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Robert Altman Week


In Which We Were Most Certainly Raised As A Child



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.

The Best of Helen Schumacher on This Recording Is Yours

Her time at recess & LHOTP

Which of the following images do you think represents this game?

The career of June Mathis

It was all a means of divination

Falling victim to the gory seductions of Clouzot

The life and death of Veronica Geng

Joy Williams oozes a milky substance

"Atom to Atom" - Klaxons (mp3)

"There Is No Other Time" - Klaxons (mp3)


In Which We Find This Troubling To Contemplate At All

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


One of my good friends just found out she's having a baby. I'm happy for her and genuinely excited that she and her partner are going to be parents. But I feel like my friend is changing so quickly! We used to make fun of women who posted pictures of their "baby bump" and we promised each other we'd never be so silly. Now she's doing all that stuff, and I don't know whether to bring it up with her or see if it's just a phase. 

Jean C.

Dear Jean,

It depends. Do you think parenthood is just a phase? 

Sorry, your friend's life — and her friendship with you  will never be the same. All you can do now is show up to her inevitable shower(s) with pastel-colored bags full of tiny, expensive clothing that her mewling, drooling offspring will outgrow immediately and hope for the best.

By which I mean, be supportive. We all make promises about what we'll never do, say, or like that we grow up to break. For example, I said I'd never use the word "offspring" again, but here we are. Telling your friend that you're disappointed in who she's becoming will basically ensure that you'll attend the funeral of your friendship instead of your friend's blessed event.


I met Tim in fall of 2009. Outside of the few times when he was drinking our relationship has always been relaxed and comfortable. Tim doesn't really drink very much, probably because when he does drink, he drinks far beyond the point of excess, and frequently doesn't remember his activity at all.

Let me emphasize that Tim does not get violent when he drinks this much. He generally becomes useless to anyone, fumbles around and can barely take care of himself, which means that me or his friends have to exhaustingly take care of him for the rest of the night.

I'd be lying if I said how I view Tim wasn't affected by these times, but I still consider him my partner and friend. How can I help him without ruining the relationship?

Lauren M.

Dear Lauren,

Everybody has flaws except for young Joan Didion. She should have been preserved in amber. Here are some things that ultimately ended my relationships:

1. Whenever he wore a suit, he would yell, "Zoot suit riot! Throw back a bottle of beer!" Fucking idiot.

2. He asked me where recycled plastic went. When I responded, "A recycling plant," he giggled like it was a joke.

3. He chased pigeons like a poodle.

4. During sex he would get super embarrassed if he sweat at all. Then he would apologize, roll off me and check his e-mail.

5. His sister was named Veronica Toolings. Just no.

6. He would put his hands on my face every time we kissed. When I asked him why he did it, he said because Ryan Gosling did. We didn't break up because of this, but it was still pretty weird. We broke up because he moved to Brazil.

7. If we went to the movies, he bought three boxes of candy. He would save one for later that night.

8. He killed a guy. It was self-defense, but it still worried me at times.

See? Tim is not so bad after all. He most likely has a severe allergy to alcohol that means he will not be a functioning alcoholic, which is way worse than someone who can't hold his liquor. If you really want to make him better, try to get him to take some other drug that is fun when he goes out that will replace alcohol, like mushrooms or arsenic.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"That Point When" - My Brightest Diamond (mp3)

"Whoever You Are" - My Brightest Diamond (mp3)


In Which We Observe Lizzy Caplan In Her Natural Environment

Arching Back


Masters of Sex
creator Michelle Ashford

Lizzy Caplan's fake eyebrows are organisms in themselves. They represent the little amputations that everyone has on Showtime's Masters of Sex. They indicate the very opposite of what seems most probable. It would be most probable for Lizzy's titular boss, William Masters, to be happy with his blonde, pretty wife and new baby boy. Instead, he is miserable: when his son cries, he maliciously places "Bye Bye Love" on the record player. When his mother objects, he sends her back to Ohio.

Masters' own missing pieces are all figments of his imagination. He is not really devoid of anything, since he is a man. Others shamed by the explicit depictions in his revolutionary sex studies are reduced to menial labor and propositioned in bathrooms, but he not only gets his sex study back, he gets a new gig at a hospital with a lewd president (Danny Huston).

It is the wackiest kind of fun to watch Michael Sheen play this man who can emit so little of himself into others without ceasing to function. Masters' spastic attempts at trying to relate to people at all transform into misunderstandings that feature great deal of apprehension on both sides. In the bedroom he is like a tiger, all energy directed towards what he wants. A killing lion is to be envied; isn't William Masters just Aslan in a gynecologist's wardrobe?

The revolution can never completely succeed or fail because of men like Masters, who never forget that they are beasts, and never stop being ashamed of it. It is substantially easier to feel sympathy for someone like that than, say, Alec Baldwin. Don Draper can damn well help being who he is. Masters lacks that basic programming of self-awareness, and never bothers to apologize for not having it.

A friend of mine recently visited St. Louis. She said there was nothing there. Masters of Sex is as far from a love letter to the area as you can imagine. You can ascend, she said, in a tiny little pod that takes you to the top of the city's signature arch. At its zenith, you are still somewhere between the ground and the sky, and you have had to give up so much to reach it.

Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson does not seem to spend very much time with her two children by her first husband. The show seems to share Sheen/Masters' disappointment with the sinister beasts, even though Virginia's kids are adorable and nearly self-sustaining. To feed them she tries selling diet pills, something she obviously would never do.

Children on Masters of Sex are solely an appendage that no one knows what to do with. When one philandering doctor's wife finds out his infidelities, she brings the kids to the hospital so that they can all confront him. (The offending adulterer hides under a desk.) The young ones are always around when you do not want them, and missing or nonexistent when you do.

Virginia breaks up with would-be fiance Ethan on the phone, and Dr. Masters hears her doing it in the next room. Later, Virginia asks if he heard her, as she had intended, and he said that he had, and did not sound pleased by the content of the call. How difficult it is to not hear a judge's sentence and think your fate is not being described as well!

The best part of the entire show is William Masters' home. The doctor has no eye for furnishings himself, and how his wife arranged the space is pleasing to him, but also a disturbing exertion of control. He strains at that, and there is something so lonely about his environment - open spaces in the living area that he feels drawn to not occupy, or move through quickly. Standing in the middle of his own house, he looks as if he might disappear into the wallpaper.

At times people fall out of love. But that is only rarely, if it really was love at the start. Usually what happens is that a misunderstanding of sorts existed. It went uncorrected at the time. The affair went on, resonating like love in each chasm or enclosed place, dwarfed only by innocence and naivete. No one on Masters of Sex can claim to be innocent, so it should not be surprising that these people are so frequently unsure whether or not they are in love.

There is a snake that lived in Nysa that always acted in the same fashion as its prey. If its prey fell in love and cozied up to the snake, the reptile would return the warmth to whatever extent he could. If the prey struck out at him in jest, he responded the same. And finally, when the prey ceased being prey, the snake hid.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Paradise Is You" - La Roux (mp3)

"Cruel Sexuality" - La Roux (mp3)