Last week, The Orville treated us to an interesting tale of love, lust, jealousy, severed limbs, time travel, and Charlize Theron. Outside of the severed limbs and Theron, it wasn’t the most original storyline, but it did give us insight into the 29th century’s antique collectors market. Let’s get caught up with the future’s Antique Roadshow before tonight’s new episode.
It’s Always a Distress Call
Last week’s episode went straight into the action (after a brief episode of Seinfeld) with the Orville receiving a distress call. Cue Mercer and company to zoom off to the rescue! The ship leaps into the orbit of a star where a kamikaze comet is zipping straight towards oblivion. On the surface, a crashed mining vessel captained by Pria Lavesque is trapped. Thankfully, during a daring continuation of this daring rescue, the ship launches a shuttle, docks with the mining vessel, rescues Lavesque, and escapes just in time.
On board, the crew meets Lavesque where it quickly becomes apparent that sparks are starting to fly between Mercer and his new guest. After a cocktail party in the captain’s quarters where Mercer and Lavesque share common beginnings in Massachusetts, Grayson begins to get suspicious.
Grayson manages to convince Kitan to help her search Lavesque’s quarters for any signs of concern. Inside, they find a mysterious metal box hiding underneath the mattress. The tricorder/scanner-thingy can’t penetrate the inside. Lavesque walks in, forcing the pair of would be thieves to make up an excuse involving checking for radiation. Unfortunately, the excuse doesn’t sit with Mercer.
In his office, the captain reprimands Kitan and has a showdown with his concerned first officer. Grayson tries to convince him that the metal box means Lavesque is up to something, but Mercer disagrees. Before the two can dig into their feelings about Mercer having googly eyes for another woman, the ship rocks violently.
On the bridge, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. The ship has become caught in a dark matter storm, cutting off all potential exits. Lavesque explains she has navigated this type of storm before and takes the helm, despite Grayson’s objection. Using skills and sci-fi magic, the miner safely navigates the ship out, proving to Mercer that Lavesque is trustworthy.
So trustworthy, in fact, that Mercer has no problem inviting Lavesque to a date on the environmental simulator (aka holodeck), which leads to a kiss.
Then they do it.
After the deed is done, Mercer and Lavesque discuss his failed marriage and how he hasn’t trusted anyone since the divorce.
Meanwhile, in engineering, they discover the same mysterious box from Lavesque’s quarters lodged in the bulkheads. Realizing Grayson may have been right, Mercer confronts Lavesque in her quarters. Without even hesitating, Lavesque gives up the charade and offers the truth: she’s an antiques dealer from the 29th century and has come back to collect the Orville.
The ship was supposed to be destroyed in the dark matter storm. Lavesque comes back to prevent the disaster, collect the ship and crew, and return to the 29th century so the original timeline isn’t altered. Now the ship is on a course to the wormhole Lavesque used to travel back in time in the first place.
After a failed attempt to disable the metal box that has slaved the Orville to Lavesque’s smartwrist(?) device, the outcome seems bleak. Isaac is damaged in the attempt and appears to be dead, for an android at least.
Eventually, the ship and crew arrive at the wormhole and enter. On the other side, another massive ship carrying Lavesque’s clients is waiting. Before the exchange can happen, Isaac reveals himself to be alive and sends a secret message to Mercer and Grayson that the device is disabled. Mercer punches a few buttons, Grayson punches Lavesque’s face, and the escape begins. The alien ship attempts to lock a tractor beam onto the Orville, but the ship manages to outrun their pursuers into the wormhole.
Back in their normal timeline, Mercer speaks with Lavesque after having apologized to Grayson. The two discuss the implications of allowing the Orville to continue to exist. Mercer mentions something about quantum entanglement something something, then gives the order to fire on the wormhole. With the anomaly destroyed, Lavesque disappears from the timeline.
The Status Report
It was nice to have this episode mostly focused on events on the ship again. Instead of finding an alien zoo or massive city ship, we were able to see more of life on board the USS Orville. Even this episode’s side story, involving Isaac learning about the ancient human custom of the humorous prank, fit in better than previous side storylines. Watching the poor android step onto the bridge, dressed in pieces of Mr. Potato Head was a fresh sight. Isaac’s own prank on Malloy, involving a spontaneous amputation of his leg, was a little less so.
The other thing that really worked for this episode was Charlize Theron herself. Previous high profile guest stars like Liam Neeson had little precious screen time. Theron had more time to show off her acting chops and establish her character as a proper, complex villain. She sells the idea that Lavesque is a true businesswoman, more concerned with the bottom line profit than the few ethical lines she may have to toe or cross in order to get the deal done.
Everything was going well until two words were uttered: the 29th century. Okay, technically that’s three words, but you get the idea. The true test of a sci-fi show for many fans of the genre is a time travel storyline. Some people absolutely hate the trope. You are often left with so many loopholes and paradoxes, you feel like giving up, throwing up the arms, and saying, “Okay Terminator-series: you have my money, what more do you want? My firstborn child?”
Much of this episode’s time travel storyline seemed to work out at first. Even the idea of a starship antiques collector is more grounded than a lot of narrative elements other series try to use. Unfortunately, the writers weren’t able to escape the pitfall of paradox that time travel can create.
Side note: anyone more well-versed in temporal mechanics is welcome to weigh-in. This stuff hurts my head.
The writers ultimately resolved the episode by destroying the wormhole that leads to the 29th century. This erases Lavesque from the timeline, thereby tying everything up with a nicely wrapped bow. The logic seems sound: destroy the wormhole in present day; it never exists in the 29th century; Lavesque never has the means to come back. But this seems to leave one major glaring omission.
If Lavesque never comes from the 29th century in the first place, shouldn’t the Orville be a cloud of debris and dust now? Lacking the means to travel back, Lavesque would never be able to come and save the Orville in the first place. Technically, this episode should have been the series finale.
Even those who scream “parallel universes!” shouldn’t be totally satisfied with this ending. If this version of the universe allows Lavesque to travel back in time to save the Orville, despite the wormhole now being destroyed in a parallel timeline, why does Lavesque disappear in the end? If parallel universes are perfect for resolving these paradoxes, then she should have no problem sticking around in the fabrics of their reality without disappearing.
I’m sure I’m missing some major, complicated equation or theorem that would resolve this issue perfectly. At the very least, this level of scrutiny is usually reserved for the most diehard of geeks and fans (sometimes both). So, I offer this totes-obviously-perfect explanation: the true force of nature acting in this episode is advertising. If the show continues to make money, no amount of time travel or alien threats will truly challenge the safety of the ship and her crew.
If things turn out differently, however, the powers of Fox will have no problem making the ship disappear from our own timeline. There you have it physicists, the true explanation of how reality works: capitalism. Can I have a Nobel Prize now?