by HELEN SCHUMACHER
creator Mickey Fisher
In the new Extant, Molly Woods is an astronaut who has returned from a year-long solo space mission pregnant. The show boasts the star power of Halle Berry in the lead and Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, but not much else. While it is too early to tell whether Extant’s space mysteries and conspiracies will offer viewers intrigue, the show's beginnings mostly amount to cyber fluff.
Extant opens with Molly’s welcome home party. Molly (Berry doing what she can with the role) is in the bathroom puking, her son Ethan is beating up another child, and her husband John, played by Goran Visnjic, is barbecuing in a cardigan. Besides being an avid fan of cable knits, John Woods is an engineer working in the field of artificial intelligence who built Ethan after the couple was unable to conceive. Ethan is a prototype Humanich, an android who learns how to be human by being raised as a child.
The next day John brings Ethan as show-and-tell for a funding presentation. Self-righteous declarations about morals and souls abound, and his request is denied when the company’s board learns there is no kill switch for the androids. Or because Humanichs is a horrible name.
Meanwhile Molly is back at ISEA headquarters, a private-sector version of NASA, learning of her pregnancy. In a flashback at the doctor’s office, we see her aboard the space station as a solar flare triggers a mechanical failure and Molly is visited by the apparition of a former lover. He’s unable to string together words to form a sentence, but possesses the ability to impregnate Molly with the touch of his finger. It’s an interstellar homage to Michelangelo's classic Sistine Chapel fresco Creation of Adam.
Molly awakens after the encounter in a panic and deletes the videotaped evidence of her hallucination, which arouses the suspicion of her employers back on Earth. After a few cryptic references to a deceased astronaut who also was affected by a “solar flare” while on a mission, the ISEA decides to keep a close eye on Molly. Lucky for them the Yasumoto corporation that funds the agency is the same corporation John was hoping to get money from. Yasumoto circumvents the board’s decision and offers him the money personally. They also tap Molly’s conversations with her company-appointed psychologist.
Back on the domestic front, Molly attempts to reconnect with her family are faltering. She interrupts Ethan practicing his emotional intelligence in front of a mirror with a trip for ice cream in the park. Precocious and doe-eyed, the child really delivers the uncanny valley. (Ethan is played by Pierce Gagnon, the boy who nailed creepy in the movie Looper.) After a mysterious note spooks Molly, she tries to leave. Ethan runs away and, it’s insinuated, snaps a bird’s neck in retaliation.
The episode ends with Molly back at home. She is taking out the trash when a shadowy figure appears in the driveway. It’s Harmon Kryger, the astronaut who supposedly committed suicide after finishing a mission like Molly’s. “Trust no one,” he whispers before disappearing back into the hedges.
In effect, both Molly and her husband have been impregnated by their imaginations: John through his robotic work (his workshop looks like it could have belonged to Jim Henson) and Molly through her space hallucination. It’d be fitting for a show attached to the Spielberg name to make precious the imagination. The show as a metaphor for what human creativity could birth in the future would give it the gravitas network dramas often lack. Alas, this is doubtful. Extant has no imagination of its own. Its pastiche sci-fi terrain is already well mapped.
Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and here. She last wrote in these pages about Device 6.
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