“Identity, Pt. 2”
The Orville Season 2, Episode 9 – Aired Thursday, February 28, 2019
Written by Seth MacFarlane
Directed by John Cassar
Struggling to fight off an invasion of technologically advanced hostile aliens, Captain Mercer and his crew are forced to seek help in the unlikeliest of places.
Within the constraints imposed by the realities of the sci-fi genre and television in general, “Identity, Part 2” brings the conflict begun in Part 1 to a gripping, action-packed, and satisfying conclusion that could have long-lasting ramifications for the series as a whole. Fans of slam-bang, cinema-quality science fiction action will have nothing to complain about here.
Warning: There is an old Earth custom called SPOILERS, and they have a beginning—right now!
It is said that in comedy it isn’t the joke but the delivery, and the same applies to sci-fi dramedies. “Identity, Part 1” set up the story in such a way that, given the exigencies of televised storytelling and the necessities of plot, there was only a limited number of ways that the story could have resolved. In that sense, “Identity, Part 2” was completely predictable. But it’s not really the plot points that make an episode enjoyable—it’s how you get from point to point that matters. And in this regard, “Identity, Part 2” delights and entertains admirably.
Anyone who has watched a lot of science fiction knew ahead of time what had to happen in “Identity, Part 2.” Humanity could not wind up being annihilated. The crew of the Orville had to be instrumental in stopping the Kaylon invasion. More to the point, Isaac had to somehow turn against his Kaylon superiors in order to allow the Planetary Union to prevail. This episode was mid-season, and there have been no rumors that Mark Jackson was leaving the show, and he’s a series regular, so it was very unlikely that he would end the episode as a villain. Dialing down to a finer-grain level, it was clear that the Finn boys would need to be instrumental in turning Isaac from a mere follower of Kaylon Primary to a choice-maker all his own. And there needed to be a honking big space battle.
These things needed to happen and did, to no one’s surprise. But it’s not the joke. It’s how you tell it that matters.
STEP ONE – ESTABLISH THE STAKES
“Identity, Part 1” established that the Kaylon are on a mission to eradicate all biological life in the galaxy, starting with Earth and the Planetary Union. This episode needed to reiterate that threat at the outset, as well as ask a lingering question: If the Kaylon want to exterminate all biologicals, why is the Orville crew still alive?
The question is raised in force when Ty Finn attempts to find Isaac, is detained by a Kaylon soldier, and Talla tries to rescue him and gets blasted by one of their head cannons. The stunt work here is impressive—Talla is blasted back at least 20-30 feet. I felt it viscerally in my chest when she was hit, and winced at the pain she must have felt. Very effective.
Captain Mercer banks on the fact that the Kaylon must need them alive for some reason, and persuades one of the guards to let them take the unconscious Talla to sickbay. There, Dr. Finn has the opportunity to once again scold Isaac for unfeelingly betraying the Orville’s crew, and especially her sons. I would have said this was a futile effort since the Kaylons have no emotions, but it was pointed out in a comments thread elsewhere that you can’t argue with success—ultimately, what turns Isaac is his loyalty to Ty Finn. I might not like it, but Dr. Finn is on the right track here.
Later in the briefing room, we finally get our answer: The Kaylons need the bridge crew to persuade Union Central to lower their defenses, and they need the rest of the crew as bargaining chips to force the bridge crew to cooperate.
I squeed a little when I recognized Carlos Bernard, who will always be Tony Almeida from 24 to me, as the captain of a Union ship that the Kaylon try to use the Orville crew to bamboozle. Captain Mercer slips a code phrase into their communications, but the Kaylon pick up on the subterfuge, and the USS Roosevelt and Captain Marcos are dispatched quickly by just two Kaylon attack spheres.
In retaliation for Mercer’s deception, Kaylon Primary orders a random Ensign Extra to be shoved out the airlock without a space suit. It is here that we see the first stirrings of Isaac’s dissatisfaction with the Kaylon plan. Isaac seems cool with the idea of exterminating all biological life in the galaxy, but he balks at the idea of killing these particular individuals. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for us all: It’s harder to hate someone when you know them by name and have a relationship with them; faceless people are easier to despise.
The Kaylons in this scene struck me as Evil C-3POs, and from then on, I couldn’t get that image out of my mind.
Kaylon Primary takes Isaac to task for his apparent sympathy and mercy for Ensign Extra. But Isaac marshals a logical argument. “Primary, I am the only Kaylon who has interacted with the biologicals for an extended period of time. To kill a member of their crew as a punitive measure carries the danger of inducing heightened resolve in the others. I did not consider it a worthwhile risk.” This made sense to me. But it did not to Kaylon Primary, as he assigned Isaac homework—the reading of Alex Haley’s Roots. Even though Isaac does not see “authoritarian proclivities” in Ty and Marcus Finn, Primary argues that the biological imperative to enslave others is written into human DNA. Biology is destiny, according to Primary. Or in AI terms, your programming determines your actions. Isaac will, of course, prove this wrong.
In this scene, we also learn that Isaac chose his own “designation” to honor Sir Isaac Newton, one of humanity’s most brilliant scientists. Kaylon Primary orders him to choose a new designation, but he doesn’t, and in a later scene he is still addressed as Isaac by a Kaylon soldier.
STEP TWO – FAILED ESCAPE ATTEMPTS
So now we have the Orville crew held captive in the shuttle bay, inside a ship streaking through quantum space at the head of an invasion fleet bound for Earth. What needs to happen?
As a writer you can’t allow the Orville crew to be passive observers in their own show; they need to demonstrate agency. But they cannot succeed immediately or easily, because that would be boring. You need them to fail in order to keep the stakes of the episode high. But they can’t fail through imbecility; their escape attempt needs to be plausible and daring. So how did they do?
The escape attempt makes excellent use of Yaphit, who up until now has been around for little more than comic relief. Here’s an endlessly pliable character who can mold into any shape, and aside from first season’s “Cupid’s Dagger,” has barely used his ability. Here, he oozes through conduits to the armory to retrieve weapons, then oozes through more conduits to send a message to Union Central. When Kaylon soldiers threaten Ty Finn, who has pluckily come along to assist as the only person small enough to fit inside the USS Orville’s version of a Jefferies tube, Yaphit leaps (!) onto the soldier, oozing into his joints, and short-circuiting him from within. In the process Ty is captured, and a helpless Yaphit slowly oozes out of the soldier, charred and unconscious.
Meanwhile, Gordon and Kelly take a shuttle to try to contact the Krill, who will eventually have to face the Kaylon threat too; perhaps they can join together to stop the Kaylon now when they still have a chance. Gordon and Kelly’s mission features some cool, jazzy effects as they take the shuttle out of the bay at quantum speeds. But despite the effects, this section felt the most like someone just checking off a box on a plot form somewhere. Repeatedly, Gordon warns Kelly that something must not be done, that it’s too dangerous, that it’s never been successfully tried, that it’s just a theory. Repeatedly, she tells him to do it. Repeatedly, it succeeds.
There is some great dialogue when the two of them finally stand before the Krill Captain, who finds them drifting without power in the middle of nowhere, thanks to plot magic. The Krill, with their religious worldview, have a distinctly different way of looking at things than the Planetary Union does, and that’s fun to see. Plus, any chance to get in some Avis jokes is worth taking the time to do.
STEP THREE – ISAAC MUST TURN
Kaylon Primary now orders Isaac to kill the captive Ty Finn, and it is here where a line is crossed that Isaac cannot countenance. Exterminate every other living being in the galaxy? Okay fine, I’ll help. But kill Ty Finn? No, that’s going too far.
Some folks online have speculated that the reason we never saw Isaac personally killing anyone onboard the Orville was that he did not have head cannons. That theory is proven incorrect here, as Isaac easily dispatches Kaylon Primary and probably a dozen Kaylon soldiers. Isaac then sets off an EM pulse that shuts down all the Kaylon on the Orville, including himself. It is a noble sacrifice to enable the humans to escape.
There are some niggling questions regarding the Kaylon invasion. Once the threat of total annihilation is on the table, there is very little incentive for your opponents to hold back or to ever go along with anything you say. It seems that a logic-driven race would figure this out fairly quickly. Isaac did. Why didn’t Primary? And how many actual Kaylon would fit in their fleet and was it enough to wipe out the Planetary Union and then move on to take out the rest of biological life in the galaxy? The whole plan seems entirely reliant on surprise, but even if they succeed with the attack on Earth, the secret of their plan is out. And after Isaac took out the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary on board the USS Orville, who was commanding the rest of the Kaylon fleet? And how did the rest of the Kaylon not immediately notice their top leadership were deactivated? A lot of things about the Kaylon don’t make much sense when you think about it at any length.
But please believe me when I say this: Don’t let that sour you! Because if you don’t think about it, the rest of this episode is a hoot.
STEP FOUR – BIG HONKING SPACE BATTLE
Seth MacFarlane and the other producers on The Orville have repeatedly said in interviews that production on the space battle that takes up the last part of this episode started at the very beginning of the season, and it shows. This is an epic battle of epicness, and it is remarkably well staged, filmed, and presented. The effects work on Season 2 of The Orville has been exemplary, and here they pull out all the stops.
It coalesces into three full fleets of ships all shooting at each other and maneuvering around each other, and lots of ‘splosions. At no time is it confusing! It all makes sense and is easy to follow. The Union ships are blue-grey lozenges, and fire blue lasers. The Kaylon Ships are spheres with red glowy bits, and fire red lasers. And the Krill ships that show up to save the day are green tropical fish shapes, and fire green lasers.
Ed yells things like “Increase lateral power! Phase-lock the deflectors!” And the crew yells out, “Aye sir!” and “We’re not going to make it!” Ed orders the self-destruct. The Krill save the day. Gordon flies a Krill fighter and quotes Top Gun. It’s all big, silly, epic, pew-pew space combat fun. The design of the Orville bridge and the cockpit of the Krill fighter allows for the stuff going on in the background to stream around the characters in an amazing way. As the Orville banks and swerves around the ‘splosions, you see things flash by the front window and then past the port in the ceiling a moment later. It makes the whole thing feel very immersive and exciting. I was on the edge of my seat both times I watched the episode.
And our heroes triumph at the last minute. So what more can you ask?
STEP FIVE – BIG RESET BUTTON?
The big question left for the episode after all the boxes have been checked is: will they push the big, red reset button at the end to put everything back the way it was before the episode started? And thankfully, all indications are they will not. New relations have been started with the Krill. And though that’s less significant in The Orville than, say, opening a dialogue with the Romulans in Star Trek: The Next Generation, because our history with the franchise is thinner, it is a big turning point for the show. And just like the Battle of Wolf 359 was not the last we heard of the Borg, indications are we have not heard the last of the Kaylon.
And yes, Isaac is back on the crew of the Orville, but the closing scene with Dr. Finn shows that fully trusting him again is going to be a process. Claire tells him: “There’s an old human custom called forgiveness. It too takes time. But it must have a beginning.” Dialogue earlier in sickbay established that many of the Orville’s crew will not soon forget that the reason they needed to be saved by Isaac is that Isaac first betrayed them all to an enemy who wanted to exterminate them. That cannot, and should not, be lightly forgiven.
My biggest concern going into this episode was whether or not Isaac would magically gain emotions and learn that he truly loves Dr. Finn and her boys, and that this would be what turned him against his masters. I felt that this approach would violate what was special about the Isaac character when compared to other science fictional AI’s. The jury is still out on that concern, but I have reason to hope.
In an earlier review, I wrote that Isaac had not experienced true character growth so far in the show’s two seasons. This episode marks the first, huge step of growth for Isaac. He has assessed his values as well as the direction that his culture was taking him, and has decided for the first time which way he personally wants to go. He has taken agency and struck out on his own path. And it is at great cost, as the melancholy of the final scene makes clear.
Thankfully, he seems to have taken these steps for logical rather than emotional reasons. If that continues to be the case, I will be glad.
This episode is everything it needed to be. It brought an epic story to a satisfying conclusion, and while its outline was predictable, the way it got from point to point was thrilling. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. It’s not the joke, it’s how you tell it. And this was a story well told.
- Director Jon Cassar also directed “Identity, Part 1.” It is far more common for a two-parter to be directed by two different people.
- Carlos Benard’s cameo was thanks to Cassar, who had worked with the actor for years on 24 where he was a producer and director.
- Captain Mercer mentions “Directive 98,” and later uses a Union code-phrase, “thirteen button salute,” which the Kaylon recognized was a code indicating the ship was under hostile control.
- Named Union starships in this episode include the USS Roosevelt, USS Spruance, USS Hawking, and USS Quimby,
- The effects in this episode are great, but the shuttle still looks like a minivan, and it’s hard to tell what direction it’s heading.
- Isaac tells Ty that the code to unlock the shuttle bay doors is Alpha-One-Four-Omega-Six – but when Ty enters the code, he only hits three keys, including what looks like ENTER.
- When the shuttle winds up in Krill space without any power, Gordon says that without life support, they have only 15 minutes of air in the shuttle. This seems implausible, and if true, a major design flaw. Plus, aren’t the shuttles able to cloak? How did the Kaylon track them?
- “Good bagels, too.” Gordon Malloy describes the glories of New Jersey. As a New Yorker, I’d beg to differ.
- “This is the twenty-fifth hour for Earth.” Kelly describes their predicament poetically.
- “If the big dipper’s not there, I’m kinda useless.” Gordon and I have something in common!
- “You are a godless race of sub-creatures well-trained to lie and deceive. But you are now my prisoners. Avis has been generous today.” “See? Avis! I told you I wasn’t making that up.” Krill Captain, and Gordon to Kelly
- “Scanners cannot penetrate their hull.” “Do eenie-meenie-miney-mo! Pick a spot!” Ed Mercer on target selection
- “Just a walk in the park, Kazanski!” Gordon, channeling his inner “Top Gun.”
- “All right buddy! Time to wash your mouth out with GORDON.” Ew. Just, ew.
- “My actions have eliminated the possibility of returning to my planet. And the actions of the Kaylon have eliminated my wish to do so. I have no home.” Isaac
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