2-8 & 2-9) IDENTITY, parts 1 & 2
The big, blow-out two-parter that everything has been leading up to, this was originally meant to be the finale for season one. The decision to push it back till midway through the second season wasn't a bad call; the characters probably did need more development to give it the impact it deserved. Still, you've got to wonder how they can follow it up for the finale of this season.
It's heartbreaking to see Isaac give up on his character development, throwing out the minor elements of humanity he's gained and selling the Orville crew out to the Kaylon. The impact on Claire and her kids is the most obvious bit of betrayal, but it impacts every member of the cast. Isaac's had a genuinely interesting development through the series, one that's similar to the route Data took in TNG but goes down a different track. There was never any real doubt that Data was a person, who embraced his humanity, while with Isaac it's quite different. There's an ongoing question as to whether Isaac really is self-aware, or whether he just presents a convincing simulation of it, and while he appears to have developed feelings for his friends, he has no real emotions and has no apparent inclination to change this.
It's also hard to argue with the Kaylon when they say Isaac has been abused his crewmen. He's been the subject of a lot of verbal abuse from people on the crew, particularly Gordon, for his mechanical nature. The story is pretty predictable - we know from the outset that the Kaylon are up to something, and we know that Isaac will eventually put his crew's life before his people's mission. It's just a question of when, and why, he'll change sides. The Kaylon design, and the design of their world, is impressive: planet Kaylon One looks like a technological utopia, and the Kaylons themselves, being completely identical, impress when they attack en masse. Making Isaac recognisable just by his different lights and colour is a nice touch.
That said, I was under the impression that Isaac's appearance was due to his being designed to fit in with the humanoid crew, and I was looking forward to seeing something different for the Kaylons themselves, but I guess they were designed by humanoids so it still makes sense. The Kaylons history is basically the backstory for The Matrix, or The Terminator, except that they made a much better go at wiping out their creators. It's hard to argue that organic life is warlike, but the Kaylon are immune to the irony of planning to wipe everything out to assure peace. And, as predictable a reveal it is, the bone pits beneath the planet's surface are a great visual moment.
There are some shonky bits: Claire's so emotional that she'd have derailed relations even if the Kaylon had been serious about joining the Union, and you've got to wonder how it can be so easy for a kid to sneak off the ship and around an alien planet without anyone noticing him. And yes, it's easy to see where this is all going, but when it's done with such panache, it's hard to argue that this is a very successful two-part event episode. It's a very important episode in the series' setting and future history, not only setting up the Kaylon as a major recurring threat, but beginning the process of making peace with the Krill as they face a common enemy. It's also pretty funny that this is another instance of The Orville running similar plot points to Star Trek: Discovery, except that this time, The Orville got there first, and Control's quest to wipe out organic life looks like it's copying the Kaylon's.
"Identity" is a very successful story, although it would have been absolutely brilliant if the invasion had turned out to be Isaac's greatest practical joke.
Planets visited: Kaylon One
Music: That's really Scott Grimes singing when Gordon performs at Isaac's going away party.
Starships and stations: Named Union ships include the USS Roosevelt, USS Quimby, USS Spruance and the USS Hawking.
Crewman of the week: It has to be Yaphit, who gets to be more than a comedy character this time and takes out a Kaylon in a heroic bit of bodily invasion.
New aliens: There's a bunch of new faces under impressive make-up at Isaac's party.
2-10) BLOOD OF PATRIOTS
A month after the events of "Identity," a ceasefire is in place between the Union and the Krill Empire, and a true peace treaty is on the horizon. While Mercer does have more experience of dealing with the Krill than anyone else in the fleet (at least, anyone who's lived to tell of it), the admiralty is still showing a hell of a lot of faith in the Orville crew. There's a much more serious tone over this episode, even for the more drama-focused second season. There's scarcely any comedy here, save for Talla's very funny delaying tactics with the Krill delegation. This is pretty strong stuff, dealing with the trauma of abuse of a prisoner of war, divided loyalties and the costs of peace.
This is the first of two episodes that focus on Gordon Malloy, and Scott Grimes proves in both that he's a very strong actor who can do a lot more than the comedy moments he generally got previously. His moral dilemma here, torn between the friendship with Orrin and loyalty to his crew and the Union, is very well portrayed. Mackenzie Astin is also impressive as Orrin, understandably filled with hatred towards the Krill, who imprisoned him for twenty years and killed his family. There's certainly an argument that peace with the Krill can't work, given that they view all other life as soulless animals without value, but it's also clearly true that this is first and only chance for peace and that otherwise all-out war is probably inevitable.
This is a solid episode, well performed, with some serious things to say. However, it never quite gripped me like it should have. Perhaps it's because Orrin is so obviously guilty from the outset, while it's hard to credit that none of the thorough scans made by Talla and Claire picked up that Leyna isn't human, or that she's got a hidden weapon. The plot feels a little poorly constructed, which would have slipped by unnoticed if it had been a little pacier. Plus, there's no fallout from Isaac's betrayal, when you'd expect some follow-up. Still, it's a pretty decent episode.
Planets visited: Strictly none, but the ships meet in orbit of Tarezed 3. Tarezed, Menkab al Nasr or Gamma Aquilae, is a real star system a little under four hundred light years away.
New aliens: "Leyna" is an Envall from Lakkar B, a species whose blood reacts explosively when in contact with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. They've agreed to avoid Union worlds because of this.
The Trek link: John Fleck, who plays the Krill ambassador, played the Suliban leader Silik on Enterprise. His voice is immediately recognisable.
2-11) LASTING IMPRESSIONS
After a month's break, The Orville comes back with another Gordon-centric episode. Possibly the season could have been ordered a little better, but this is such a lovely episode that I don't really mind. This is a low sci-fi episode, being more of a light romcom, and while it's straightforward and predictable, it's so nicely done that I can't really fault it. It's success is mainly down to the performances of both Scott Grimes and his one-off love interest, Leighton Meester as Laura. There's an easy chemistry between the 25th century man and the 21st century girl, and it sells the episode.
The set-up in the episode is very simple. A time capsule from 2015 has been uncovered, and the Orville is taking it from Earth to an offworld museum. Inside is a smartphone, left by Laura and complete with all her messages, photos and videos, to help build up a picture of early 21st century life. Gordon uses the environmental simulator to recreate her and her world. It's all very predictable; Gordon falls for Laura, she falls for him back, his crewmates warn him how unhealthy a fantasy it is, things don't work out and he has to move on. But it's beautifully written and performed, so it works. Laura is genuinely likeable, but not unrealistically so, and the romance develops slowly enough to be believable, at least within the confines of a forty-five minute show.
The subplot with Bortus and Klyden getting addicted to cigarettes is pretty amusing, although the funniest joke is LaMarr replacing the battery on the iPhone so that it won't need charging for ten years. This might not be the most visually impressive or imaginative episode ever, but it's rather beautiful and it makes a nice breather after the combat and politics of the last few episodes.
Planets visited: None, unless you count the simulation of Earth.
The Trek link: Voyager's Tim Russ appears as Dr. Sherman.
The music: Making Laura a singer seems to have been included just to allow Grimes to sing again, but he's genuinely very good. The music's a highlight in this episode.
The shallow bit: Talla, in 21st century hipster get-up, is just gorgeous.