Last week’s episode was a little blip on the radar of the positive direction that ‘The Orville’ has been moving in, in terms of tone and plot narrative. This week’s episode, a “standalone” like pretty much all of the first season so far, fortunately, does see a bit of a return to form for the freshman sci-fi series.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘The Orville’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Ah, the plasma storm: the scourge of space-faring sci-fi vessels everywhere. This week, the action opens on the Orville fighting a particularly beautiful-looking but nasty-acting storm that tossing the ship around. Engineering is taking the worst of the damage, and after a heavy bulkhead falls on a crewman, Alara rushes from the Bridge to offer her particular style of strong-arm assistance. When she’s faced with a literal firestorm in her way, however, she freezes up, and the crewman perishes.
After a memorial service, Alara is feeling full of regret and doubt about her ability to handle her job. Then the weird stuff starts happening: a clown attacks her in the corridor, and later again in the cargo bay; Bortus finds an alligator, which is a very odd thing to find on a starship, but he takes care of it (“I successfully crushed it with a chair,” he says in his entertainingly Bortus-like way); Dr. Finn seemingly goes insane and tries to cut Alara open; the conference room fills with tarantulas, and then a giant spider eats Malloy a few scenes later. It’s super-weird, and through it all, Alara tries to maintain her cool even though she’s faced with a stranger challenge after challenge.
We are soon shown why: Alara is in a simulation, one that she invoked after the crewman died in the plasma storm and she began to question her ability to perform. Thanks to protocol she herself put in place, she is forced to see the scenario through to the end, and she is indeed able to overcome her fears. Although reprimanded by Ed for her reckless use of protocol, he and the crew are pleased that Alara has, for lack of a better term, gotten her groove back.
- This may be the best episode of ‘The Orville’ from the standpoint of the show’s humor being effectively integrated into the episode, instead of feeling forced in. I laughed at the jokes tonight, and many of them were at unexpected-but-appropriate moments, given what we know of the development of the characters and their relationships to one another.
- Ed emerges as a surprisingly capable starship captain in this episode – a story arc that has flown largely under the radar this season, but one that has been nice to witness nonetheless.
- Hey hey, it’s another ‘Star Trek’ connection! Alara’s father is portrayed by Robert Picardo, whom Trek fans will instantly recognize from his work as the Emergency Medical Hologram throughout the entire series run of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ and a few follow-up Trek-universe appearances thereafter.
- Speaking of Picardo, his Xeleyan character calls humans the “hillbillies of the galaxy,” which I find to be a hilarious and brilliant insight, and honestly, goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the seemingly lax attitudes and protocols on-board the Orville and the Planetary Union in general.
- Cast standouts for this episode include Peter Macon as Bortus, who is quickly becoming a low-key fan favorite for his deadpan deliveries and subtle humor. Also of note is the stellar performance of Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Finn (Medicine Woman), who follows up her great work in her solo-adventure episode with another excellent performance here – it takes a special actor to pull of creepy-but-bat-sh!t crazy and make it seem convincing.
- The episode, while enjoyable, is far from perfect, and the rough wrap-up at the conclusion is a fairly large bumble. In one moment, Ed seems furious that Alara used a security protocol to lock herself in her simulation, a protocol that, he says, is a court-martial offense if used frivolously, as Alara obviously has. He “lets is slide,” though, citing that “nobody got hurt,” which is a thin “out,” at best.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: With only two episodes left in the recently-shortened first season (not to worry, the one episode that was “cut” from the first season is now a part of the second season), here’s hoping that ‘The Orville’ can finish on a strong note. With all the interesting plot points that have been covered so far this season, the show is in a little bit of danger in feeling too disparate and disconnected from itself, so hopefully either these last two episodes of the first season or a good chunk of the second season can be devoted to “connecting the dots” a little bit.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Seth MacFarlane as Ed Mercer
Adrianne Palicki as Kelly Grayson
Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn
Scott Grimes as Gordon Malloy
Peter Macon as Lt. Commander Bortus
Halston Sage as Alara Kitan
J. Lee as John LaMarr
Mark Jackson as Isaac
‘The Orville’ features new episodes Thursday nights on Fox.