The Orville (2017) s03e07 – From Unknown Graves

I’m not sure if this episode’s the best “Orville” of the season, but it’s definitely the best constructed. The script—credit to David A. Goodman, who’s written “Orville” in previous seasons; this episode’s his first “New Horizons”—is magnificent in every respect. There are four perfectly balanced plots. First, the Orville is on a diplomatic mission to a matriarchal society, so captain Seth MacFarlane and first officer Adrianne Palicki cook up a scheme to appear more palatable to the potential allies. The female crew will assume all the leadership and command roles; the male crew will be red shirts with no responsibility. At least when the diplomats are present.

Except that main plot comes after the episode’s cold open—a suburban alien family getting their first home robot… a Kaylon. The family’s experiences with the Kaylon “assistant” will pop up throughout the episode, tying into the second main plot—MacFarlane discovers a scientist (Eliza Taylor) who has reprogrammed a Kaylon to feel emotions. They come on board the Orville so MacFarlane can report the development to Starfleet Command. Or Union Central. Whatever.

Christopher Larkin plays the emotive Kaylon, who is full of regret about his species trying to irradiate all the humans and their other biological friends. Larkin will be a touchstone for various ongoing, Kaylon-related plot lines; specifically, Penny Johnson Jerald and reformed but still unemotional Kaylon Mark Jackson’s romance, and then Anne Winters hating all Kaylons for killing her best friend (and all those other people). I can’t believe what Goodman and MacFarlane (who directs) achieve with those resolutions. They have percolated since the season premiere, with Winters’s hatred of Jackson creating palpable tension through many of her scenes on the show overall. The episode works through all of it, slowly, deliberately, carefully. MacFarlane gives all the actors time to process; sometimes, it seems like he’s being slow instead of patient, but then every time the actor delivers on the moment, and it’s exceptional.

I don’t know if it’s the best episode—there’s another big contender—but it’s definitely the best use of “The Orville”’s new format for streaming. Seventy-ish minute episodes, but still with commercial breaks; the commercial breaks here work beautifully to relieve tension or adjust narrative perspectives. It’s an outstanding episode, start to finish.

The final subplot involves J. Lee and Jessica Szohr’s burgeoning romance, which the show’s been building up for a while. It’s played mostly for laughs, fully utilizing Szhor’s deadpanning abilities and Lee’s incredible likability. It’s a lot of fun in an otherwise mostly serious episode.

John Debney’s score stands out this episode, and not only because it often sounds like he’s doing a Star Wars riff (so much so I thought it was Joel McNeely, who’s also composed Star Wars stuff). The score provides a lot of support for the action; MacFarlane, as director, leans on it just right.

Great acting from Jerald and some terrific turns from Palicki, Jackson, and Winters. MacFarlane gets a little more to do than usual in support of Palicki; they have some excellent character relationship moments.

The ending takes sentimentality by the arm, dances a steamy tango, then leaves it behind on the way to more profound, sincere emotion. It’s a spectacular episode.

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