The Orville (2017) s03e03 – Mortality Paradox

Well, here’s where it turns out “Orville: Season Three: New Horizons” is not making Penny Johnson Jerald the de facto series protagonist. Instead, Jerald’s in a scene or three but entirely superfluous to the main plot. Though the main plot is also entirely superfluous, so she didn’t miss much.

I wonder if this episode would play better if you’re unfamiliar with its sub-genre of “Star Trek” episode. It’s modeled after an original series episode, with the flare (and budget) of later series and the inevitable punchline out of “Next Generation.” Though there’s one more sci-fi franchise reference—non-“Trek,” non-Wars—and it’s arguably the cutest. Though they miss a golden opportunity for a “Simpsons” dig.

Anyway.

The episode begins with Jessica Szohr returning from leave, which will be important later. Doing routine long-range scans, the ship discovers a settlement where there shouldn’t be a settlement. Some barren rock in the ass-end of space. The Orville goes to investigate, the ship’s sensors reading signals while the visuals don’t match. Captain Seth MacFarlane, first officer Adrianne Palicki, helmsman Scott Grimes, security officer Szohr, and second officer Peter Macon head down to investigate.

Instead of a bustling civilization, they find a Class M planet with endless tree coverage, which is just as inappropriate on this particular planet. Walking through the forest, they find themselves at a twenty-first-century high school.

The planet will continue to change locations, making one appropriate for each of the crew members to have a close call with impending doom. Though it seems like Grimes gets the brunt of it. Everyone else has relatively quick brushes, while Grimes gets a double in the first setting, then has to do all the work in the second.

The episode’s also got more “we moved to Hulu late” commercial breaks than any of the previous entries and doesn’t fit the “mini-movie” or extended episode vibe of the two previous episodes this season. It’s stretched to fit its hour, not scrunched. Given the eventual reveals—which both drain the dramatic heft of the proceedings—it’s doubly pointless filler material.

There’s some good acting, at least. Grimes gets the most to do in a while, ditto Macon. MacFarlane gets a Jim Kirk moment, which is fun, though otherwise, he and Palicki are in the background.

Jon Cassar’s direction is good enough. He’s not great at segueing between physical locations; it often feels like the crew’s going through a funhouse, but with poorly executed transitions. The reveal suggests the transitions should be better. Or at least different.

And then I was going to compliment how much John Debney’s score sounded like a John Williams riff, but Joel McNeely actually did the music, and Williams riffs are his whole thing, so no wonder. Music’s solid.

The problem’s the plot and the eventual reveals. If there’s a way to do this episode well, the script (credited to Cherry Chevapravatdumrong) didn’t crack it. The reveal also requires a lot of familiarity with previous “Orville” episodes, which seems like a flex for a show advertised as “New Horizons.”

But it feels most like a script intended for an ongoing broadcast television series, not one in its final (for now) season on a streaming service.

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