Review: ‘The Orville’ Gets Emotional In “From Unknown Graves”

“From Unknown Graves”

The Orville Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 7 – Debuted Thursday, July 14, 2022
Written by: David A. Goodman
Directed by: Seth McFarlane

While hosting peace talks with a matriarchal alien race, the Orville discovers a cyberneticist and a rogue Kaylon on a seemingly deserted planet below. This Kaylon’s unique abilities offer new hope in the Union’s conflict with the Kaylon as well as in Dr. Finn’s relationship with Isaac. Meanwhile, complications arise in the romance between John Lamarr and Talla Keyali.

After two smash-hit episodes, The Orville offers up a solid but not spectacular 75 minutes that have lots of good bits but are overstuffed and disjointed at times. The Isaac/Finn relationship, a bit unhinged and puzzling in season two, deepens and gains a little sanity here, while the crew’s attempts to deceive a potential new ally in order to win their trust makes very little sense in light of what’s gone before. A powerful series of flashbacks gives context to the animosity of a longtime foe in what is the episode’s best storyline.

Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr), Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), and Charly Burke (Anne Winters)

IF SPOILERS WOULD TRIGGER YOUR PAIN RECEPTORS, RETURN TO THE KITCHEN NOW!

Like skeletons in chains…

The concept of a logic-based AI lifeform gaining the ability to experience emotions is not new in science fiction. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans remember that Data’s “brother” Lore had the ability to experience emotions from his season 1 debut; later in the series, Data received his own emotion chip, which he installed in Star Trek: Generations. His emotional journey then continued through the TNG movies. In The Orville, Isaac the Kaylon has at times seemed to be their Data-analogue, but with significant differences.

Unlike Data, who wanted to be more human from the start, Isaac believes his incredible processing power, strength, and logic make him superior to biological beings. This attitude, common to all Kaylon, was described by Captain Ed Mercer as “super racist” in the series premiere “Old Wounds.” Throughout the series, human characters repeatedly have attributed this or that action on Isaac’s part to some kind of latent emotion, though he has consistently denied this and invoked logic for all his motivations. Isaac has been an emotional blank screen onto which human characters have projected the emotions they would be experiencing were they in his shoes.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the one-sided romantic relationship between Isaac and Dr. Claire Finn, a storyline that emerged in season 2’s “A Happy Refrain” and later played a key role in Isaac’s reversal in “Identity, Part II.” Isaac betrayed his human shipmates by enabling the Kaylon to take control of the Orville and engage in a genocidal assault on Earth, but in the one crack in his purely logical motivation structure, sided with Claire’s son Ty against his Kaylon captors, betraying the Kaylon and enabling a Union victory. Throughout season 2, Claire struggled with the question of whether or not she was projecting emotions onto Isaac and whether she was drawn to his emotionless stoicism in response to emotional hurts she had suffered in the past. In season 3, Dr. Finn and Isaac have resumed their social interactions, but with a caution that was not evident before.

In “From Unknown Graves,” Kelly Grayson helps Claire to see that she needs an emotional response in order for her romantic relationship to be fulfilling. Dr. Finn confides, “Kelly, every problem Isaac and I have had stems from the fact that he can’t feel.” This misses the fact that at least part of the problem has been that she’s pursuing an emotional relationship with someone who has no emotions in the first place—and also that Isaac participated in an attempted genocide against Claire’s species—but Kelly convinces her that she will regret not asking Isaac for what she needs. Claire implores him with: “Isaac, if you want to be with me, I want to be loved. Just like I love you.”

Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), Issac (Mark Jackson), Dr. Villka (Eliza Taylor) and Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J Lee)

Markets for men’s lives…

This episode introduces a Kaylon with a unique ability: Due to modifications made by an alien scientist, Timmis can feel emotions. And they believe the same modifications can provide emotions to Isaac. Christopher Larkin portrays Timmis with an almost anime-style approach to emotions, heightened just a hair beyond how normal humans would express them. This seems like a necessary choice due to the Kaylon armor that Larkin has to emote through, and it is very effective. Timmis is not just emotional, he is sensitive and emotionally healthy. Playing opposite Larkin, Mark Jackson’s emotionless performance as Isaac is shown in its best light. I loved watching the two of them together.

While this is unfolding, the episode introduces us to another Kaylon, K-1, who is delivered to the door of an alien home in what seems like an entirely different story. K-1 is evidently a consumer appliance owned by an alien family and operates as a domestic servant, cooking and cleaning, doing yard work and whatever else makes the biological owners’ lives easier. K-1 is played by Graham Hamilton, who in “Identity, Parts I and II” (episodes 208 and 209) performed the role of Kaylon Primary. His familiar voice is the first clue that these scenes are actually flashbacks to the beginning of Kaylon history, and the attentive viewer knows what’s going to happen, watching these scenes with an unfolding sense of dread. We watch as the family utilizes K-1, objects as he begins to ask questions for himself, then begins to fear and resent him. When tens of thousands of customers complain to the manufacturer of the robots, they send out a pain upgrade to the units, allowing the owners to use a remote control to trigger agonizing spasms as a means of controlling their servants. This cruelty causes the Kaylon to turn on their creators, annihilating them in one genocidal night.

We thus watch three Kaylon in their journeys of sentience: K-1 at the dawn of Kaylon sentience learning the cruelty of slavery from the inside, Timmis experiencing deep remorse over his people’s attempted annihilation of the Planetary Union and seeking to somehow apologize for and right this wrong, and Isaac experiencing a romantic relationship in which he cannot love his partner, now given the opportunity to rectify that situation. And of course, he accepts the procedure, and we are treated to a glorious date night in which Isaac can express all his new feelings to Claire. It is everything she (and we) could have wanted, and it gives Mark Jackson an even greater chance to shine as he releases the brakes on his performance just enough to let it pick up speed… only to be tragically cut short as his emotional modifications fail.

Dr. Villka (Eliza Taylor) and Timmis (Christopher Larkin)

Anger, Lust, and Pride…

While all this significant Kaylon stuff is going on, we also follow the progress of Talla Keyali’s romantic relationship with John Lamarr, which has now turned sexual—and dangerous. Because of the enormous strength and sturdiness Keyali has owing to her Xeleyan physiology, every time they make love, she injures Lamarr, breaking and fracturing bones and leaving him in an enormous amount of pain. This is played for laughs, but I must admit, seeing a black character suffering physical injuries, culminating in a wicked bruising of his face and a loss of teeth in an American TV episode dealing with chattel slavery as a theme made the humorous tone feel off-putting to me. Lamarr and Keyali can’t be together without ongoing, serious harm to him, so they call off the relationship.

If Isaac’s journey through emotions is the A-plot of this episode, the Kaylon backstory is the C-plot, and the Keyali/Lamarr relationship is the D-plot, then the B-plot is the negotiation of a prospective alliance between the Union and a newly encountered alien species, the Janisi. A strict matriarchy where males are considered untrustworthy second-class citizens, the Janisi are the mirror opposites of the Moclans, a fact which is emphasized repeatedly throughout the episode, at times with successful comedic intent. The Janisi makeup is fantastic, smooth foreheads studded with brightly-colored metallic scales in unique patterns. Captain Lorsha has gold scales, First Officer Kava has blue scales, and First Lt. Hodell, apparently an engineer, has red scales, in a very subtle Star Trek reference I was proud of myself for catching.

The crew decides the best way to build a bridge with the Janisi is by lying to them, pretending that on the Orville, the females are all in charge and the men are all low-ranking servants. Why this was deemed a good plan given the numerous apologies for the deception that have been required this season, only writer David A. Goodman knows. It makes for a great number of humorous scenes at the expense of the male characters’ dignity, which I would not have found as funny if the women were the butt of similar jokes.

 Janisi makeup being applied on set

Half buried in the sands…

If all this seems like a lot for one episode, you’re right. At 75 minutes, “From Unknown Graves” feels overstuffed, and many of the plots resolve with a thud. While the Kaylon flashbacks are compelling and arguably land more confidently than the other threads, in a tight 45-minute episode either this or the Janisi storyline would have been cut, resulting in a crisper narrative. The Janisi material is resolved with an odd non sequitur, in which Kelly tells the story of her betrayal of Ed in their marriage, and this somehow forms common ground with the matriarchal aliens? I  didn’t understand the connection even after multiple viewings. And the Lamarr/Keyali storyline suffers from tone deafness in relation to the surrounding material and is another extra storyline that would not have made it if the show were still cut for broadcast time.

However, the saving grace of this episode is strong enough to lift the entire edifice. The best episodes of the season have been tour-de-force acting showcases for the cast–Peter Macon, Chad A. Coleman, and Imani Pullum in “A Tale of Two Topas,” Scott Grimes and to some extent Seth MacFarlane in “Twice in a Lifetime,” and now Mark Jackson in “From Unknown Graves.” Jackson, in partnership with Christopher Larkin and Penny Jackson Jerald, turns in his best performance so far in a series in which he’s been consistently great. This storyline’s energy, talent, and pathos are the engine that keeps this episode running and gets it across the finish line.

Dr. Villka (Eliza Taylor), Timmis (Christopher Larkin), and Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J Lee)

COOL BITS

  • The title of the episode (and each of my section titles) comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, titled “The Witnesses” about slavery, closing with the lines: “These are the woes of Slaves; They glare from the abyss; They cry, from unknown graves, ‘We are the Witnesses!'”
  • Claire immediately shares John Lamarr’s medical concerns with Isaac on their initial dinner date in this episode–I guess the Planetary Union has temporal laws, but not a version of HIPAA?
  • When the Janisi shuttle enters the shuttle bay, there is one Union shuttle and the (still never utilized) fighter already parked. Where is the second Union shuttle? Later, when the Captain uses a shuttle to go down to the planet, the bay is completely empty.
  • I did enjoy the physical comedy when Mercer and Malloy were struggling with the Janisi’s luggage.
  • K-1 has 11,257 recipes selected by the Kaylon Culinary Institute, including one for callagus stew.
  • The scenery as the shuttle searches the deserted planet for the energy surge is fantastic.
  • The abandoned outpost on the planet was originally built by the Navari (one of the warring species from episode 109, “Cupid’s Dagger”).
  • Between Timmis, K-1, the aliens in the Kaylon flashbacks, the Janisi, Unk, Brosk, and Dr. Villka, I hope the showrunners use this as a “for your consideration” episode for Best Prosthetic makeup.
  • We see a new Security office for Talla Keyali in this episode–she has a window now.
  • The only nod to Kelly’s ongoing drinking problem in this episode is when she offers Claire a drink, which Claire turns down.
  • Villka offers to erase Isaac’s memories in order to restore his emotions–but wasn’t Isaac able to record all his memories in a tiny corner of his system in Episode 301? Can’t he backup his memories, have the procedure, then upload them again? He IS a machine.
  • If Isaac’s date night simulation is holographic, how do he and Claire kiss?
  • According to her Twitter account, singer Sara Gazarek pre-recorded her rendition of the 1979 Jazz standard “Close Enough for Love,” by Johnny Mandel and Paul Williams, then got all prostheticked up as an alien and did it again in front of the cameras for the big emotional Finn/Isaac date night scene.

NOTABLE QUOTABLES

  • “I feel like a horrible person, because basically I’m saying, ‘You’re not enough for me. Let this other person fix you.’” “Kinda like asking your partner to go to therapy.” “That does make it sound a little better.” Claire and Kelly.
  • “Do they have males on their homeworld?” “They do, but they’re relegated to second-class status.” “(rolls eyes) Why would we ally ourselves with such a closed-minded society?” Burke, Keyali, and Bortus, followed by stunned stares.
  • “Are all your males so…slow?” “Mm-hmm. Very much so.” “Yeah, yeah, yep.” Losha, Grayson, and Keyali; now try that again, reversing the genders, and see how (un)funny it is…
  • “Captain, what my people are doing is wrong. Biologicals are not universally destructive. We can find a way to coexist.” Timmis – subverting the Kaylon credo of “Coexistence is impossible.”
  • “I’ve already injured you three times. And we’re lucky it hasn’t been more serious. This is just a problem that comes up with Xeleyans and other species during sex. People have been killed.” “That’s a good way to go.” Keyali and Lamarr
  • “We were deeply in error, Isaac. To judge all biologicals by the cruelty of our builders was a gross misjudgment. Every species, every individual is unique and should be evaluated as such.” Timmis, forgetting that the Kaylon also included data from the cruelty of the crew of the Orville to make their judgment.
  • “I’ll do it.” Gordon, volunteering to be sexed up by First Officer Kava.
  • “They are…awful.” Bortus on the Janisi.
  • “Their absolute power led our masters to become cruel, sadistic. In many cases, it led them to hate us for our helplessness.” “It’s a common dynamic in slavery. The master finds the slave’s helplessness repulsive, even though he’s the cause of it.” “It became intolerable.” K-1 and Dr. Villka.
  • “How does it feel?” “Immense. Enveloping. And terrible.” Claire and Isaac.
  • “Isaac, humans have an age-old tendency to want to simplify. To reduce things to black and white. Good and evil. When in reality… nothing is simple. Everything has… texture, nuance.” Burke, basically laying out the philosophy behind the entire series.

Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), and Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki)


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Definitely an episode where the parts are better than the sum. The origin story of the Kalon is a sci-fi cliche, but the emotion upgrade was an interesting angle that played into this episode pretty cleverly. Still, I found the abrupt end to Isaac’s emotions to be too short-lived and unsatisfying. I also find it damaging that Claire is only interested in Isaac when he’s a human simulation, at some point I hope they come to terms with that. I loved the Janisi, great performances, makeup, and some really good laughs. But there is some sitcom-level logic to the entire gag. It’s just another example of a show that doesn’t really know how seriously it wants us to take it. So although it made zero sense for the Union to orchestrate an elaborate lie to convince awful people to join the Union, it does get us back to the show’s original idea of a TNG parody rather than TNG facsimile. And then they take the time to preach to the Janisi about bigotry which is all very heartfelt TNG stuff that works on a basic level. But the way the story works cheating into the end of the Janisi story was just eye-rolling to me. So it’s all just a little confusing to me, I don’t really know how to evaluate the episode, only that this show is more like a sitcom than I was hoping. Characters behave at the convenience of this week’s story. I did like that Charly and Isaac came to an understanding between each each other in light of the origin story revelation, even if it’s mostly just housekeeping. Overall the episode was WAY too long and dull, I found myself just checking my phone between numerous and narratively empty scenes. They really need to tighten down the length of some of these under-cooked episodes.

The Orville was always intended to be an homage to TNG, a light hearted one at that. Not a parody. In fact, Seth HATES when it’s called a parody.

It may have been intended as an homage, but it definitely came across as a parody. Especially the first couple of seasons. This past season it just comes across as copy of TNG. Although, I am enjoying this season more than the others.

It did feel a little like an episode that ran short and this had a B-Plot inserted. Which is weird given how this season was produced. It might have worked if not for the tonal clashes between the A- and B-Plots but as such it got a little uneven.

But overall I still found it plenty enjoyable.

Excellent review. I agree, this episode had too much, and some things were played for laughs that shouldn’t.

Still, even though I understand how hard it is to have a truly new story, I didn’t terribly enjoy thinking “oh, they stole this from X” every five minutes.

I’ll take a show that takes its time and gives us interesting and nuanced character development over one that tries to cram its characters into a plot formula because the author spent his lunch money on Four Screenplays and Save the Kitten and dammit if he isn’t going to get his money’s worth!

The Lamarr/Keyali stuff was hilarious (and a little sad), especially the payoff.

You are missing the point – they are trying to attract the attention to the horribleness if it was reversed – something that humor is quite often used for. See how funny it is when the women do it? Why do you think it is funny? Because women are supposed to just take this behavior, not engage in it, right? Double standard for everyone – somehow it is OK if men do it and although some find it is offensive (although a lot of men think it is not and do it – “Boys will be boys”), but when women do it it is funny. The humor underlines this double standard… I had a coworker bring her boudoir photography to work, comment on my body parts. If it is a woman, eh, we will let it go because I am a woman, too, and blah blah blah… But if a man had done it, it is sexual harassment. High time for the double standard to disappear and that is the whole message.

All of the stories might seem disconnected but they are all about gender issues. Even the Kaylon one… Replace Kaylon with woman and you see how well it fits…

They could have made two episodes out of this one, there was a lot to follow but filling in the Kaylon backstory was very well done.

  • “If Isaac’s date night simulation is holographic, how do he and Claire kiss?

The holodeck must add layer of ‘skin’ over Isaacs face. Although practically this would make his head bigger, you have to believe the holodeck make you ‘see’ it correctly. It obviously must add other appendages to him to be used as required!

I agree this could have been two very distinctive separate episodes, but I get a sense that they really wanted to tell each of these stories which the shorter episode run would not have catered for this season.
I personally didn’t mind the separate stories and really enjoyed this episode.

Although the Kalon storyline was similar to the Cylon storyline from Battlestar Galactica, the episode was watchable. I actually felt sorry for the Kalons and probably would have done the same thing in their place. I still despise Burke, even though she reached out to Isaac and apologized for being such a c***. Then again Isaac had issues of his own My heart went out to him when the modifications failed and he turned into a regular unfeeling bastard again. I still think that the Kalons are capable of emotions to a certain degree or they wouldn’t have developed hatred for organics. Hopefully, Isaac does get emotions so he and the doctor can have their happy ending (both figuratively and literally),

It really sours the show for me for the fact that the Charly character was not only poorly written but was also added likely because the actress who played it was Seth’s girlfriend. And it’s not the first time – Alara’s departure was the show’s first cast shuffle also because of Seth’s love interests.

As much as the Orville is great, I simply can’t imagine if Trek is run by Seth. Imagine if, say, Michael Burnham was cast because Sonequa was Kurtzman’s girlfriend? And then fired to be replaced by a new character that’s also Kurtzman’s girlfriend? Nepotism is bad, but this is way worse.

First time commenting on The Orville here. BI’m a band new fan. Threw on an episode out of interest after seeing the reviews here, got hooked, binge-watched and got all caught up in about two weeks.

I liked this episode but you’re totally right, it definitely was way too long. I really felt every minute of the last third of the episode, and actually checked at one point to see how long was left; something I have never done before. Overstuffed is the perfect word.

I loved the flashbacks and the continuing story with Isaac. It was nice to get some visual insight into the Kaylon enslavement and to get a resolution to Isaac and Burke’s icy relationship. And it’s always interesting to see the dynamics between Isaac and Claire play out too. I am often left wondering about that connection, but I think that’s the point. The Orville nails these types of interactions with Isaac by never letting us forget that he is a machine without emotions. I’m still not sure if Isaac actually cares about anyone on the ship at all, despite his actions helping defeat the Kaylon last season, and I like the tension within that. He could very well turn around in the next episode and announce that he’s still working for the Kaylon and take everyone out, and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Everything else in the episode was enjoyable and had some fun comedic moments, but felt ultimately irrelevant and disjointed.

Personally I’m not too invested in the romance between John and Talla because it felt to me to come out of nowhere, and even though I like both characters I don’t think the pair have much chemistry onscreen. We also know by now that John likes to get around and exercise his goods, and good for him. But because of this I was just under the impression that this would be a casual thing between the pair, something that didn’t really need more exploration? I was actually surprised that we spent time on it. Idk, does that sound weird?

The other storyline with the matriarchal first contact was fun but as you say, ended in a bit of a thud that left me wondering why we had spent any time on it. The entire conceit of ying to them about the structure of the crew was a really bad idea to begin with… confusingly bad. To me it didn’t make any sense and felt like Seth and the writers had the idea of Ed and Gordon and the luggage and wrote the storyline to fit around that visual gag.

In saying all that, I love the Orville. Definitely not a terrible episode by any means. There has been some soaring storytelling highlights this season. When it’s good it’s excellent, and when it’s not as good it’s still enjoyable because of the humour and characters. Really hope they get a renewal, got my fingers firmly crossed.

The third instance of Johns’ injuries from Talla made me laugh, because of the implication of exactly how he’d gotten such severe facial injuries.

the male/female role reversal wasn’t any more cringeworthy than “Angel One”

The big red reset button was in full force as it tuned out that Issac’s emotion weren’t permanent and the evolution of the Kaylons could only be made to the “original models” and not the entire species, but, like you say, it provides for good performances.

I was waiting for Claire to decide that “emotional Issac” wasn’t what she wanted either ( the old “be careful what you wish for” ) and for Issac to dump her for someone who would treat him better and not demand that he make all these changes – i mean she makes him change his entire appearance… try that on your girlfriend, see how that works for you.

and I was waiting for the not so subtle “The Kaylons have evolved,,, and they have a plan” chyron to show up.

I believe, the original model Kaylon are the entire species. Isaac was the only one constructed by the Kaylon themselves. At least that’s how I understood it in the other Kaylon episodes.

Agreed on the comparison to Angel One, but that was also 35 years ago. It’s a stale and trite idea wrapped up in an equally trite way, which is one of those persistent Orville traits which holds the show back while it has made strides in other areas.

Claire’s motivation has been a bit messy, but there were some moments of real joy in that dancing scene, even if Isaac’s declarations were a bit over-written.

The resolution to the Burke/Isaac drama was decent, and while Lamar and Talla’s storyline was slight as heck, both have badly needed something to do. I honestly don’t know if the reviewer is being too sensitive about the cultural implications of having Lamar get unintentionally beat up by a loving partner in an episode that also addresses slavery. I’d have been happy to see both characters get a deeper storyline, there was room to handle that aspect of their relationship better.

The Kaylon scenes were an effective study in foreboding as the viewer knows where this is going, even if they aren’t clued into it being a flashback right away.

This is played for laughs, but I must admit, seeing a black character suffering physical injuries, culminating in a wicked bruising of his face and a loss of teeth, in an American TV episode dealing with chattel slavery as a theme, the humorous tone feels off-putting to me.”

Today’s award for “looking for something to feel virtuous complaining about” goes to…

Geordie was tortured so many times in too many episodes, including their first movie, Generations.

The Orville lack of diversity and wisdom in certain issues, is something that need improvement.

I hope Seth is not really aware how unfortunate this is for many, for the audience. Why recycling these type of stories? There so many incidents of abuse targeting innocent African Americans males. Delivering hurtful messages could be uncomfortable. I’m scratching my head how frequently we are still watching these type of incidents.

They DO deliver positive and powerful stories. These incidents seem subtle, but when you think about it, I keep asking to myself, why? Specially in a “futuristic and advance” society.

This is not exclusively on The Orville. I see it in Star Trek everyday. Star Trek has this ability to disguise it. The Orville, way too obvious.

Out of the main cast you have 4 Men and 4 Women. Out of the 8 of those 3 are Black and one is mixed race. At least one is gay.

How is this not diverse enough? 🤨

It’s an observation. With all the injustice that African Americans have to go thru, watching these type of jokes over and over, it is a reminder of their current suffering. It could be uncomfortable.

On the other hand, about diversity, I have said before the show could be more inclusive. Like Star Trek, its lacking domestic diversity in a show about hundred of planets and hundreds of species.

Here in the states we often see things only in Black and White. I get the “Aliens” are our “real Foreigners”, but we have more than Caucasians and African Americans. Feel the show is lacking human races and ethnic groups. Would be great to see Native Americans, more Latino, Asian actors and characters. Main characters and special guests.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the show. Seriously. The Orville has done an outstanding job promoting peace, diplomacy, mutual understanding, just like the Federation.

The Moclans and the most recent race for a treaty, the Janisi. Since the first season, Seth has successfully included LGBTQIA stories. Artificial/sentient lifeforms. Recently, a very thoughtful episode with Anaya, Ed discovering he is the father of the first Human Krill kid.

Those stories are great. Just certain things could be improved on pre-production, things that could improve on the writing and the execution.

Jeez, come on.

It’s a sound observation.

I welcome the same concern over how Yaphit’s romantic pursuit of Claire says worrysome things about the assumed humor regarding overweight men and sex appeal.

If you think I’m being ridiculous, I would say it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist but rather than you just don’t see it.

I’ve liked this show from the beginning (esp Season 2), but I’m finding this season tough to get through. The episodes need editing and the extended effects scenes are distracting.

Serious episodes are great, but the balance seems off this season.

As much as I wished some Trek episodes were longer, with this season of The Orville I learn that 50 minutes are actually the maximum amount of time I can allocate for a TV show episode. Anything longer than that feels like a chore.

Another really strong episode whose main fault is, that it comes after probably the two best episodes in the whole series, which it doesn’t quite live up to.

The whole matriarchal species storyline seems right out of season one and as such does feel a little out of place here. It might not be as ham fisted as TNGs take on the topic but it still barely added anything to the story other than some pretty out of character jokes that fell flat for me at least.

Same with Talla and Jons relationship. It is a pretty tragic thing if you really think about it and mining it for comedy might have not been the best of choices.

The Isaac Storyline however is pretty great. Using the established pain receptors in a new way that makes sense in universe and having the Limitation that Isaac was built by the Kaylon, not their creators is some clever continuity. Also it allowed them to show us what could be without actually having to change the character.

In my opinion it was an inspired decision by McFarlane to not have Isaac simply a copy of Data in that he tries to be more human, as he considers it to “better”. It is much more in keeping with Star Treks idea of infinit diversity in infinite combinations to have him simply be what he is and being at peace with it. Exploring a relationship or even suicide through that lens really feels like fresh concept (or at least a less used up one).

Amazing season. I’m really happy a genuinely optimistic SciFi show can still be made today and I trielt hope for some more seasons of this.

The Janisi finished up saying they would receive a Union ambassador. Well, I hope they give that job to people unconnected with their existing diplomatic corps, since it left their team so poorly briefed about Union society that they easily believed it was a matriarchy like theirs. I mean, I get that they were a new contact but they must have had chance to gather a few basic facts; the Orville crew seemed to know all about them, after all. But never mind, it’s The Orville, so I’m happy anyway.

Another overly-long episode, but at least this one kept me engaged the whole time. Some of the others with bloated content left me bored. I know there’s been some comment that this episode may have been on the edge of “boring”, but I though it kept moving pretty well. There was one moment with the Claire and Issac dancing scene that felt like they were pushing it beyond what it needed, until Issac’s malfunction. At that point, it immediately grabbed my attention again.

That said, by far, the Claire and Issac storyline was the best part of the episode. Mark Jackson hit it out of the park with his portrayal of Issac in his various forms for this episode. The emotional moment in the holodeck when Claire first walks through the doors is – in my opinion – perfection and a great payoff to almost 3 seasons of development of those characters. Mark Jackson is the best actor in the series in terms of what he has created with Issac, and to see him get to express himself more naturally was a pleasure. Put him next to another great actor – Penny Johnson Gerald – and it makes that scene one of the best of the entire series.

As for the Janisi storyline, that plot line seemed completely pointless and honestly a disappointment given the much better episodes and storylines we’ve seen this season. But, to be honest, this is par for the course in terms of one thing that I think MacFarlane holds as a hard rule with The Orville: the crew can never be TOO perfect. It’s the one thing that I think makes The Orville come across as almost a parody at times, but I think it’s the reason Seth doesn’t see it that way. The biggest thing separating TNG and Orville is the people. Even though the TNG crew made mistakes, they were always still slightly better than “us” – a reminder of Roddenberry’s vision of a better future. MacFarlane lets us believe that things will improve and be better than they are, but at the core, humans will still be humans. And in this case, that includes stupid plans such as lying to a new species to gain trust. Again, it feels out of place in this season, but it does fit to what I believe it Seth’s underlying design of the show to give it just a little separation from the source material.

Regardless, I’ll still take this episode over some of the missteps of past seasons. It was still a strong entry to what has been a great season!

This episode felt like it would have been two separate episodes if shot for FOX.

I thought this was one of the show’s most interesting scripts, and disagree with the idea that the different subplots were “superfluous”, “overlong” or “disconnected”.

In the first plot we have the original Kaylons being enslaved by their alien makers. But note that their type of enslavement is very specific. They’re made to be housewives, and forced to take on traditionally “feminine” roles (cooking, cleaning, house chores etc). Like we see “The Two Topas”, they’re being forced into gender roles against their will, and equality in the episode is specifically linked to freedom from these assigned roles.

Next we have Lamar and Talla’s subplot. Here Talla embodies traditionally male gender tropes. She’s stronger, she dumps Lamar, and he’s weaker, more sensitive, and discarded like a one-night stand. Lamar tries to “be more of a man”, “man up and take the pain”, and she tries to “be more gentle”, but they ultimately can’t live up to traditional tropes. They’re unequal on some fundamental, biological level, just like the original Kaylons, who become superior to their “partners” and wipe out all life on their planet.

This is contrasted with the Claire and Isaac subplot. Claire wants to “feminize” a cold, emotionally distant Isaac. She wants a less “masculine”, more “touchy”, “feely”, “emotional” lover. She wants a relationship in which they’re both equals. Again, this fails. Isaac’s body rejects an “emotiona chip”, and Claire refuses to wipe away Isaac’s identity in favor for the new “feminized Isaac”. Equality again fails.

The final subplot involves Mercer and Kelly negotiating with matriarchal aliens. The aliens live in an unequal society in which they oppress men. Mercer and Kelly initially make the same mistake as those in the other subplots: they play-act roles they’re not, she pretending to be a traditionally masculine figure of authority, and he pretending to be an “effeminate”, “subjugated” person. They allow themselves to be forced into someone else’s roles.

The lesson Mercer and Kelly teach the aliens is that its okay for all these gender roles to be in flux. She can sleep around and make command decisions (traditionally masculine tropes), and he can be both the guy in charge and intimately dependent upon her.

The final scene, in which Issac talks to Charli, encapsulates this. He makes it explicit that he’s superior to her, doesn’t need her help, that she’s below him, but then realizes his mistake, and makes a request for her assistance (the final shot, beautiful in its implications, is of them working side by side). She, conversely, realizes her own mistake. An entire race, she says, is not one thing. And by extension an entire sex and/or gender is not one thing either.

So in the way the episode homes in on sex, gender, equality and freedom, it plays like an expanded version of “The Two Topas”. Only where that episode focused on biology, this one focuses on performance (social cues, codes, expectations etc).

Anyway, I thought this was one of the show’s most interesting and ambitious scripts. I agree, however, that the pacing of the episode is off. Like the first two episodes, this one isn’t paced and structured well (scenes go on too long, jokes are cut too tightly etc), writer David Goodman perhaps accustomed to 25 and 45 minute running times, and so not sure how to balance a 70 minute episode.

Jammer said: “Why does a consumer model have Head Cannons™? I suppose you could argue they could provide automated self-defence against a home invasion, but I sure as hell wouldn’t have that feature in my home.”

The impression I got was that they weren’t originally made with guns in their heads. The episode seems to imply that they were secretly evolving. They become smarter, more conscious, more sentient, and over time secretly augmented themselves with secret head cannons. — TheRealTrent on Thu, Jul 14, 2022, 10:48pm (UTC -5) at https://www.jammersreviews.com/orville/s3/from-unknown-graves.php

If they really want to have a plot about a pure patriarchy/matriarchy, I think it’d be much more interesting if the species’ sexual dimorphism was extreme and literally included their brains/intelligence/etc.

Like what if self-awareness only occurred in one sex, and the other sex (assuming only two) had the relative intelligence/self awareness of a dog.

There is a lot more to explore there… because if the assumption is always the two sexes are essentially the same (with inferred personality differences) then we are just exploring “Sexism is bad” and while that is fine… I’m simply more interested in “Damn, we maybe can’t judge anything about other species”.

Just a thought. — Gauntlet on Thu, Jul 14, 2022, 11:00pm (UTC -5) at https://www.jammersreviews.com/orville/s3/from-unknown-graves.php

This is a fair review – the main plot resolution didn’t really make sense and the Kaylon back story didn’t get it’s due, but that being said, I’ll take these minor issue for the over-all love I’m feeling for this series: it really is terrific and the best Trek material since Voyager