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Extant Premiere Review: Surprisingly Solid Summer Sci-Fi

Dan O'Halloran | 11 Jul 2014 12:00
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A compelling cast, smart writing and film-quality special effects are making Extant a surprise must-watch summer series.

I admit I went into watching the pilot episode of Extant (CBS, Wednesdays @ 9pm) with very low expectations. Between Halle Berry, Steven Spielberg and CBS, this 13-episode summer series had bland written all over it. And the trailers I saw in the advance didn't do anything to help that perception. But damn if this first hour didn't suck me in from the get go and leave me wanting more with its subtle writing, convincing performances and film-quality effects.

Set in the near future of self-driving cars and clear glass computer tablets, Halle Berry plays Molly Woods, an astronaut who has just returned from 13 months of solo scientific study on the privately-owned space station Seraphim. She's having trouble readjusting to her Earth-bound life. Not only is she feeling physically ill, but she can't seem to reconnect with her son or her husband. And in case that's not enough, there's someone stalking her outside her house.

A routine medical check up reveals that she's pregnant and by the timing of it, it had to happen on the spacecraft. This is impossible since A) she's infertile and B) she was up there by herself. We learn through flashbacks that during a solar flare that reduced the space station to emergency power, she saw her dead ex-husband on the craft and he seduced her. When she reviewed the camera footage she saw that he was never on the ship, just her reacting to thin air, so she deleted the cam footage. She lies and says she simply spent the time working to get the systems back online and took a nap, but her boss is suspicious of her explanation.

Her boss then meets with a Japanese mogul who just got out of some kind of stasis chamber. It's intimated that what happened to her on the space station was an experiment and they want to know what happened during those 13 hours of missing time. Also: this the second experiment, as the first ended with an astronaut who took his life after he returned to Earth. Oops.

Back at home, Molly isn't having a great time with her son who is an android programmed to approximate human emotion and to learn based on experience. Which translates into being a bratty kid who throws a fit when his ice cream falls on the floor and runs away in a huff. When Molly finds him in the bushes next to a dead bird, he says he didn't do it. He also tells her she has pretty hair which is a really creepy way of trying to kiss up to an adult when in trouble. I'd call that standard kid behavior as well, but in the show, we don't know the truth of his actions.

At the end of the episode, Molly is still hiding her pregnancy from her husband and boss while trying to decide what to do next. She is also struggling to make sense of what really happened to her on the space station. Out of the shadows, the stalker on her street is back and he steps into the light this time. It's the astronaut who supposedly killed himself after experiencing something similar, but he is alive, knows what she's is going through and tells her to trust no one before disappearing again.

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