“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”
The Orville Season 2, Episode 13 – Aired Thursday, April 18th, 2019
Written by Janet Lin
Directed by Gary Rake
In the first part of its two-part second season finale, The Orville takes the plunge into temporal mechanics in “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” in a perfectly serviceable episode that manages to take cues from the many, and many, and many time-travel episodes of science fiction series that went before without being dull and formulaic. Some good character ground is covered, and the stakes don’t seem super high. But the episode really takes off with an ending that demands that you watch the season finale.
Warning: If you consider SPOILERS to be wrongs darker than death or night, if SPOILERS will cause a shockwave in your life, if SPOILERS are tantamount to a death wish for you, do not read below this point!
A beautiful tracking shot down the spine of the Orville opens us on to a laughter-filled conversation between Kelly Grayson, Talla Keyali, Gordon Malloy, and Ed Mercer in the crew lounge. Gordon is telling an embarrassing story about an interaction between a drunk Mercer and a famous novelist, back when Ed and Kelly were dating. As Gordon and Talla excuse themselves to return to duty, Ed and Kelly continue reminiscing about their dating days, and Ed reaffirms his interest in getting back together with Kelly romantically.
The conversation flows naturally but is structured in such a way to bring the viewer up to speed on where their relationship has been and where it stands right now. And in the process, we learn that the morning after their first date, younger Ed immediately called younger Kelly to ask for a second date—at 9:00 the next morning, in fact! “Was it that early?” Ed asks. “Oh, it was that early—9 a.m.—you had zero game. I almost bailed on you after that.” Kelly replies. This establishes how fine a line it was for younger Kelly between saying “yes” to Ed’s offer and saying “no.”
The scene changes to Science Lab 1, where Chief Engineer John LaMarr is assisting Isaac with his research on time travel, continuing and improving on the work of Dr. Aronov, a scientist who appeared in the very first episode of The Orville, “Old Wounds.” In that episode, Dr. Aronov was working on a time acceleration device, the quantum accelerator. In the second season episode, “A Happy Refrain,” Isaac works on a rebuilt quantum accelerator device, based on Dr. Aronov’s research. Now, LaMarr is amazed at the implications of Isaac’s research. Isaac hopes to be able to “link a temporal field to the neurological pathway of a biological or technological organism,” enabling time travel. Commander Grayson interrupts, calling LaMarr away to another duty, when suddenly the ship shudders and loses power. It’s been hit by a gravitational wave, perhaps from the collision of a neutron star somewhere. When Grayson heads for the bridge, Isaac is surprised to turn around to see a nearly identical duplicate of Grayson behind him.
It is great to see The Orville linking plot points between episodes like this, building on bits scattered through previous stories. In a matter of time, it has the potential to build a rich tapestry into the universe of the show. It’s not clear if this is a visionary move by the writers, or if it’s just picking up shattered pieces and making a new endgame. Whichever, it is welcome.
It turns out that this duplicate Kelly is a version of Kelly snatched by the Aronov device from the morning after Ed and Kelly’s first date seven years ago, when Kelly was just a Lieutenant. Sensibly, the characters ask all the right questions: why Kelly? She was standing closest to the Aronov device. Why did the device snatch this particular version of Kelly? Our Kelly had been thinking of that day-after morning when the gravity wave hit. How could the device operate based on Kelly’s thoughts? LaMarr responds, “I know it sounds crazy, but—that’s quantum physics.”
Commander Grayson herself raises some of the key time travel episode questions: “If she really is me from the past, why don’t I remember all of this? And if it turns out we can’t reverse it, why am I here at all?” Isaac responds, “It is possible that when Lieutenant Grayson was extracted from the past, a new timeline was generated, or perhaps the original timeline fractured. We do not know.”
If all this makes you think of other episodes of other shows that feature time travel or duplicates as a plot element, you’re not alone. This episode is very similar to “Second Chances,” an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which it is discovered that a transporter accident eight years before had created a duplicate Will Riker and marooned him on a ruined station on an environmentally hostile planet. When the Enterprise-D rescues Lieutenant Riker, he grabs at the chance to set right what he sees Commander Riker has gotten wrong in his life, including rekindling a relationship with Deanna Troi. Time and again in this episode, many of the beats of “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” mimic those of “Second Chances.” But credit goes to Adrienne Palicki for a powerful and sensitive performance as the two Kellys. The actress has called this episode “one of the hardest acting challenges of my life,” and her work shines here. She makes Commander Grayson and Lieutenant Grayson (Kelly A and Kelly B? Kelly Prime and Kelly Part Deux? “Young” Kelly and “Old” Kelly?) clearly different versions of the same character, and not in a “The Enemy Within” sort of way. Lieutenant Grayson is more raw, more naive, more selfish, while Commander Grayson is more mature, more grounded, more seasoned, and more generous. You can see how the one character grew into the other, but Palicki plays them quite distinctly.
Cinematically, there is a great shot that pans around the two Kellys when they meet, which must have been an effects challenge. Gary Rake, who has been the First Assistant Director on 16 episodes of The Orville, does a great job with the camera here in his debut first-chair outing.
As the episode continues, strains develop between the two Kellys even as Minus-seven Kelly and Ed Mercer begin to spark a new (renewed?) relationship. Ed seeks Plus-seven Kelly’s permission before accepting her counterpart’s invitation to a “second date,” in a scene that is every bit as awkward as you could imagine. Palicki’s face reflects the mixture of shock, hurt, and confusion that her character has to be feeling, and the conversation makes clear that for Ed to say “yes” to Kelly-cita is tantamount to declaring his dissatisfaction with Thoroughly Modern Kelly and her choices. Commander Grayson warns Ed that he has grown over the past seven years and might not get along as well with her younger self as he believes he will. She gives a similar warning to her counterpart. She remembers the pain of their divorce, both her own pain and Ed’s pain, and she doesn’t want to see either of them with such a future tense. Ed receives a similar warning from Gordon Malloy, who had to pick up the pieces of the hurting Ed after the divorce.
Younger Kelly decides she’d like to stay aboard the Orville as a crew member, as she’s enjoying building friendships with her crewmates, especially Lt. Keyali. Along the way, she tells some funny drinking stories from her past, which Cmdr. Grayson overhears. She asks her younger self to refrain from telling embarrassing stories from their joint past, even though they are in fact her stories to tell. “When you become a leader, there’s a distance you have to maintain. You can’t be everyone’s friend,” says Responsible Grayson. And Ponytail-and-Bangs Grayson replies, “Yeah, but I’m not a leader yet. And honestly, the idea of policing everything I do so it doesn’t affect your command is kind of suffocating.”
This all leads up to a storm front brewing between the two Kellys. The younger Kelly had three goals in life: to get married and have kids, to be the captain of her own ship, and to make a difference in the galaxy. As far as she is concerned, seven years down the line, her more grown-up self has blown all of those goals completely. Her anger is understandable. And the issues being explored are very relatable, as maturing in life is like threading the eye of the needle, time and again you make tough choices among a perpetual infinity of imperfect options. Which of us, seven years ago, could have predicted our future, or have understood the choices we had to make along the way?
The Naked Time
All this is enough to drive Kelly Prime to drink—though that doesn’t seem difficult, reflecting on her level of alcohol consumption in this episode. She confides in Dr. Finn that it’s such sweet sorrow seeing herself in the immature light that her counterpart displays every day. The two of them reflect on the joys of having grown up over the years. They look back on their mistakes of yesteryear, whether it’s Kelly’s infidelity in her marriage or Dr. Finn’s relationship with Isaac, and see that all our yesterdays make up who we are in the present. In a very real way, what’s past is prologue.
It takes Ed a little while to learn this same lesson. He begins to date younger Kelly, but is a little overwhelmed by the kinds of things she still enjoys—like drinking too much and going to VERY LOUD NIGHTCLUBS. The nightclub scene is amusing, with young Kelly and Talla dancing away while Ed and Gordon sit on a couch, nursing their drinks. Later, when Ed and a lingerie-clad young Kelly are smooching in bed, Ed realizes that while he is attracted to the vivacious, impulsive nature of the young woman he’s kissing, he is deeply in love with the woman he has grown more mature with, even if they are now just friends. He even loves the sound of her voice.
Suddenly, the command crew is called to the bridge by Bortus, and most of them arrive in their jammies. Two Kaylon vessels that they had spotted and avoided earlier seem now to have spotted them, and begun pursuit. Young Kelly suggests a hiding place: in the icy rings of a nearby planet that she had done a report on while in school.
The effects here are marvelous, with gorgeous views of a planet with “covariant rings” made up of chunks of ice. They park the Orville alongside a larger chunk and vent as much water as they can, coating the hull with a thick layer of ice. The views through the transparent bridge dome and out the forward window are spectacular, and the scene is believably tense.
All along the way, various theories of how time travel works are put forward by various members of the crew. “I got a B+ in temporal theory,” Ed says. “Nobody gets an A. It’s time travel—nobody really understands it.” Ed seems to have Captain Janeway’s opinion of temporal mechanics; later, he grouses, “You guys will not get me into a discussion of time travel logic—I would rather chew broken glass.”
But while at first it seems impossible to send young Kelly back to her own time, LaMarr and Isaac eventually come up with a solution that, in a tip of the hat to the timey-wimey Doctor Who, involves reversing the polarity of their quantum plasma.
They will do a memory wipe of Lt. Grayson, and channel all of the energy their quantum drive can put out into a gravity burst and hope to recreate the natural phenomenon that caused her to be plucked from her timescape in the first place. The crew frets over whether that’s even possible, if they are already hypothetically living in an alternate timeline. But Lt. Grayson smiles, and says to her older self, “We know it’ll work. It already worked, and you sent me back successfully. That’s why you don’t remember any of this.” Technically, if she’s right and there is only one timeline, the most that can be said is that young Kelly was sent back successfully with the memory erasure intact. They can’t say anything about whether or not the Orville survived the procedure. It could be their zero hour.
But they rev up the engines past the redline, wipe young Kelly’s memory, and LaMarr complains that if they give her any more power, she’ll blow! The screen flashes white, and young Kelly finds herself lying on the floor of her apartment, back on the morning after her first date with Ed. She looks around in a confused state, when her attention is grabbed by an incoming call. It’s young Ed, asking for that second date. But she turns him down. “I just, um—I don’t see us working out. I’m sorry.”
If Young Kelly doesn’t go out with Ed, how will they ever get married, and then divorced, and then will Admiral Halsey give Ed command of the Orville as a way of breaking him out of his depression? If they don’t go out, will young Kelly more aggressively pursue her route to the Captaincy, rather than staying as Ed’s second-in-command? Will any of the history of this show unfold the same way that we’ve already seen? Only the next episode, the conclusion to this second season finale, will tell.
The Star Trek canon to this date has produced 767 episodes and films. Of these, Memory Alpha indicates that 59 of them feature time travel as an element. That’s almost 8% of Star Trek stories, not including novels, comics, or other secondary works. And no, I didn’t hide all 59 of their titles in this review, though I tried very hard to do so. With all of that, it’s hard to find a new spin, and this episode assuredly doesn’t, following the plot of “Second Chances” very closely throughout—until the end, which throws everything into a twist.
What makes the episode enjoyably watchable is the performances of the actors, especially that of Adrienne Palicki, who knocks this one out of the park. But the ending. What will come next? Is tomorrow yesterday?
I’ve seen speculation online that when young Kelly returned to her apartment in the past, she wasn’t hung over, and that this made the difference in her response to Ed’s second-date invitation. It’s also possible that the memory wipe didn’t work, or at least didn’t completely work, and she was left with the lingering sense that the relationship would be one filled with pain. I prefer to think that it is a manifestation of the butterfly effect. We know that Kelly’s decision in The Orville‘s “prime timeline” was a near thing, hanging on the edge of a knife, as it were. I believe that the butterfly flapped its wings, and she just decided differently.
But we will see! I look forward to the season finale on Thursday night.
- This episode had the first-ever shortened credits sequence for The Orville, featuring an abbreviated version of the show’s theme music. Presumably, this is to allow for more story time as the opening credits are displayed over the next few scenes.
- In the crew lounge, Malloy talks about Mercer’s meeting with Philippa Jones, the famous novelist. In real life, there are two prominent Philippa Joneses, one a visual artist specializing in installation art, and the other a historical writer. This may be a nod to one or the other of them, but it’s not clear to which one.
- Does this show have a drinking problem? It’s not just in this episode, in many previous outings characters talk about getting wasted as if it’s the best way to spend an evening. But this episode is practically an advertisement for the joys of drunkenness.
- Besides the pan around the two Kellys when they first meet, there are a number of great effects moments in this episode that involve the two of them together, including one shot where mature Kelly holds younger Kelly’s arm tenderly. It’s seamless.
- In one scene, Ed and Gordon play a holographic video game in Ed’s quarters. It seems like dating is not the only place that Ed lacks “game.”
- When the two Kaylon vessels show up, Ed orders Gordon to take the Orville to quantum to skedaddle out of the neighborhood, hoping they won’t notice. But this brings up a point I have often wondered—the galaxy is super, super huge. Why would you ever cruise at sublight speeds between star systems if you didn’t have to? It would be almost like standing still in comparison.
- The Orville’s engine room is a goofy-looking set. The quantum reactor is basically a big wall with a giant light-up dartboard in the middle of it. It’s the one set that I’ve consistently felt let down by in a show of generally-excellent production design.
- Hey, with Bortus and Klyden dancing in the nightclub, was that an instance of “little green men”? Okay, that’s my last Trek time travel episode reference. Can you find all the others?
- “I don’t know how the food synthesizers are going to replicate enough wine for two Kellys.” Mature Kelly
- “Man, this girl can really soak it up!” “Please, this is nothing. At Union Point, I used to drink all night, and then report for duty the next morning.” LaMarr and Young Kelly
- “Must all be pretty overwhelming, huh?” “I just—I feel like my whole life has already happened, and I didn’t even have any say in it.” “I feel that sometimes, and I haven’t even traveled through time.” Keyali and Young Kelly
- “Hey, you know, I just had a thought: if Young Kelly meeting Old Kelly has changed the timeline – would we even know about it?” “How about we say “Past” and “Present” Kelly?” “You guys will not get me into a discussion of time travel logic—I would rather chew broken glass.” Gordon, Kelly, and Ed. I love this exchange.
- “Seems clear by now for whatever reason the timeline is intact. Nothing you do will affect the future.” “Wow! What a great thing to hear about yourself.” Mature Kelly to younger Kelly
- “What are your goals in life?” “To fall in love. To be captain of my own ship. To help make the galaxy a better place.” “And you can still do every single one of those things. None of who you are is changed.” “What’s the point, when she’s going to do it all first? And if she fails, I know there’s no point in even trying.” Keyali and Young Grayson
- “Remember when you were dating Cassius, and I supported you guys and was totally cool about it?” “Eventually, yes.” Ed and Kelly
- “Think of it this way. It’s almost like it could be a second chance for us.” “There is no us without me – she’s not me.” Ed and a right-on-the-nose Kelly
- “How many times have human beings wished that they could go back and fix the past? Well, this is a real-life opportunity!” Ed doesn’t realize that what he’s really saying is that he wants to “fix” Kelly, which is incredibly insulting.
- “So you’re telling me Isaac turned against his own people to save the Union?” Young Kelly gives what I guess is the show’s storyline on Isaac. Not that he betrayed everyone and indirectly caused the deaths of thousands of Union officers, but that he changed his loyalties in the end. I’m not satisfied with this treatment of the story.
- “I had a really great time. Again.” “So did I. Again. Which in my case is a little more of a loaded statement.” “Everything you said after the third drink was a loaded statement, so…” “Oh, wow—that was a Dad joke—you made a Dad joke!” “You want to kiss your Dad good-night?” “This is so not romantic at all!” Young Kelly and Ed, in the best/worst exchange of the episode. Simultaneously realistic and gross at the same time.
- “That bridge is a big place. I really felt for the first time the gravity of what you do every single day. You’re kind of amazing.” “Well, there’s a lot of you in there.” Kelly and Kelly make up.
- “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay, I don’t blame you. She’s something special.” “That’s not what I mean. I’m sorry for what I’m about to do over the next five years of your life. The absence, the neglect. I wish I could undo it all.” Ed and Young Kelly.
Preview of the season finale
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