CBS‘ Extant Ascension TV Show Review. Extant: Season 1, Episodes 13: ‘Ascension’ brought the Seraphim mission to its fiery end, took one character up a level, and may very well have meant curtains for the series; an outcome that would make for a somewhat unsatisfying experience, overall.
The first order of business, where addressing previous events & setting up the finale were concerned, was Molly (Halle Berry) having a talk with Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) over the Star Child (Shannon Brown) encounter. For all his brilliance, Ethan was having trouble wrapping his brain around the whole split attention concept, particularly since his attempt at saving Molly, from what seemed like a clear threat, was met with a harsh response. In addition to his paranoia, over being reformatted by his dad, he was now convinced that mommy didn’t love him anymore – not with a biologically born monster to call her own. Molly’s clumsy attempt at explaining the two child solution didn’t help. Personally, I don’t think Molly has been allowed to be anything other than an empty suit, in the parental role. She was off to space, just after Ethan’s adoption, was understandably distracted by the scenario that mission left her in, then promptly went Ahab over Star Child. Ethan had pretty much lost what little confidence he had, in their relationship, but Molly had a return engagement with outer space.
Molly had already resigned herself to returning to the Seraphim (supposedly because she was the only qualified person with deep & personal knowledge/ experience, in the matter, but I reckon no one else wanted to do it) in order to stop its degrading orbit from dispersing Star Spores across the globe, upon it impacting the atmosphere.
The lead in to the mission was the usual spiel about the stakes, some specialist gear (that actually made good on an earlier plot development), and parting sentiments that weren’t as long, or sudsy, as they could have been. There was only so much time to wrap things up, after all. Still, slow mo space walks are pretty much institution, but why must every walk out to the launch pad be, as well? Damn you, The Right Stuff. For that matter, why was Molly left to man the flight solo, in addition to her Seraphim mission? Surely there were ISEA personnel available for taxi duty, allowing Molly to focus on the Seraphim, and upping the odds of success. High stakes, high glory, I suppose. This was Molly’s time to shine, and putting it all on her shoulders made upping the tension more important. The indicator light means stow all disbelief, and strap in for the ride.
Back on the surface, the absent mother’s children were misbehaving. John (Goran Visnjic), Julie (Grace Gummer), and Charlie (Tyler Hilton), having processed the Odin bombing claim vid, tried to figure out what he could have done to Ethan. Ethan, of course, was having none of it, since things seem to be headed in the direction Odin warned him of. With the android having placed his faith in Odin (take time for that one to sink in, if you need it), there really was no way of talking Ethan down. Fortunately, John was able to divert concern away from Ethan & Odin, to the ‘life-line’ device Odin had left Ethan for an imminent shut down moment – like the one he thought he was now in. Ethan still trusted Odin more than his creators, but he had no reason to trust the device – it was just a machine, like… a sanitation bot, or something else equally disposable.
From there, they actually managed to get “the silly hat” on him, run diagnostics, and find the bomb Odin had installed. The bomb being impossible to remove, without detonating, and John refusing to have an EOD unit treat his irreplaceable creation – err, son – like an unattended bag on a train, could only mean a big thing for Ethan’s role in the finale. The kind of big thing whole city blocks get cordoned off for.
Remember that thing I said, about Molly’s mother’s quest being vindicated? Yeah, the showrunners didn’t buy into it, either – or were just dealing with Confederate money. Maybe he was just acting out, because Molly wasn’t there to nurture & reinforce his Human half, but Star Child defaulted back to Agent of Spores mode. Whatever the case, it was the Seraphim mission that was running smoothly, relatively speaking, while ground control was going to pot. The Star Child has entered the building.
Speaking of relatives, Molly did run into one disturbing wrinkle in the first stage of the mission. She freed current Seraphim resident, Sean Glass (Enver Gjokaj), only to be told that his recently acquired passenger, Katie Sparks (Tessa Ferrer) had gone from being Alan Sparks’ daughter, to being his grand daughter. Yes, you heard me; no, this wasn’t to be a new take on a silly Country & Western classic.
On a side note, someone from Molly’s camp should see to arranging a gift basket for Yasumoto. If the fate of original Katie Sparks was any indication, the high tech C-sectioning of Molly did her a HUGE favor.
So, just in time to sync up with the emergency unfolding back at ISEA, Extant went into monster-stalking-the-shadows mode, as the Children of the Spores seemed to co-ordinate their efforts, in order to ensure Seraphim made it to Earth’s atmosphere. A perfect time, I might add, for both Molly & John to do stupid things.
In John’s case, the last dumb smart guy moment was just an oversight. Did Ethan, now with a better grasp on his trust issues (thank you, John), really have to inform John that he didn’t have a Human mind that Star Child could manipulate? At first, I figured the oversight came from John ruling out the idea of having Ethan confronting Star Child; but then he wound up pitching that very scenario to the ISEA director pretty hard. Not the worst of errors, but still a notable one.
The worst errors came from Molly of the high stakes, as she allowed herself to be cornered by Katie Jr., and subsequently compromised. The special gear, I had mentioned earlier, was a suit specifically designed to not just keep the Spores from getting to Molly, but also allow her to see through their illusions (using the algorithm discovery, from ‘What on Earth is Wrong?‘). After the power of Human love & morality shtick (which worked oh so well on her own Spore Spawn) failed to impress, Molly had to beat a path past Star Child 2, leaving her locked away. Unfortunately, by this time, Molly was one glove short of being in her right mind. She was still of sounder mind than Glass, however; so I really didn’t understand why she felt the need to ditch the entire suit – including the Helmet of Truth. Well, her experience with Spore induced illusion did come in handy; she had to see through one last visit from Marcus (Sergio Harford) to subdue a Katie controlled Glass. So, Katie Jr. trapped: check; Glass retrieved: check; Seraphim rigged: check. Seemed about the right time for B.E.N., the A.I. that has been interacting with the Seraphim’s occupants, from day one, to go H.A.L. (or was it more like M.O.T.H.E.R.?).
Back at ISEA, Star Child, who had been remotely bottled up (after freeze framing his way through the facility), brought some new powers to the game, and was on the move again. Just in time for his rematch with Ethan. Unfortunately, it turned out to be less of a rematch than a reunion, and only because Ethan was smart enough to keep well ahead of his sonic youth sibling. Powers or not, Star Child almost seemed on autopilot; working his way to the control room without regard for anything else, and attempting nothing in the way of communication. As Molly was the only person he had any direct communication with, maybe he just wasn’t interested in anyone else – including Ethan. Maybe his inability to reach Ethan’s mind put Ethan beneath his concern; but that’s a line of reasoning for a day that may never come.
With her shuttle locked to the Seraphim, by B.E.N. – in order to keep her & Glass from contaminating Earth – it was Molly’s turn to completely overlook Ethan’s intelligence. Given the time & effort that went into making Ethan just another confused & insecure child, I suppose they forgot that his advanced mental capacity was the reason for the concern that left him paranoid, in the first place. So, once again, Ethan had to volunteer his services; but there was a catch (because nothing easy is ever simple).
The solution required Ethan to raise his body temperature, risking a very sudden & violent deactivation. The problem I had, was that Ethan needed only raise his body temperature to initiate the override; so why he maintained that heat level, after accomplishing that task, was beyond me.
Confronted with the price for saving Molly, Ethan actually attempted to reach out to his Spore sibling – even save him. It seems the evolution of Ethan, from curious Pinocchio, to would-be robot Messiah, to electric emo kid, was meant to bring him to this point; a point where self-sacrifice, and caring beyond that which he holds dear, became the purpose of his superior being. There should have been more – much, much more – for both him & Star Child (certainly more than Molly’s cliched voice over eulogy for Ethan), but the writing may have been on the wall for the series.
On the other hand, there was something left for Extant to pick up on. B.E.N. did have a reason – if only based on automated protocol – for refusing to let Molly & Glass return to Earth; the last Seraphim mission left at least one shooting star, in its wake; and, apparently, evolved androids don’t ascend to heaven – they transcend to wherever it was Johnny Depp went to, in a familiarly titled film (seeing as Ethan never used a lawnmower, AFAIK). There was also the very last scene of ‘Ascension,’ where (with the line about “no good deed” coming to mind) any number of future problems could have been prevented with a simple 911 call. The assumption being that Extant has a future.
I had lofty hopes for this series; making all sorts of (unfair) allusions to the likes of Asimov, and Arthur C. Clark. I’d like to think that the showrunners were compelled to constrain the series to something with more mass appeal, or, after getting word of impending cancellation, rushed to come up with an easy out to its single season run. The alternative would be that a high minded suspense/ horror/ thriller was the plan, all along, which, to me, would constitute false advertising.
I dunno… maybe I just got myself worked up over nothing; but consider everything that had been shed, during the course of the series, in service of this ending. Sam’s (Camryn Manheim) brother; Mrs. Sparks; key players like Alan Sparks, Yasumoto, Femi Dodd, and Odin not even appearing in the finale (except for Odin, they weren’t even mentioned); Ethan’s ascension-already-in-progress sidelined to make room for childish angst, which, in turn, became an excuse for making him into the world’s smartest bomb; and most glaring of all, turning the Star Child into a sinister monster, who then finds his soul – in the arms of his Human mother – only to oops-never-mind his way into the role of a principal finale threat.
Desperately careless, or lazily conceived, to begin with. Hardly a flattering choice for the show to present, in terms of legacy. As much as I hate unresolved cliff-hangers, I would have actually preferred one, in this case, if it at least demonstrated some intention to live up to the show’s early potential. Themes as grand as boundless artificial intelligence, inscrutable alien intelligence (grounded by a Human physique), the price of immortality, and Human extinction, should have added up to something more ambitious than a singularly momentary threat of mass infection plot. Barely worth two episodes of the X-Files, you ask me.
In the event Extant is renewed, ‘Ascension’ still made for a weak season finale; but the show would still have a lot of material to make up for it, down the road (still holding out for a game of thrones, between a matured Ethan, a fully developed Star Child, maybe Yasumoto, and, yes, Lucy, over the future of Earth – if not mankind). If the series does not continue, then ‘Ascension’ would make for an unworthy end; leaving Extant as a series that, while not great, by any means, did have potential to be epic. Some viewers may be content – even happy – with there being a largely resolved ending, at all. Me? I’m left pining over what could have been.
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