Recap/Review: ‘The Orville’ Goes Back To School In “Mortality Paradox”

“Mortality Paradox”

The Orville Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, June 16, 2022
Written by: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong
and directed by: Jon Cassar

After a second episode that stumbled in terms of quality and creativity, The Orville roars back to form with an adventure that takes our characters to their personal and philosophical limits in the context of a weird sci-fi mystery, all wrapped up in utopian futuristic glitter-paper. There are few laughs to be had in this straight dramatic piece, but episode 3 is certainly the best of the season so far.

Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane)

WARNING: Spoilers below!

Firstly, due to unforeseen circumstances, TrekMovie didn’t have a review for last week’s “Shadow Realms,” but in brief, I liked the insight it gave us into Dr. Finn’s character, I appreciated some of the “body horror” elements but thought the story was weak and hackneyed, the special effects were less than special, and the anti-religion bias was unnecessary. And you might remember that I found the first episode of the season, “Electric Sheep,” to have an overstuffed, kitchen-sink quality, and even though I liked almost everything in it, the total package seemed to be trying to do too many things all at once. This third, “Mortality Paradox,” finally feels like a quality Orville episode that’s just trying to tell an interesting story well.

Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes)

RECAP

Fifty shades of death

When the USS Orville encounters signs of an advanced civilization on a planet known to be completely barren, their investigation takes them through one weird scenario after another, each one culminating in a character having a near-death experience. Twisty and strange, it is difficult—even by the end—to unravel what exactly “really happened” to some of the characters, but the journey is entertaining and high-concept sci-fi stuff.

The landing party—Captain Mercer, Commander Grayson, Bortus, Gordon, and Talla—is guided step-by-step through strange and deadly encounters. The advanced civilization they detected on Narran 1 is quickly found to be illusory, and in its place is a 21st-century high school where Gordon gets beaten up by local bullies and told to pay up or “Randall” will kill him. After school, Randall turns out to be a 30-foot-tall Rancor-like beast carrying a spiked club. Although Talla defeats Randall, in the process Gordon’s eyes flash white and he experiences being separated from his body.

Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr), Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), and Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon)

As the crew flees the scene, they suddenly find themselves aboard a 21st-century airliner in flight during a storm. Turbulence sends Gordon to the cockpit to discover that the flight crew is missing, and he has to land the plane. In the ensuing crash, Mercer has a near-death experience similar to Gordon’s, and the crew finds themselves in a spooky-looking Moclan morgue with dozens of dead bodies suspended in egg-shaped pods above the ground. One of the pods contains the body of Bortus’ mate, Klyden, who suddenly jolts to life and strangles Bortus, causing him to have a near-death experience.

From there, the crew descends a surrealistic staircase moving endlessly through a dark void, finally emerging near a lake on the surface of Xeleyah, Talla’s home world. While everything has felt very real to them up to this point, in real life, Xeleyah’s super-heavy gravity would have immediately crushed most of the landing party. A flashing light across the lake draws Kelly, Talla, and Gordon to take a raft to the other side, but halfway there, Kelly is grabbed and pulled underwater by a giant monster, then rescued by Talla only after having her own NDE.

At this point, Mercer refuses to go further, yelling out to whoever is doing this to them that they will not play this game anymore.

Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon), Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr), Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), and Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane)

Searching every which way

Meanwhile, aboard the Orville, John Lamarr is in command, and they lost contact with the away team as soon as they exited their shuttle. Lamarr dispatches a search party consisting of Isaac, Dr. Finn, and two redshirts. The tension between Ensign Charly Burke and Isaac is emphasized well during these scenes, which otherwise do not serve to advance the plot but do answer the question of what the crew of the Orville is doing about their missing command crew.

On “Xeleyah,” Mercer’s away team discovers a cave with a strange device inside broadcasting a holographic signal. The crew quickly destroys the device, breaking the illusion, and they discover they are on the barren surface of Narran 1 and have been all this time. They gather the fragments of the device for analysis and return to the ship, reporting all of this to Union Central, where Admiral Halsey dispatches a scientific convoy to meet them at Narran 1 to follow up on all the weirdness. But when the convoy arrives, Isaac warns that these are not Union ships, but Kaylon spheres in holographic disguise. Over Ensign Burke’s objections, Captain Mercer takes evasive action, and the now-revealed Kaylon ships start taking the Orville apart in open battle. But just as the battle is lost, the entire landing party has one more joint near-death experience, and the world around them freezes in time.

It turns out that the “Talla” who has been with the landing party is not the real Talla, but an advanced, glittery, Tron-looking female alien named Dinal in disguise. She has been putting the landing party through individually tailored universes, designed to bring each of them to the brink of death so her people, who are immortal, could experience mortality along with them. Why did they pick the Orville crew? It turns out Dinal is from the planet in season 1’s “Mad Idolatry” whose planet phases into our universe briefly every 11 days, but during those 11 days, 700 years pass on the planet. On that planet, a kind act by Kelly caused a religion to spring up around her, and over the course of the episode, the Orville crew watched the planet develop thousands of years, eventually reaching the stars themselves. Since then, Dinal’s people have developed 50,000 years, taken control of their evolution, and achieved immortality. They chose the Orville crew for their experiment due to their shared history.

The episode closes with a discussion of different views of mortality, with Captain Mercer wanting to live forever because “I want to see what happens.”

Dinal (Elizabeth Gillies), Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), and Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon)

ANALYSIS

This is a high-concept sci-fi episode that partakes in a lot of Star Trek-like tropes, from the smugly-advanced alien species putting humanity on trial to the weird planet where your thoughts become reality.

Each of the near-death encounters is weird and effective in its own way, though the fourfold repetition of similar scenarios becomes repetitive by the end. Going into the fourth scenario, this viewer started to be angry with Captain Mercer for not picking up on the pattern quickly enough. There are hints of the show’s anti-religion bias on display, but not nearly in as stark a fashion as last week’s entry.

Whatever deficiencies there were in last week’s special effects, this episode made up for in spades. CGI creatures, plane crashes, and sea monsters were all convincingly portrayed and harrowing.

Dinal (Elizabeth Gillies)

The philosophical discussions about evolution and about each character’s view of death were interesting and didn’t overstay their welcome long enough to become tedious. Jon Cassar must’ve had a field day directing so many visually distinct segments, with great results.

My only real disappointment is that the Talla we met at the beginning of the episode returning from vacation was not the real Talla. So were the things we learned about her character and family real? It’d be sad to give her character this development and then yank it away under the cloak of illusion.

All in all, a solid sci-fi romp, with enough focus to bring its disparate parts together quite well.

John Cassar directing “Mortality Paradox”

FINAL BITS

  • The producers have promised lengthier establishing sequences, like Talla’s return from vacation to the ship. It’s a lovely walk-through of the ship, and is nice to see once, but it does feel like padding on a second viewing.
  • Narran 1 could be named for former Star Trek writer and executive producer of The Expanse Naren Shankar
  • Bortus is on a diet, trying to achieve his “summer body.” Is Bortus’ makeup slimmer this season, or is it just a slimmer Peter Macon?
  • The 21st-century high school setting and airliner in peril are weird and disorienting and thus effective, but it does make me wonder why the aliens would pick those particular settings. Very few of us see high school as a place for a near-death experience, and in this case, it comes from a sci-fi monster. It’s bizarre, and hard to square within the constraints of what we’re told here.
  • Throughout the episode, we see Talla unable to open doors that are locked; this is an effective callback to previous episodes where she does that a lot (as did Alara before her), but then suddenly she’s able to open the cockpit door for some reason?
  • Moclans hang their dead in pods for nine days to honor them, and to allow them to resolve unfinished affairs on Moclus before “moving forward.”
  • The Klyden we see in one of the Moclan death pods is still not the real Klyden–have we seen the real Klyden yet this season?
  • One of the fake Union ships in the convoy is the USS Franklin and it’s a cool-looking ship!

Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon)

Favorite quotes

  • “What’s the date?” “I think it’s the nineteenth.” “No, the year!” “What are you, high?” “Possibly.” Gordon and one of the high schoolers
  • “Can I help you?” “Perhaps. I am looking for a way out.” “Well, I think you should talk to the guidance counselor.” Bortus and the fake history teacher
  • “This is evidence of a highly invasive neurogenic scan. Think of it as electromagnetic ayahuasca.” “So you’re saying we all just had a bad trip?” Finn and Gordon
  • “Evolved is an arcane term in this case. Evolution is blind and drunk. It stumbles along by trial and error and emerges with a barely adequate excuse for a being. No offense. We learned to take the reins of evolution and guide it with a greater efficiency.” Dinal
  • “Well, I’m glad you got your existential rocks off, but the fact is, you put us through hell.” Mercer
  • “You outgrew your gods and your nations, as we did. You left your training wheels behind, and made it to the stars. Your next hurdles are really no different. You simply must outgrow self.” Dinal, making what seems to me to be a very unappealing case
  • “Death is an essential part of life. It is a noble rite of passage.” “Yeah, that’s the conventional philosophical wisdom, but it doesn’t work for me. Never has.” “You’d live forever if you could?” “Yup.” “Why?” “I want to see what happens.” Bortus, Mercer, and Kelly

Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), Lt. Cmdr. Bortys (Peter Macon), and Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki)


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The Orville has been knocking it out of the ball park this season. This particular episode felt like a cross between the film Row 19 and Escape Room. I loved it, particularly when Commander Grayson punched the shit out of that stewardess during the airplane scene. Honestly, I kept saying, I hope she does it, and she did it.

I really like this episode, although quite a bit of it doesn’t add up in the end. Beyond the unconvincing plot behind it all, it was a fun sci-fi mystery utilizing the full cast with some pitch perfect character beats. The ending reminded me of two other TNG episodes, “Allegiance” and “The Chase”, I’m sure that’s not coincidental. This is the first good episode of the season IMO and certainly the only one that remembers what “The Orville” was all about.

It wasn’t perfect but I really liked this episode. It was fun, and I liked that we didn’t know what was going on for the majority of the episode.

Where I had a problem was with the High School and plane scenes. Why the heck would there be 21st century settings if they are taken from the psyche of the away team? It makes no sense. If it had happened to me, I wouldn’t have thought about a 16th or 17th century castle. And even if I really liked that period, there is no way the made-up setting would have been 100% accurate. I wasn’t there. It probably would have looked more like a fantasy novel or movie set :) Even a history buff would probably not think a completely accurate setting.

Sure, maybe the group had seen docs or movies and such, but still, it doesn’t make sense to me that there would be 2 100% accurate settings of this time period while there was no human settings contemporary to them.

I also have a problem in general with 21st century or earlier reference not only in this show, but in Star Trek too. Sometimes it does make sense, if they’re talking about the origin of a scientific theory or something. Or even if some character likes old things in general, they might like a classic movie or song. Sure, But almost every character who mentions things they like, no matter what is their personality, age or likes, are mostly things we already know. Almost none of them are made-up things we don’t know from THEIR century! That makes no sense to me.

It did make more sense in the first 2 seasons of The Orville because if was mostly a comedy and thus they could get away with more silly things. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it. But since the show is now a lot more serious, it makes even less sense.

I am a sucker for pop culture references in general. I really like that in TV and movies when it makes sense. But in the far future? It doesn’t. Or in shows where teenagers keep referencing ’80s or ’90s movies or TV shows that aren’t even classics. Heck, I know people in their 30s that hardly know about the original Star Wars, Star Trek and Ghostbusters and have almost never heard of Back to the Future! lol

Anyway, sorry for the rant, I needed that :P All in all, an awesome episode, though!

She said a lot was taken from the ship’s historical database, but while that covers the “how”, all of your points on “why” still stand quite strongly.

Guess I missed that. I thought they took those from the psyche of the group. It was 4am and English is my second language, I might’ve missed some things! Hahaha

Yeah, the choice of scenarios WAS an odd one, likely very much designed to cater to a contemporary (and North American) audience.

The episode where they DID do that though (taking scary scenarios from each of the crewmembers’ fears), was season 1’s “Firestorm”.

Where I had a problem was with the High School and plane scenes. Why the heck would there be 21st century settings if they are taken from the psyche of the away team? It makes no sense. If it had happened to me, I wouldn’t have thought about a 16th or 17th century castle.

We often had that in TOS. At the beginning I thought that this episode was heavily inspired by
“Spectre of the Gun” and expected that they couldn’t find out a way out of the “holodeck” and had to fight the bullies from school. In a way I wasn’t wrong with that kind of holodeck.

Heck, I know people in their 30s that hardly know about the original Star Wars, Star Trek and Ghostbusters and have almost never heard of Back to the Future! lol

I sometimes use the phrase “you have to think in 4 dimensions”
when explaining tenses of other languages. Nobody gets that.

I don’t know how I feel about this season. It’s good and I will still watch. But the last three episodes have been dark, with barely any real laugh-out-loud moments. Maybe I need to change when I watch the episodes. Season 1 and 2 I watched before going to bed. Maybe I need to revise it to around 7 pm instead.

“You outgrew your gods and your nations, as we did. You left your training wheels behind, and made it to the stars. Your next hurdles are really no different. You simply must outgrow self.” Dinal, making what seems to me to be a very unappealing case

Casting off primitive selfishness and backward beliefs in favour of moving forward with the intention of achieving a state of being where you all work together in a common goal of self improvement is “unappealing”?

I agree with you, that was my reaction too. But I have to guess the writer is religious so yeah, I guess they might find that kind of jarring to their beliefs.

I disagree with them but who am I to judge?

Right?!!! 🤔

Except that what Dinal was urging was not a rejection of selfishness, but of “self.” She continued to list categories that the away team might use to define their sense of self – Captain, husband, man, etc. and said that these were things that need to be transcended in order to be able to sculpt universes in the blink of an eye – in other words, to attain virtual godhood.

Maybe it is religious of me to believe this, but I am grateful for the things that make me a “self,” and I don’ believe it’s selfish of me to feel that way. I also appreciate the things that make each of you unique selves, with dignity and respect. I don’t believe the way forward for humanity is to deny that we are selves, but to more fully appreciate the self-ness of others, and to more fully embrace our authentic selves.

I thought she meant humanity should not think one is better then another. Like master, servant, waitress, boss, poor, rich, man, and women. Maybe she meant to be equals as in nobody should should be better then anyone. Maybe once humanity worked together things would get better. Instead of thinking Im better then you. That probably wouldn’t work in our world but in this fictional world maybe this is how they thought.

I took it more the opposite, but it could work either way.

My thought immediately went to The Borg, where individuality is completely stripped away and there is literally no longer “self.” In a more abstract way, not thinking anyone different than another is more appealing outcome.

You’re right that it wouldn’t work in our world, especially right now. There’s a wave of people who are hyper-focused on labeling everyone and everything based on our individual differences. Nothing wrong with understanding everyone is different and embracing that, but it can’t be used as a way to divide us. That just will ultimately lead down a very dark path.

What I really liked, is that they had this episode be a continuation of the season 1 finale; I had always wondered what had happened to that planet — one theory quite prevalent on the Internet was, that it was the same planet that eventually created the Kaylon, with Isaac staying on the planet for a whole interphasic rotation for hundreds of years, and time running differently anyway, creating some kind of chicken-and-the-egg paradox for the Kaylon in itself.

Instead, this was akin to The Orville giving us the creation of their version of the Q Continuum, with Dinal even admitting to the same kind of antics that the Q were up to on both TNG and VOY, and I really liked it. What I didn’t like as much was the Highschool scenario playing out for a bit too long, and the near-end twist that they were still stuck in the game when they thought they had escaped it, was as nice of a TNG-callback, as it was predictable, unfortunately.

As far as the overall episode though, I liked it better than the last, with its introduction of The Orville’s equivalent of the Borg (“the Bugs”?!), genetically assimilating the crewmembers, and posing as a secondary threat to the Union now. Quite a few things didn’t add up for me in that episode (hazmat/space suits anybody?! …SNW made a point to wear ’em whenever entering an unknown environment that same week, if I recall correctly).

In comparison to episode 1 though, I still like the season premiere the best. I love the interpersonal connections on this show! What I am missing though so far this season, is the lighthearted humor sprinkled in, and I hope that the tonal shift won’t be as severe as it appears after three episodes in. So far, season 2 did it best in mixing drama, humor, and action. 😀👍

@Dénes House, RE: “One of the pods contains the body of Bortus’ mate, Klyden, who suddenly jolts to life and strangles Bortus, causing him to have a near-death experience.” … except that was NOT Klyden (Chad Coleman isn’t even credited in the episode) — it was Bortus himself! I wondered too, initially, but then realized that it didn’t even look like Klyden. You might want to correct that part.

 What I am missing though so far this season, is the lighthearted humor sprinkled in, and I hope that the tonal shift won’t be as severe as it appears after three episodes in. So far, season 2 did it best in mixing drama, humor, and action. 😀👍

I thought season 1 was good but I didn’t really like most of the humor. It came across as mostly childish to me, especially when it came from Gordon. I am not a big fan of Macfarlane’s humor. Season 2 was much better at combining humor and drama. But this season, I am really missing the humor. I am even missing the season 1 humor. Sure, I like the more serious approach, but there is a way to mix both and they did that extremely well with season 2.

Honestly, show SNW and The Orville season 3 to someone who has no idea what Star Trek and these shows are and tell them that one of them used to be a parody. I am 99% sure they would think it’s SNW. I absolutely love Pike, he makes the show with his charisma and humor. But let’s be honest, last episode, his sub-plot and facial expressions and jokes would have been a better fit for Orville season 1! :P

Agreed. And I have no doubt that without The Orville, we would never have gotten SNW the way that it exists now. We might’ve gotten the show, sure, but I believe that its tone was heavily informed by The Orville’s success with the Trek fandom! (And we’re all the better for it. 😁)

SNW and Lower Decks! I still think that Lower Decks is the animated version of The Orville.

With “Spock Amok”, this week’s pirate adventure, and whatever the hell next week’s Medieval Times romp is about, I think it could be argued that SNW has become the Star Trek version of The Orville.

I don’t like MacFarlane’s humor, or haven’t since the very early days of Family Guy. I stopped watching probably around season 4 or 5, sometime around when I graduated college.

Honestly, show SNW and The Orville season 3 to someone who has no idea what Star Trek and these shows are and tell them that one of them used to be a parody. I am 99% sure they would think it’s SNW.

I’ll say that SNW is the best live-action Trek we’ve gotten since Enterprise went off the air. However, it has a lot of the same frustrating faults shows like Picard and Discovery have, though quite minor compared to those other two.

The problem with SNW is that a lot of the characters speak in that overused Whedon-style quippy, glib dialogue that has overtaken the Marvel movies. Ortegas speaks like someone from 2022, and the writers don’t seem to care whether or not that dialogue shows a single ounce of professionalism, something that certainly wouldn’t have flown at all with any character on Kirk’s TOS ship (or on TNG). “Whatever tweaks your freak pal” might be in the running for one of the worst lines in all of Trek’s history. I’ll borrow from a post that basically said Ortegas is a big enough jerk to be an Orville crewman but but not likeable enough to actually be an Orville crewman.

Their version of Chapel seems to have toned down a bit from the almost manic characterization we got in the first few episodes, though it’s too early to tell if that will hold up. Hemmer comes across as a jerk, perhaps a bigger one than early Dr. Pulaski. It’s all very frustrating. I’m really hoping that the characters are softened a bit since we’re still really early into the series.

None of the writers seem to understand the chain of command. I just watched an episode of TOS last night where Kirk reprimands Chekov for a very pithy comment/outburst while on duty. A few days ago I watched Ortegas do nothing but spout sarcastic, 21st century dialogue. It works fine in Orville, but doesn’t work well on Trek.

Characters in various pre-2009 Trek would often ask to speak freely (but not always). They were almost always professional, and “unprofessional” lines on any show would often be followed up with a character contextualizing or expanding on the comment in a more professional way, or dressing down the character who said the line.

I was surprised that no one in-universe pointed out that the whole experience was essentially a really weird way of allowing Dinal’s race to experience the emotions tied to watching a horror movie.

“Terror Firma” from ST Prodigy had a similar plot of visiting a planet of illusions, and while it’s only a third of the length of this episode, every character had grown from that experience, like Dal learned to lead and Gwyn learned what friends are for. And compared to this episode, we got Gordon dunked into the toilet to learn what? So that an alien understand sadism?

I know some folks here don’t like how Q is portrayed in ST Picard, but at least the omnipotent being there is still trying to do something meaningful despite all the twisted hijinks.

Also what’s up with the green screen being clearly visible in Dr. Finn’s hair in the desert with the wrong perspective? It’s in no way good CGI.

I’m a tiny bit bummed they are taking things more seriously this season. I preferred it when they worked more comedy into the storylines. It was goofy but it also made the hard sci-fi/dramatic bits land more organically.

Me too. I prefered Season 1 and parts of Season 2 more.
Obviously The Orville and SNW switched comedy.

@Dénes House: The two instances that you mention Klyden in this review are still incorrect, as mentioned before… he did not appear in this episode (it was Bortus strangling Bortus from the pod). ☝️🤓

I liked it but would have prefered it to be a building mystery set in the high school.

Eek, that sounds too much like TNG’s “The Royale”…

I liked the episode, and I do agree it was the best so far. But I’m tired of the the Orville’s music and scoring. It’s just too overbearing to me and seems to invade the storyline time and time again. I’m not saying this didn’t happen in the first two seasons, but for some reason, it is MUCH MORE noticeable to me in New Horizons. I paid extra attention to SNW last week during “The Serene Squall” to see if I was just making things up, but nope, I wasn’t. SNW (and most of the Trek shows) just seem to do a better job of fitting the music to the tone and not letting it take over.

All that said, I am a BIG FAN of the re-do of the Orville intro and theme music. It goes along well with the more serious tone of the series at this point. But I feel like the sweeping energy doesn’t let up after that – even in some of the quieter moments of the show.