Review: ‘The Orville’ Scares Up A Great Episode With “Firestorm”

Review: “Firestorm”

The Orville Season 1, Episode 10 – Aired Thursday, Nov. 16
Written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong
Directed by Brannon Braga

When Lt. Harrison Payne (Tim Mikulecky) is pinned by debris from an explosion, Chief Engineer Newton (Larry Joe Campbell) calls Lt. Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) to the Engine Room to use her superior strength to free him. As she approaches Payne, she is blocked by a sudden wall of flame. Momentarily startled, Alara hesitates out of fear. By the time she summons her courage and circumvents the fire, another piece of debris has fallen on Payne, and he is killed.

This marks the beginning of what is probably The Orville’s strongest outing to date. “Firestorm” is a well-directed episode that significantly advances our understanding of Alara Kitan, delving into her fears and her background.

Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Chief Engineer Newton give remarks at Payne’s memorial service. Mercer’s is vague because he didn’t really know Payne, but Newton’s is hysterical and heartfelt, based on his knowledge of his best friend. Meanwhile, Alara is guilt-ridden over his death. She should never have hesitated, she insists. Her guilt leads her to resign her commission, though Captain Mercer refuses to accept it. “Lieutenant Payne died because I was too afraid to do my job,” Alara says. Mercer wisely replies, “No, he died because in a crisis situation, things happen that you can’t control.”

When Alara contacts her parents, for insight into her fears, we get our first major Star Trek cameo in the form of Robert Picardo (Voyager’s The Doctor) as Alara’s father. Trek fans may also recognize Molly Hagan (Eris, the first Vorta on DS9, from “The Jem Hadar”) as her Mom. Picardo’s appearance is amusing, and as it turns out, a bit of foreshadowing. It makes sense that a species like the Xeleyans, where everyone is physically strong, would value intellectual ability over bodily prowess. Her parents call Alara “intellectually deficient” and refer to humans as “the hillbillies of the galaxy.” More important to the plot, Alara’s mother reveals that she and Alara were in fact in a fire when Alara was eight months old. 

As the show unfolds, Alara comes face to face with a truly terrifying clown (Seth Austin), an abyss of nothingness, a terrifically creepy, homicidal Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), hundreds of fist-sized spiders, an alligator, and a car-sized alien spider that eats Gordon (Scott Grimes). Alara soon finds herself entirely alone on the ship, until she is confronted by a suddenly evil and homicidal Isaac (Mark Jackson) in Engineering. At about this time, we discover that Alara is somehow still in the Simulation Room, and is being watched by Mercer, Grayson, Finn, and Isaac, all alive and in their normal minds. Alara is in a simulation she requested to test her response to frightening situations, to prepare her for the types of terrifying obstacles she might encounter as Chief of Security on a starship. Isaac programmed the simulation based on input from members of the crew as to their personal phobias. Alara had submitted to a risky short-term mind-wipe in order for the simulation to seem real to her.

The episode concludes with an expository scene that works fairly well, and ends with a warm affirmation of confidence from Mercer. Alara heads to bed, for a well-earned rest. And despite what you might expect, nothing frightening happens to her.

In my view, this is an effective and gripping episode of The Orville, probably the series’ best outing to date. There’s not a single dick joke in sight (though there is an ass joke) and the characters generally act in sensible ways, with the exception of John (J. Lee) and Gordon, who continue to serve no purpose beyond tossing out punchlines. Even though the pilot episode sold the Orville as a minor ship with a loser Captain and crew, most of the characters  seem competent, and even at times excellent in their roles.

The visual effects continue to be outstanding, with the ship encountering a plasma storm that rattles and crackles with energy, and we witness the destruction of the Orville in a spectacular scene. The only bits that fell short were the giant alien spider in the hallway and strangely the shuttlecraft, which seemed like a low-detail toy in every shot it was in.

I loved the scene where Capt. Mercer is trying to write the condolence letter to Payne’s parents – how do you do that when you barely know a guy? The sequence is relatable and funny. Gordon, reading Mercer’s letter: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Paine, I am so sorry for your loss. Your son was a neat guy.” Mercer: “He WAS a neat guy! It’s not like I’m making that up!”

One issue I have with The Orville is how the show continues to use marriage as a punchline.  Alara’s parents join an unbroken list of bleak couples in The Orville, and in one scene Kelly and Ed compared marriage to Purgatory. Actually, statistics show married adults tend to live longer, healthier and happier lives. But, maybe the writers don’t find that a good source of comedy. 

The fight scene between Alara and Isaac is terrifyingly fast-paced, as a fight between those characters ought to be. I’ve wanted to see the two fight since the show launched, almost like a showdown between Thor and Iron Man. It is also quite different from Alara’s earlier fight with the clown in the cargo bay. This is the third episode of The Orville directed by Brannon Braga, following “About a Girl” and the unpleasant “Into the Fold,” and it is by far the best of the three.

“Firestorm” is packed with action and laced with humor, but it uses both to help us get to know one of the show’s major characters. The direction is crisp and effective, the writing is solid, and the acting is competent all across the cast. Halston Sage carries this story on her shoulders, and she turns in a performance that hits all the right notes. The Picardo cameo was a treat that only took me out of the show for a bit, and I got to watch Gordon get eaten by a spider. All told, an hour well spent.

Random thoughts:

  • I never noticed before that the crew seats on the bridge mirror the shape of the Alcubierre rings that form the Orville’s engines
  • Bridge officers John and Gordon have the simulation room reserved after Alara, for another of their odd historical recreations, this time apparently a Revolutionary War-era duel, complete with powdered wigs and ceremonial pistols. When Bortus joins them, the joke fully lands.
  • Isaac: “What is a clown?” “Big red fro, lots of makeup, big ol’ floppy shoes, scary as balls.” Gordon: “Wow, you’re describing my mom.”
  • Gordon: “Hobo clowns are the most dangerous, cause they’re hungry.”
  • When the crew divides up into teams to search the ship for the clowns, they are warned to look out for “pies, seltzer bottles, balloon animals – be alert!”
  • The editing of the clown attack in the cargo bay was quite effective, with disjointed jump cuts adding to the sense of confusion and terror
  • Penny Johnson Jerald can be VERY scary. Yikes. Bortus: “If you are attempting to frighten us, you have failed.” Me: “Oh, really? Where’s my spare shorts?”
  • Kelly: “This is going to sound like it’s coming out of my ass…” Isaac: “Then please try to enunciate.” Killed me.
  • Isaac: “Lt. Kitan has exercised Directive 38 in the execution of this program.” Mercer: “No bare feet in the Engineering Section?” What a GREAT regulation!
  • It makes sense that the Chief of Security would have the authority to override even the Captain’s clearances.
  • Phobias: clowns (John), heights (Finn), surgery (John), spiders (Mercer), isolation (Kelly), being conquered by a superior enemy (Bortus)

Clips from “Firestorm”

Orville season shorted to 12 episodes

The Orville has already been renewed for a second season, but now it looks like the first season is going to be a little shorter. Fox has decided to move one of the episodes from season one into season two, making the episode airing on December 7th the season finale. According to TV Guide this was done for scheduling reasons and is something Fox has done with other shows.

MacFarlane talks ‘casualizing’ Star Trek and sci-fi

The Paley Center released a clip from their September panel on The Orville with Seth MacFarlane. 

Preview of episode 11

Keep up with all the The Orville news, reviews and interviews at TrekMovie.com.

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