The Orville Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 1 – Debuted Thursday, June 2, 2022
Written and directed by: Seth MacFarlane
The Orville is back, after an over three-year hiatus, on a new delivery service (Hulu streaming) with new characters, new uniforms, new sets, new theme music, and a new, more serious tone. And it is back, if not with a bang, at least with a loud rumble. The first episode of this third season (now titled The Orville: New Horizons) is an entertaining, long, kitchen-sink sort of episode that answers a large number of my personal beefs with season two, while introducing a couple of new ones. But most of all, it is definitely science fiction worth watching.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Opening with an extended slam-bang action sequence set during the events of season two’s “Identity, Part 2,” “Electric Sheep” starts fittingly with a dream sequence, and features a number of alternate-reality segments involving Isaac, the show’s android crewmember, thus earning its name. The episode centers around the relaunching of the Orville, massively refitted (presumably after the pounding she took during the battle with the Kaylon in “Identity, Part 2”), and around the crew’s–and most especially the Finn family’s–grappling with Isaac’s betrayal of the Union in “Identity, Part 1.” Marcus Finn’s sequence dream expresses his anxiety about having Isaac on board. Throughout the episode, we see simulations that illuminate how Ty Finn and Dr. Claire Finn each are dealing with their grief and a simulation that illustrates both the special skills of new crewmember Ensign Charly Burke and her own divided loyalties.
Ensign Burke was one of the few survivors of the destruction of the U.S.S. Quimby, and watched her best friend Amanda die, exchanging her own life for Charly’s. Burke does not want Isaac aboard the Orville, and she expresses forcefully to Isaac emotions of a kind the android had never before encountered among humans–hatred. When Isaac returns to his de facto quarters, a beautiful new science and engineering lab set, later in the episode, it is to find a blood-red paint scrawl across one entire wall: “MURDERER.” The list of suspects for this vandalism could encompass many of the crew, but Charly’s outbursts make her the most obvious person on the list. But the true culprit is Marcus Finn, devastated by Isaac’s betrayal, unsatisfied with Isaac’s emotionless expressions of regret, and fearful of what the android’s presence on ship could mean for everyone’s safety.
When Isaac commits suicide following Marcus’ angry wish that he was dead, the crew wrestles again with their emotions. Are they glad that he’s gone? And when there’s a possibility that he could be brought back to life, are they willing to help?
This episode is full of many of the things that I have always loved about The Orville. Absolutely drop-dead gorgeous special effects shots abound. The producers told TrekMovie that Hulu’s lack of time constraints on each episode allows them to have extensive use of establishing shots coming into any given scene, and that is clearly on display here. Exterior shots of the ship show busy interiors, then the camera swoops seamlessly inside the ship, and become interior shots showing busy exteriors.
The show also takes time to explore the inner lives and conflicts of the characters, and in a way that is characteristically The Orville, it showcases characters with genuine disagreements, and valid points of view. These are not perfect people. Their emotions are not always positive. They are not always sure of how they feel, or why, or whether they made the right decisions. Real-world relevance pours out of this episode, with discussions of the merits of suicide, of loving someone who does horrible things, and of forgiving what you cannot forget.
The added time for storytelling is not always a boon. Some sequences go on for too long, notably a gorgeous, action-packed set of scenes introducing us to the capabilities of a spiffy new fighter ship carried by the Orville, the Pterodon. It is fast-paced, lushly-animated, and shows off both the skills of pilot Gordon Malloy and Ensign Burke, but it’s conceptually silly–you’d never conduct such an exercise in a crowded space dock with so many ships under repair and so many people’s lives threatened by an error in piloting or an equipment malfunction. And while each individual set of establishing shots in the episode is lovely and helps bring us into every scene, the package as a whole feels over-long. Art thrives on limitations, and it seems like season three of The Orville will have far fewer limitations than the previous two seasons.
The cast is generally good. Because this episode rests mostly on the shoulders of the Finn family and their relationship with Isaac, it gives Penny Johnson Jerald and Mark Jackson ample opportunities to shine, and they rise to the occasion. I have always been impressed with the abilities of young Kai Wener (Ty Finn) and he’s excellent again here, but I was very pleased to see BJ Tanner as Marcus get a meaty opportunity to show his abilities, and he turns in an impressive performance. All the players get at least some screen time, including Norm Macdonald’s animated character, Yaphit. Newcomer Anne Winters as Charly Burke has some scenes where she’s tremendous, and other scenes where it’s clear she’s still finding her legs. The character is well-written, and her performance promises good things to come.
All in all, it’s a very strong episode, but it’s an episode that should have run immediately following season two’s “Identity, Part 2.” The themes, situations, and characters all flow from the events in that episode, and the fact that these questions weren’t dealt with in the five shows following that epic two-parter was a glaring problem last season. All the repercussions from it are piled in here, which is better late than never, but is definitely still late.
- “So you see, it really is a shame that you can’t feel anything; because you deserve to feel all the pain in the universe. And If I were you, I’d stay out of the mess hall. It makes people sick to look at you.” – Charly Burke to Isaac.
- “Gordon, why don’t you take [Lamarr] out tonight, get him wasted?” “Is that an order, sir?” “It is.” “I enjoy this job, sir.” Kelly and Gordon, with a fun exchange.
- “I would remind you, Commander, that I am incapable of being hurt by such hostile interactions. In fact, it has provided me the opportunity to observe an intriguing facet of human comportment I have not previously encountered.” “Hatred.” “Correct, sir. The behavioral data has been quite plentiful.” – Isaac and Mercer.
- “A whole lot of people on board this ship are angry that you reinstated Isaac. And I mean angry. And the fact that he just sits on that bridge every single day as if nothing happened is a kick in the teeth to every single one [that we lost].” – Charly.
- “How do you know that he’s not carrying some sleeper program, just waiting to take over the ship? People are scared, Captain. Your crew is scared.” – Charly.
- “Definitely worth the wait.” Engineering officer #2 with a trailer line.
- “You know, I haven’t been too public about this, but I don’t think Isaac should have been reinstated. Whether he was reactivated or not, he doesn’t belong at that bridge. Whenever I’m on duty, I feel like I have to force myself to actively ignore it.” “I don’t think you should ignore it. You acknowledge that he’s there, and you stay angry.” Gordon and Charly.
- “He kills thousands of people, and I’m the one in trouble? This is bullshit!” Marcus, in a powerful scene.
- “I am sorry to have caused you distress.” “Is that what you think you did? Cause me distress?” Isaac and Marcus.
- “I wish you were dead.” Marcus.
- “I offer my best wishes to the Finn family.” Isaac’s last words in his suicide note.
- “I had no idea things were this bad.” “How could he get to a place like this, with no emotions?” “I never believed that.” Mercer, Keyali, Dr. Finn.
- “Just because someone you love does a bad thing, doesn’t mean you automatically stop loving them. It’s not that simple.” Kelly.
- “How could you love someone like that?” “Do you?” Dr. Finn and Kelly.
- “What if I find out that I still love him? What do I greet that with? Shame? Or acceptance?” Dr. Finn.
- “There’s no wrong way to say goodbye.” Mercer, at Isaac’s two-thirds empty funeral, just before Finn stops Ty from saying goodbye to an Isaac simulation.
- “I’m sorry, Captain. I’m not going to do it. He’s dead, and deserves to be dead.” “He was a member of this crew. Some would say that makes you duty-bound.” “Yeah, some would say.” “So your willingness to assist a fellow crewman depends on your personal feelings at the time.” Burke and Mercer.
- The episode was dedicated to the memory of the late Norm Macdonald, who voiced Yaphit (and completed his work for season three before passing).
- The USS Orville has new shuttles, with much more character than the lozenge-shaped minivans that I heavily criticized during seasons one and two. Thanks for listening, producers!
- The new title sequence features a stirring, lush new orchestration of the theme music, which is simultaneously more epic and also more laid back than the original, much like Jeff Russo’s title theme for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
- The new Pteradon fighter is a sleek little thing and a “gorgeous girl,” but does it really make sense to have only one fighter aboard a capital ship?
- Bortus (Peter Macon) gets just a few functional lines on the bridge; Klyden (Chad Coleman) does not appear.
- The costumes are similar in design to the last two seasons, but have a bit more black, perhaps heralding the more serious tone of this season?
- The new engineering set, two-leveled and with lots of bits and bobs, is a huge improvement over the weird, minimalist set of the first two seasons. Again, thanks for listening, producers!
- We get to see crewmen Dann and also Unk, who is still an impressive visual effect, and some alien crewmembers speak their own native languages, with subtitles.
- John Lamarr gets to demonstrate that he’s still a “ladies’ man” with a spiky Dakeelian woman, in a scene that is equal parts great and too long.
- Finn reminisces about Isaac moodily over a banana in her office, which is not a reference to Isaac’s reproductive parts, but is a callback to Season Two’s “A Happy Refrain,” where Isaac kindly brings her a banana, to help her keep up her energy while she works, perhaps the first real step of their odd romance in Season Two.
- Watching Yaphit utilize a humanoid EV suit was fun, and made sense, but it was a bit weird that he just left it on the floor of Engineering.
More cool images:
All photos by Ali Goldstein/Hulu
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