Despite all the action leading up to episode 4, Extant is missing a spark — that je ne sais quoi. The sci-fi show has cinematic visuals, a star lead and compelling narrative, but I still don’t feel the urge to tune in every week. In short, it’s not must-see TV. At least not yet.
Why? If “Shelter” is any indication, blame the lackluster dialogue, often spouted by one-dimensional villain Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada), CEO of Yasumoto Corporation. For instance, there must be a better way for Yasumoto to express his desire to eliminate Dr. Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim) than by saying she must be “taken care of.” Combined with an ominous stare, this statement enters into clichéd/cheesy territory. And that uber-evil look of disregard on Yasumoto’s face upon seeing Russian researcher Anton (Costa Ronin) collapse after being exposed to a slimy yellow substance? A bit outlandish.
That said, it’s still early days, so Extant may eventually smooth out the kinks and find its voice among the saturated sci-fi-TV space, which includes Under the Dome (another CBS show) and Syfy’s Helix, among others.
One highlight of the show so far is the development of “Humanich” Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), who could either turn into an emotionally balanced human-esque being, or more likely, a robot that has disdain for the weak human race. Case in point: Ethan intentionally loses in a bar game that his alcoholic grandfather Quinn, Molly’s father (Louis Gossett Jr.), forces him to play in episode 4. “Nobody’s perfect,” Ethan responds, quoting Quinn from an earlier conversation, when his grandfather demands why he messed up — despite his superior robotic skills. In other words: Ethan wants to fit in with everyone else, and with proper loving guidance, that may eventually happen. But I think the likelier outcome is that humans will use and abuse Ethan until his other, more sinister side — the one that traps birds and believes Earth’s weaker species will become extinct — emerges. We already see that happening in “Shelter,” especially by the end. Molly (Halle Berry) and John (Goran Visnjic) can only do so much before negative influences outweigh the positive.
Following Molly’s escape from International Space Exploration Agency director Alan Sparks’ (Michael O’Neill) car in episode 3, she, John and Ethan seek refuge at Quinn’s house — but they don’t tell him what’s going on, prompting the old man to wonder aloud about their “secrets.” Throughout episode 4, we see the ISEA trying to hunt down Molly. Meanwhile, Alan blackmails Sam into cooperating by threatening to have her mentally unstable brother thrown in jail for a crime he committed years ago. (Side note: It was way too easy to get someone as sassy as Sam to fold, so unless something else is up, this plot thread seems like a copout by Extant‘s writers. And unless ISEA = NSA, it was also far too easy for Alan to get a hold of that precious intel.)
At the end of “Shelter,” the ISEA manages to — spoiler alert — capture Molly, but not before short-circuiting Ethan. All the while, John and Quinn are stuck in jail after John punches a local police officer (Quinn didn’t do anything, so we have no idea why he’s in jail, either). Placed under anesthetic, Molly ends up tied to an operating table, while a laser cuts into her stomach and people in silver Hazmat suits surround her. What’s more, we find out that Molly’s pregnancy-test results are complete — is the baby hers and John’s? Hopefully the big reveal will happen in episode 5.
Other noteworthy points:
I couldn’t help but laugh when the local police officer says, “Of what? Rust?” in response to John’s concern that Ethan could be “in real danger” after he disappeared. Mean-spirited when you’re referring to someone’s (albeit robotic) son, to be sure, but it’s quite a zinger nonetheless.
I love the fact that the main cast and much of the supporting cast is comprised of racial minorities. Not only are the main protagonist and antagonist played by an African-American and a Japanese person, respectively, John — whose last name “Woods” is of English and Irish origin — is played by a Croatian actor. And with 6.5 million viewers tuning in to Extant last week, it seems audiences are enjoying this diversity.
Extant airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.