I was expecting a lot more from a time-traveling romance episode written by Seth MacFarlane. “The Orville: New Horizons” seems to be focusing on a character an episode, sometimes a character and a half, but usually a character. There are nine principal cast members. There are ten episodes. They should get to everyone (it’s going to be weird if they don’t, especially since Penny Johnson Jerald got two episodes). For this episode, it’s Scott Grimes’s turn.
After a comedy opening—Grimes is throwing a party where he plays acoustic guitar (it ties into his later arc but isn’t important)—he shows off his replica iPhone to Anne Winters. Grimes got the iPhone in a previous episode from a time capsule, which had him falling for a long-dead twenty-first-century woman (Leighton Meester). Meanwhile, robot Mark Jackson asks J. Lee for help bonding with Winters. Winters, of course, is angry Jackson helped his robot species try to annihilate humanity, including killing her best friend. Winters’s unforgiving animosity is “New Horizons”’s longest-running subplot, and I really hope it pays off because it’s leaden.
Once the seemingly unimportant but actually essential setup is done, it’s time for the first act sci-fi action. Lee and Jackson have developed a time laser, which can easily be weaponized, so the Union wants it protected. Only the Kaylon (Jackson’s robot race) somehow already know about it and ambush the Union convoy. The Orville manages to escape after doing a previously untried energy pulse maneuver. That energy pulse activates the time laser and zaps Grimes into the past.
“The Orville”’s time travel operates with Somewhere in Time mechanics; your subconscious wills you to your location, so obviously, Grimes goes back to crush Meester. While it’s entirely obvious what’s going on to the audience, the Orville crew are completely bewildered at Grimes’s eventual destination. In the present, they quickly discover he’s missing, then where he’s ended up. They can use the device to get back in time to save him, only it takes up too much fuel.
Actually, it seems like it was always going to take too much fuel, and they shouldn’t have been surprised. Regardless, Jackson and Winters will have to team up and head to the naval base in Alameda, where they keep the nuclear wessels. MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki are going to go get Grimes back. In another apparent gaffe, neither MacFarlane nor Palicki read the lengthy obituary of time-stranded Grimes because they’re surprised when they discover details mentioned in that obit.
Jackson and Winters have a somewhat comedic subplot, with some great acting by Jackson, but it’s getting hard to sympathize with Winters. Especially since her big reveal, this episode isn’t a reveal at all. The audience knew about it in the season premiere. The scenes are decent enough, just redundant and familiar.
MacFarlane and Palicki also get a less than fun arc as past Grimes doesn’t want to go back to the future. Instead, he’s tracked down Meester and wooed and married her using information from her smartphone. There’s some surprisingly good acting from MacFarlane—little, textured stuff, which he usually can’t do—and some unfortunate characterization and acting from Meester. It’s a bad part, but still.
Andrew Cottee does the music again, and it’s great. Jon Cassar’s direction is pretty good. But it’s not quite the episode it should’ve been, especially for Grimes; it’s “his” episode, but it’s entirely disposable.