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Extant Season 1 reveals surprising depth while being entertaining

Extant Season 1 reveals surprising depth while being entertaining

Halle Berry

Among the summer shows this season was CBS’ new entry into science fiction, titled Extant. Created by Mickey Fisher, and starring Halle Berry and Camryn Manheim, the show followed an astronaut who returned to Earth from a 13-month solo mission to find herself 16 weeks pregnant. The show’s first season was, by and large, an engaging run, managing to move the plot along quickly while doing right by its female characters and looking at some very human issues through a science fiction lens.

One of the most effective aspects of the show has been its exploration of relationships, and how people form them. The biggest example of this has been the story of Molly, both in regards to Ethan and her alien baby, as the show has used both relationships to explore how Molly feels about her place in the world as a mother. By examining how she feels towards both her adopted son and her biological one, the show has done a solid job of portraying the challenges people face in such situations, and how the presence or absence of emotional bonds drives a person’s decision-making. This has similarly been reflected in Grace Gummer’s Julie, and her relationship to Ethan. In many ways, Julie’s feelings towards Ethan, and her views on how John is raising him, can be perceived as the feelings a biological mother would feel at seeing her child raised by its adoptive parents. Similarly, John’s concern over Ethan’s accelerated learning is a nice parallel to the anxiety a father feels at the rapid maturity of their child, with John’s ability to tamper with Ethan’s development adding an intriguing moral dilemma to the mix.

This deft touch has also extended to the portrayals of other relationships as well. Most notably, no character has been entangled into a romantic relationship without a purpose, and similarly no character has been defined only by the person they’re currently in a relationship with. Which is not to say that this aspect has been ignored. Rather, key relationships such as Molly and John have been woven into the fabric of the show. It’s clear the two of them love each other, and that love has led to an open communication that has avoided the frustrating issue of characters not being caught up on in-show events. Similarly, the show has fleshed out both Julie and Femi beyond simply their relationships to Odin and Yasumoto, respectively, and added more depths to their relationships and brewing betrayals in the process, giving the audience a look at the emotional stakes in the situation as well.

Grace Gummer

Grace Gummer

The show’s portrayal of women has similarly been a strong point of the series. In a television landscape where most shows fail to have a single multi-faceted woman amongst their characters, Extant has managed to give independent motivations to four women, with Molly, Sam, Julie, and Femi all getting their own defining character traits. The show’s portrayal of the friendship between Molly and Sam has been particularly refreshing, as the writers have used it both as a way to define Molly outside of her home life and the mystery, as well as a way to fill in the history of both women. Similarly, giving Julie the chance to communicate her love of robotic advancement, as well as the opportunity for Femi to articulate her feelings about robots in her own words have allowed both women to develop their personalities in a way that has added depth to their actions, as well as advancing the story. This has been best reflected in Molly’s fight for bodily agency with regards to her pregnancy, as she has fought every decision that the men in her life have made about her baby, adding poignant subtext to the season. Julie discovering Odin’s treachery through putting clues together, and not stumbling across it too late by happenstance, has also been a great way to reinforce the character’s intelligence, rather than compromise it, further emphasising the way the women have been well-written.

The pacing of the show has also beem commendable. Rather than draw out the central mystery, the season has instead focused on the ramifications of the event, and how others have reacted to it. With Alan learning of the baby by the second episode, and John learning of both the pregnancy and associated hallucinations by the third, the writers have managed to keep a brisk pace that has not allowed any storyline to get stale. In addition, they have shown a keen ability to explore the consequences of seemingly minor actions and character traits, such as Ethan’s overload and shutdown and Femi’s distaste for robots. This has had the pleasant effect of moving the story much further than might have been expected, with practically no filler. This does not mean that the show has sacrificed characterisation, however. Instead, it has taken the time to atleast hint at every character’s motivation for their actions, adding credibility to how the events have played out.

Hiroyuki Sanada

Hiroyuki Sanada

There were some missteps over the course of the season, however. Chief among them was the storyline of Mr. Yasumoto, a character who simply served to tie together various storylines, and nothing else. His search for immortality was largely unexplored, leaving the audience confused as to the true nature of his plans, which largely seemed to involve jumping to conclusions. The character’s disappearance from the final episodes is perhaps the biggest indicator of the lack of impact he has had on the show as a whole. The very capable Enver Gjokaj also continues his streak of being under-utilised in television with his brief run as Sean Glass, a character who ultimately doesn’t contribute to any of the ongoing stories in a meaningful way. But perhaps the biggest issue that plagued the show through its first season was the poorly defined alien. While the lack of a clear backstory was not a hindrance, the unclear motivations of the alien was, and an inability to understand their end goal often led to the alien itself being less interesting than the characters pursuing or interacting with it.

However, these issues are easily outweighed by what the show got right, and its ability to turn a somewhat predictable arc surrounding Ethan’s bomb into something unexpected that also ties into Molly’s Seraphim mission in the finale is a fine example of how entertaining the show was in its first season. While the last episode wraps things up fairly neatly, a second season would be welcome, particularly if the show continues to expand on what it got right. But if this is to be the only season, it was a good one, and worth the watch.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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