Extant: Re-Entry Review

The new Halle Berry sci-fi drama, Extant, debuted tonight. Here's our review on the premiere episode.

I was needlessly worried. Before Extant premiered, I thought, “How can they cram artificial intelligence, alien contact, government conspiracy, and all the rest into one show?” But I have to say, they’ve hooked me!

Was it a perfect premiere?

No, but few pilots are. Let’s face it; it’s nearly impossible to balance exposition, especially with so many characters to introduce, with a satisfying hook. But a twist ending is always good, and it had that!

I’ll start off with what was missing: action! I can’t fault the writers for that, though, because there was no room, no place I could suggest to put it. The only time the soundtrack ramped up the tempo was when Ethan ran into the woods (a short-lived chase) and when Molly erased the space station footage (frantic, but not exactly action-packed). That being said, I don’t regret the absence of overwrought excitement; I could just have used a bit more oomph in the narrative.

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Honestly, though, the only slow-paced part of the episode was the beginning when they were rolling out the cool toys: the bathroom mirror touch screen, the self-driving car, the garbage-zapping trash can. I especially enjoyed the transparent mobile devices and the 3-D PowerPoint presentation, although someone should tell John Woods to cool it with all the unnecessary floating bullet points. Thankfully, once the Humanichs demonstration began, the pace picked up nicely. I really enjoyed the ethical debate John’s presentation presented, and I imagine the theme of what constitutes life or humanity will continue throughout the series.

Plus I really love that these characters are flawed. John clearly is in denial about the dangerous potential of his creation, and his defensiveness comes off as unjustified though understandable. Ethan, I imagine, is making a concerted effort to be as human as possible but obviously has whatever passes for emotional issues in his programming. Molly erases the space station camera footage out of a fear people will think she’s crazy even though her deception is clearly not in her best interests – and we get it. Her friend Sam Barton and Molly herself are amazingly short-sighted about ignoring quarantine procedures upon discovering the inexplicable pregnancy, but it’s a choice we can get behind. These are the kinds of bad decisions that make for complex characters. The audience will understand their downfall and root for their redemption and personal growth as the series progresses.

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting villains as well. Hideki Yasumoto, I assume, is being set up as the selfishly motivated corporate tycoon, although it should be noted that he’s done nothing wrong – yet… other than emerge from a golden coffin, naked and covered in goo, with absolutely no explanation. And it remains to be seen whether the android son, Ethan, will be a devil-child or a misunderstood machine. Either way, I’m good. But it’s the understated nature of the alien presence on Seraphim Station that really intrigues me. What does it want? Why does it not show up on video? Why would it impregnate a human? I can’t help but suspect ill intentions. And lastly, but certainly not least creepy, why the hell are both Yasumoto (whom I thought was only interested in John) AND Director Sparks watching live surveillance of Molly’s supposedly private psychiatric appointment? That’s just wrong!

With the abundance of promotional material, I thought there would be no surprises in the Extant premiere, but there was one shocking moment at the end that, even having seen it in a preview clip, elicited a satisfying “Woah!” from me just before the credits. It wasn’t so much what the guy in the shadows represented for the conspiracy elements of the show; it was his identity as it was revealed that provided an eye-widening moment, making me realize they didn’t give away all the secrets in the promos.

I’m definitely sold on the Extant premiere and will happily tune in for more. As long as the writers don’t string the audience along too much and dole out answers to questions at a satisfactory rate, the show should draw a big audience. Halle Berry may have brought them to the TV, but it will be the storytelling that will keep them coming back. Hopefully, the show can keep its momentum going and live up to its considerable promise.

Want more Extant discussion? Join me and Dave over at http://extantpodcast.com each week for episode analysis, predictions, and plenty of fan interaction!

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3.5 out of 5