Extant’s season 2 finale tied up most of the series’ loose ends, with enough teases to hint at a possible season 3 should the show be renewed. After a rocky first season, the CBS drama had a major facelift for its sophomore year (the addition of Jeffrey Dean Morgan didn’t hurt).
EW spoke with show creator Mickey Fisher and executive producer Elizabeth Kruger about season 2 and the risk-taking plot shifts that revived the sci-fi show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Mickey, I read that you envisioned this origin of a sci-fi world forced to adapt when humans were faced with the first hybrid contact. In a way, this happened with the story in season 2, but the story definitely shifted drastically.
MICKEY FISHER: It certainly shifted and grew in a way I hadn’t anticipated by adding new creative partners to the mix. Liz [Kruger] and [EP] Craig [Shapiro] came on at the beginning of the season, and we talked over some big ideas and themes. There were a few things going into it that we wanted to do, but we added writers and buckled down for a couple of really intense weeks. We plotted out the whole season as a crew. Adding new voices and people with new ideas allowed for it to grow in a way that I was really proud of.
We still ended the season in a way that I feel goes along with that original aim, which is ending the finale with Molly giving a great speech about how life is out in space and is now here. So from here we get to explore how that world changes and how we adapt and survive together — going with the core mission of the show and the title, that’s what it’s all about.
Did you always envision the story ending up having the Humanichs and computers, TAALR in particular, be the real threat?
MF: That evolved in the writers’ rooms, TAALR in particular. He was a pure invention of this second season and from Liz and Craig coming on. In the early days we talked about threat assessment and relying on these computers, and a big part of our theme early on (and the things that we talked about in the writers’ room) were how one would save humanity without giving up on humanity. When you’re outsourcing these decisions to these machines and computers and artificial intelligence — something as a society we are doing more and more — what part of yourself do you give up, and what part of your humanity do you lose in what you’re doing. That grew a lot of the storytelling.
I was just thinking about that during the finale — the day we really started to envision how big TAALR’s reach was, how far he was involved, that ultimately he would be the big threat. It was really exciting to us because one of the things we do really well is create multiple movements to the season. There wasn’t a beginning, a middle, and an end. We would set up a mystery, and there was a perceived threat, and then we’d twist the story [based on how it moved], and I think that allowed us to really go for broke in our storytelling.
Let’s talk about JD! When you thought of the character JD, I read that you had a Jeffrey Dean Morgan-vibe in mind already, but did you have Morgan in mind specifically, or did he help shape the character?
MF: We named the character JD long before we ever got down to the casting process, just because we decided you know what, he’s our model. Then a couple of months later we were really in earnest going after Jeffrey Dean.
ELIZABETH KRUGER: When Craig and I were brought on, one of the things that was talked about was that the show needed some heat and needed to get a little dirty. We felt that this season needed to get a little darker, and we also felt that Molly needed a romantic interest in her life. [She needed] someone that was opposite to her so that their world views could collide and create some interesting tension in the show.
We were in the room and coming up with this character, and we had all sorts of permutations of him, but he was always dissolute—that was always the first word to describe him. We started thinking about him as a rough-around-the-edges, Marlboro-man, someone that men and women love, and very anti-technology. We created this sort of anti-hero. We all couldn’t think of anybody but Jeffrey Dean Morgan who fit that profile, and we said, “Oh, s—. We’re in trouble if he’s not available or uninterested.” So we chased him and put the offer out to him. We made him promises on the phone; we were like, “Listen, you’re going to have fun, and we’re going to write the hell out of this character for you and you’re going to love coming to work.” I think he actually had a great working experience and he and Halle loved each other. They had such a good working relationship and such great chemistry, and I think it was positive for everybody. They just kept raising each other’s game, and it was amazing to watch.
Now what about Calderon: Was he supposed to be the ultimate bad guy? How did his story evolve?
EK: We wanted that to be a red herring. We wanted it to be a surprise, but on some level he is responsible for TAALR, but TAALR got away from him. We didn’t completely flush this out in the show, but in our minds Calderon stuck with the government for the money, and John walked away and started Humanichs. John didn’t want any part of what the government was doing. Calderon was culpable for his inaction at the wrong moment. I think that’s why he ran off, and at the end of the day Calderon was trying to save his own soul by sacrificing himself in that moment. He felt responsible for the state of the world.
Lucy was a fan-favorite, and despite her sociopathic ways toward the end, she redeemed herself. Could we see a revival of her in season 3 to team up with JD, Molly, and Co.?
EK: We never say never! We love her, too. We had such a great time creating that character. I think about [Mickey and Craig and I] sitting in a room last November with white boards and coming up with this character of Lucy and what we were going to do with her. She proceeded to exceed our expectations. We were going to kill her I believe in episode 8, and then we just thought, “we love her, we can’t kill her!” So we resurrected her.
Another character that was interesting to watch this season was Charlie, who tried to kill himself in the finale. That was shocking, but it did give him a little bit more depth. Were you ever battling with having him do that or not?
EK: Oh yeah! Let me just say this: We had a very unusual situation with CBS saying to us, “We want you guys to go for it.” That’s not really what their network is known for, but they took all the handcuffs off and said, “Go for it.” When we were all discussing what that looked like, we didn’t want to take baby steps. If Charlie really thought he was responsible for Julie’s death and that the world was such a dark place and there was no hope, he would just not want to be there anymore.
It was very bold, and in the middle of the night I wrote Mickey an email and said, “I think Charlie should try to hang himself.” The writers’ room must have been like, “What?!” It was the same reaction as when I said we should put Julie in a box. This was the strangest situation you were going to see human beings facing, so it felt like extreme measures. Mickey, Craig, and I were very symbiotic this season. The three of us almost never disagreed, and we were always on the same page. We had a great time taking big swings.
Another thing is that we talked a lot about Charlie’s humanity and that he was the conscience of the season. There was actually a discussion of whether Charlie would sleep with Lucy. There was a moment in time where that was in the script, and there was a lot of discussion about that. At the end of the day, we were all relieved there was pushback on that because Charlie was the conscience, and we didn’t want to see him compromised. I think it was the right choice at the end of the day.
MF: For a long time it maybe looked like Charlie made a huge mistake in not putting the limiters on Lucy, and that maybe he did it as an idealistic thing and that was going to cause the destruction of the world, but ultimately it ended up being the thing that saved us. It allowed Lucy to make her own choice at the end.
Molly’s hybrid transition hinted at multiple times that she had reached a “higher level” and was evolving. Is Molly some sort of hybrid prophet?
EK: We always talked about the fact that Molly was special because the way she became a hybrid was different than all of the others. There was always something special about the way in which she became a hybrid and that would lead to some unusual powers that the others hybrids don’t have.
MK: They all came from her, so she’s like their Eve. She’s where all the hybrids came from, so I think there’s something special in that, too. That makes her their inherent leader.