching. After reading this recap of Extant's final episode at TV Line, I'm glad I stopped when I did. Please note that the link itself is spoilery.
Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.


ChrisB said...

I was underwhelmed. While I thought the acting and the production were first rate, the story didn't grab me as much as I thought it would.

I'll wait to see how you like it going forward before I commit to more.

Paul Kelly said...

I liked this. It was, as you say, rather derivative -- at times it felt like a mishmash of half a dozen different sci-fi films -- but if it does something original with those ideas, I think I'll probably stick around.

I do like the idea of them bringing up humanics the same way they bring up regular children. The question of what to do if they run amok was a valid one, but in the context of giving them a human upbringing, then what about the potential of humans running amok? It's unthinkable that we'd kill children just because they start acting out, so why implement a kill switch for humanics? Do the humanics have no rights simply because they're created things? It seems as if Yasumoto Corp are already trying to assume the god mantle.

I suppose the other issue is, will the human experience truly make the humanics 'human'? Should this even be a goal? Although John has fashioned his creation in human form, shouldn't they be allowed to become their own thing? Do they have superior strength? At the moment, Molly's assessment of Ethan seems valid – he looks and acts like a human – but is that because he has a 'soul' or because he's a simulacrum of humanity. Molly has already noticed changes in Ethan, changes that John perhaps can't see because they've been gradual. Just because Ethan started off 'human' doesn't mean he'll evolve in the same way a regular human would.

The dead bird/ice cream business was freaky, but regular kids do that, too. Of course, some of them grow up into fucked-up adults like Dexter. Should Dexter have been put down when he started to go wrong? If the show deals with these sorts of questions on a regular basis, I think I'm going to like it.

The other thing that drew my attention is the show being called Extant -- usually meaning something old which still exists. Do we know what that's a reference to? Is it a reference to extant beings? Is Ethan simply the product of complex algorithms and machinery, or is his 'soul' coming from another source... perhaps the same source animating the show's returning dead characters?

Paulo Brabo said...

They seem to be trying to escape the traps of the "Demon Baby" plot by introducing a creepy child *before* the actual baby is born. It may work!

Josie Kafka said...

I suppose the other issue is, will the human experience truly make the humanics 'human'? Should this even be a goal?

Excellent question, Paul. When John was talking about how robots can provide companionship and connection, I was really confused: is that their purpose? Can't we just keep using other humans for that reason? Are the robots meant to be humans with gears instead of organs? If so, why? Or are they supposed to provide caregiver and other low-wage job care to humans? In that case, treating a robot like a human then saying, "Hey, congrats! Now be a slave!" seems like an excellent recipe for a robot uprising.

Billie, I'm really glad you encouraged me to check this show out. It's very interesting.

Fun Fact: Yasumoto is played by Dogen from the sixth season of Lost.

Kayne said...

Is this the US version of the swedish "Real Humans" show? Or something else?

Gavrielle said...

@Kayne: This is not the Real Humans (Akta Manniskor) adaptation, which I believe is still in the works.

I'm currently watching Akta Manniskor, which has become one of my favourite SF series ever. It's just superlative. So I wasn't sure there was any point in watching another show about replica humans given that Akta Manniskor does that so well, but I gave Extant a go anyway. I actually really enjoyed it. Like you say, Billie, I feel I've seen much of it elsewhere, but it's definitely engaging enough to keep me watching.

Deborah Gallegos said...

I just now finally watched the pilot and then headed right over to Doux Reviews. Great review, Billie, and I'm sad there's not more :(

TRULY enjoyed your comment and thoughts, Paul Kelly. Maybe you'd like to step up to the reviews for Extant? ;)


Billie Doux said...

Note from later: In case you're thinking you might try Extant at some point, let me add this postscript. I got bored halfway through the season and just stopped watching. After reading this recap of Extant's final episode at TV Line, I'm glad I stopped when I did. Please note that the link itself is spoilery.