The Orville (2017) s03e02 – Shadow Realms

I guess the next episode will be the deciding point—or at least forecast it better–but this season of “The Orville” isn’t treating Penny Johnson Jerald as the “heart of the show” so much as its protagonist. This episode, like last, is mostly about her, which is excellent. Jerald’s fantastic; there’s also some subtext to nineties “Star Trek” writers (Brannon Braga for this episode, co-writing with André Bormanis) doing a show where the lead is the ship’s chief medical officer and her kids aren’t annoying.

This episode’s full of callbacks and homages, though. The last episode felt like “Orville” Star Wars at times; this episode feels like “Orville” Alien. Down to the music: John Debney does an excellent Jerry Goldsmith but peppy score for the episode.

It’s also the Borg episode. It’s also a “truth behind the religion” episode, calling back to original series “Star Trek,” and it’s also an homage to schlock sci-fi of the fifties. The monsters look like—terrifying, grotesque—rubber fifties monsters.

There’s also the episode’s “micro-movie” feel. It doesn’t feel like an extended episode or a truncated two-parter; it feels like an “Orville” adventure. The Orville Into Darkness, actually. Quite literally.

The episode begins with guest star James Read arriving on the ship to conduct negotiations with the former bad guy, current tenuous ally aliens, the Krill. The Union wants safe passage through their space to explore beyond their star empire’s borders. The Krill haven’t explored it because it’s full of soul-sucking demons with eight eyes.

The Orville crew, mostly Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki, give the religious mumbo jumbo an eye-roll, and the Krill don’t care if the ship goes off and gets soul-sucked, so they get the go-ahead. The beginning of the episode is a very “Star Trek” diplomacy bit. After that, it becomes an undiscovered frontier exploration episode—the “New Horizons” subtitle suddenly makes more sense for the season.

Well, at least for a while.

But the bigger deal is Read’s former relationship with Jerald. Twenty-five years ago, he was one of her professors and something more, but it’s not something she talks about anymore. He’s interested in rekindling; she’s not. Read’s continued interest leads to him consulting with AI robot and Jerald’s ex Mark Jackson for a sidesplitter scene.

Read’s also gung ho to accompany the ship on the exploration—at the beginning of the episode, it wasn’t clear the Orville would get the mission, but after the negotiations complete, there’s never a question of it. Maybe they cut a scene. Once guest star Victor Garber gives the okay, they’re off to the Delta Quadrant.

Or whatever.

There they discover a bitchin’ nebula and a terrifying section of empty space—the something-something Expanse, where there’s no starlight and a distress beacon going off. Going to the beacon, they find themselves on a bio-mechanical space station of some sort, unknowingly walking into an inspired Alien and Borg hybrid homage.

Jon Cassar directs the episode, doing a fine job, especially with the actors. While the first half of the episode is mostly Jerald, Read, Palicki, and I suppose MacFarlane (he’s the anti-Shatner, making room for everyone else), the second half gives the rest of the crew more to do. There’s an away mission with J. Lee and Jessica Szohr, then Peter Macon gets a bit (Scott Grimes and new cast member Anne Winters get the least—they’re the helmsmen after all—but they had more last episode). It’s a very nice balance.

The episode makes big swings in terms of character development, season baddies, and so on. The resolution’s a little abrupt, but the last scene is absolutely fantastic. No surprise, “Orville” is real good.

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