It’s time for another Orville adventure. Where did last week lead this ragtag crew of Union officers? Apparently, Montana in space!
Troubles In Paradise
This episode starts off with Klyden and Bortus in bed having yet another marital dispute. This time, it isn’t about the drastic divide present in last week’s episode about their child. Instead, it seems the two aren’t having enough “relations” according to Klyden. Bortus explains he’s too busy with work and storms off. Klyden feels neglected and goes to the food synthesizer for some traditional human comfort food, Rocky Road ice cream, and a movie.
The real adventure begins on the bridge after Bortus joins a nosy crew interested in the trouble in paradise. Before a thorough investigation can begin, sensors pick up something strange, prompting Mercer to order a course change. The Orville flies over to find a large bioship the size of Manhattan, presumably thousands of years old. With its engines off, the ship is slowly on a course to a nearby star where it will be destroyed in six months.
Mercer, Grayson, Kitan, Finn, and Isaac board a shuttle and check out the interior of the ship. Inside, they discover an entire biodome filled with farms and rolling hills. The team splits up with Mercer and company coming across a quaint little shack in the middle. Knocking on the door, the occupants are a little bit hostile but come around after Isaac stuns the father. It becomes clear that the occupants don’t realize they are just on a starship. Instead, the common belief is that everything under the dome is literally just everything.
Grayson and Kitan, meanwhile, are having a leisurely stroll down a dirt road, discussing Grayson and Mercer’s failed marriage. Eventually, an alien truck finds the pair along the road and two guards demand to see some ID. Having none, the pair tries to smooth talk their way out, only to have Kitan shot and Grayson captured.
Meeting The Leader
Grayson is taken to the main town where she witnesses a death-by-mob execution of a dissident, ordered by the town’s leader. While the poor dissident is beaten to death, the guards take Grayson straight to the leader where he begins to ask her questions about her strange weapon and attire. Revealing nothing, the leader suggests she gets “comfortable.”
Back at the cabin, the son leads Mercer and crew to a barn filled with other doubters known as Reformers. Inside, they explain that common belief teaches that everything was created by Dorahl. The people’s leader enforces this word and punishes anyone who resists the truth. Mercer explains the real truth of the situation before getting a call from a badly injured Katin who tells them Grayson has been taken.
After finding and patching up Kitan, the group decides to mount a rescue. Isaac heads back to the shuttle only to find a comm buoy letting them know the Orville was called away on a distress call. They are on their own.
Mercer, Kitan, and Finn dress up as locals and force their way into the city’s town hall where Grayson is being held. They arrive just in time to find Grayson suffering from a toxin. After a brief firefight and a shot of the antidote, Mercer is face to face with their leader.
At first, the leader resists the idea of Mercer and his crew being “beyond” or from outside the dome. After Mercer flashes some pretty pictures of the Orville and the bioship, and Grayson figures out the leader must know something from the questions he was asking her, the leader admits he has his doubts. But, what can they do? The truth would shake the whole civilization.
The Reformers lead the Orville crew to a lift that goes straight to the bridge. There, they find an ancient message from Captain Qui-Gon Jinn, I mean Captain Liam Neeson, I mean Captain (ship creator?) Dorahl. He explains that the bioship was his people’s first attempt to travel the stars. Three generations would live on the ship to get to their destination. Unfortunately, something happened and their engines were damaged, marooning them on the ship.
Realizing that enough time had passed for the people to forget their true origins, Mercer decides to reveal the truth to the masses. They open up the ship’s sunroof to let the people see what stars and night time look like.
The Reformers are happy, help is on the way, repairs are being made, and another mission comes to a close.
The Status Report
I will admit, this episode felt like a bit of a letdown. While the other episodes have had their ups and downs, this one was a net loss in my mind. It was like watching a kid struggling with baseball, practicing every single day to get better, just getting beaned in the face time after time. The episode had promise, but failed to deliver, which is a sign that the writers need to figure out how to deliver on their premise.
It has been clear that The Orville takes its Star Trek influence more from the original series and The Next Generation. Their episodes are largely self-contained, exploring some issue or event and wrapping everything up without any sort of cliffhanger. Whereas Star Trek Discovery is going all Dominion War on steroids for the next fifteen episodes, The Orville episodes are mainly meant to stand on their own.
This is great if the writers can pull it off. What’s more, it’s nice to see that they aren’t afraid to explore issues that even Star Trek didn’t tackle. In this episode, the writers gave us a rather interesting twist on a staple Trek problem: the Prime Directive. What happens when you encounter a species less advanced than you? In this case, things are complicated by the fact that this species was once more advanced, but reverted after a few generations.
The potential of this episode was also in the more-than-current issue of absolute belief versus dissenting opinion. You could easily replace the controversy over the “Beyond” and the belief in Dorahl with conflicting opinions over religion, transgender rights, abortion, etc. Unfortunately, the episode fails to do all this justice.
The biggest issue here is that the writers just rush through all the potential moral and psychological conflicts and move onto the next episode. Mercer decides to reveal the truth to the people in the end by showing them something no one on that ship has seen before: night time. These people literally look up to a sky that has never changed and see it blacking out, revealing a whole universe right over them.
Then…. roll credits!
We’re just left to assume that everything is dandy instead of going into the depth this conflict offers. Should we just assume everyone is okay with having their only understanding of reality shattered right before their eyes? How is there not an apocalyptic frenzy from the masses after seeing the bright, blue sky they’ve always know disappear?
These are even issues their leader warned Mercer about. The promise of great fallout was there. Instead, we get… it’s aight bro. It’s cool.
For comparison, imagine if a non-violent version of ISIS turned out to be undeniably right. A small section of the human population had it right all along, and now the rest of us have to deal with the fact that our fundamental understanding of reality was wrong. Would we just ride off into the sunset together without any problems?
The point is that The Orville writers are choosing to explore these types of issues. They could have easily decided to make this show action packed or a farce on typical sci-fi tropes. Instead, they are doing their best to explore the depth of issues that Star Trek was known for. They just need to give enough time and attention to actually explore that depth.