Extant 1×13 ‘Ascension’: A leap of faith, indeed


Science fiction is tricky. The future you create can be over-the-top and full of seemingly impossible elements – as Arthur C. Clarke famously said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – but it’s still gotta be grounded in an identifiable framework. Or, you can create a more conservative vision of the future, often called or considered “hard sci-fi,” but if you dedicate yourself to realism, you have to stick with it.Extant ambitiously tries to do both, and fails at both in different ways. Its future is a mix of the reasonably near-future (smart houses, all-glass cellphones, self-driving cars (in the one episode they’re used!), more realistic prosthesis) and the more speculative (true artificial intelligence, human-like androids, memory enhancers, rotating-wheel space stations with artificial gravity, holograms, an immortality substance, and of course, alien mind control). Its realistic elements clash with these more out-there prospects.

The finale of Extant encapsulates the show’s strangeness, its sometimes-silly always-frustrating melodrama and constant implicit requests for the audience to cut it some suspension-of-disbelief slack. Molly travels to space to ensure that the alien spores don’t reach Earth, while John and his team try to disarm the bomb inside Ethan, but fail. Meanwhile, as predicted, Ethan’s inability to be controlled by the offspring gives him a first-class ticket to infiltrating the ISEA to help Molly.

Beyond the hilarity of sending an 8-year old on a recon and rescue mission inside the ISEA, the episode takes a lot of liberties to produce some form of closure at the end. Molly is “contaminated” when she pushes the faux-Katie Sparks out of the way on the Seraphim, and the shipboard AI Ben tries to stop her from leaving the station as a result, but she tries to override him. Ben shuts down the manual override. The entire point of a manual override is that the computer can’t override (over-override?) it!

Now, her entire mission is to ensure that no spores reach Earth, but she’s a main character and she wants to live, so her contamination doesn’t count in the end, I guess. Ethan’s sacrifice allows her to come back to Earth and there’s no issues five days later. They didn’t even include a throwaway line that Molly was quarantined and treated. It’s also not clear why exploding the station into bits that fall into the atmosphere is better than allowing it to break up in the atmosphere whole.

But the silly melodramatic moment that takes the cake in this finale is Ethan turning on his warmers to pass the biometric scan in the ISEA control room, and John telling him he could catch on fire. He raised his temperature to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit from room temperature, which is about 70° F. I don’t know what kind of sensitive electronics Ethan has going on, but even modern-day CPUs are fine up to about 140° F, and even then, they don’t catch on fire. Ethan does, however, have a bomb inside him. Why didn’t John use that as an excuse!? It seems like it was the reason Ethan exploded (or whatever happened) anyway. In the words of Internet memes, “I can’t even” with this scene.


Source: CBS

Also, did Ethan back himself up to iCloud or something? He supposedly exploded. How is he suddenly in the Woods home as a disembodied voice? No explanation is given as to how this miracle happened. Maybe we should assume that CBS standards and practices said “You need to bring back the 8 year-old boy after blowing him up.”

I’ve hit Extant pretty hard over the past 13 episodes. I suppose I have higher expectations than most, but space-related sci-fi is such a rare commodity on modern television. CBS may look at Extant‘s declining ratings and say “Obviously audiences don’t like sci-fi.” Well, of course they don’t when you give them this disjointed half-baked mish-mash of tropes shaped clumsily into a thriller. Everything in Extant feels cobbled together, even improvised at times. It stumbles from thriller to horror-lite to family drama and back. It never feels the need to explain its peculiar twists and turns. It introduces concepts (auto-drive!) and then pushes them away immediately. It’s like what would happen if you asked a high school creative writing class to pen a science fiction story by committee.

The show may have left open the possibility of a second season, but several signs point to that being a long-shot. In the opening credits, Molly says “This is a story about survival.” If the TV gods are good, this series will not be a survivor.

J.P. Laub

is a pop culture connoisseur, politics wonk, sometimes gamer and consummate nerd. To give you some idea, he is an avid reader of Wikipedia entries about fictional and theoretical faster-than-light drives. Seriously, he once saw a random Dune reference on a website and spent 45 minutes reading about the Holtzmann effect and related entries.


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