Amazon Prime TV review: Extant Season 2 Episode 1
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jul 2015
What do you do after you’ve impregnated Halle Berry with an alien, narrowly avoided the destruction of the planet and created a lifelike cyborg with a humanity complex? The first episode of Extant Season 2 gives us the answer: fall out of the sky.
The CBS sci-fi series was never a stratospheric success, finding its strength when hovering around the boundary between man and machine rather than woman and extra-terrestrial fertiliser. Someone was evdently aware of the programme’s uneven trajectory, because this second run launches with parts retooled and, in some cases, lopped off entirely. The result is a surprisingly different approach to a similar destination – but the take-off is even wobblier.
We join Molly Woods (Halle Berry) six months after the events of Season 1 – enough time for her half-alien baby to have impregnated probably half the planet and for her superiors to deem her unfit for work. Mourning a major personal loss (don’t forget that Ethan sacrificed himself for others to save the day – a strikingly human act for a robot), she’s trying to push the events of the past half a year out of her mind.
Inevitably, though, nobody’s about to let that happen. Some swift congressional hearings introduce us to Tobias Shepherd (David Morrissey), head of the Global Security Commission and a friend of Molly and her husband, John (Goran Visnjic). Morrissey, relatively fresh from his turn as The Governor in The Walking Dead, is a great fit for the show’s conspiracy-loving B-movie universe: he’s an excellent actor, he looks good in a uniform, and he’s as suspicious as the Hamburglar in an HBO documentary called Guess Who Stole The Hamburgers?.
Tobias heralds the arrival of the show’s new sci-fi theme: the use of peaceful technology for military purposes. Remember how Ethan was somehow still alive in the cloud after he exploded in Season 1? That’s all the excuse the army needs to begin working out how to weaponise John’s work.
It’s a nice way to bring a fresh ethical and philosophical dilemma to the table: Extant Season 1 was at its best when simply following Pierce Gagnon’s machine child growing up. But it also feels like a cheat; after the likeable Gagnon earned such a moving finale, the writers effectively undo his sacrifice’s significance, not least because Molly’s other offspring is still a harbinger of a coming alien invasion.
The betrayals continue with the reveal that John and his co-worker, Julie, have been having an affair all along – something that was carefully avoided last time around and gave their relationship a much more intelligent complexity. It’s a treat to have more of Grace Gummer on-screen, but by changing her boffin from maternal figure to female fling, Extant shifts from science fiction into soap opera territory. The fact that Visnjic is given less screen-time this time around makes it seem an even more forced decision.
Perhaps, though, this is all to make way for the series’ new, hunky male star: JD Richter, a bounty hunter who jumps on the chance to investigate a string of strange deaths. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of Watchmen fame) is enjoyably sleazy as the womanising mercenary and inevitably ends up paired with Molly as events escalate.
For all the promise their detective double-act could carry, though, it only adds to the confused tone, which is made worse by an attempt at a shocking murder half-way through. It’s credit to Halle Berry, then, that the actress manages to come out of this equally mixed second season with her credibility still intact. Nonetheless, the opening hour – even as is theoretically wipes enough of the slate clean to hold some potential – leaves all the wrong kinds of questions unresolved. Is this a steamy noir? A sci-fi thriller? Does the fact that Halle Berry got knocked up by ET even have anything to do with this anymore? The moment you ask that, you realise that Extant hasn’t just tried to move out of its old orbit: it’s started crashing down to Earth.
New episodes of Extant arrive on Amazon Prime Instant Video every Thursday, 24 hours after its US broadcast. Season 1 is also available, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery on products, as part of a £79 annual Prime membership.