Review: ‘The Orville’ Learns To Try Again In “Midnight Blue”

“Midnight Blue”

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.

Topa (Imani Pullum) and Heveena (Rena Owen)

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.

Topa admires Heveena’s sanctuary shrine to Dolly

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.

Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) and Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon)

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.

Dolly Parton and Heveena (Rena Owen)

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!

Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) and Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki)

COOL BITS

  • 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.

Dolly Parton

NOTABLE QUOTABLES

  • “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.

Behind the scenes on The Orville episode 308


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♫ Holo-Dolly, well holo-Dolly, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong ♫

🎶😁👍🎶

Loved this episode!! Just heard that The Orville is moving to Disney Plus in August. Does this mean there will be a Season 4?!!!!

They better!

I heard that the show would also be aired on the Disney channel, not that it was moving to the Disney channel.

Really enjoyed the episode. My only criticism is, if you are in a cloaked shuttle, why not land a wee bit closer to the target? That trek across the landscape seemed a bit unnecessary.

And why not flip on the cloak button during the escape sequence?

You might as well ask why the chairs on the bridge don’t have seatbelts. ;)

Lol, rofl

Two very good questions. And it wouldn’t have been all too hard to come up with reasons! 🤔 Ah well… still loved the episode. #RenewTheOrvilleAlready! 🤞😬

They didn’t have maneuvering thrusters, so they needed long areas to take off and land. It’s the reason they blast off like a bat outta hell both times they take off after Topa had been kidnapped…they couldn’t hover and were essentially a rocket.

I was surprised, that the episode was almost feature length, coming in at 1:25h. It certainly didn’t feel that long watching it. As with pretty much all of the episodes this season, it was well written, well acted and told a meaningful story with an optimistic message (inspite of a lot of the things actually happening in the episode). Though the setup – meaning the first half – is definately the stringer part of the episode.

And can we please talk about how amazing the music is this season?! And the know when to use it and when to let the actors shine without it. Just perfect!

The only thing that keeps bugging me this season is the somqhat indulgent use of the vfx budget. The CGI establishing shots are great but, they don’t need to go on for this long and not every episode has to have some sort of space battle. I never thought, I’s say this but I think, they’d actually be better off with a little less money. Or maybe do a 15 Episode season again and have some of the Stories just be personal tales. If they do get a fourth season that is.

Ironically, I have the complete opposite feeling about the music. It’s been WAY TOO overbearing this season. It seems like it just gets in the way of the scene, over and over. In fact, it’s so noticeable that when it finally dropped out for Bortus and Kelly’s scene before the attack where they talk about how much each means to the other, I was surprised at the silence. All that to say that the music isn’t necessarily badly composed, but it just seems to be too much and a bit overdramatic. More than once, it’s taken away from this season’s episodes for me.

I was very surprised and glad that Dolly appeared. Overall I rate this feature length show a 8 out of ten. Good action and dialog. Great surprises for who appeared.

Very charming and warm episode that once again felt very grounded in the TNG style. Thematically smart and well written, beautifully made with the patience to let the scenes breath on their own, and a nice mix of tones to balance out the episode perfectly. I laughed hard at the entire “There you go Sherlock!” scene and my jaw was on the floor when Dolly walked through the door. Great stuff, what a gem of an episode. Although I will admit that the Dolly scene had me confused because it was digitally manipulated and I walked away from the episode thinking her entire cameo was synthesized. I’m still not sure what was going on, but I guess she was de-aged?

According to Tom Constantino, she was.

Halsey: This is very sensitive. Don’t do a single thing out of line, Captain.

Mercer: Whatever.

Bortus: Stay on the shuttle.

Topa: Whatever.

Heveena: Don’t tell your father this.

Topa: Sounds good.

Heveena: Think I’ll trust a troubled young girl with all our secrets. What could go wrong?

“I guess the Moclans left.”

I just couldn’t get past the multiple raging stupidities. The Bortus-Kelly and Clyden’s return things were just icing.

None of those are “stupid”. They’re all in line with the characters motivations. Ed doesn’t really do something stupid. In fact he’s pretty much by the book here. I was surprised he didn’t even think about helping Heveena cover up the Underground Railroad.

And why wouldn’t Topa come with them and not stay on the shuttle? Heveena using her as relay is a dangerous idea but she knew that. It was a gamble. That was the whole point. She was desperate. And in her despair she wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. Ed even said as much in their conversation. You could argue, that’s the point, the episode is actually about.

Also what’s wrong with Clydens return? Why wouldn’t this change his mind? Or at least start the process. Holding extremist believes is always east when the fallout doesn’t impact you personally. He was abusive, yes. But he never layed a hand on Topa. Again. What you call “stupid” here is pretty much, what the whole episode is about.

I give you the Bortus-Kelly thing though. That was a weird idea. But they garnered a lot of good will up until here and I’m willing to see, where it goes. Exploring a polymorous relationship between the three of them might be kind of interesting actually. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Yes, Ed does this over and over. Halsey tells him to be careful and he just does what he wants. He should *not* have given Topa permission to go down. Any number of things could have gone wrong.

Bortus told Topa to stay on the shuttle for a reason: The Moclans were standing right there. And she just casually strolled off?

I agree that Tpoa should have stayed on the shuttle until Bortus told her was okay to step out. TV shows in general have this weird lack of parental authority that probably stems from something hippie-like leftover from the 60s. But a lot of the complaints outlined above suffer from 20-20 hindsight.

For example, Ed probably should have just not had Bortus go down at all. It’s pretty reasonable to assume a male Moclan in that environment could cause issues. But if he didn’t and something went wrong, it’s also easy to say “well, Ed should have sent Bortus, he knows the culture.”

Criticizing decision because the characters aren’t prescient isn’t very useful.

I hate that Heveena got Topa involved in her cause. She’s just a child. Klyden’s return will probably help Topa recover emotionally from what happened, but if I had been in her shoes I would have told Daddy #2 to go frak himself.

On a more positive note: Dolly Parton guest starring as a holographic version of herself was the highlight of this episode.

I actually really liked this aspect. It shows that just because you’re a victim in one respect doesn’t mean you can’t be a perpetrator in another respect. Real people aren’t just morally black and white and I like it, when art manages to actually reflect that.

Agreed. I was neutral on Haveena as a character. When she roped in Topa and then got called out on it and had to admit her overstepping, I grew to like her. Good sympathetic characters do things out of good intentions, make mistakes, and own up to them or are forced to face them, and then do the right thing.

Speaking of The Orville, all three seasons will stream on Disney+ in the States, beginning in September, WHOO!

Beginning August 10th, actually! WOOHOOO! 🥳🎉 Tell your family, tell your friends… hel|, tell your enemies as well! Let’s get this wonderful show renewed! 🤞😬

Hopefully this exposure to a wider audience will be the factor that tips in Orville‘s favor for a fourth season. Fingers crossed.

It’s a little bit manipulative to go full child torture to gain sympathy for some character POVs, but the different threads and motivations here worked well. I loved that they redeemed Klyden, he was so hard to relate to in his last outing. This one was nicely done, all in all.

I thought that Chad L. Coleman acted superbly for Klyden’s 180° turn, but both from an actor’s and a writer’s point of view, I think they missed a huge dramatic opportunity to show him suffering when finding out that Topa has been kidnapped, and horribly regretting that his last words to his child were “I wish you had never been born!” 🤷‍♂️❗️

All of Klyden’s past negativity, and we only get to see him again AFTER his much needed reformation? I would have loved to see the process actually play out in those intense eyes of his (which constantly remind me of Gowron)! 👁👁

He’s not quite redeemed yet (IMO). Maybe we’ll get there…

I still think they totally missed the mark with the fallout of Klyden leaving in the previous episode with Topa. Topa and Klyden were close, even to the point of doing daily/weekly activities together. Klyden storms into the medical bay, gets pissed at the situation, and just storms off with no words. Topa says nothing either. And then at the end, Topa just happily strolls up to the bridge as if nothing ever happened other than the surgery. To me, there should have been more emotion shown at Klyden leaving – whether it be anger or sadness. There should have been some words exchanged between Topa and Klyden in the medical bay. Yes, I get Klyden saying he wished Topa had never been born setup tension and hate, making the redemption in this episode important and emotional, but I feel like Topa comes across as this unfeeling character who shows a few moments of happiness when Klyden returns, but that’s it. To me, there should have been a bit more emotion involved on her part, and we should have seen more of the fallout from Klyden’s decision to leave.

I agree. It’s too neat after how extreme his exit had been, I’m just glad they had him come back and try to repair the damage at all.

But man, how does the Union not get taken out at the end of the season by the Kaylon? Every powerful ally or potential ally has fallen by the wayside.

I think the inevitable ending of the conflict with the Union is some kind of Kaylon Civil War, where the originally-built Kaylon who have the capacity to permanently feel emotions will cease fighting and either convince or fight the newer-built Kaylon who are incapable of permanent emotions.

I had another issue with the selectively malfunctioning thrusters. When they are escaping, the actress playing Topa seems to forget to show the effect of the G forces.

I’m blaming that one on the editor. They should have never showed a closeup of Topa in that situation or I never would have noticed. But not sure how the actress missed out on the fact that the other two were shaking like crazy.

Bortus shows feelings for Kelly? I thought it was clear that Kelly wanted to kiss Bortus, while Bortus did not show a reciprocal interest in Kelly. Given their sexuality, this makes sense.

It reminded me a lot of the Troi/Worf romance.

Well, to stay true to that, that means if we get an Orville movie it will be completely ignored!

Good episode, but didn’t this show used to be a comedy? It’s been so heavy as of late.

Still loving this show. Hope they make more. Most enjoyable sci-fi on TV, imo.

Please renewe this amazing show for another season!! This is such a wonderful show. Everything about it is amazing!!!!!

I get that the Moclans are supposed to be an allegory for our society and how we treat gay/trans folk, but as presented, they seem, unfortunately, more like a cautionary tale for giving gay men too much power and then having them subvert nature.

The same goes for that TNG episode, which, as written and cast,, seemed like a cautionary tale against lesbian tyranny (no genders allowed, kids are conceived in husks).

Why does the same sex race in sci fi have to turn out to be the villains?

Chad Coleman’s name was in the beginning, because I rewound it because it was pretty quick and I thought that it’s awesome he’s in the Orville!

Maybe Seth MacFarlane will finally win an award with this show. Family Guy was dissed.

My main complaint is that the episodes could be longer.