Extant episode 13 review: season finale

It's finale time! Here's Holly's review of Extant's last episode...

This review contains spoilers.

1.13 Ascension

I told you not to press the big green button. It paid off! As I said last week, I didn’t really think it mattered what happened in this week’s season finale of Extant, as I and probably a great number of its viewership have disengaged at this point. I was expecting, honestly, a really dissatisfying deus ex machina with little green men or such; what I got instead was actually a really well done finale and just a good hour of TV.

We got a lot of answers, which again, I wasn’t expecting. I’ll start, though, with what we still don’t know – a surprisingly short list. The most glaring absence that I could see was Yasumoto – we didn’t see him at all. Same with Sparks. Both were men teetering on the edge, Yasumoto of life itself and Sparks of, well, reality. I don’t know that the question of either of their fates would have been enough for a cliffhanger, but it would have been nice to at least have a hint as to where they were headed. Femi, Odin too – there would definitely be material for a further storyline involving the anti-tech rebellion, but again, this closing episode was fine without it.

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I seriously underestimated the series’s writers’ ability to tie everything up – in anything but a really outlandish way – in one episode. In fact, I didn’t even bother to estimate either way, much less under so. Thus, what an unexpected delight it was to have both resolution to the most prominent plot threads and a good episode in its own right. Looking back at the writers for this season, it’s no surprise that this finale was written by creator Mickey Fisher, whose previous episodes have been some of the most solid.

Somehow, so many of the weak points – and just straight up annoyances – of the series corrected themselves in this final hurrah, or at least didn’t merit eye-rolling. Halle Berry’s overacting? Completely justified here – I mean, she is vaulted directly into a perfect storm of personal terror, a combination of revisiting her biggest trauma, leaving her husband and son(s) in a volatile state, and quite frankly not knowing if she’ll even return, as odds are against it. Her scenes on the Seraphim as she battles through spores, hallucinations, even a delusional Sean, all while knowing the clock is counting down to detonation, are harrowing. And her scene speaking what she thinks are her final words to Ethan and John – my jaded heart might possibly have softened just a bit. I love that her strengths were finally used to a completely fitting effect; I just wish things had worked that way all along.

And let’s talk about Pierce Gagnon. Okay, so Ethan didn’t turn into the mutated evil robot overlord as I’d hoped, but it’s not because he couldn’t have; behind young Gagnon’s eyes lay every nuance of Ethan’s potential, good or evil, and it was zero hour before we could truly 100% know his intentions – and find out that the non-human little boy has the biggest and purest heart of all.

Beyond the acting, which I think is strongest overall this episode, there are some seriously tense moments as each storyline speeds to its close. John, Julie, and Charlie’s pivotal scene as they each desperately want to do what is right for Ethan and for everyone’s safety, but cannot agree on what that is, is particularly effective. We finally see the breakdown of the season-long strain between John and Julie, and for the first time it seems real instead of broodingly adolescent. In some ways, they are actually Ethan’s real parents, and their shared anguish even as they bitterly disagree is unexpectedly moving. On the heels of this emotionally-draining moment comes the elevated urgency of convincing Ethan of their love as they try to get the “phone” away from him to avoid blowing up the whole tower. The relief is palpable as Ethan hands over the device, and another of the show’s weaknesses is righted as the inexplicable brainwashing of Odin is erased.

Molly, of course, has her own tension in the form of being possibly about to die for the entire episode. Hurdle upon hurdle appears for her to jump over, culminating in the deliciously suspenseful altercation in the escape pod between her and HAL Ben. (I mean, come on – he even says, verbatim, “I’m afraid I can’t do that”!) Then, Ethan once more raises the stakes as he becomes her only hope of survival.

Action, pacing, suspense, genuine moments of pathos weaving it all together – well, I wasn’t expecting this review to include much of that at all. I also wasn’t expecting to have a tiny little whisper of hope at the possibility of a second season. I still think it’s highly unlikely, but contrary to my every expectation, I might at least not be weary at the thought. I wish, though, that this had been the norm – that there had been some sort of unifying consistency throughout. I hate that it took the season/series finale to get to this point. I’m thinking, for those who didn’t watch during the first run, that maybe a binge watch would make it make more sense. It’s at least pretty enough to keep you going.

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The one thing I said I would not do would be to end with some pseudo-profound rumination on the nature of life and love and humanity. So I won’t. Extant gave us plenty enough of that. For all its faults and broken promises, though, I will dare to say the show delivered when it came right down to the end. Regardless of the series’s fate, I say it can declare at least a small triumph in the hopeful note upon which Ethan’s story ends – and in the compelling last moments in which we’re left to wonder just where The Offspring is headed.

If this is the last we get of Extant in this form, I think it’s a respectable conclusion. As for me, I’m holding out for the spinoff with Kern and (a resurrected) Kryger. Who’s with me?

Read Holly’s review of the previous episode, Before The Blood, here.