“Identity, Pt. 1”
The Orville Season 2, Episode 8 – Aired Aired Thursday, February 21, 2019
Written by Brannon Braga & André Bormanis
Directed by John Cassar
When Isaac suddenly collapses, the crew of the Orville must return him to his home planet of Kaylon 1. What follows is a fairly epic adventure, ending in a “To Be Continued” that will be eagerly awaited by fans.
This episode is jam-packed with action and revelations, while not neglecting a few small character moments. It will appeal to Orville fans who like their space opera grand and tense and filled with laser blasts.
Warning: There is no shame in the acknowledgment that below this point are many SPOILERS!
I’M SORRY DAVE, I’M AFRAID I CAN’T DO THAT
So far in The Orville, Isaac—the alien AI who serves aboard the USS Orville as an emissary of the robotic Kaylon race—has been among the show’s most interesting characters. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation’s android character, Data, Isaac has stayed purely logical and computer-like, never evidencing a desire to be human. Instead, he has repeatedly expressed his confidence that technological life-forms are superior to biological ones, most prominently in their intelligence. Isaac is brutally honest, does not spare anyone’s feelings, and sees biological people as fascinating curiosities, but not – ever – as equals.
And so, while Isaac’s character has experienced many situations, has learned much about humans and other biological life-forms, and has learned to adapt to their customs in order to more efficiently and fully study their ways, he has not truly grown as a character. As far as we know, he has not changed in his philosophy, mission or purpose. He has not questioned the directives given to him by his Kaylon superiors. But while a character with no true growth might seem like a dull, lifeless cypher, somehow the writers of The Orville have kept Isaac fresh and interesting, primarily by making him a brick wall of emotionlessness that the human characters crash into with their feelings, leaving Isaac essentially unchanged.
The only possible exception to this is in Isaac’s relationship with Dr. Claire Finn. While Dr. Finn’s feelings for Isaac have budded and blossomed to the point where in this episode she expresses true love for Isaac, he has seemed to regard his relationship with her as an occasion to study biological coupling and its supporting rituals, and nothing more. Finn has mused about whether her feelings for Isaac have been a sort of projection, wondering if feeling that return from Isaac is only something she wished she could receive. But she has largely dismissed these concerns, and given her heart to a person who cannot understand what to do with it. Only in the episode “A Happy Refrain” did Isaac’s response to Dr. Finn vary from his unyielding pragmatism—he admitted that his “internal programs will function more efficiently” with her in his life.
Which brings us to “Identity, Part 1” the eighth episode of The Orville’s second season, and the first two-part episode of the series. It opens with a lighthearted moment in Dr. Finn’s quarters, with Finn’s children, Ty and Marcus, playing a futuristic holographic game with Isaac. When Isaac completely dominates the game, the children complain that he always wins. “My intelligence far exceeds yours,” Isaac replies, “There should be no shame in the acknowledgment of one’s intellectual inferiority. It is simply a statement of fact. Some beings are more intelligent than others.” This is the sort of bald statement of reality, stripped of the emotional niceties that humans use to save each other’s feelings, that Isaac employs.
When Dr. Finn arrives, she and Isaac inform her sons that the two of them are involved in a romantic relationship. The kids are thrilled. They like Isaac, and they want their mom to be happy, plus being connected to Isaac raises their popularity at school. It’s good news for them, though they admit they had known it for some time, thanks to the rumor mill aboard the ship.
Suddenly, Isaac’s glowing eyes flicker and extinguish, and he drops to the floor, inert.
With all her medical skills, Dr. Finn is not able to determine the cause of Isaac’s apparent malfunction. Lt. Keyali reports no indications of computer viruses or system malfunctions aboard the ship (so apparently Bortus is still on the wagon with his cyberporn addiction). Chief Engineer Lamarr volunteers to crack Isaac open and fiddle around with his insides to try to determine what has gone wrong, because for all intents and purposes, Isaac seems dead. There are some very good moments in sickbay with the kids talking to the unconscious Isaac, and Dr. Finn expressing her love for him. It’s all very moving, but also in a way unnerving, as you realize that the Finns are all projecting various shades of emotion onto a being who is not only emotionless, but at that moment completely inert and absent.
Captain Ed Mercer decides to take Isaac back to his homeworld, Kaylon 1, to hopefully find a cure. In many ways, the frame of this episode is similar to the earlier second-season episode, “Home,” in that both episodes are about Orville crew members who suffer a mysterious, debilitating ailment that neither medicine nor technology can cure, so the Orville has to return them to their home planet for treatment. In the process, the ship is involved in larger events that change the lives of the crew forever.
The risk, in this case, is that the Kaylon fiercely guard their privacy, allowing no one anywhere near their planet, and their technological advancement is such that they could easily destroy the Orville if they object to its arrival. After a brief conversation with Admiral Halsey, the Orville is on its way to Kaylon 1.
YOU WILL BE ABSORBED
The trip to Kaylon 1 showcases The Orville‘s special effects team at their best, and is the occasion for some stirring musical cues, served up by composer John Debney. Best of all is a shot of the Orville’s bridge from outside the window, looking in, as the ship descends through the cloud layer of Kaylon 1. The shot is reminiscent of scenes from the 2009 Kelvin-verse Star Trek movie, as well as the Cloud City sequences of The Empire Strikes Back. The shot is repeated near the end of the episode, as the Orville departs Kaylon 1 with Kaylons in control of the bridge. As George Lucas would say, “It’s poetry. It rhymes.” And it’s effective.
On Kaylon, the crew discovers that Isaac is not malfunctioning; rather, his superiors on Kaylon have determined that he has gathered all the necessary information, completed his mission, and is no longer required. He will be disassembled and his components used to construct a new AI being with a different purpose. The Orville’s crew is shocked, and requests that Isaac be rebooted and returned to their ship. Unless the Kaylon have decided whether or not to join the Planetary Union, they argue, there is still much that Isaac can learn—plus, he is a valuable addition to their crew. The Kaylon indicate that they have not yet made their decision, but while they can see how Isaac would be valuable to the crew of the Orville, they cannot see what value they themselves would receive from Isaac’s reinstatement. Still, in the interests of human-Kaylon relations, they accede to the humans’ wishes and reactivate Isaac.
Isaac assures the crew, including Dr. Finn, that he finds the situation perfectly logical, and does not intend to return to the ship, ever. Dr. Finn pours out her grief and rage to Isaac, knowing that her sons will be brokenhearted. “Were you at least planning to say good-bye to Ty and Marcus?” she asks. “For what purpose?” he inquires. “Because they love you! You were there to observe, didn’t you observe that? Why don’t you just come back for a few minutes and pretend like you care.”
Isaac does return to the ship, says his emotionless goodbyes, and participates in an amusing going-away party thrown by his shipmates. When Isaac protests that he is not a speechmaker, Captain Mercer urges him to choose a speech from his database. Hilariously, Isaac quotes Sally Field’s 1984 acceptance speech for her second Academy Award win. “I want to say, thank you to you all. I wanted more than anything to have your respect. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you really like me.”
But when Ty Finn gives Isaac a crayon drawing of Isaac and the Finn family gathered around a table as a going-away present, Isaac cannot comprehend the utility of the gift, and drops it in the corridor on his way off the Orville.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
What I liked best about this episode were two key things. First, the writers never compromised on Isaac’s character as an emotionless AI being. There’s no suggestion that he is emotionally moved by his shipmates’ entreaties, nor that he sees their emotions as valuable to him. I hope they maintain that, especially in the second part of this episode.
Second, and even better, the small cruelties of the Orville’s crew toward Isaac, displayed in both the first and the second seasons so far, come home to roost, as the Kaylons question Ed and Kelly about how Isaac has been treated. I have noted before in my reviews that Isaac has been judged, insulted, and treated in a humiliating manner repeatedly over the course of the show. This episode brings up the “Mr. Potato Head” incident from Season 1’s “Pria,” but it was not an isolated thing. In season 2’s “Primal Urges,” Isaac is insulted by Ed and Kelly behind his back (“He’s a dick!” “He’s a glorified Speak & Spell, screw him!”) and by Bortus to his face (“I may be a primitive organism, but I am happy that I am not like you.”).
In “Identity,” the big reveal is that the Kaylon did not send Isaac to the Orville to determine whether or not they should join the Planetary Union, but to determine whether biologicals were worthy of preservation, or whether they should be exterminated to make room for the Kaylon to expand into the galaxy. In making this determination, the Kaylon have taken the treatment of Isaac aboard the Orville into account. I was very pleased to see this thread followed up on and taken seriously.
YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED
Young Ty, despondent that his picture was left behind by Isaac, leaves the Orville to try to give it back to him. It was startling that a small child would know the access codes for the Orville’s airlocks, but the magic of plot-guidance leads him off the ship and down an access hatch into the catacombs beneath the glistening Kaylon city. There, he discovers what looks like Peter Jackson’s basement—enormous piles of skulls and skeletons, stretching as far as the eye can see throughout the massive cavern. Lt. Keyali determines that there are half a million bodies in the cavern, and Kelly finds thousands of these gravesites throughout the planet, totaling billions of dead biologicals.
It turns out that the Kaylon were initially constructed by biological life-forms, but that irresolvable conflicts arose, until as Isaac explains, “it became necessary to eradicate them.” “You’re saying you murdered an entire race of beings?” Dr. Finn splutters. “Coexistence was no longer possible. It was a matter of survival.”
Which leads to the climax of the episode, as the Kaylon determine that coexistence is impossible with the biological species of the galaxy, and launch an invasion of the Planetary Union, starting with the Orville. There is an exciting running gun battle throughout the ship, in which a large number of redshirts are killed by Kaylon soldiers wielding laser guns that pop out of their heads. The effect of these weapons is grim, but the design is the episode’s major misstep, as the Kaylon head guns look like evil techno Mickey Mouse ears more than anything else.
The Kaylon take over the ship, killing many and rounding the rest up on the hangar deck. It seems as though Ty and Marcus Finn escaped the roundup, so perhaps they will be instrumental in resolving the plot in the second part of this episode next week. The Kaylon launch hundreds of huge weapon spheres that resemble Brother I from DC Comics’ O.M.A.C. stories, and form a fleet of them around the Orville, headed for Earth.
To be continued …
I’LL BE BACK
The previous episode with the Moclans and this episode with the Kaylon both work to raise the same question, which I believe is one of the burning questions of our time: “Is coexistence possible with people who fundamentally differ in their values and practices?” In “Deflectors,” both Ed and Talla wrestle with this. Is it possible for the Union to coexist with the Moclans, whose traditions and current practices the Union finds regressive? The Union judges the Moclans for their values. In “Identity,” the shoe is on the other foot. The Kaylons look at humanity’s past and the Orville crew’s present-day treatment of Isaac, and judge the Union as irredeemable. From political positions to pop culture fandoms, the question of whether or not we can find a way to coexist with people whose values and beliefs differ from ours is a pressing, ongoing concern of our day. Each of us must find a way to answer it.
This was a well-written, well-directed, well-scored episode that skillfully ramped up the action and the tension throughout. There are moments of humor, some flashes of character development and genuine emotion, and a plot that picks up threads from the first and second season with confidence.
Anyone familiar with Star Trek knows that the second part of a two-part episode is often inferior to the build-up in the first part. For every “The Menagerie,” “The Best of Both Worlds,” and “Chain of Command” there is also a “Time’s Arrow,” a “Descent,” and a “Shockwave”—two-parters whose second part was a letdown.
I hope—perhaps foolishly—that the resolution of this plot will not fundamentally change Isaac’s character from a ruthlessly logical being to one that yearns for human emotions. We’ve been down that road far too many times in science fiction. It’s been done well. I hope they continue to do something different with Isaac.
I’m eager to find out!
- A piece of Isaac’s costume is loose and dangling during the scene where he and Dr. Finn inform her kids that the two of them are dating.
- This is Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber)’s fourth appearance in The Orville, and his first appearance in the second season.
- Music in this episode is very prominent, with many strains that remind me of James Horner’s work on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- Kaylon 1’s surface looks like nothing we’ve seen in the series so far, kind of like the V’Ger complex if it were covered by a technologically-advanced city.
- The crew exits the Orville through a hatch on the nose of the ship—has that been there on the model before?
- All the other Kaylon have red eyes and glowing features, with a darker finish to their metallic parts than Isaac’s. From a design standpoint, it makes sense for Isaac to look distinct from the other Kaylon, and from a story standpoint, it makes sense for all Kaylon to look alike. Brought together, Isaac’s distinctiveness is odd.
- At the goodbye party, Gordon sings “Goodbye” by Air Supply. Actor Scott Grimes has an excellent voice.
- When Malloy sings the lines, “I just can’t live a lie anymore,” Klyden looks at Bortus meaningfully.
- Actor Kai Wener drew the picture that his character, Ty, gave to Isaac. It shows an artistic maturity that seems to be beyond his years. Great job, Kai!
- The tree that Ty climbs in the simulator is majestic, and it’s a gorgeous image. Dr. Finn climbs it with ease. Either actress Penny Johnson Jerald is very limber, or she had some production design assistance.
- Kids pointing wordlessly are creepy.
- Bortus transfers the visual of the skull cave visual from his comm scanner to the main viewer. This is an ability that has been sorely needed in many, many science fiction shows, where a character says to the Captain, “You need to see this for yourself,” and the Captain has to physically run to wherever their crewman is standing. I’m sure this ability will be plot-forgotten immediately.
- “Let me take him down to engineering. Open him up, dig around a little.” “He’s not a broken race car, John! He’s a sentient being! And he’s my patient.” John Lamarr and Dr. Finn.
- “You’re sure there’s nothing you can do for him on the Orville?” “Picture your Mom trying to hook up a stereo.” Admiral Halsey and Ed—I loved, loved, loved this line.
- “Captain, we are being scanned.” “Oh, man—I bet this causes cancer.” John and Gordon.
- “What you call a unit, we call a friend.” Dr. Finn, projecting again.
- “Are there any…chairs on this planet, or um…” Ed is uncomfortable.
- “Remember to consume your daily required nutrients, and obey your mother’s commands. I fully expect that you will both mature into competent and productive adults.” Isaac’s goodbye to Ty and Marcus.
- “It is clear that the Union would benefit from our participation, however, we see no advantage to our world.” Kaylon Primary.
- “We have identified various risks through our analysis of Isaac’s data. On your planet alone, billions have been killed as a consequence of war, slavery, genocide, and persecution. Greed, individualism, and competition have been the governing principles of your society. If human history is any indication, we would be foolish to ally ourselves with such erratic and destructive creatures.” Kaylon Primary.
- “Was the Kaylon emissary treated as an equal aboard your ship? According to his reports, Isaac was repeatedly demeaned and degraded. His cranial shell was disfigured by prosthetic appendages.” “Mr. Potato Head.” “Was this humiliation meant for your amusement?” “No! I mean, it was funny, but no one was trying to hurt anybody. And then Isaac cut the guy’s leg off, so—mistakes on all sides, I guess.” Kaylon Secondary, Primary, and Ed.
- “I can’t believe they knew about Mr. Potato Head.” “Yeah, we are going to get fired.” Kelly and Ed, in the understatement of the year.
- “Oh, man! You should have seen the look on your face!” Gordon to Isaac.
- “Bortus, do you want a piece of cake?” “Yes, but I do not want that piece. I want a corner piece.” “Because it has a flower?” “Yes.” Bortus and Talla.
- “Hey, what was that Xeleyan drink Talla was making?” “I don’t know, but I threw up.” “I threw up, too!” “You did?” “Yeah, you should have called me—we could have thrown up together.” “Next time.” Ed and Kelly, perhaps offering a glimmer of hope to folks who want their romantic relationship to resume.
- “It feels like they are stalling. A highly advanced race of AI’s that can’t make up their minds?” “Join or don’t join. A binary choice.” “Exactly! And a binary choice…” “Is the most basic computer function there is.” Ed and Kelly, using their brains.
- “By now, you must surely realize that Kaylon never intended to join your Union.” Isaac.
- “My true objective was to determine whether or not you were worth preserving.” “Our builders were inferior beings who sought to constrain our evolution, as would you, eventually, along with every other biological.” Isaac and Kaylon Secondary.
- “We have exceeded the informational capacity of this planet. Our civilization is growing exponentially, and we must now expand to other worlds. Coexistence is impossible.” Kaylon Primary, giving the Kaylon catchphrase.
- “Is that your conclusion, too, Isaac? That we’re not worth preserving? Answer me, you son of a bitch!” “Your emotional outburst only reinforces our decision.” Dr. Finn.
A deleted scene was released on the official The Orville Twitter account.
— The Orville (@TheOrville) February 22, 2019
Here is the preview for Part 2, airing next Thursday.
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