Amazon Prime UK TV review: Extant, Season 2, Episode 2 & 3
Ivan Radford | On 18, Jul 2015
“Is that what you want? To kill me?” “What I want is to know what the hell is going on.”
If any TV show’s going to have dialogue that spells out its problems explicitly, it’s going to Extant. Mickey Fisher’s show, now in its second run, is even more stuffed with clunky dialogue than its first season – and that’s only the start of its problems.
After a wobbly opener that effectively rebooted everything for a fresh start, Episodes 2 and 3 of the season see the show take those crucial steps towards steadying the boat – these are the hours that will establish its themes and plots, as well as build momentum.
As with the first season, the series’ strongest story line remains the one involving Humanics, the life-like androids made by Molly’s husband. With him bumped off in week one, Julie’s now heading the team. That leads to several interesting avenues. First up is Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), who is struggling to cope with the idea of having a new mummy – something that, of course, can be fixed with the flick of a switch. The question is whether the switch should be flicked or not.
That ethical dilemma is the kind of thing Extant handles well: morals are, after all, what separate man from machine. In Season 1, Ethan’s decision to sacrifice himself to save people was a satisfying climax to his development; a personal decision that was morally right and proof that a machine could learn to become human. Now, the humans are facing the reverse challenge: whether they can be prepared to switch off their ethical compass and make the harsh, calculating decisions.
For Julie and her ever-devoted lab partner, Charlie, that not only means how to tackle Ethan’s memories, but also what to do with their new Humanic, Lucy. Played with a striking, sensual self-awareness by Kiersey Clemons, she comes into the world already conscious of the effect she has on others – particularly Charlie. Government lady Anna (Hilarie Burton), naturally, continues to push for some military use of the technology, demanding tests of Lucy’s abilities – specifically, her ability to make ethical decisions in combat situations. Not having her strength sensors correctly configured sees her squeeze Charlie’s hand far too hard for him to bear, a reminder of the delicate importance of compassion and control.
Seeing Gagnon and Clemons interact is by the highlight of the second season to date. “I already know her, just not in this body,” he says, with that innocent smile. If it’s hard to imagine him with ulterior motives, it’s easier to believe Lucy is concealing them; she hasn’t had the years of reactive programming to build up a moral database based on experience. The same is true, though, of Julie, who proves she has more than enough willpower to cross boundaries to get her way – not just with Ethan, but with Charlie too.
Unfortunately, the intrigue ends there: as with Season 1 of Extant, the robotics strand is far more substantial than the Help! I Slept with an Alien premise. Even with the reshuffled set-up, the show’s central scenario just doesn’t ring true. The introductory narration alone (“My name is Molly Woods… I had a child: part-human, part-alien… and he was dangerous”) is a laughable demonstration of how absurd it all is. Suspension of disbelief, if encouraged and nurtured, can be a wonderful thing, but Extant seems happier to simply suspend logic.
Episode 3 gives us an insight into what happened to Molly’s son since he escaped in Season 1 – a delightfully freaky piece of creature design. But the writers just don’t know how to handle “Ado”, as he now calls himself. On the one hand, he’s a smouldering sex-pot picking up women in bars. On the other, he’s a psychic weapon who can make even trained soldiers shoot each other. The script flip-flops between these sides to him, all the while attempting to suggest that he cares for Molly. Is it because he needs her, rather than some innate maternal bond? Probably. But that still doesn’t explain a misjudged scene in which they almost snog.
Halle Berry managed to escape Season 1 of Extant with her credibility intact. Here, she may not be so lucky, but she impresses with her ability to deliver nonsensical dialogue with a straight face. (“When I set my sights on a target, I nail it,” she declares during a firing range session, not long after she was running around supermarket car parks harassing pregnant women about their impending death and potentially extra-terrestrial offspring.)
If her mood swings are erratic, they’re nothing compared to her apparent switch from astronaut to sharp-shooting agent. It’s all part of Extant’s 1 re-tweaked formula, which allows her to investigate alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s bounty hunter. Lingering shots of them looking suggestively at each other are practically counting the seconds until a steamy sex scene, but their subplot feels as out of place as everything else. It’s only Morgan’s swaggering presence that keeps you watching. “Sorry don’t keep me in beer and cowboy boots,” he snaps at her, after the government doesn’t take to kindly to him nosing around their conspiracy.
At the heart of it all, David Morrissey attempts to bring some weight to the army cover-up as Molly’s old friend, Tobias. He completes the circle of ethical decisions, as he faces calls to bomb the bar in which Ado is pulling unsuspecting women and tries to recruit Molly to join the cause to capture her son. But in a world where people can bark “Privacy Mode!” at CCTV cameras and they magically switch off – a security hazard designed to encourage government conspiracies, if ever there were one – not even Morrissey’s charisma can make you buy into this alien-hunting malarkey. (Season 1 leaned heavily on its retro-futuristic production design for a bit of realistic cheesiness. Here, we’ve just gone full-on cliche.)
A show where the machines are more convincing than the humans? That’s the making of an interesting sci-fi. That’s not what Extant is about, though. Even after its messy rebirth, this show still can’t decide what it wants. The pace is building, but that only means we’re running in different directions even faster.
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.