The Orville Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, July 21, 2022
Written by: Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis
Directed by: Jon Cassar
Topa tags along when her father and Kelly Grayson go on an inspection tour of Heveena’s Moclan female colony, and while she is there, she learns some secrets that result in her kidnapping and endanger her life.
If the first half of that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, this episode likely won’t either, as it depends on a close knowledge of what has come before in previous episodes. “Midnight Blue” results in tectonic shifts in the landscape of the Orville universe, both on the personal level for the characters and on the level of galactic politics. There are two unexpected cameo appearances, one that has been spoiled repeatedly on the internet, and one that I have not seen anywhere, and both of them are used to excellent effect. There are one or two plot inconsistencies, but they do not significantly diminish the power of the third-best episode in a very high-quality season.
SON, LIFE IS SIMPLE—AFTER THIS POINT, THERE ARE SPOILERS…
Ain’t got no regrets
It was a heavily protected spoiler that country music legend Dolly Parton would appear in this episode—right up until the minute it dropped on Hulu. Immediately after it dropped, Seth MacFarlane, Jon Cassar, Rena Owen, Tom Constantino, and Ms. Parton herself were tweeting out pictures, thanks, and congratulations galore about her appearance. Good luck avoiding that foreknowledge unless you watched the thing when it was midnight blue on the West Coast of the United States. Thankfully, Ms. Parton’s role in this episode was delightful and knowing she’d be there didn’t diminish the delight. I am much happier that I was not told that Chad L. Coleman’s Klyden would have a part to play, and his appearance was an enjoyable surprise for me.
Look, I’ve given up hope that season three of The Orville will involve exploring any new planets or meeting any significant new alien races. Instead, virtually every episode focuses on developing storylines that were introduced in the first two seasons. Here, we again center our attention on the fracturing relationship between Moclus and the Planetary Union, following the development of the disputed Moclan female colony led by Heveena. Heveena first appeared in the third episode of the series, “About a Girl,” testifying at the Moclan tribunal to allow Topa to remain unaltered as a female Moclan. In season two’s “Sanctuary,” we discovered that Heveena had established a secret colony for Moclan female refugees where parents who didn’t want their daughters altered into sons could smuggle them to safety, via a space-age “underground railroad.” That colony was finally allowed to continue by the Moclans in a compromise: Heveena agreed not to smuggle any more newborns into her colony, and the Union would not recognize it as a sovereign world in exchange for the Moclans agreeing to remain in the Union and leaving the colony in peace.
Along the way, the music of Dolly Parton has been Heveena’s guiding light, inspiring her revolution and her writing.
You were the restless one
I’ve dinged most of the previous episodes this season for a certain lazy self-indulgence. The move to Hulu removed the broadest TV time constraint, resulting in episodes feeling a little bloated. While it’s always difficult for creators to trim for time, the result can often lead to better, crisper storytelling. Even though at 87 minutes this is the longest episode, yet it doesn’t suffer those same issues. Short of a couple of establishing shots that lingered too long, director Jon Cassar makes the most of every minute of this episode, truly delivering a feature-length Orville movie.
The centerpiece is a tense rescue mission to bring Topa back after she’s kidnapped. While space battles have been plentiful this season, here we have a run-and-gun assault on a defended fortress, which is action-packed and a lot of fun. Interestingly, it’s Bortus and Kelly breaking into this fortress, just as it was Bortus and Kelly breaking out of a defended fortress in the second season’s “All the World Is Birthday Cake,” which may have been the last time we saw a run-and-gun ground battle in the show. I guess Bortus and Kelly (Belly? Kellus?) are the Orville’s go-to ground assault team. These scenes are great not just for their action intensity, but for the ways in which Cassar helps us understand the tactics involved. It’s smart action, which is ten times better than dumb action any day.
My biggest gripe in this thread is the sci-fi trope of a piece of technology that malfunctions for dramatic purposes, but later appears to work just fine when the story needed it. In this case, Kelly and Bortus’ shuttle thrusters worked or didn’t work at various points based on what would make for the most dramatic storytelling or exciting visuals, with no explanation for their on-again / off-again pattern. There could be some handwave explanation, but once you establish a tech limitation the story should work with it consistently—but this is a minor disappointment in an otherwise excellent episode.
I just gotta follow through
On the Orville, Captain Mercer thinks Heveena knows more than she’s sharing and presses her to do the right thing for Topa. I really appreciated these scenes for a variety of reasons. First, I was concerned that the show was making Heveena out to be a perfect person, entirely noble and pure in all her ways. But Mercer rightly points out that Heveena took advantage of a minor, using her celebrity and Topa’s admiration to pressure the girl into a situation that put her life at risk. Topa isn’t old enough to truly weigh the pros and cons and make a mature decision. Of course the situation was critical, and Heveena had good reasons for doing what she did. In classic The Orville fashion, the whole thing was played out in shades of gray.
Giving Heveena flaws doesn’t diminish her character, it makes her far more interesting. And it made Ed Mercer far more interesting as well. He calls Heveena on her “tactical opportunism,” leaving the well-worn “nice guy” zone that MacFarlane typically plays Mercer in, and becomes more of a commanding officer, fighting for what’s right. This was much-appreciated character development for our captain. It also created character conflict, both external and internal, which helped the episode feel crisp and interesting.
This development also made Dolly Parton’s cameo important on a thematic level as well as a plot level. If Heveena has used her own celebrity and Topa’s admiration for her to pressure the young girl into choosing a risky path, Mercer uses Parton’s celebrity and Heveena’s admiration for her to convince the revolutionary leader to risk everything for the sake of the girl she put in jeopardy. Parton’s cheerful graciousness and down-home storytelling style softens what could have been the “hard sell,” but also point out the difference between persuasion and inappropriate pressure. Heveena is a mature woman with a mind of her own, and Parton’s input isn’t designed to overpower Heveena, but rather to come alongside her and suggest alternatives. The scenes between Parton and Heveena are gently and subtly written; they bond over their common mountain-raised upbringings, and both women do a fantastic job of building the chemistry between the characters. Dolly’s cameo could have been cringe-inducing, but it turned out to be all sorts of awesome.
I’ll be back again
The last thing to talk about is Topa’s experience of kidnapping and torture. From her perspective, this was a horribly traumatic experience, and perhaps the only thing that ameliorates the pain of it is that her Papa came in to rescue her. What makes a negative experience into trauma is the inability to “fight or flee.” Trauma comes from being stuck with no way out of the situation. Bortus’ harsh retribution on Topa’s torturer was perhaps what she needed to see, in order to be able to come to terms with her ordeal later, in addition to being a just punishment for torturing a young girl. Frankly, there could be negative consequences for Kelly having commanded Bortus to leave the guy alive.
The second thing that turns a negative experience into trauma is the inability to process the emotions. Having been physically “stuck,” a person then becomes emotionally “stuck” and the trauma becomes something relived as if it were happening at the moment, even years later. Thankfully, Dr. Finn recommends counseling for Topa at the outset of her treatment. This counseling may help Topa process her emotions and not become “stuck.” The other thing that may help her is the surprise return of Klyden, tearful and repentant for rejecting her a few episodes ago, now realizing what he would have lost due to his prejudices if she had not been rescued. Chad L. Coleman is not listed in the opening credits, so it’s clear that his return was meant to be a surprise—and it was, for me. I was glad to see his change of heart. Tears were shed in my home, to be sure. As Bortus says, “Klyden was always more adept at speaking with Topa regarding personal matters.” His presence will likely be of help as Topa processes her experiences.
Now Bortus, Klyden, and Topa are a family again, aboard the Orville, and they have renounced their Moclan citizenship. Moclus has been ejected from the Planetary Union, thus placing the Union in greater danger from the Kaylon threat. There are just two episodes to go, but hope remains Hulu decides to #RenewTheOrville!
- The title of the episode (and my heading titles) comes from Lou Gramm’s 1987 song, “Midnight Blue.”
- The song Dolly sings in her cabin is 2014’s “Try,” the lyrics of which are quite apropos to the emotional decisions in the episode.
- Mike Henry’s Dann appears in this episode and has lines!
- Bortus downs a glass of oppsada in one go
- Topa’s crush on Gordon is fun mostly due to Gordon’s cluelessness about the whole thing; even Unk, off behind a wall of equipment, can tell that something is up
- There are subtle indications that perhaps Bortus is developing feelings for Kelly; Klyden’s return might put a crimp in that development
- The establishing shots of Heveena’s islands are breathtaking
- Heveena has apparently jumped on the burgeoning Dolly Parton #fanart trend
- The subtitles call the tune played at the evening meal, “soulful Moclan music,” but it is actually an orchestration of Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit, “Jolene”—and given that the Moclan survey team is about to “take away” Topa because they can, it seems an appropriate tune
- The Moclan shuttle still looks like a late 90’s computer mouse
- The novella, “Sympathy for the Devil” takes place between this episode and the next, though it doesn’t refer to the events in this episode at all
- Tweets from production execs indicate that shots of Dolly’s cabin were filmed both in Nashville—for Dolly’s side of the conversation—and in Hollywood—for Heveena’s side of the conversation. Co-producer/editor Tom Costantino gives a breakdown of how this worked, on Twitter.
- “You are a male, and yet you possess many prominent female traits, which I find appealing.” “Oh!” Topa and Gordon.
- “Yeah, there ya go, Sherlock.” Lamarr to Gordon.
- “Tell me, little worm, were you this impudent before they cut off your kla’flash?” Commander Kodon.
- “I respect your struggle. I really do. But don’t advertise tactical opportunism as pious morality, because that’s when you lose me.” Ed Mercer, gettin’ testy!
- “It seems like we’re always on shaky ground with [the Moclans], doesn’t it? Always bending over backward to accommodate their bullshit.” “Mind your tone, Captain.” Mercer and Admiral Halsey.
- “I fail to grasp the meaning of this parable.” “Oh, it don’t mean nothin’. It’s just a story.” Heveena and Dolly.
- “If you do the right thing in the here and now, the future has a way of taking care of itself.” Dolly, with wisdom for – well, for all of us, innit?
- “I value your presence in Topa’s life. It has been difficult for me since Klyden left us. And I do not believe I would have succeeded without your assistance. You are…a part of our family.” “Topa is very special to me.” “And you to us.” Bortus and Kelly – Macon and Palicki acting the hell out of those lines
- “Here. coffee.” “Mmm. 90-proof blend?” “ I thought you might need it. Just don’t breathe on the admirals.” Mercer, enabling Grayson’s alcoholism.
- “Topa, the last time I saw you, I said some very hurtful things. I regret my words. You were almost lost because of people who believe as I did. I thought I hated you, but even then I never wished you harm. I simply did not know how to live with you. I allowed a lifetime of prejudice to cloud my judgment. That must change, I must change. I want you to know that I accept you, Topa – exactly as you are. And I am proud to call you my daughter.” Klyden, saying all the right things.
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