"Extant" has laid the groundwork for an excellent science fiction series, and according to star Michael O'Neill, the CBS event series starts delivering on that promise in Wednesday, July 30's episode, "Shelter." His character Alan Sparks continues to try to capture Halle Berry's Molly and send her to quarantine, and it remains to be seen how well that plan pays off.
Zap2it spoke with O'Neill about his "shadowy" character, who he says is both an ally and a villain. In the below interview, he also discusses whether the space and artificial intelligence storylines intersect, and when audiences can start getting answers.
Zap2it: After the first three episodes, I see a whole lot of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" in this movie.Michael O'Neill: You definitely see Mr. Spielberg's interest in that. I remember seeing that first film, and this is sort of the natural evolution of that passion of his about artificial intelligence. I thought the first two or three episodes -- because it's been so long, Terri, for me since we shot those, and we were so busy I didn't get to see anything along the way -- in a way it's a revelation for me as well about what's going on in the story.
I thought we really set the table for a lot of things. It was almost in the beginning they spread out a deck of cards and said, "OK, we can turn this card over, or this card over, or this card over and see where they go." I thought last week cards were beginning to be played, and I know [episodes] 4 through 8 it really takes off. The next four episodes it heats up quite a bit.
Is he an ally to Molly, or is he actually a villain against her?
I think he's in tremendous conflict about that. It cost him a lot, because all these astronauts were colleagues of him. They were people that he trained and selected and protected and felt responsible for their missions. But I alluded to something in the last episode when Molly and I are in the car together, and I said, "When I lost my daughter, when Katie was killed, I should have known then I was due for a change." I think that we begin to understand more of why Sparks is conflicted, why he seems such a shadowy character and sort of man behind the curtain in his dealings with Molly and his dealings with Yasumoto. He really is between a rock and a hard place.
Do you think he's a shadowy character, or do you think the audience had the wrong initial response?
The feedback that is coming back to me is, "We can't tell if you're a good guy or a bad guy." And my response is: "Both." As the story evolves, we understand why both.
How long will it be before we get more of Sparks' backstory?
I think we'll begin to see in [episode 4], and really, really in 5. In 5 you begin to see what the stakes are for Sparks.
Will the space storyline and the artificial intelligence storyline intersect in any significant way?
One of the things that Mr. Spielberg insisted on is that it be emotionally accessible. He didn't want a slick, futuristic world. He felt like the problems were the same. The umbrella that those two storylines fall under is "How do you define family?" How do we do that moving forward? What we love, what we relate to and the conflict of maintaining a "profession," the drive of your profession, and a family at the same time. It's Molly's struggle to a very large degree in the beginning of having to come back and fold herself into the family after 13 months. ... I think to a large degree, those two storylines, they do have points of contact in a very organic way.
How much of this show do you think is more science than fiction?
It's almost not science fiction, it's almost more probability. NASA made a statement, I think about two weeks ago, that there are 100 million planets out there that are capable of supporting life. Why would we not think that along the way we might make contact with something? There is that wonderful thing, and the AI thing, I think the questions that are raised are legitimate questions. How will that come to pass with us? How will we execute safeguards for how they exist with us and how will we embrace them? And is it possible for them to have their human experience of right and wrong and allow that to program into them. Woo. It's a lot to play with.
Do you think we'll understand by the end of this season a lot of the mysteries that are going on?
I think that mystery will continue, and the possibilities will get greater. How's that?
That's a good tease. Speaking of which, what can you tease about what Sparks will be up to in tonight's episode?
[Molly] made an escape from me. I was trying, I thought, to protect her by putting her in quarantine. Again, it's a hard thing to read for Sparks in terms of his intentions -- but she escaped, and she's taking her family with her. I am in full pursuit, so I will follow it where it takes me. She better be on her toes. Sparks is a mission-oriented guy.
What about Sparks and Sam Barton facing off, like we saw in a promo?
Let me put it this way: Sparks has to clarify some things with Barton. There's a funny thing that happens here, Terri, where it seems that everyone has secrets. Those secrets, they're like passing ships, but Barton's the one that withheld information from me in the beginning, and so there's a price to pay for that.
That doesn't sound like it bodes well for her.
Well, Sparks gets very clear about his position, let's put it that way.
"Extant" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.
Photo/Video credit: CBS