Extant Season 2 Episode 11 Review: Zugzwang

Spoiler alert: it was HAL! HAL did it!

In all seriousness: the big reveal that took place in Extant Season 2 Episode 11 was that the computer TAALR (Threat Assessment and Algorithmic Research) referred to as 'Taylor' is the mastermind behind Lucy's mysterious "higher authority" orders.

Taylor also supposedly orchestrated John Woods' and Toby Shepherds' deaths, and framed Calderon for bombing the buildings in Wichita when he realized that Calderon was angling to shut him down.

Tracking Down a Colleague - Extant

Talk about a twist! While the Taylor shocker is undeniably eerily reminiscent of that other villainous computer that went off the rails (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), I do think it was an unexpected and interesting plot point.

It was clever to have what was apparently the most rudimentary, non-threatening computer/robot system turn out to be the brains behind the whole operation. The theory on Extant Season 2 Episode 10 (that Calderon was controlling Taylor all along to manipulate the Humanichs) was far less unique and intriguing than the (now apparent) truth: that no one is controlling Taylor. He is an all powerful algorithm, a machine that's gotten (figuratively) knee-deep in a utilitarian bind. 

We had glimpses all season of Toby consulting with Taylor, with Taylor acting just a little bit creepy and off-putting (culminating in last week's extremely eerie revoking of Toby's security clearance mid-conversation). I, for one, didn't expect the Taylor-is-the-villain reveal in the slightest.

I feel like the payoff of the twist would have been much better if the Calderon-as-villain idea had been laid out for us earlier. The fact that we only suspected Calderon of villainy for about half of one episode somehow detracted from the twistiness of the twist that Calderon was actually one of the good guys (and a particularly selfless one, at that).

We called it Einstein's Regret. It was either that or Zugzwang. It's a chess term. When a player has to move, but any move weakens his position. I'm about to make a move that's going to weaken my position substantially.


The dialogue in this show is not always great and is occasionally just straight-up bad and heavy-handed. We often see a lot of clarifying responses – meaning that one character will heavily imply something, and another character will unnecessarily restate/summarize what the other said in order to "translate" it for the audience. JD, in particular, gets a lot of these clarifying responses; I suppose it's due to the fact that he's set up as our "everyman," the one character with no special intelligence or scientific acumen.

I typically find this annoying dialogue device to be pedantic and patronizing. It was particularly bad in "Zugzwang." When Calderon told Molly that, because of Ethan's kindness, he would help them stop the Humanichs/Taylor but that it would come "at great cost," I seriously groaned aloud. It's a shame, too, because I love Keith David. He doesn't deserve this level of crap dialogue!

Charlie: Lucy, don't do this!
Lucy: As they say in Paris -- au revoir.

I was disappointed with how stupid Julie and Charlie were in this episode. Their plan to trick Lucy so that they could access her network and figure out who was giving her orders was lame.

Not only was it a lame plan, it was really poorly executed. Charlie waited about three minutes into their faux "date" before laying it on thick with the whole made-up system upgrade thing. I couldn't actually tell if Lucy bought that part of the plan, and then was clued in later on about what Charlie and Julie were actually up to.

For the sake of consistent characterization, I really hope she knew all along and was playing Charlie right along. If she had legitimately fallen for that "Check out this cool new system upgrade that isn't suspiciously timed at all!" shtick – well, that would just be entirely out of character for the shrewd kind of game-player that Lucy is.

And no, Tyler Hilton being so very kissable is not an adequate or convincing reason for Lucy to throw caution to the wind and act like a dope. I don't buy it, so I hope emotional weakness is not what they were going for.

I guess Julie and Charlie have been adequately punished for the terribleness of their Lucy-tricking plan, though: Julie is trapped in a storage container somewhere, watching her oxygen supply dwindle right before her eyes.

Any predictions on whether Julie will survive Extant Season 2? My money is on yes, she will survive, if for no other reason than that the writers appear to have a soft spot for Charlie, and I can't see them doling him out that level of heartbreak.

Though I do have complaints with the pacing of the Taylor-Calderon twist, the inconsistent/unclear characterization of Lucy and the schlocky dialogue, this installment definitely wasn't all bad.

Of course, I'm referring to the culmination of the Molly/JD romantic relationship.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, the chemistry between Halle Berry and Jeffrey Dean Morgan developed very well and very naturally from the initial bantering flirtation of Extant Season 2 Episode 1 to tonight's penultimate episode mini sex-a-thon. I found it fully believable as they lay in Calderon's tent, making plans for their future; the two actors really pull of the intensity of the relationship between the two characters.

My very minor nitpick with that scene was that at no point in the future-fantasy talk did either of them mention Ethan – y'know, Molly's very young son? What is Ethan supposed to be doing while Molly is lounging around by her Montana fish pond, admiring JD in cowboy boots?

Speaking of Molly's kids: what was up with Molly instantaneously forgetting all about Terra? Last week, Molly was full of reassurances that everything would work out, and they would all have their names cleared and live happily. This week, they arrive back at the bunker to find Terra gone (whisked away or possibly actually kidnapped by Ares, as the audience but not Molly realizes).

Molly had about thirty seconds of legitimate concern and regret for having left Terra behind at the bunker before she forgets about her granddaughter entirely. It was a little weird.

All that said, things are not looking good for JD surviving this season. Calderon's speech about the chess move Zugzwang (any move the player makes results in a loss, but they have to make a move) was interesting, thematically, but all I could hear as he was explaining was "foreshadowing, foreshadowing, this is foreshadowing."

JD: They're going to find you eventually. There is no future if we keep running. Not for anybody. Now this? This is a magic bullet. And we're going to use it. No matter what happens.
Molly: Zugzwang.

Once that amulet showed up in the final moments, I'd just about lost all hope. I really have my fingers crossed that the writers surprise me next week and don't kill him off. Doubtful, though.

What did you all think of "Zugzwang"? Who will survive next week's two-part season finale? Who will die? Will JD get to be a cowboy, living with Molly in Montana? Or is he going straight to the big ol' ranch in the sky?

Remember: next week is the season (possibly series?) finale of Extant. It will be two parts; Extant Season 2 Episode 12, "Double Vision," and Extant Season 2 Episode 13, "The Greater Good," will air back to back.

You can watch Extant online right here to catch up on any installments you may have missed in advance of the finale!

Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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