For a show that's supposed to have humanity-altering stakes, Extant has been a rather dull show. Instead of creating intriguing mysteries, Extant lays bare the motives of most of its characters while bouncing between its fetal MacGuffin and a its shrug-worthy anti-robotics movement. But in last night's episode, Extant actually managed to spin a decent mystery.
The only explanation for Alan Sparks' behavior throughout this series is that he has gone mad with grief over his daughter's death. The mirage of Katie Sparks has very little in common with Katie herself. Alan Sparks sees her as a little girl with a balloon, not the mature woman who jettisoned herself into space to prevent the alien contagion from reaching Earth. And while Katie was once a little girl, I somehow doubt that she emotionally blackmailed her father into committing nefarious acts.
And, for a moment, it seems that Alan may get his daughter back after all. At the end of last week's episode, Katie Sparks appeared on the Seraphim, apparently rescued from her escape pod after two years in suspended animation. But everything about Katie's return is wrong. Before she got into the escape pod, she was pregnant by the same alien force that impregnated Molly—and she suspected she was infected with the same potentially viral madness as her crew mates. But Katie seems quite pleased to have been rescued and there's no sign of her offspring. What, the audience is left to wonder, is going on?
One possible explanation is that Katie is, in fact, just another phantom created by the aliens. Maybe she was able to manifest to the French astronaut as well as to Sean Glass. But Molly helpfully points out that Katie shows up on the Seraphim's cameras, which means that she isn't a phantom.
One of the reasons I can't get behind Extant is that its characters, despite being theoretically intelligent people, never ask the right questions. They believe whatever it's convenient for the writers to have them believe, align themselves with whomever it's convenient for the writers to pair them with. The characters' personalities, previous knowledge, or even common sense never enter into it. They are chess pieces or exposition machines, never people with their own minds.
But at least this episode takes pains to lure the audience—if not Molly and Alan—into a false sense of security, to convince us that maybe this could really be Katie Sparks. It helps that Sean (the always wonderful Enver Gjokaj) has no reason to believe that this woman isn't Katie. She jokes with him, recalls their relationship, shares her seemingly honest pathos over working under her father. Where so many of the characters have flat, textureless conversations that merely convey plot information, Katie and Sean actually seem to have an interesting, dynamic relationship. It ends up being quite sad when the show reveals it was all a facade.
Extant drops a clue to Katie's true identity when Molly finally comes face to face with her offspring. He's no longer a fetus, but he's not an infant, either; he's a child, roughly Ethan's apparent age. Katie's offspring experienced an accelerated growth spurt as well—so that she looks exactly like the adult Katie, whose torn-up body is still hanging in the escape pod.
It's a great reveal (although I imagine some viewers figured it out along the way) and a legitimately frightening one. The ability of the aliens and offspring to create phantoms of dead people has been a bit ho-hum, and not utilized to its full potential. But the idea that an offspring could actually replace their deceased parent—now that's interesting, especially in light of the show's apparent themes of human advancement and extinction.
It's interesting to see this revelation juxtaposed against the "revelation" that Odin is an anti-humanic revolutionary—something the audience has known for ages. It's frustrating that the audience has watched Odin manipulate Ethan, knowing it's for his own political ends. It's especially when we've listened to the scientists go on and on about how important it is for Ethan to have the proper inputs, only to let a relative stranger be alone with him for extended periods of time. Sure, now we know what Odin's endgame is for Ethan, but like so much of Extant, it's just another piece of information, not one with much emotion or narrative satisfaction behind it. Hopefully, the season finale will have more storytelling like the Katie plot and less like the Odin arc.