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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
- 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!
- “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
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