The Orville Season 2, Episode 1 – Aired Sunday, December 30
Written & Directed by Seth MacFarlane
During the hiatus between the first two seasons of the original Star Trek series, fans began to hear rumors that the Enterprise would visit Spock’s home planet of Vulcan during the upcoming season, something they had been eagerly wondering about. As the second season opener, writer Theodore Sturgeon and director Joseph Pevney delivered “Amok Time,” a classic episode that explored Spock’s heritage, introducing us to T’Pau, T’Pring, Stonn, the concept of pon farr, and koon-ut-kal-if-fee. Spock’s madness led him to kill his best friend, and it was only quick thinking on the part of Dr. McCoy that kept the entire incident from becoming a tragedy.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of FOX’s The Orville and this episode’s writer and director, tips his hat to Sturgeon by having the show’s titular ship return to Lt. Bortus’ home world of Moclus to participate in a primal ritual involving a basic biological function. But whereas “Amok Time” centered around a deeply meaningful and profound event – the choosing of a mate – “Ja’loja” centers around a throwaway joke from the first season, the idea that Moclans urinate only once a year. In the process, The Orville’s second season opener brings together what are essentially five “B-stories” that give us a quiet glimpse into the lives of its characters, but no sense of meaning, mystery, or adventure.
The five interweaving character tales include some progress in the relationship between divorced spouses Captain Ed Mercer and First Officer Kelly Grayson, a date between Security Officer Alara Kitan and Crewman Dann, an exploration of Lt. Gordon Malloy’s lack of “game” when it comes to women, a parenting challenge for Dr. Claire Finn and Isaac, and of course the framing story of Bortus and his Ja’loja. Only two of these five stories are very interesting or important to the life of the show, though each has a few fun moments.
When we left season one, Ed and Kelly had come close to reigniting their romance, but circumstances and duties pushed them apart. Here at the start of the second season, we find that Ed still loves Kelly, but she has begun to date someone else, the ship’s school teacher, Cassius. Captain Mercer signs out a shuttle and does a “drive-by” outside Kelly’s window while she and Cassius are kissing, and Cassius’ equanimity and desire to give Ed the benefit of the doubt briefly pulls the two of them apart. Cassius is able to restore things only with the help of Ed’s better knowledge of Kelly’s preferences. Chris Johnson’s performance as Cassius is excellent, giving us a character we can sympathize with, and whom we can see Kelly gravitating towards. This plotline also gives us the one true personality conflict of the episode, as Ed and Kelly both have valid points of view on the viability of a relationship between a Captain and his First Officer. Kudos to MacFarlane for writing a crisp, interesting argument between the two characters in an early scene and reprised later on that lets us see the issue from both perspectives.
The other storyline that gets a good bit of screen time and seems to move the characters forward involves Dr. Claire Finn and her difficulties parenting her teenaged son, Marcus. Marcus has been hanging out with James, a bit of a trouble-maker who has convinced his parents that he’s an angel. As the two clown around in class and hack a food synthesizer to make vodka, they incur the wrath of Dr. Finn, and fascinate AI crew member Isaac. The situation brings Dr. Finn and Isaac closer together, and features some of the funnier dialogue in the episode. There are hints that Dr. Finn may feel romantically drawn to Isaac, though because he is an emotionless robotic being, he does not return her feelings. This may make for some interesting stuff down the line.
The brief date between Lt. Kitan and Dann amounts to virtually nothing. Dann’s poetry is meant to be a hoot, but merits only a yawn, and the only thing interesting about it is that Gordon finds the poetry fascinating.
Gordon’s quest to get help with his dating prowess so he can muster the courage to ask out new character Lt. Janel Tyler (a strangely uncredited Michaela McManus) contains some funny exchanges between Malloy and Lt. Cmdr. John Lamarr, but in the end tells us nothing new about either character and amounts to nothing more than a swing and a miss.
Perhaps most crushingly, MacFarlane – the writer of this episode, chooses to make Bortus’ Ja’loja – after which the episode is titled – into nothing more than a framing device and a setup for a few piss jokes. As a result, the episode suffers from the connection to Sturgeon’s “Amok Time,” rather than being enriched by it. There is no deeper point to the Ja’loja, Bortus is barely in the episode, and neither the build-up nor the ceremony adds anything to any of the other storylines. The episode is essentially four quiet character stories wrapped in an extended urination joke.
Overall, the four character stories are each nice little bits, and each of them would have worked as the B-story in an adventure-themed episode, but bunched together they form a strangely subdued and quiet start to The Orville‘s sophomore season. “Amok Time” started off Trek’s second year with a bang of intrigue, pathos, and adventure. In contrast, “Ja’loja” is an episode I would have described as a “change-of-pace” later in an action-packed season. Placed here at the beginning of this run of stories, it has no pace to change from. It gives us little indication of the direction of this second season, and feels like very little reward for returning from the between-season break. It’s not a bad episode, but it feels like it should have come a few weeks down the road.
- The episode features Seinfeld star and well known celebrity Trekkie Jason Alexander inside a latex gecko head as bartender Olix, recognizable only by his distinctive voice. Alexander’s guest role was teased by star J. Lee on Instagram last March, showing him in makeup and only referring to him as a “legend.”
- “Bortus, if you need the time to make any preparations, feel free to relieve yourself.” – Ed Mercer, failing to avoid the pee joke
- “A woman can’t really love a man unless he’s part dope. Be a little stupid every day, and really stupid once in a while, but just don’t be perfect.” – Ed Mercer, offering excellent relationship advice to Cassius
- “There is a young officer under my command who I have noticed also has no mate. If you wish, I will order him to mate with you. I have no reason to doubt his seed is fertile.” – Bortus to Alara
- “Always go with one more zipper than you’re comfortable with.” – Lamarr offering dating fashion tips to Malloy
- “My anthropological studies have revealed many different methods of discipline employed throughout human history. Perhaps compulsory consumption of further quantities of alcohol would diminish his desire for the substance.” – Isaac on disciplining children
- Xeleyans don’t have livers
- Lt. Tyler is a Dark Matter Cartographer, which will presumably become important later on in the season
- Kelly has been seeing Cassius for about a month
- We see Outpost 58 in some gorgeous FX shots
- “Bortus ate my homework” is apparently a cliched excuse in the Orville’s classroom
- The Orville has a restaurant called “Mooskas” on board with Mad TV veteran Will Sasso playing Mooska
Keep up with all the The Orville news, reviews and interviews at TrekMovie.com.