All is not well in “Extant’’ land. A first-season schedule shift is never a good sign, particularly on a set-in-its-ways, overflowing with riches network like CBS. In the case of “Extant,’’ the show’s middling-to-okay ratings prompted the slightest of adjustments, pushing the show back an hour to to allow some of the murder porn “Criminal Minds’’ audience to latch on to “Extant.’’ It’s not the worst idea in the world – the two lead into each other better than the previous lead-in, “Big Brother,’’ did – but it still doesn’t bode too well for the long-term prospects for Extant. The list of shows that survived this kind of first-season switchery is a short one.
It might be too bad, because “Extant’’ looks like it’s finally starting to gain its footing. The fourth episode, “Shelter,’’ feels like a watchable “X-Files’’ ripoff – think the whole “Scully gets abducted’’ arc from the early seasons – which is really what “Extant’’ should have been the whole time, not the boring sci-fi family drama it had seemed to become. Molly, John and a modified Ethan are on the run from the ISEA now. They’re pretty poor fugitives, choosing to hide out with Molly’s estranged, ex-boozehound dad, Quinn (Louis Gossett Jr.) in an island off the coast. Yep, no agency would ever think of looking at a fugitive’s closest relatives when they’re trying to hide out.
Strange billionaire string-puller Yasumoto was absent last week, and he returns to give some insight into the sci-fi origins of this story (finally). He’s got a pair of Russian scientists working on some type of goo culled from a crashed asteroid, a goo that just might have healing powers, but also turns gives the scientist black oil eyes when he’s exposed to it without protection. Remember what I said about an “X-Files’’ ripoff? Just read the summary of this episode and you tell me where you think the writers got the ideas from. Elsewhere, Sparks, the ISEA head, has Sam in custody, and quickly busts her when she makes a clumsy attempt to flush Molly’s blood sample down a toilet. He’s got leverage on her – Sam has a vulnerable brother locked up in a loony bin – and it doesn’t take too long for Sparks to blackmail her in on the conspiracy.
It takes the ISEA about thirty seconds to track down Molly and the rest of the Woods clan, and they flood the island with agents. She’s busy trying to perform her own DNA test on her old science equipment (apparently, in the future, a DNA isolator is the childhood equivalent of a Cabbage Patch Kid) and having strained conversations with her ex-alcoholic dad. It’s a stock “estranged father’’ character that Gossett, Jr. is given, but at least he manages to do something with the lines – the two Academy Award winners do a pretty good job in their scenes together. He’s tasked to responsibly bring Ethan out to dinner so Molly and John can do their work, and, of course, screws it up. Quinn brings Ethan to a skeezy bar, putting his robotic skills to use on some rings game for fistfuls of dollars. Honestly, though, if you had a robot prodigy for a grandson, wouldn’t you put him to betting use? I know my grandad would. He’d have me down at Foxwoods, counting cards like Rain Man (and I’d be happy to do it) to add a new wing on to the old house. Ethan, though, ends up throwing the game to prove a “nobody’s perfect’’ point to his grandfather, which is enough to send Quinn back to the booze – apparently one shot turns him back into his angry old self.
That gives the ISEA the opportunity they need. They snatch Ethan and zap him unconscious (one of the more disturbing scenes in the show so far), sending John and Molly into a panic. Molly sets off to find him, while John deals with the cops; their ambivalence towards searching for his lost robot son sends him into a cop-punching rage. Not the best idea.
As Molly happens upon Ethan’s unconscious body, the show goes into full “X-Files’’ rip-off mode again. Bright, mysterious blue lights in the sky, helicopters swirling about, men with body armor in guns abducting someone – it’s the start of the third act to every one of that show’s mythology episodes. Embrace it, “Extant’’! Steal from the best! Molly’s whisked away to a sterile lab, where she can be poked and prodded by Yasumoto’s goons. I can’t find the exact “X-Files’’ clip this cribs from, but here’s an approximate YouTube video that features a backing song from Rednex. Play it loud! So, the episode ends with Ethan shut off, Molly trapped in Yasumoto’s lab, and John and Quinn in the slammer. As far as bad days for families named “Woods,’’ I can only think of one that might compare.
Other thoughts, as I ponder what other “X-Files’’ stuff “Extant’’ could rip off (Flukeman! FLUKEMAN!):
– Only one appearance by the space ghost this week, and it’s an awkward, shoehorned-on one, when John is drawing Molly’s blood. That’s not enough space ghost appearances. There should be three, at the minimum.
– Does anyone know the name of the game that they were playing at the bar? I don’t think I’d ever heard of (or seen) it before. It certainly doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to betting.
– The “that guy’’ who plays Sparks promises things get nutso over the season’s second half. It took me until this episode to recall that that actor – Michael O’Neill – had one of the creepier scenes from the 1980s in the Pacino-starring “Sea of Love’’. Can’t link it here, but you’d recognize him if you saw the movie. He doesn’t really look like he’s aged.