Apple TV+ limited series Extrapolations steeps itself in sci-fi wonkery this week as members of a tech billionaire family find themselves on opposing sides of a terrorist action meant to move the needle on climate change.
Novelist Dave Eggers joins the show’s writing team this week, and Edward Norton, Indira Varma and Michael Gandolfini lead the cast.
While this isn’t a bad version of what Extrapolations set out to do, the show’s sprawling mission statement remains blinkered.
Extrapolations recap: ‘2059’
Season 1, episode 4: Rowan Chopin (played by Michael Gandolfini) is the brains behind a new kind of aircraft that can stay constantly in flight. The vehicle is produced by New Sky Institute, his stepmother Ghita Mishra’s (Indira Varma) company. And Rowan’s worried what his dad, Jonathan (Edward Norton), will think.
After remarrying, Jonathan now works for the U.S. government. He used to toil in tech, though, so he calls an old friend, Martha (Diane Lane), to ask if she can use her software, Alpha, to spy on Rowan and find out where he is. Martha will only tell him that Rowan’s in Djibouti. Jonathan does the rest of the math for himself.
Ghita starts the demonstration by saying that the plane — or the “Rowan,” as she calls it — can hold up to 250 tons of cargo and is completely carbon neutral. It is meant to be pilotless, but she agrees to do the first demonstration herself to prove she has full confidence in the product. No one’s quite sure what that’s about. Then she makes a weirder move. She flies the plane higher than legally allowed for commercial aircraft, then tells Rowan on a private channel that it’s time to do what they’re planning in secret. He leaves quietly.
The president (Cherry Jones) is told about the situation, and also that the FBI has been informed. Suspicious, Jonathan tries to raise the alarm because he thinks he knows what Ghita’s doing. When they were young, she and Jonathan hit upon something called geoengineering, which could provide a solution to a lot of the planet’s problems. The trouble is, there’s no way to reverse its effects.
Give geoengineering a chance
Now, Ghita’s filled a plane with a harmful calcium compound. And unless every nation on earth agrees to geoengineer a solution to the planet’s rising temperature, she’s going to release the chemical into the atmosphere. She releases a statement saying the nations must meet her demands, and Jonathan flies to the White House to advise on the situation. He reminds everyone that geoengineering is incredibly unstable and might not work. But they cannot bet on Ghita backing down.
Jonathan makes an impassioned plea to his ex-wife to stop what she’s doing. But he’s at a loss for words when Rowan joins the call and says that Jonathan has always been as much a part of the problem of climate change as the solution — and insists that now it’s time to force his hand.
Jonathan blows his cool and is asked to leave the room. Security forces break into the computer room where Jonathan is hiding, but he’s not actually there — he’s using a hologram. Then the president gets a call from Nick Bilton (Kit Harington), the billionaire who promised to help climate change 20 years ago. They brainstorm a solution outside official channels. Whether it was their idea to blow Ghita’s plane out of the sky or not, someone does. So Rowan must complete the mission on his own … unless his dad can get through to him.
The future looks grim, but can an Apple TV+ show change that?
Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, penned this week’s episode of Extrapolations, so the writing feels less forceful and embarrassing than in previous episodes. Ellen Kuras (The Umbrella Academy, Legion) directs and does a very fine job keeping the show’s extremely overwrought construction from going nuclear.
Edward Norton does good work here as a more earnest version of the tech wizard dummy he played in Rian Johnson’s similarly subtext-free Glass Onion. And Norton certainly always does his best work when playing bad guys. I like that his character, Jonathan Chopin, isn’t bad by a conventional definition. He’s just content like so many people to let the world burn because his place in it isn’t all that bad. So I appreciate Eggers kind of attacking the problem at its root cause. But there’s still something aggravating about this whole series.
Far be it from me to tell people not to use their massive wealth and power to try and do something about climate change, but there’s just something about making a very pleased-with-itself sci-fi show — full of whiz-bang writerly inventions like carbon-neutral planes and calcium carbonate that will change the world — serving as the vessel by which you attempt to change people’s minds.
In search of the elusive Extrapolations viewer
I can’t imagine the viewer who turns on their extremely niche streaming service, picks Extrapolations at random to watch, and thinks, “My god, is all this true? Are we doomed?” I don’t believe any such person exists; we all know everything about climate change that we care to.
And you know what? You, me, Joe Streaming Viewer? We can’t do anything about climate change we aren’t already doing. I’ve been vegan for 14 years, I recycle, I vote for the right stuff. I confess I don’t volunteer — if I took time to do that, I’d have to take a day away from my job, which pays my rent, and well … I’m not doing that.
So what would you like me to do, Dave Eggers? How can I help you, Extrapolations creator Scott Z. Burns? I believe you. I believe everything you’re saying, and I get all your references. So now what? Your chosen vessels here are an Apple TV+ show and a streaming service millions of people don’t have. How is this fixing the problem of climate change?
Certainly, making TV isn’t in and of itself an act of conservation. And I’m going out on a limb and saying you all got paid a handsome amount to do this because it’s your job. So tell me, Extrapolations. What do you want from me?
Watch Extrapolations on Apple TV+
New episodes of Extrapolations arrive each Friday on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.