After the ups and downs of season one, it was nice to see Extant on a more focused path in “Change Scenario.” Gone are the associations with immortality and dead loved ones. Gone are the characters who lacked chemistry with the protagonist, Molly Woods, played by Halle Berry. What remains is a leaner story surrounding an alien invasion and government conspiracy plot with a little robot dilemma thrown in for good measure. It’s still not a perfect show, but the improvements are already apparent and appreciated.
The series picks up six months after the events of last season’s finale, but thankfully, some details are shown of the aftermath of Molly’s final trip to space. The public is unaware that the Offspring, Molly’s alien hybrid child from last season, even exists thanks to her lies in the Senate hearing, and those in the know believe the problem has been contained since the Offspring is supposedly dead. When a military man justifies the deception by saying, “Why cause a panic,” I immediately panic. Cue invasion of the body snatchers.
There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the spread of the alien menace and what its ultimate goal is, but the beginnings are teased nicely in this opening foray. Loose ends are also tied up now that ISEA and Director Sparks, Yasumoto and his immortality quest, and even minor characters like Sam (Camryn Mannheim) and Gordon (Maury Sterling) are out of the game. In fact, the slate is almost wiped clean as John, who causes too many waves after his Humanichs project is taken over for national security reasons, is summarily disposed of. Now there’s no one to stop the impending robot army! Aliens vs. robots anyone?
I’m glad the writers chose to place Julie, played by Grace Gummer, in a more villainous role considering how unlikable her character was last season. Her obsession with Ethan and her brief affair with John become the driving force behind her becoming part of the government takeover. It’s interesting that the military now has its hands in both the alien plot and the robot story. Given that David Morrissey plays the Woods’ inside man, General Tobias Shepherd, audience members are pre-disposed to distrust the actor who played The Governor in The Walking Dead. I predict a betrayal in the future.
The other applause-worthy casting choice is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays cop for hire, J.D. Richter. Berry and Morgan instantly have more chemistry than we’ve seen in the series thus far, even though the Richter character doesn’t show up until the second half of the episode. The investigation of mysterious deaths in which women’s abdomens have been torn open from the inside is immediately compelling and starts the season off with a quick buy-in for the new focus of the show.
Futuristic tech plays a key role in this series, and several items of note appear in this episode, including virtual reality therapy, robotic advancements, and self-driving cars. Some odd logic is used at times for narrative convenience, such as when Molly steals a car simply by having its owners phone in her possession, but the fact remains that these touches are impressive and add to the overall sci-fi atmosphere of the show.
Extant could easily lose the race for viewers this summer, but it’s made it over the first hurdle: this reinvention really works. Although the writers jettisoned a few actors and plotlines, it appears to have been an admirable choice. Better dialogue, more likable characters, and a clearer focus is just what the show needed. Answers to questions like why the aliens chose to show people their dead loved ones last season may never be known, but it probably doesn’t matter. This new story has teeth, and if the viewers get bitten, they may just stick around for more.