[This review of Extant season 1, episodes 7 and 8 contains SPOILERS.]
Last night's Two Hour Event airing of Extant proved itself to be the rare "Event" that lived up to its billing - as allies and enemies made themselves known, John felt further and further away from Ethan, and Molly (Halle Berry) revealed both a reckless streak and her surprising reasons for continuing on with her hunt for the truth.
Beginning in the midst of a simulation 23 months prior to the events of the central story (and kudos to Halle Berry for showing us a clearly less burdened vision of Molly in flashback - it's a bit of a transformation), the producers took us back to the moment when Molly learned about the Aruna tragedy from Sparks (Michael O'Neill) and the Aruna mission specialist Derek Pierce. Doing this allows us an introduction to Pierce (whose unfamiliar face sort of gives away his unfortunate future as a disposable plot device) and a moment to remind us that Molly and Sparks were once friends.
It's also not a bad way to start a two hour episode that could serve as a jumping-on or a jumping-back-on point. It's not that 'Incursion' and "More in Heaven and Earth' combine to make a wholly self-contained story, but it is definitely a satisfying experience on its own that deftly reminds us about where Molly has been without allowing the episode to feel cluttered with needless backtracking. That, in and of itself, is quite the accomplishment.
Back to the future, Molly and John (Goran Visnjic) appear to be on separate islands throughout; he seems genuinely excited about Ethan's return to school (and the prospect of normalcy), but she seems to be still singularly focused on unraveling the mystery of what happened to her in space - and what happened to the alien baby that was extracted from her.
To advance her hunt, Molly once again enlists the help of Sam (Camryn Manheim), who, after seeing the Aruna clip, seems to be back on board. Besides Sam, Molly also tries to get information out of the previously mentioned Derek Pierce, who lives longer as connective tissue between the ISEA's numerous secrets than he does as a breathing person thanks to Molly's brazen methods and the unkind (generalizing!) person that threw him out of his fancy $1 penthouse window.
It's a bit bizarre that Molly is so willing to court danger now and weirder that she's so clearly putting others in danger (Pierce, Sam and Harmon) to get answers without obvious regard for their well being. There is no more "careful" in her. It's as if she has decided that she is making her stand, but we're left thinking that it would have been nice if that was acknowledged with more than a cheesy utterance of "I want to make him sweat" when telling Sam that she doesn't care if Sparks knows that she's coming after him (and the phrase "No risk, no reward" after John tells her that she's risking too much).
It would have also been nice if there was more to the motives that paved the way for Molly's recklessness than just her desire to see the alien baby, which she feels a strong maternal bond towards. "You're not the mother, you're its host" says Harmon Kryger (Brad Beyer) later on as they prepare to invade the lab where the baby is being held, directly risking her life to the point where she leaves John a "Goodbye" message.
This is a character that has gone from running for her life to running away from it and toward doom, all for a moment with an alien lifeform (and, to be fair, it feels like we may later learn that the alien baby is pulling Molly towards it), but this focus on the parental bond absolutely gels with the overall theme of this episode. Alongside Molly's desire to see her baby we see the way that Sparks is haunted by the death of his daughter and John's frustration with Ethan's rapid growth.
"I built Ethan, I thought I knew everything about him" says John, letting out a familiar refrain that should resonate with parents as he tries to deal with the fact that Ethan now knows how to speak Japanese despite his programming. John has bludgeoned people with his insistence that Ethan is no different than a human child but he seems horrified that the boy is learning rapidly on his own. Mr. Yasumoto, John's benefactor (and the secret string puller behind the ISEA and everything that has happened to Molly), however, is impressed by this development and summons John, Molly and Ethan to dinner where it is revealed that the board member that John went toe-to-toe with early-on is personally involved with Yasumoto. It is also revealed that Yasumoto believes that Ethan's advances can lead to a map of the human brain and the ability to transfer a consciousness to a Humanech body so that one can live forever - something that is near and dear to Yasumoto's heart, in that he is dying.
John rejects the notion that he is anywhere close to that, while also putting forth the idea that he should install some kind of developmental block on Ethan so that he doesn't outpace his peers - something that Molly is very against. As she's off trying to solve the greatest mystery of the new century, though, John is left to deal with Ethan, his rapidly expanding brain and his waning humanness.
You can tell that John feels betrayed when he goes to teach Ethan to ride a bike - a cherished ritual between fathers and sons - only to learn that he already knows how. The metaphor is a bit thick, but as we see Ethan ride off into the dark distance beyond John's watchful eye, we know that John is going to go against Molly (I do like how John and Molly mostly communicate via virtual message in a bottle in this episode - another example of how they are so apart this time) by trying to slow down Ethan's progress, only to see that his access has been denied.
John's view of Ethan seems to be changing - from a normal kid (who is about to go back to school) to a rapidly expanding thing that won't allow itself to be controlled - and back to a scared boy who clings to his father's leg. Our view is also changing with regard to Gordon and Odin. The former, who was once thought to be a mindless goon under Sparks' command, teams up with Kryger and Molly to try and rescue the alien baby - which he may regard as something that is divine thanks to his father's communications with God. He certainly believes should be protected, lest we make it angry as a species.
As for Odin, he's an anti-technology crusader that wants to harm Ethan. His ally? Yasumoto's girlfriend.
Molly shifts a bit for us in this episode as well, specifically with regard to Ethan, even though she has previously vacillated between being affectionate and being put-off by the boy. Here, Molly makes a decision to respect the bond between her and her alien baby over the bond between her and Ethan in that she risks her life to see the baby once more, and that says something about her ultimate coolness to John's creation.
As for what this all says about the direction of the show, I don't know. The showrunenrs are going to have to continue to sell viewers on why it makes sense for Molly to risk everything to see her alien baby (that is now a fugitive following its creepy escape from the lab) again and they're probably going to have to do that while John applies a fair amount of pressure on Molly to let it go and come back to the life that he likes to think is normal.
John seems desperate to keep his life in a box of his own design and he seems to be struggling with his now reckless wife and his unsolvable son. Somehow, Ethan's story has become more fascinating than the alien mystery at the center of this series, so it will be very interesting to see how Ethan's continued growth pushes John. Will the boy's ultimate advocate become something else as Frankenstein's monster runs amok?
Extant will air another two hour event Wedesday August 27th @9PM on CBS.