Extant episode 3 review: Wish You Were Here

Extant's extreme good looks are papering over some of its cracks, Holly finds. Here's her review of Wish You Were Here...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 Wish You Were Here

Three episodes in, things aren’t quite as action-packed in the world of Extant, though they are definitely still pretty to look at. This week, events have slowed down and, though Dr Molly Woods is still struggling with her situation, it’s time to do some reflecting and even celebrating. Her belated birthday party and Ethan’s introduction to the first real test of his humanity – the first day of school – are good opportunities to pause and look around at what has happened… though what you think you see might not actually be happening.

Okay, so it’s still a bit convoluted, even if this week the show decelerates into expositional soap opera territory. The flashbacks are more informative than scary this time around, and there are more walking-and-talking explanatory bits than harrowing moments (though we still get a few of those).

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All of it, though, looks really good, and the slower pace means we’re able to rest our eyes further on what has been a truly visually striking series so far. Speaking of which, let’s dive in first with the creepiest visual of the episode (and possibly the series so far): Ethan, silhouetted in the doorway after his father finds the bird he captured earlier. That was a bona fide horror-movie moment–if he’d then held up a knife or started talking in a HAL voice or shot lasers from his eyes, it wouldn’t have been out of place. His just standing there, however, was infinitely more chilling.

That’s the thing about our Ethan – he sure does find himself in situations that make him at least look like a demonic little psychopath. Impressively, though, his actions and the cryptic things he says can also be portrayed as completely innocent – the bird in the first episode was dead when he got there; the captured bird this week was just a new friend he wanted to play with. Since it’s established that he can’t have the developed nuances of human tone and facial expression, we might have to just believe him. For now. I’m still not convinced that he’s not Satan’s android spawn, and the lingering shots of his stoic (sinister?) face plus images such as this week in the doorway do nothing to help his case.

And that’s a good thing – I think the visual cues are what this series is executing most compellingly so far. The gorgeous flashbacks to the Seraphim are used to mesmerizing effect, with Molly’s dreamy weightlessness making her sudden visions of Marcus all the more jarring. Big white lighted scenes such as Yasumoto’s dinner on a glowing table in a glowing room in the first episode emphasise that we’re in a different world now… an illuminated future world. Yasumoto’s office, too, is a stark, overwhelming space housing a collection of relics, highlighting the relative smallness of the humans walking around it.

This week, we spend most of the time set in either the Woods’s house or Ethan’s new school. Both of these places are a different story visually. While many effects have been impressive – I want to go to the museum with the pretty airborne holographic fish – the ones in our anchor spaces are iffy. So many of the intended innovative touches just seem like Jetson-ized versions of what we already have and of what we’ve had since the ‘80s, really. Molly and John’s house is equipped with all the finery of a space-age dream home, but why does the carpet look like the shabby stuff you’d immediately pull up as soon as you moved in? The cars, too, seem basically the same but just make cool futuristic noises. And if I have the ability to project movies and pictures onto any reflective surface, I’m sure not going to be using the flat screen TV I currently have sitting in my living room here in 2014. Maybe I’m just disappointed there are no hoverboards. Or maybe we’re not as far in the future as we think.

Returning to the plot, though not as action-packed, this episode managed to pull off some tense moments, especially toward the end. I’ve been worried about Doctor Barton this whole time, as she is way too smart and well-meaning to last too long with the corruption at ISEA being as it is. The Men in Black closing in on her gave us an excellent cliffhanger, and Molly’s claustrophobic car ride with Sparks was a brief nail-biter.

A few things aren’t completely working for me at this point. Halle Berry’s acting is great as always, and her ridiculously beautiful face carries much of the momentum forward in its expressions alone. She is completely committed, but something is still missing. I can’t identify it yet, but the terror in the show doesn’t come from her. Conversations such as she had with Sparks, in which he “reveals” the blind experiment that impregnated her while in space, should have way more impact than just explaining a bit more what’s going on. Their car ride, too, ended strangely as she bails out and runs away, just to end up a little confused at John’s driving up to save her.

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The timing seems out of joint as well, and the scenes are at times not fluid. The whole thing with Marcus’s brother’s appearance – or lack of – was in a weird vacuum. Is he dead, too, and what does he have to do with anything except making Molly feel even more like she’s going crazy? Molly’s awkward freakout when she sees he’s not in the picture begins in front of the party guests, but then she’s in the same point in the freakout with John when we see they’ve all gone home. Then, freakout ended, she inexplicably walks upstairs to see Ethan, wanders back downstairs, then moseys into Sparks’s car outside. Am I missing something? It all felt weirdly disconnected. Maybe that’s on purpose. 

Extant is still exciting TV, and I’m very much still on board. The resolutions to the little cliffhangers, as well as the answers to the questions raised this week, are more than worth sticking around for. I’m just hoping for more connection and less problematic distraction. In the meantime, its lovely aesthetic continues to bind it all together, at least for the time being.

Read Holly’s review of the previous episode, Extinct, here.