EXTANT Season 1 Episode 1
Episode Title: “Re-Entry”
Writer: Mickey Fisher
Director: Allen Coulter
The story behind “Extant’s” TV journey is one of the more compelling aspects of the show. Out of nowhere, first time writer Mickey Fisher created a script that had networks in a fierce bidding war before CBS came in and ordered “Extant” straight-to-series. Steven Spielberg joined the project as an executive producer and Halle Berry quickly signed on to star in the series.
If that tale was in a film, it would have been one of the most unbelievably happy endings that Spielberg has ever used in one of his own movies. But here in reality, “Extant” still has to prove itself as a show. The pilot is technically well made with impressive special effects and Berry delivers on her performance. But “Extant” is not fully formed as a show. A pilot episode is supposed to make viewers eager to revisit its characters and its world. On that level, “Re-Entry” is only partially successful.
There are two primary storylines here: the mysterious unexplained pregnancy of astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) and the saga of her android son, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) as created by Molly’s husband, John Woods (Goran Visnjic).
One of these stories has potential… and the other one is the android kid. I’m very curious as to why Fisher included both the space pregnancy and the artificial child in the same story. Within the pilot episode, they both exist only to give Molly something to fear. But Ethan and the space baby feel like they’re coming from two different shows.
John acts as a futuristic Geppetto who truly believes that he can create an intelligent and compassionate race of humanoid robots by using Ethan as a template. His theory is that we can avoid the robots from turning against us by allowing their A.I. programs to learn as a human child would. John is so offended at the idea of putting a failsafe in Ethan that he botches a presentation that could have provided a much needed influx of cash to continue his work.
The dedication that John shows to Ethan is almost comical. Molly treats Ethan with kindness, but she’s not under any illusions about what he is. The best scene about Ethan doesn’t even have Ethan in it as Molly points out that Ethan can’t love. He can only provide an approximation of what love is as defined by his programming.
Ethan is already a failure of John’s robotic A.I. theories because he displays increasingly violent behavior towards Molly and the children around him. Unfortunately, Ethan’s declarations of innocence were unintentionally funny and it didn’t convey the sense of menace that the writer and the musical composer seemed to take from it. Berry does her job in that scene and Molly looks suitably horrified. But she can’t carry that load by herself. The rest of the show has to match her level of commitment.
Molly is far more pre-occupied with her impossible pregnancy, although “Extant” is really pushing credibility by letting Molly hide the truth of her situation with the help of her doctor, Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim). Because Molly’s superiors were so interested in the missing time of her space mission, I kept expecting a reveal that Sam had already revealed Molly’s condition to them. Alan Sparks (Michael O’Neill) and his boss, Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada) seem to have been expecting something like this, and Yasumoto uses John’s android research as an excuse to get close to Molly’s family.
Through flashbacks we see Molly’s encounter in space with something that appears to be her dead husband, Marcus Dawkins (Sergio Harford). These sequences are actually the best part of the episode. Something in space wanted Molly to go back to Earth with a child inside of her. I really liked the reveal that nothing Molly saw out in space was captured by the cameras. However, it was frustrating to see her delete the footage before she could determine what had been done to her.
“Extant” isn’t exactly breaking new ground with the space baby or the android kid, but Berry’s screen presence is almost enough to make it work. That said, I don’t really get the pairing of Berry and Visnjic. At no point did I believe that Molly and John really love each other. The script calls for some emotional distance between them, but there should also be a real connection and that’s just not playing out on the screen.
The cliffhanger for the pilot is laughable, as Molly encounters someone from her past while she’s taking out her garbage. He warns her not to trust anyone… and that’s it. As a hook for the weekly series, that was pretty weak.
This isn’t the trainwreck that “Under the Dome” became… at least not yet. But “Extant” needs to do much better if it’s going to justify its continued existence.