CBS’ Extant Change Scenario TV Show Review. Extant: Season 2, Episode 1: ‘Change Scenario,’ suited its title; but only because that title seemed less like a description of the episode, and more like a memo handed down from the network executives.
The pilot season of Extant introduced us to Molly (Halle Berry), who went into space, had a hallucinogenic experience on a space station (with a history), and came back with a case of extraterrestrial pregnancy. When shadowy agent types tried to pass it off as hysterical pregnancy, the sleuthing, backstabbing, and running began. As it so happened, all of this first coincided – then collided – with her husband, John’s (Goran Visnjic), work on Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), the World’s most sophisticated android, being raised as their son. Ethan was more than a machine – he was a synthetic Human with seemingly infinite upgrade potential. By the time Molly rolled over the conspiracy rock, her alien offspring (Shannon Brown) had sprung up some, and was working major Jedi mind trickery; so the big question became: which of her toddlers was messiah, and which was the agent of Human extinction. Moot point: Molly went Momma Bear over them both. More chases & character shifts later, along with a parallel arc – involving Molly’s space station replacement – and the matter was settled between kids, themselves. Molly went back to the station, teamed up with her replacement, and prevented an all-out invasion by rufi happy alien microbes. Got that? Good – you can throw most of the details out, now.
There has been a change of scenario.
Not that everything season 1 had to go, mind you; but some ends needed to be tied up – regardless of whether they were ever loose, or not. In the event no one asked why Molly was immersed in a VR sexual fantasy, with someone other than her husband, the second season opener was interrupted for a flashback orientation session. This was necessary, in order to prepare us for the show’s new direction.
I had suspected Ethan went Lawnmower Man, at the end of season 1. Well, not quite – he actually went Cylon (ver 3.0). As far as his evolution goes, the resurrection experience may very well leave him with ‘Cavil syndrome’ (Cavil, Cylon mastermind, once railed against the limitations of his Human based form, since an artificial lifeform can experience so much more). For the time being, however, another custody battle seems to be the order of the day.
Starchild got one more bang out of his powers, for our buck, before abruptly joining the season 1 exodus. After scaring some sense into some good Samaritans (for leaving some strange kid alone with their baby, no less), I figured an impromptu molting session would’ve made for a nice follow up. Turns out, the showrunners just got rid of the kid.
Okay. Well, what about John & Julie (Grace Gummer)? They had a little tension going for them, last season. Apparently, being the two ‘actual’ creators of Ethan did lead to something; but never mind Julie’s first season troubles, or what actually came of that tension – it was all necessary back fill, for a post-homemaker Molly reintroduction. Between that unpleasant discovery, one particular casualty, and a Robo-registration act (of sorts) setting up this season’s Ethan: Mecha-Messiah arc, homemaker Molly went off the deep end. End of flashback. Back at present, new Molly had lost her family, and her senses; but most importantly, she had lost her gooey, emotionally dependent center.
The only thing sadder than the showrunner notion, that a hot mess Molly would be more interesting than loving wife/ dotting mother Molly, is the fact that they may have been right.
In any event, Ethan’s back, the Starchild is dead, J’olly’s history, and everyone else of consequence, from season 1, has either been pronounced dead, or regulated to passing mention. Not the best way to start Extant, season 2; but it will have to do, as the way to start Extant 2.0.
Having pretty much broken with season 1, ‘Change Scenario’ went about populating its new mythology. This version of crazy Molly wasn’t just marginalized, by some private space agency, she got the full convalescent treatment – complete with detestable orderly, Dave (Omar Gooding), and stern Warden, Dr. Dowling (Christina Chang). Extant seemed to kick off with a Terminator 2 scenario. Like one Sarah Connor, Molly decided to check herself out, when evidence of this season’s principal threat came to her knowledge. This was the point from which season 2 officially kicked off, and its new cast started to come into context.
As most viewers likely have David Morrissey permanently associated with his Governor character, from TWD, I was hoping that his Tobias Shepherd – as the new man in charge – will eventually play against type. Having Molly commit perjury at a flashback hearing, however, then owning up to being a rival, for her affections, was getting off to a bad (guy) start.
Season 1 Molly had a dedicated hunter on her trail, before he switched teams; but it looks like we won’t have to wait for that history to reboot itself. After an introduction, that gave a decent idea of what to expect of him (don’t try this at home, kids – that misogynistic swagger won’t always fly), JD Richter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was placed in perfect position to intersect with Molly’s new conspiracy kick. I had hoped to see more of his solo operation; but it seems season 2 wants a faster pace – so the hunter gets on the good foot that much quicker (as in, immediately).
Jeffrey Dean Morgan brought his signature roguish charm to his role; but next to Molly’s new hot mess attitude, Extant seems headed for a buddy cop procedural scenario.
I was left wondering if there will be more on Molly’s handlers, back at the loony bin. Nurse Aziza (Jamila Webb), clearly having been wise to her colleague’s abuse (without so much as a “what are you doing, Dave”), added enough dimension to the setting to make it worth more than being just part of the disposable set-up.
I suppose it would be logical to assume that Starchild may have molted, after all (‘cause we know what a death certificate, from National Security types, is worth), and has upped his game to… well, ‘game.’ As much as I wanted the closing scene to be a role reversing fake out (anybody remember the opening scene, to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot?), it seems Extant is also headed into a Species 2 scenario.
Take away all the lofty expectations, I once held for the show, and Extant still has its futurist elements going for it. The possibility that season 2 may also be leaning towards an Almost Human scenario, through its initial Ethan arc, suggests that futurism will remain an integral part of the overall mythology. It would be easy to quibble over all the things its future doesn’t seem to get right (no manual means of gaining manual control, a certain someone not thinking to duck under VR police tape, the way we do the plastic variety, today); but how much are we getting right with our current state of the art doo-dads (you’re shorting us, Apple & Microsoft)? No, I don’t reckon I’ll be quite as keen to fault the show’s science, this season, so much as its overall direction (whatever that will be).
Usually, when a series makes such a drastic break, from its established cast & mythology, it does not bode well. It means that any number of people – in & above the production – have been unhappy; and either wanted fixes, heads to roll, or just to jump ship. There may be an all-of-the-above scenario, to Extant’s change; but to the show’s credit, at least we got to say goodbye to some of its season 1 elements (David E. Kelley became notorious for making cast & storyline dumps as complete erasures).
The likelihood of Extant resorting to just making things up doesn’t necessarily mean it’s destined for the chopping block. Under the Dome has survived beyond its source material, doing just that. The difference is that audiences seemed to react positively to UTD’s consistent nonsense, while regarding the mid-season change to, say, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an improvement. Extant losing its focus, mid-way through its first season, cost it viewers. The trouble is, a series reboot may not be a good enough reason for new viewers to jump on, while likely alienating any still interested in its original elements.
It may take a few episodes, to tell if the show has in fact improved; I’m just not sure how many episodes will make it to air, in order to make that case.
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