[This is a review of Extant season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
Following an episode that built slowly and without much tension to its explosive conclusion, the producers of Extant took a slightly different tact with 'Shelter', dropping breadcrumbs and character details along the way to its own impactful ending while the threat of a raiding ISEA SWAT team lingered in the background to provide ample tension.
Panicked and on the run, Molly and her family have fled their home on the say-so of Sam (Camryn Manheim), Molly's trusted confidant and Doctor. Given little time to prepare, Molly (Halle Berry) and John (Goran Visnjic) flee without grabbing their passports or cleaning out their bank accounts. John's decision to disable Ethan's tracking chip seems to be the only precaution that the couple takes as they make their way to a remote island where Molly's father, Quinn (Louis Gossett Jr.) lives.
We sense tension between Molly and Quinn at the start, but it seems typical - she doesn't see her father enough and he seems a little cool to her husband. Quinn is warm to Ethan, though, treating him as any grandfather would treat his grandson. There is no distance because the boy is a humanech. At least not at first.
While on the island, John voices his disbelief over the situation that they find themselves in. He doesn't understand why the ISEA would so aggressively look to lock Molly down, but of course, neither he or Molly have a good idea of what is happening behind the scenes with Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Neither did we, save for the vague sense of evil that the man put off when on-screen, but in this episode, we got a bit more confirmation as Yasumoto's desperation increased following a lab experiment on a substance that had come from a meteor killed one of the scientists working on the project as Yasumoto looked on. "Life sustaining substance", Yasumoto calls it while talking to Sparks (Michael O'Neill), kicking things into high gear when he tells him to take care of Sam and bring Molly in to extract her baby, setting up a mobile operating room for the grim task.
To Sam's credit, even while in custody, she is still dedicated to Molly's aid, dumping a vile of Molly's blood into the toilet to cover for her, but after she is discovered and her brother is threatened by Sparks, Sams tune begrudgingly changes and she picks a new side. I really thought that Sparks would eliminate Sam, but this allows the conspiracy to deepen and it keeps the very talented Ms. Manheim on a show that could use more standout supporting performances, not less.
While Sam is betraying her friend, Molly and John (and for a moment, Marcus) are at her father's house running a DNA sample to determine exactly what it is that is inside of her while Quinn uses Ethan's abilities to win a bar game (and a fistful of dollars) down by the docks before the boy throws the game after misunderstanding something that Quinn said. This is where we start to get a better idea of Quinn and Molly's relationship and why there is distance between them. Quinn is, simply put, ugly toward the boy when he loses, something that may have manifested itself because Quinn took a drink at the bar. When Quinn returns to the house with Ethan - who had seemingly run off - Molly quickly asks her father if he was drinking, filling in those last remaining blanks.
There's a bit of nuance to Gossett's performance. He doesn't carry on or scream, he's just terse as he starts to treat the boy like a thing and not something with emotions and that carries over when John and Molly panic over Ethan's disappearance. Quinn just isn't as worried as one would expect, but it's a subtle difference. He doesn't go inside to watch TV or crack jokes about the only danger to the boy being that he might get rusted - that line is reserved for the cop that John punches while they search for the boy, a dumb decision that takes John out of the "field", as it were.
As we see almost immediately, Ethan didn't run off, he was kidnapped by the ISEA agents who had been lingering on the island, watching and waiting to strike. Once in custody, Ethan is rushed through the woods until the agents find a clearing and disable him with some kind of prod, laying the boy on the dirt before retreating so that he could be used as bait. Why all that was necessary and why the agents couldn't just rush in to grab Molly is not known.
If we're being cynical, we can say that it's a hollow act to add a little false jeopardy to the show (logic dictates that nothing bad and everlasting will happen to Ethan, since this is a network TV show and that would be too profoundly sad to move off of in quick order) and a chance to leak that bit about Molly and Quinn's relationship, but in that Ethan's recovery seems to occupy a significant chunk of next week's episode, perhaps we'll learn the answer next week.
We're also hopeful that we'll finally learn about what it is that is inside Molly's stomach and what it, emphatically, means to Yasumoto, because after seeing Molly demonstrate a bit of psychokinesis this week as she lay trapped in a hospital bed, a skill that enabled her to momentarily break free before stumbling into the operating room, we are now more curious than ever before. I'm also eager to see if this show is going to go to some grand place on the sci-fi wheel of awesomeness that we had not anticipated, should Molly learn to harness her new abilities.
Add this all together and it seems like Extant is, slowly but surely, starting to scratch the surface of its potential as it keeps us guessing, introduces interesting detours and allows us to walk away from episodes with a sense that we learned something while also keeping us in the dark with regard to the larger picture.
Extant airs on Wednesdays @10PM ET on CBS.