One could be forgiven for feeling a little trepidatious about how The Orville was going to stand up now that the new and true Trek, Star Trek: Discovery, had made its premiere. Happily, The Orville Season 1 Episode 4 stays its course as the lighter, funnier spaceship.
Sort of Dumbledore to Discovery's Gandalf, if you will. And the pop culture reference points just pile up from there. Thank you, Mr. MacFarlane.
Never forgetting that the Orville carries crew's families with it and all the domestic issues that come packaged with that responsibility, the episode opens with new parents, Clyden and Bortus, having a pretty stereotypical squabble about Bortus' commitment to his job and Clyden's feeling neglected.
This echoes the reasons that Commander Grayson has previously given (and gives yet again in her discussion with Kitan) for the breakdown of her previous marriage to Captain Mercer. Coincidence? Probably not. I don't think MacFarlane is going for subtle. But I appreciate the elegance of the juxtaposition.
Clyden's pity party takes the form of Rocky Road ice cream while watching The Sound of Music and I gotta admit the computer must have some crazy-ass algorithms if that's the exact combination it recommends for Clyden's depression.
With domestic discord driving him to start his shift early, the plot moves seamlessly from the home to work realm and although Malloy and LaMarr's banter is a little contrived to start, Isaac's two cents picks up the slack, comedically speaking.
Isaac: It is possible for our shuttle to dock but navigation will need to be precise. I am the only crew member capable of such rapid helm adjustments.
Mallow: Well, you don't have to be a dick about it.
Isaac: Explain 'dick'
The detection of a large mass on the scanner is the start of a truly classic set-up reminding me of when Lisa Simpson grew her own civilization on The Simpsons. Finding a ship that looks like Spaceball One and a Borg Cube had a baby, Mercer jumps at the chance to investigate this ginormous vessel with no apparent propulsion.
A twist on a ship in a bottle, this is a world in a bottle aboard a ship. Millions of inhabitants with no idea that they are floating in space. A religion based on an actual ancestor whose mortality has passed into myth. An ancestor who turns out to be Qui-Gon Freakin' Jinn himself, Liam Neeson.
(How exactly did FOX keep a lid on THAT, huh? He wasn't even credited. No where in the show, not even in the end credits, does his name appear. Seriously, I went back TWICE to look. MacFarlane never ceases to amaze.)
But before we get to that huge reveal, we get to see the away team split up. Always the sign of good decision-making on alien planets just as much as in horror movies.
In one group, we have Mercer, Isaac, and Dr. Finn who go off, make contact, and shoot an inhabitant, pausing briefly for Mercer to explain his divorce to Isaac.
Sometimes two humans think that they're right for each other. And, no matter how much in love they are, for whatever reason, it just doesn't work out. Sometimes, one of them loses perspective on the relationship and, sometimes, the other one has sex with a blue alien. Humans are very flawed animals that way.Mercer
First contact is rocky with shots fired on both sides and Mercer is endearing as a character, concerning as a captain, and kind of a catastrophe as a diplomat in his initial approach to the ship's inhabitants.
Mercer: We don't mean your family any harm.
Finn: Well, we did just shoot his dad.
Mercer: Aside from shooting your dad, we don't mean your family any harm
Headed in the other direction, we have Grayson and Kitan, who fail the Bechdel Test in spectacular fashion, spending most of their scene discussing their respective failed relationships with men just before being attacked by a couple of Enforcer thugs.
During the conversation, there's a hint of Kitan developing a crush on Mercer. When she's left for dead but manages to contact him, there's another hint in her response to him coming to get her. (Forget the fact that Dr. Finn is the one who actually saves her life.)
This brings us to the city and the Big Bad, Hamelac, the highest-ranking religious authority, who incites mobs to fanatical rage, publicly executes dissenters, and employs torture to gather intel. Robert Knepper nails the powerful but willfully blind tyrant perfectly, the biggest fish in this pond but still a fish.
Sharks are big fish too and Hamelac doesn't spare any teeth in "interrogating" Grayson, although he is careful to have someone else inflicting the actual punishment on her until her smart mouth spurs him to use the pain serum.
Hamelac: You are more resilient than you look.
Grayson: I've been through a divorce. This is nothing.
He is in direct contrast to the leader of the Reformers, the organized dissenters whom Hamelac executes as quickly as he can find them. Kemka is calm, level-headed and necessarily cautious.
Some people refuse to accept an irrefutable truth simply because that truth puts them in the wrong.Kemka
It's interesting to watch the Orville crew try their damnedest to convince Hamelac of the world's imminent demise, and when he refuses, they just give up, stunning him unconscious on their way out because they aren't (that) stupid.
Finding the ship's bridge and Captain Neeson, I mean, Captain Durell's expository log is a tidy little ending and the show could've ended there with Isaac fixing the ship's engine and the Orville bidding the bio-ship adieu with a pat on its thrusters. Who wasn't shocked to see Liam Neeson in his cameo??
Instead, they make a huge spectacle of opening the retractable hull and bestowing night on the inhabitants for the first time in millennia. Mind you, realistically, that should have probably sent the population into mass rioting. It's nice that it didn't.
So chalk another win up for The Orville. As impressive and cinematic as the Star Trek : Discovery debut was, the Orville and its crew are exactly what they need to be; accessible in their humanity, awkward in their reality, and inspirational in their ideals.
It's unlikely we'll ever see Mercer commit a war crime, Malloy outsmart the ship's computer or need subtitles for any of the species we encounter, but that's not what I'm tuning in for. I'm eager each week for the ridiculous to be presented with the uplifting. Because that's what they do.
I think I'm just lonely, y'know? I'm the only gelatinous crew member on board. It's just tough to meet people. Hey, you ever feel like coming by my quarters and just getting weird and sloppy some night... Oh my god, I would be so into thatYaphit
If you don't believe me about Neeson not being credited, go ahead and watch The Orville online and prove me wrong.
Space is vast. And very dark. And very lonelyDurall
Were you as delighted as I was? Whose got their cosplay uniform ready already?
Or did the multiple plot holes actually bother you? There were some definite continuity issues (*cough*Yaphit*cough*) but I figure there MIGHT have been some shuffling of episode airing order. This is FOX after all.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.