It’s nigh-impossible for Star Trek fans to watch tonight’s episode of The Orville and not be reminded heavily of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s android Data and his quest to become “more human.” The key difference between Data’s journey and that of resident Orville android Isaac is that the former is trying to alter his programming to become more human-like in nature, while the latter merely wishes to observe and experience what humans do and how we act/operate. Isaac is given ample opportunity to do so in “A Happy Refrain.”
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: It all starts so innocently: Dr. Finn (medicine woman) requests Isaac’s assistance with a technical… thing, and as the android arrives at sickbay, he brings Claire a banana (as he’s noted that she gets “cantankerous” if she doesn’t eat at a certain time of the day) and kinda-sorta compliments her on her new hairdo (“You have modified the configuration of your hair… did the previous alignment fail to provide adequate warmth?”). After thinking a bit further about their interactions – both in this episode and previously, most notably in the first season episode “Into the Fold” – Claire asks Isaac out on a date. Seeing an opportunity to experience and study an area of humankind that he has not yet had access to, Isaac accepts.
Things seem well enough, at first. The pair attend the performance of the ship-to-ship travelling Union Symphony together, along with dinner a Claire’s favorite restaurant from “back home” in Baltimore, courtesy of the simulator. Things start to take a turn for the sterilized, however, as Isaac in his robotic abilities has over-prepared for the date by examining Claire’s personnel file. He already knows so many things about her that the date starts to lack meaning, and Claire relays her disappointment to Isaac.
In an attempt to “be more spontaneous,” Isaac shows up at Claire’s quarters at 3:00 AM with a cake and a proposal of an immediate second date. The two decide to strike a more apt balance by not only setting a time for a second date but having Isaac delete most of the data he has accumulated about Claire so that he can truly “get to know her” more organically. In this spirit, Isaac also programs the simulator to give him a more human-like appearance, so that he and Claire might be able to kiss. Claire, seeming thrilled with this development, takes things one step further and, uh, “deflowers” Isaac. Tee-hee!
Isaac, in his robotic-ness, sees their sexual coupling as the natural conclusion of the mating process; wishing to terminate the relationship, he takes some bad advice from LaMarr and tries to get Claire to break up with him, in what may be the most hilarious scene of the entire show’s run. Eventually, cooler heads prevail, Isaac realizes (mostly through his deletion of Claire’s info causing his other subroutines to malfunction) that he does care for Claire and wants their relationship to continue and through the time-honored human tradition of the “grand gestures,” gets Claire to agree to continue dating him.
- Bortus’ desire to grow a mustache as the “B-side” story of this episode was infinitely odd, but it somehow worked to perfection. I would like to see his and Klyden’s relationship have an episode where things were actually good between the two of them, though.
- I’m going to try and assume that Claire’s quarters were not programmed into the simulator for some really odd and possibly kinky reason, and just hope that the simulator perhaps keeps the schematics of the entire ship in its ready-to-use database.
- It was really great to see Mark Jackson (and Norm MacDonald!) get the chance to act “as themselves” visually in this episode. I’m not sure how many more times the gimmick can be utilized, of course, but this was a fun break from the norm, no pun intended there, Mr. MacDonald.
- Seth MacFarlane once again shows his deep-seated love for music and Broadway with the inclusion of the Union Symphony in the episode. Since MacFarlane both wrote and directed “A Happy Refrain,” this one is squarely on him; good thing he’s good at weaving music into his storylines effectively.
- All the cast of The Orville is good, but Jerald and her depiction of Dr. Finn (medicine woman) is far and away the crown jewel of this show. She consistently shows excellent range and brings a great pathos to her interactions with all the other characters.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: “A Happy Refrain” is my favorite episode of The Orville so far, and I think it largely succeeded on two different levels: the effective journey of Isaac and his observations leading into the revelation of how much humans have truly affected him so far, and the nuanced presentation of the average “mundane-ity” of day-to-day life on a starship. This quirky show really seems to be hitting its stride here in the middle of the second season, and while it’s not perfect, it is very entertaining to watch. As Malloy put it in this episode: “We are, without a doubt, the weirdest ship in the fleet.” I think there’s not a thing wrong with that.
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
J. Lee as John LaMarr
Mark Jackson as Isaac
New episodes of ‘The Orville’ are premiering on FOX every Thursday this season.