S02E08/09 – IDENTITY parts 1-2
What is it? It’s the Best of Both Worlds!
This is the episode that will make a believer out of you. If you were still on the fence by the time Identity part 1 ended, there’s nothing else that can be said; the Orville just isn’t going to be for you. If you’re like me, however, you watched Identity 1 and came away thinking “where did THAT come from?” There’s so much to unpack here I could probably spend a thousand words just talking about this one two-parter.
The way the tension slowly escalates, the way the show keeps you guessing, the way it brazenly shakes up the character of a major part of the show; there aren’t many episodes of a TV show that execute its vision this well. If this is as good as The Orville gets, then it gets as good as the very best of TNG. I’ll even go so far as to say I enjoyed the way it resolved things in part 2 better than the way Best of Both Worlds 2 resolved its major plotline. It always felt like a bit of a cheap finish having Data and Picard just hack into the Borg consciousness and force them into hibernation. It was a bit too pat, though the follow-up episode, “Family” deals with the aftermath of Picard’s assimilation better than The Orville’s subsequent episodes deal with Isaac’s betrayal.
Still, judging this two-parter on its own merits means I can call it nothing short of perfect. The incredible pacing and unpredictability of part one made for an immensely satisfying part two. After losing Alara earlier in the year, I felt like no one was safe throughout part two, and even set myself up for a character death. That didn’t happen, but what did was a two-part episode that proved The Orville is not content just living in the shadow of TNG.
10/10 – The best pair of episodes in the show thus far, and a testament to how good The Orville can be when it fires on all cylinders.
S02E10 – BLOOD OF PATRIOTS
What is it? It’s the season’s other misfire.
If there was a place to put this, it was right here. The afterglow of Identity 1-2 was still in place, meaning the show could absorb one of only two truly mediocre episodes of the season. Blood of Patriots suffers by doing none of the things that made Identity 1-2 so great: It is predictable where Identity was surprising, it goes for too many easy gags where Identity restrained itself and spaced out its humor, and gives its dramatic moments to the most immature and joke-centered character on the show, where Identity used its more sober-minded “straight-man/woman” characters to carry the dramatic weight.
I don’t mind episodes focusing on Gordon and, as said, he usually handles himself well with comedic material (no one is more funnier than Bortus but whatever). Seeing him play it straight for much of the episode just exposed the limits of his acting range.
7/10 – Not horrible, but a big step down from what came before, and even from the rest of the season as a whole.
S02E11 – LASTING IMPRESSIONS
What is it? It’s Star Trek.
Last season’s New Dimensions was maybe the best of the year, especially at “feeling” like Star Trek. It had great character development for LaMarr, had a great sci-fi plot with “2D space” and used both to complement each other. It was well-written, smart, funny, even magical. Lasting Impressions is this season’s version of New Dimensions. Identity was always going to win the “best episode ever” award due to it’s “event” status, but as a one-off, high concept sci-fi idea, this is really incredible.
There were so many directions to take a premise like this: The characters examine a time capsule from our modern-day, discover a cell phone, and use future tech to create a holographic program of the owner’s life. You could create an entire series out of a premise like that. The Orville chose to go small with the idea, which I loved: It turned it into a romantic story, with Gordon in the center. And though I was hard on him in the previous episode, in this case, better material helps a ton. Everything here works: the acting, the story, the pacing, the twists in the plot, and the conclusion. This is exactly what I want from modern sci-fi. Excellent all around.
10/10 – It’s poignant, clever, and something good enough to be one of the best TNG episodes had it released for that show. I can’t think of any higher praise than that. Seth MacFarlane, who wrote the episode, deserves tremendous credit. More of this, please.
S02E12 – SANCTUARY
What is it? It’s everything Discovery wishes it was.
Sanctuary is an episode good enough to be a season finale. In fact it reminds me a lot of the later-season TNG finales, like Redemption or Descent. It’s got big stakes, lots of action, great character work, and an “event” feel. It’s also one of the most purely “Orville” episodes there is, and one that rewards faithful viewers with great callbacks to past episodes. The Moclans are at the center of the plot, as they have been on and off from the beginning. It reminds me a bit of the way TNG wove the “Worf/Duras” plotline throughout the first four or five seasons of the show, bringing it back for an episode or two a year until finally having the big blow-up in Redemption 1-2.
The real star of the episode is the pacing, which continues to be a strength of the show. The episode starts in such a way that you expect “yet another” episode devoted to the idea that “Moclans are backward and weird and blah blah blah tension mounts.” But instead of just spinning its wheels belaboring the point, it uses the well-tread plot to take the Moclan-story into a new level. Open conflict breaks out (in one of the most satisfying land and space battles you’ll see on a sci-fi show this year, thanks in part to none other than Dolly Parton), and as with Identity and the Kaylon, the show ends with the understanding that there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Things have changed and will be different going forward. What makes the episode so great is that it took its time over the course of two years building to this moment, it plays its card in such a way that keeps the focus on the characters, and it doesn’t clutter up the screen with too much noise and artifice. It has maybe half the budget of Star Trek Discovery, but twice the heart, twice the cleverness, and twice the cinematic flare.
10/10 – A great payoff to two years of set-up, with the promise of more to come.
S02E13 – TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW
What is it? It’s the best Ed/Kelly romance episode thus far.
The best part of this episode, in hindsight, is that it doesn’t end with “to be continued.” It introduces a time-bending premise, not too dissimilar to TNG’s season two episode Time Squared (in which the Enterprise encounters a shuttlecraft containing a version of Picard from the very near future), only with a character from the past jumping to the present instead of a character from the future coming to the past. The sci-fi premise is not wholly original, but it uses that canvass to tell a great story, incorporating a bit of the “Will/Thomas Riker” stuff from TNG’s Second Chances (in which a time-trapped version of past Riker is beamed to the present-day Enterprise) in order to explore the Ed/Kelly relationship. The end result is the best episode that focuses on the two lead characters and their erstwhile romance. Usually such plotlines are passable at best, but here it works since it ties directly into the larger sci-fi plot.
But it’s when the episode ends that it really gets credit. Had the show faded to “to be continued” we would be left to wonder about changes to the timeline, expecting the payoff to come immediately. After all, at the end of the episode, past Kelly returned to her original time with what is supposed to be a memory wipe, but instead, she retains enough memory to make a critical decision different from what the Kelly of the past did originally: Instead of agreeing to go out with Ed again, past Kelly turns him down. That’s where the episode ends, and without the “to be continued” the impression you’re left with is “ooh, a little twist. A little parallel reality created there. I wonder if we’ll ever see the ramifications of that.”
As it turns out, that’s the next episode.
9/10 – A really great usage of an oft-used sci-fi trope (the old “encounter with past/future self” plot) to explore the relationship between Ed and Kelly, sneakily working as a set-up to the second season finale…
S02E14 – THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
What is it? It’s the Mirror Universe.
Viewers who hate the Ed/Kelly stuff probably rolled their eyes at the notion that their romance was somehow the glue holding the universe together. Once past Kelly turned down past Ed, a chain reaction started which resulted in an alternate timeline in which the Planetary Union is in shambles, the Kaylon are running roughshod over the galaxy, and the crew of the Orville are scattered and shipless. As is expected with The Orville, a few Star Trek episodes are serving as inspiration here. Most notably are the Mirror Universe episodes that began with the Original Series’ Mirror Mirror and were mined to great effect in DS9. There’s also some Yesterday’s Enterprise at work here, as well as the stellar Voyager episode Timeless (maybe the best episode in that show).
But, as is now also expected with The Orville, the show takes those old ideas and reworks them into something that fits within the parameters of this show. That means there’s plenty of idiosyncratic humor, plenty of heart on the sleeves melodrama, and plenty of wild west-style shootouts on land and in space. Unlike with the Mirror Universe in Star Trek, we’re not dealing here with a parallel reality that can be visited and returned-from. This is more Back to the Future II, where reality is a hellscape to “undo.” The solution comes by simply trying again at what was attempted in the previous episode and this time making sure the memory wipe works. It does, Kelly agrees to go out with Ed and thus the universe is saved.
It almost sounds silly when you put it that way, but whatever; it’s The Orville.
9/10 – A very fun change of pace, as all Mirror Universe episodes are, tying in with what came before, and offering a great capper to a very great year.
If I have one complaint about the season, it’s one that I can’t totally fault the show for: The loss of Alara and subsequent replacement of her character with Talla is a sore spot that I just couldn’t get over. Talla is fine but little else. She’s a perfectly cromulent character and probably, had the series just started with her, she likely would have grown and developed like all the rest. Maybe by the end of next season she’ll be more fleshed out. My real problem is that Alara was such a compelling, unique character on the show. She was young, under-confident, anxious, very small, and yet because of her physiology was the strongest character on the ship. There was so much depth to mine with her that it’s no surprise her replacement was made to be the exact same species.
Talla doesn’t have Alara’s insecurities and small-factor, though. She’s more like if Tasha Yar had the strength of Worf. But the show only loses a half-point for that since the loss of Alara was a production issue, not a writing one.
That’s my only complaint. Yes, the jokes are still hit and miss, but they’re also a bit less “laugh a minute” than in season one. It’s an improvement, not perfection. For a show’s second season, this is an incredible leap in quality.
Season three of The Orville promises to improve on the last, and if it does, that means we’re looking at a show ready to take its place among the very best sci-fi works on TV.
Bring it on, I say. If it gives me more of things like this, I’m down…
Seriously, I had the biggest, stupidest grin on my face watching this.
9/10 – The Orville’s sophomore year is a testament to what good writing can do for a show. The acting is there too, and the special effects are great, but it’s the confidence in the writer’s room that really carried the day in season two.