Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which I Review Extant (1x4)

Ok. Checklist of major science fiction cliches as they relate to the TV show Extant. Aliens? Check. Space travel? Check. Looming threat toward humanity? Check. Government coverup? Check. Weird space objects? Check. Life altering serum that is potentially dangerous? Check. Humans who develop superpower because of alien contact? Check. 
In other words, Extant if full of the cliche and not so much of the new and innovative. It's not unwatchable; on the contrary, I find that I am enjoying this summer blockbuster-esque show, if only for the overtly cheesy factor. And of course, I am far more drawn into the humanics story with Ethan. On this weeks episode, "Shelter," nowhere is safe and we get more of Molly's backstory. And, naturally, because she is a protagonist, it's a sad and sappy one. 

 Still on the run from Sparks, Molly, John, and Ethan take a trip out to see Molly's father, Quinn. From the start we understand that there is an awkwardness in the father-daughter dynamic. Molly seems on edge, and not just because she is on the run from her boss and is potentially carrying an alien baby from her dead ex-boyfriend.  Taking them to his cabin in the woods, we learn that Quinn is a recovering alcoholic and was a neglectful father to Molly as she grew up. He's recovering now but Molly hasn't reached the point where she can forgive and forget. Quinn does have a good relationship with Ethan, though. The young robot calls him grandfather and you can tell that he enjoys spending time with the older man. John and Molly are hoping to hide out at Quinn's for a bit and do their own medical tests on the fetus. This isn't a bad idea, but it's not without fault. First, do you really think that your super powerful government bosses aren't going to find you at your father's? Isn't the first place they would look, your family and close friends residences? I get that Quinn lives away from the mainland but the people who are after you do have helicopters. I suppose I'm required to suspend a bit more than normal that Molly wouldn't have thought of all this; this was an obvious attempt at backstory while ignoring logic, so I'll put on my suspension cap and move right along.

While Molly and John are conducting their science experiments, Quinn and Ethan are having grandfather-grandrobot bonding time. It starts out quite sweet. Quinn treats Ethan like a regular boy, taking him to dinner, teaching him to skip rocks across the ocean. However Quinn is an addict, and when an addict gets a hankering...cue drama. After a pleasant dinner (side note: the robot can eat? How?) Quinn ends up taking Ethan to a dive bar and has the boy show off his extraordinary skills at throwing-hook-at-a-wall. Quinn sits in the corner, taking bets and money, and eventually a shot. There goes sobriety. Ethan, realizing that he's hitting every mark, knows that no one can be perfect, so he deliberately misses the next target, which results in Quinn loosing all his "hard earned money." This is pretty interesting; Ethan is self-aware enough to know that humans (the flesh and blood kind) make mistakes; they do not hit targets 100% of the time. In an order to be more human he misses, hoping to show that he can be like a regular boy. Let's rename him Pinocchio (or Data if you're feeling science fiction-y). What Ethan doesn't understand, and I would argue no 10 year old boy would understand this, is how the addict's mind works. Quinn, drinking in the high of winning and success, is not proud that Ethan missed the shot to prove his own humanity, but is livid that Ethan lost him the money. On the ride home, Quinn openly berates Ethan and we get the sense that this might have been what Molly's own childhood was like. Put a pin here, because we'll return to the car scene in a moment.

Back at headquarters, there is a lot of strangeness. I'm not even sure what's going on, to be frank. There are Russians and some sort of space meteorite with healing properties but is also really dangerous if its fumes are inhaled. The person comes down with a sudden case of bleeding-from-eyes.  Behind all this science-y Russian-speaking plot is our resident secretive businessman, Hidecki. I can't figure out what he wants. He's obviously dying a slow death, but for how long, and what does this have to do with Molly and her alien pregnancy. Plot lines on top of plot lines. This is only a 13-episode series, so they've got a few more episodes before I start getting mad at the nebulous web and its unresolved issues. Sparks, using medical Doctor Sam's mentally unstable brother as leverage (where on earth did that come from? Unnecessary backstory if you ask me), Sam agrees to cease assisting Molly and with that threat neutralized, orders a hit on Molly. Take her!

 So while Ethan is learning that humans sometimes do want perfection, Sam is weeping over her brother, and Sparks is putting his plan into place, Molly and John begin to conduct medical experiments on the baby. They are, clearly, tentatively happy about the baby (provided that it's actually John's, of course). It's something neither one of them has wanted to admit at this stage of the game, and who can blame them. They finally get pregnant and it's because Molly's work was conducting experiments on her! Okay, time for the convergence of this weeks plot lines. Ethan is in the car, getting yelled at; Molly and John are in the house; Sam has agreed to back off and Sparks gives the "go." And BOOM. Ethan is taken from the car! I'm not clear on why, unless it was a trap for Molly, knowing she'd go after her son. But this means that the agents had to have some sort of future vision in which it was Molly who found Ethan, not John or Quinn or a random hiker. How did they know that John would get angry at the local cops for refusing to help out their robot son, punch the sheriff, and land in jail? At any rate, the agents "shut down" Ethan, which was really quite cruel to watch. It felt very much like murder; using a large tool they shocked his system, zapping him out of existence. When Molly does find Ethan, she is taken by helicopters and finds herself in a medical lab of some sort. I think the baby detects danger and suddenly Molly has telekinesis, though in the end, it doesn't help her and our final shot is of a laser opening her up. Ut-oh. I don't think alien baby is going to like this.

Miscellaneous Notes on Shelter

--"He's programed to act like a human." What does that eve mean?? See, this is your real storyline. Can a robot be programed to act human? What makes a human a human--our thoughts, feelings, emotions, past experiences, culture, parents, friends, other family, and sense of personal identity. Have you programed all that into Ethan? And what does that mean about his robotic nature vs his human nature?

--Dogs don't like alien babies.

--Is Ethan dead? Can he be rebooted?

--This episode had a lot of Ethan bonding with various family members. He might be a creepy kid, but I think he's also very human (whatever that might mean).

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