2-5) ALL THE WORLD IS BIRTHDAY CAKE
The big event in this episode is Jessica Szohr joining the cast as Lt. Talla Keyali, the new security chief on the Orville. At first I was concerned that she was going to be a literal replacement for Alara - they're both Xelayan, after all, and fill the same role. However (as this episode and the following two prove), Keyali is a very different person to Alara. She's older, more mature, considerably more confident and with a very wry sense of humour.
However, Keyali's involvement in the story is fairly limited this episode, which centres mainly on Kelly and Bortus. An unusual pairing, who it turns out have the same birthday. The episode kicks off with an enthusiastic first contact, where we really get the sense that these are the moments the crew lives for. Refreshingly, there's no Prime Directive on display here - the Regorians called and the Union answered. (Aside from being a philosophical difference, it's a practical attitude - the Union don't want the Krill or other hostile species making contact with new races first.) Unfortunately, at a welcome dinner in the Regorian capital, Kelly and Bortus reveal it's their birthday. They are immediately locked up as dangerous, regressive "Giliacs," born under a negative star sign.
It's an effective take down of the belief in astrology. When the sciences began, astrology and astronomy were one and the same, but over the centuries astronomy has persisted as a way of observing the universe while astrology has continued only as an absurd superstition. The eventual, logical culmination of astrology would be dictating people's station in life depending on the day they were born. You probably wouldn't have whole star signs as second-class citizens, but if you genuinely believed someone's life could be predicted from the position of the stars when they were born, wouldn't you have unnecessary Caesarians to prevent babies being born on "bad" dates?
We don't really get to see another side to the Regorian religion than the extremism, though. It would have been a bit fairer to show some kind of positive side to it, beyond the repression and prison camps. I can't really argue with the point that religion can hold a society back - astrology is ridiculous, but not much more than any other supernatural belief system - but previous episodes have presented a much more even-handed view of faith-based regimes. Also, for an episode about science-versus-superstition, the episode makes no scientific sense whatsoever.
Planets visited: Regor 2 in system Gamma Velorum, a real star about 300 light years away. Yes, it does also go by the name Regor, but this is an unofficial name that was coined as a joke by Gus Grissom (for his fellow astronaut Roger Chafee). Even glossing over their using an Earth name for their system, seems very weird the Regorians call their planet by a number - we don't go around calling Earth Sol 3.
New aliens: Just the Regorians, but we also hear about the fiercely matriarchal Janisi of the Izar system.
The Trek link: The episode is directed by Robert Duncan McNeill, aka Tom Paris and frequent director on Voyager.
Awesome cameo: Ted Danson appears as Admiral Perry.
2-6) A HAPPY REFRAIN
An absolute joy of an episode that left a huge smile on my face. The concept is old and hoary: the robot character tries to learn about love, becoming a story stand-in for emotionally-limited males who need to learn how to express themselves romantically. It's not going to win any awards for originality, but it's such a pleasure to watch, I can't say I mind at all.
A romance has been brewing between Isaac and Claire since last season, after they were stranded on a planet together and they've spent more and more time around each other, with Isaac becoming a stand-in father figure for her boys. Isaac isn't an expressive character - although Mark Jackson manages to put a surprising amount of personality into his deadpan delivery - and he doesn't even have an actual face. Yet it's understandable that Claire would begin to develop some feelings for him, given the place he's taken in her life. Can Isaac be said to have those feelings himself, though, or is it all just a way to learn about another aspect of human behaviour? Isaac himself would say the latter, but it turns out that maybe it's the former.
Really, for all the sci-fi trappings, this episode is made by the wonderful performances of Mark Jackson and Penny Johnson Jerald. Jackson is finally able to show his face, in simulator scenes where Isaac is given a human form to better allow him to interact with Claire, and experience what she experiences. PJJ is hugely likeable and believable in this episode; I think Claire is a far more interesting and realistic character than freighter captain Kasidy Yates on DS9 ever was. The two actors display some real chemistry. It's a hugely romantic episode, especially the gorgeous climactic scene on the bridge.
Planets visited: none, it's a bottle show.
Music: This episode's running musical piece is "Singing in the Rain," including a spectacular orchestral performance in the ship's theatre. Better than all that Enterprise jazz.
Mustachio: I think the 'tache rather suits Bortus.
Perfect timing: This episode aired on Valentine's Day in the UK.
The episode that hit on Valentines in the States, however, is all about break-ups and doomed love, and is a far more sombre and dramatic affair. In fact, there's hardly any comedy in this episode - it's an episode given over to some serious sci-fi drama, and genuinely works on this level. I'd go as far to say that, dramatically speaking, this is the best episode of The Orville
Cassius and Kelly split up, in a very mature, no nonsense way, although he embarrasses himself a little in trying to win her back. The main plot, though, involves Keyali and one-off character Locar, a Moclan star engineer. Dropped off by a Moclan cruiser (which looks absolutely amazing) in order to upgrade the deflector shields and engage in war games to test them out, Locar turns out to be Bortus's ex-boyfriend. There's a wonderfully awkward scene where he joins Bortus and his family for dinner - basically a bunch of hyper-male autistic gay men sitting around trying to make small talk. Locar, however, is attracted to Keyali (who wouldn't be?) who begins to show an attraction back.
This is just an amazing thread for the episode to follow. We've already learnt that the Moclans are not actually all-male, but that the rare females (such as Bortus and Klyden's child) are forcibly transitioned or exiled. Now we learnt hat heterosexual attraction (which would equate with attraction to aliens or exiled women) is entirely forbidden, and that "straight" Moclans face life in prison if they admit their orientation. It's an incredibly effective inversion of so many terrestrial cultures' attitudes to homosexuality, and highlights how ridiculous those attitudes are. But all the more impressive are the responses of the characters to it. Locar is ashamed of what he is, but accepts he cannot live a lie anymore. Klyden is, as shown before, strongly conservative in his views (all the more interesting given that he was born female) and condems Locar. Keyali is righteously angry at Moclan culture, and Klyden in particular, fighting to defend him from the accusation of killing Locar but never accepting Klyden's viewpoint at all. Bortus quietly finds himself questioning his society's belief system, and reveals he knew about Locar's orientation but never reported it out of loyalty and love for him. Out of all of them, I understand Leyali's feelings the most - that's probably what I'd be like - but Bortus is the most mature.
Kevin Daniels is very good as Locar, giving a very sympathetic performance in spite of how reserved he has to play it, while Jessica Szohr is just brilliant, really getting the chance to show what she can do. The episode continues the running thread of the Orville crew wondering just how far the Union's relationship with the Moclans can last, given how at odds their beliefs are. It's a much more nuanced take on cultural differences than in The Next Generation, which generally leant on the side of accepting culture's differences unquestioningly. There are some things which are simply wrong, whatever your culture says, but others things may seem wrong because of cultural bias, and it's hard to tell the difference.
Planets visited: Moclus, briefly.
New aliens/awesome cameo: Katrudians are gigantic sentient potted flowers. Cassius sends one to Kelly's room to speak on his behalf - voiced by Bruce ruddy Willis, no less!
Music: There's a repeated use of Glenn Miller's version of "The White Cliffs of Dover." It's beautiful, but I still prefer Vera Lynn's.