(Full Spoilers Below)
Whenever a brand new science fiction show comes out, I tend to be pretty apprehensive about it. Sci-fi has had a troubled history on TV, with some series’ reaching brilliance within their first couple episodes, and others crashing and burning in just as much time. So, when I first heard about Extant, a science fiction conspiracy thriller starring Halle Berry, I wasn’t sure what to think. Especially since it was airing on CBS, the network channel famous, or should I say infamous, for its mostly generic and repetitive crime procedurals. But, with a little encouragement, I decided to take the leap and dive into Extant and see just what it was about. And while the show still has a lot to prove, its first two episodes have fully convinced me that this is a show very much worth keeping an eye on.
The show stars Halle Berry, who, as I’m sure you know, is a fairly popular Hollywood actress who you wouldn’t normally expect to take on a network television show. And yet, here we are, and with an actress of this caliber obviously having faith in Extant‘s ability to hold an audience, shouldn’t we? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, Extant is an immediately fascinating and even thrilling show that demands every ounce of your attention. It doesn’t hand feed you anything, and the themes and ideas it grapples with are complex and interesting. However, it also throws so many questions and conspiracies at you all at once that it can be a little overwhelming, making it hard to get really invested in either the plot or the characters because you’re still scratching your head over the last twist it threw at you. But, even with that said, I can’t help but caught up in it all, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where it all goes with its fascinating premise.
The story starts off by introducing us to Molly Woods, an astronaut who just returned from a 13-month solo mission on a space station over Earth. Now that she’s back on the ground with her husband and young son, she’s challenged with readjusting to normal life and daily human contact. Halle Berry handles the character of Molly well, and she gives a believable performance that, for the most part, stays pretty consistent. She can get a little melodramatic at times, as can the plot to be honest, but she does a good job with the material she’s given, and definitely succeeds at giving the audience a protagonist that is easy to root for.
The rest of the cast is fairly good as well, and even though many of them are still mostly blank slates, since we’re only on the second episode there is plenty of time for them to evolve and grow as the mystery surrounding the premise depends. Which, in my opinion, is the best part of the show so far. The mystery behind how Molly returned to Earth, after 13 months of solitude, with a baby growing inside her is obviously the show’s biggest hook, but it isn’t the only one. Even though this particular plot gets plenty of screen time, and grew in some really interesting, and legitimately creepy, ways, there are so many other subtle and not-so-subtle mysteries to unravel that it’s hard not to get hooked on it all.
In addition to Molly’s seemingly impossible pregnancy, it also seems as though something else happened to her up there, something strangely tied to solar flare that knocked out the power to her station. Through the use of flashbacks, we see several Molly on the station several different times, first experimenting on what seem to be normal plants and casually talking with her computer AI named Ben, and the next we see her apparently hallucinating an encounter with an old partner and romantic interest. The thing is, the security camera footage shows that no one was on board except her, and yet she insists that what she saw was real. Too scared to tell her family or her employers at work, she keeps the phenomenon to herself and confides only in her friend and medical doctor, who acts as the only logical mind in pretty much the entire show.
To make things even stranger, Molly isn’t the first astronaut to come back from the space station Seraphim and show signs of a mental breakdown. Several years before Molly, there was an astronaut named Harmon Kreyger, played by the always great Brad Beyer, who was tasked with the same 13-month mission she was. While he was on board, a solar flare knocked out his power, and he encountered his long-dead mother. This was by far the creepiest moment of both episodes, and obviously channeled some classic horror movie vibes that definitely made my skin crawl. Unlike Molly, however, Harmon didn’t just sit back and let the apparition from his past take advantage of him, and instead lured the vision of his mother into the airlock and shot her out into space. Even though all signs point to the incident being a hallucination, Harmon also believes what he did to be true, and now lives in isolation in order to hide from his employers who deemed him crazy. His only human contact now is Molly, who he has reached out to in an attempt to keep her from falling down the same path he did.
It’s complicated and layered mysteries like this that make up the backbone of Extant, and if you can’t tell, they are absolutely fascinating. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also something strange about Molly’s son, Ben, who is actually an android, designed by Molly’s genius scientist of a husband, John. Since Molly and John were unable to conceive a child on their own, John invented the company Humanich and devoted his time to the creation of the most lifelike robotic humans possible. The result is his living, thinking, and learning son Ben, who, despite having a computer for a brain, seems to be just as normal as any boy his age. That is, with the exception of his random anger tantrums that involve him running off into woods, tackling other children, and generally just looking a little bit creepy.
There’s also a side-plot involving John’s beneficiary, a gifted and wealthy man named Hideki Yasumoto, which seems to imply that Yasumoto is heavily involved in the events that happened to both Molly and Harmon. Yasumoto is a strange character, who seems to be dying from something and he is working with Molly’s boss, Alan Sparks, in order to observe and spy on Molly as she tries to both get to the bottom of her pregnancy and readjust to civilian life. It’s all real weighty stuff, and while we’re left with far more questions than we are answers, the show is smart enough to feed us just enough to keep us on the hook, but not so much that it ruins the suspense and excitement of the unraveling mystery.
Extant still has a long way to go in terms of finding its feet and really mastering its plots and mysteries, but for being only two episodes in, the results are very promising. The tone is consistent, suspense high and the thrills big and frequent. Will Extant be able to gather enough of an audience to become a successful television series? Who knows. But as of right now, I’m very interested to see where it might go, and look forward to watching and reviewing the next episodes as they air.