Welcome back to the second week and another episode of The Orville. Despite the near universal panning of the show by critics, viewer reactions seem to be more favorable, proving once again that sci-fi lovers are their own unique breed, for better or worse. There still may be hope for this show to work out the kinks and become something truly original. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s Orville misadventures.
An Unexpected Request
This week’s episode opens up with Mercer and Bortus having a conversation in Mercer’s office. Bortus requests an extended period of leave to take care of his new egg. After a brief and awkward conversation about the Moclan anatomy, Mercer grants the request, which will take 21 days of Bortus sitting on the egg until it hatches. It’s obvious the writers are setting up next week’s episode to focus on the outcome of the egg hatching, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with child rearing of a single-sex species.
The Distress Call
Things kick into high gear as Mercer and most of the rest of the crew are on the bridge. After having received a distress call from a Union ship, the Orville comes to the rescue of a transport supposedly carrying passengers, including Mercer’s parents. After yet another strange conversation involving colons, Mercer’s ex-wife, and other talking points that prove that painfully awkward conversations with the parents haven’t been eliminated 400 years from now, Mercer and Grayson board a shuttle to help the ship and to meet the parents. This leaves Alara Kitan, the highest ranking (and in some ways, most inexperienced) officer on the ship, in charge.
While on board the shuttle, Mercer and Grayson start to converse about the nature of their failed marriage. At this point, they seem to have reached a point of acceptance with each other compared to last week’s episode. If only real life breakups and divorces shared such a quick resolution. Yes, it’s technically been over a year since they got a divorce, but only… what, a couple of weeks since Grayson took over as XO?
The two finally dock only to discover a single, empty room on board the ship. Outside, the ship turns into a small holographic buoy and transports the pair to somewhere unknown, leaving the Orville with an inexperienced acting captain and few clues on where to begin to find the missing crew.
We Bought An Alien Zoo
Mercer and Grayson wake up in what appears to be their old New York apartment. Confused, the two briefly discuss possible explanations. After ruling out the possibility of time travel, they try to break out by jimmying a door, only to have Mercer nearly break every bone in his body after attempting to “bust it down” Hollywood style.
With things going nowhere, the pair settles down for some Netflix-Minus-Chill in their old apartment. This provides some additional time for them to reminisce about the good old days before Grayon’s infidelity. Whether it’s something in the air or in the food, it becomes clear that their relationship continues to evolve after their divorce. It’s a stretch to say that they are falling in love after a single night together, but come on… Adrianne Palicki has been here before. Agents of Shield… Bobbi and Lance… lost love found again. The writing is in the stars… or in this case, the chocolate cake.
The next morning, Mercer wakes up on the couch to the view of several red aliens staring back at him. Surprise! The two have officially been kidnapped and are being held in a zoo. Okay, this isn’t necessarily the most unique storyline. Fry and Leela found themselves unknowingly in a zoo while on a romantic vacation in Futurama. Still, the plotline proves the show is making an effort to avoid or reduce the amount of typical sci-fi tropes, especially the ones that tie it to Star Trek. Mercer and Grayson quickly meet their neighbors, including a spiky alien, a green alien, an unfortunate little kid (also green), and an alien next-door that supposedly has been on display for over three decades in a tiny enclosure. This makes me wonder: does the large alien have a bigger enclosure or is it fine with living in something smaller than Mercer’s New York apartment for thirty years?
It quickly becomes clear that escape will be difficult, if not impossible.
Intertwined with Mercer and Grayson’s zoo adventures, Kitan finds herself in a position she never expected or even wanted. As the acting captain of the ship, the responsibility of finding the missing crew and bringing them home is now hers. Immediately, she attempts to chuck this responsibility on a naked, nesting Bortus in his quarters. Bortus does the logical thing by choosing to take care of his unborn child over attending to the needs of the ship.
Realizing her fate, Kitan decides to bring in the holographic buoy for further examination. Right on cue, the buoy comes within mere meters of the ship and explodes. Despite a warning from Isaac, Kitan fails to react in time and the ship is damaged. At this point, it is also clear that the Orville has some of the best engineers in the Union considering the amount of damage they are able to take and repair in almost no time at all.
Once again, Kitan goes exploring for another way out. After visiting the doctor to be medically relieved of duty (and for an unexpected pep talk), she begins to realize the power was within her all along and not in some cute boy who likes her for her wealth… wait, wrong story. Meanwhile, Isaac detects the faint signature of a transporter leading to a restricted area of space, filled by aliens that view any species with less advanced technology as inferior. Now Kitan must make a decision no amount of Union Community College courses can prep you for. Thankfully, command makes it easy.
Fleet Admiral Tucker makes it clear that the Orville is, under no circumstances, to enter the restricted space. Mercer and Grayson will be declared lost, the Orville will return to port, and a new command staff will be assigned to the ship. At first, Kitan follows these orders and sets a course back to earth. However, due to some lengthy peer pressure from the crew, particularly LeMar and Malloy giving her the “you used to be cool” routine in the mess hall, Kitan makes a dramatic statement that she will be ignoring the orders and commanding the ship to turn around for a rescue mission.
Everything pretty much goes off without a hitch. Isaac, after scanning the remnants of the holographic buoy, determines how to use the same technology to hide the Orville as an alien ship. As the Orville flies into orbit, they are scanned but go unnoticed. Kitan and Isaac decide to go down to the planet, leaving Dr. Finn (Kitan’s Obi-Wan) in charge. Look out Malloy, it’s your turn to be Obi-Wan.
The rescue pair eventually meet up with Mercer and Grayson in the zoo. Realizing the zoo must have a keeper, the pair go off to negotiate for the captain and first officer’s release. Since Issacs’s species is seen as an equal (due to their fancy tech), he takes the lead during negotiations. Their story is simple: Mercer and Grayson were on exhibit at another zoo when they were stolen. To up the ante, the pair of human show animals also have a rare disease that could potentially spread to the rest of the zoo’s population.
Does the bluff work? Kind of. The zookeeper, concerned for the wellbeing of the rest of the zoo, immediately orders a “euthanasia sweep.”
Green lasers of death suddenly appear in Mercer and Grayson’s apartment. Meanwhile, Kitan convinces the zookeeper to hear her out, despite being Isaac’s “pet”. She negotiates a fair trade for a more unique exhibit, and Mercer and Grayson are spared from death-by-laser slicing.
Back on the Orville, things wrap up nicely with Kitan receiving an award for her commanding(?) and everyone being happy things are back to normal. She reveals the prized item the zookeeper accepted: the ship’s entire database of reality tv shows. Happy binge watching!
Finally, back in Bortus’ quarters, his egg finally begins to hatch. New surprise! It turns out Bortus and his partner are having a girl. Congratulations? To be continued….
The Status Report
This week’s episode was our first real look at the normal format and pacing of the show. While things are far from perfect, it’s clear that many of the odd pacing issues and kinks from the first episode aren’t going to be as much of an issue as I initially thought. Since we’re past all the necessary background and exposition, the regular speed of action this episode had fit well with the expectations I had coming into this. More importantly, I disagree with many critics who took issue with the fact that the Orville is an hour-long show. Sure, you could’ve shrunk Kitans’s issues with command and the whole zoo plotline into a standard 22 minute format, but things would’ve definitely felt rushed in the end.
While things are looking like they’ll improve, there are a few minor bugs that still need to be worked out. First and foremost, the series needs to figure out how to address pop-culture references. Yes, it was charming to see Kermit the Frog on Mercer’s desk or to hear Kitan be called “Dora the Explorer” by Malloy, but these references also seem out of place. It’s supposedly 400 years in the future. If the things that are considered pop-culture for us today are the only go-to references they have 400 years from now, something is seriously wrong with the Planetary Union’s entertainment industry.
I know this is a personal thing and pop-culture references are necessary to connect with the audience, but the real challenge any work of science-fiction faces is how to use these without making them awkward. Seth McFarlane can get away with these kinds of references in his other shows set in present time. Other science-fiction shows like Futurama also managed to include present-day references through creative tropes like Fry’s personal experiences and the heads of famous people stuffed in jars.
The Orville is going to have to either figure out a way to handle these references better or start building up their own modern-day pop-culture like any other work of science fiction. Otherwise, it would be like SNL doing nothing but skits based on the culture from the 1600s.
So, how about that new world everyone keeps talking about?
The balance between serious tones and outright humor is also still a work in progress. This episode worked for the most part, especially during the semi-serious challenges Kitan found herself facing unexpectedly. Yes, this was basically the plot line of Star Trek Into Darkness as Kirk had his own crisis of confidence, but the inclusion of a zoo made it work. More importantly, it’s also nice to see the show making small attempts to distinguish itself from its Star Trek influences. Of course, we have transporters, replicators, and tractor beams, but it would’ve been interesting to see Picard order a marijuana edible or tequila sunrise after his Nth time dealing with Q.
With that said, I am now concerned the Kitan may have a slight drinking problem if her go-to stress reliever is a shot of tequila every time stuff goes down.
We will see more of how the writers handle the balance between humor and drama in later episodes. The plotline involving Bortus and his unexpected daughter will be particularly revealing since this is no doubt the perfect opportunity for the writers to draw some deep parallels with modern-day controversies dealing with sexuality and gender. If done well, this type of plot line could really make The Orville stand out.
Otherwise, the writers may be setting themselves up for failure if they can’t handle the tricky balance that is needed to do topics like these justice.