The Orville Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 9 – Debuted Thursday, July 28, 2022
Written by: Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis
Directed by: Jon Cassar
A devastating new weapon developed on the Orville could end the Kaylon threat once and for all, but a new alliance between foes flips galactic politics on its head. “Domino” pulls out all the stops to deliver yet another cinematic feature-level episode filled with space battles, intrigue, betrayals, captivities, rescues, sacrifice, and so much more. It’s a slam-bang race to the finish in a penultimate episode that plays like a season finale, with the only quibble the question of how they can top it next week.
HIDE BEHIND THE SHIELD OF YOUR ILLUSION – THERE ARE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT!
My fantasy becomes reality…
In a season where every episode is feature-length and seems to be trying to swing for a home run with every at-bat, this is the episode that has most felt like a complete motion picture package. Narratively, visually, musically, and emotionally, every plot thread left open in the season so far feels like it’s come together here for resolution. A whole lot of things happen in 78 minutes, so much so that a full recap would be tedious, and yet the show never feels overstuffed. Fans have been talking on Twitter about how much they’d like to see an Orville movie. Well, here it is.
In a complex story that deftly handles personal character growth, galactic politics, capital ship space combat, fighter combat, ground assault, and even a musical performance, nothing gets dropped or bungled, and though there were a few small questionable skips in logic, the whole thing hangs together very well.
God, and truth, and right…
Since the Union expelled Moclus from membership last episode, here we have Moclus forging an alliance with the Krill. The fascinating thing about this relationship of course is that the Krill Chancellor is our old friend Teleya, a female. Careening from prejudice-filled alliance to prejudice-filled alliance, the Moclans are in a sense forced by their expulsion from the Union into a more progressive partnership than they would otherwise have agreed to. As Mercer later comments about another odd pairing, the ironies are very thick in this episode. It’s hard not to root for Teleya, putting the Moclan ambassador in his place with some skillfully-executed bon mots, even though her own ethics are “contemptible,” as Mercer later observes.
The Moclan-Krill alliance forces the Union to form a temporary partnership with the unlikeliest of foes, the Kaylon. Whoever first said that “politics makes strange bedfellows”—a saying adapted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest—would have loved the political pinball in this story. Of course, it is the development of an unstoppable anti-Kaylon weapon by Isaac and Charly Burke that gives the Kaylon no choice but to accept this cease-fire. And when the cease-fire becomes a request for military aid, again the Kaylon are left without other options. The script handles all of these complicated motivations with apparent ease, and the audience is never left confused by all the changes.
And of course, it is the Union-Kaylon alliance that results in Ensign Burke’s sacrifice, which leads to the most profound shift of all: a recognition by the Kaylon that they have misjudged the biologicals of the Planetary Union. By the end of this episode, the power dynamics of the entire The Orville galaxy have been turned completely inside-out and upside-down. It’s as if the Federation and the Romulans united against a more powerful hostile force, but squared.
I’m blinded by the light…
I don’t even know how to judge television visual effects work anymore after this episode. We have a handful of planets seen from space, detailed and atmospheric views of at least three different sci-fi cities in various weather conditions, massive space battles between hundreds of ships on either side, swooping and graceful fighter combat, as well as the by now gloriously mundane views from inside the Orville looking out, or outside the Orville looking in. There are beautiful shots of the Aurora Borealis, set extensions, and my little pea brain can’t comprehend how something of this magnitude could be done on any sort of television-scale budget. Every episode this season has looked phenomenal, but “Domino” pulls out all the stops.
It’s hard to overstate how much of a quantum shift this kind of effects work is compared with what was being done in feature films even just ten years ago. I kept envisioning the producers reading over Braga and Bormanis’ script page after page, saying, “oh, yeah, then there’s an explosion that destroys the whole facility, and then reaches out into space, and destroys a bunch of ships…” and wondering, “How are we going to pay for all of this?” But of course, Braga and Bormanis ARE producers on this show; they wrote this stuff knowing how much it would cost.
We finally get to see the new Pterodon fighters in operation, and it’s pretty amazing stuff, although there’s still no reason they had to have one (and only one) on board the Orville. There are Krill fighters, Moclan fighters, and Kaylon fighters. There are ships of all shapes and sizes. And yet the battles are never overly-confusing or difficult to follow.
Play the king or pawn…
There are two human characters whose actions change the course of this story in remarkable ways. Admiral Perry’s betrayal gives the means to the Moclans and Krill to eradicate the Kaylons, forcing the Union and the Kaylons into their unlikely alliance. Ted Danson has always been good as Perry, and here he finds the right mix between arrogance and humility, high-minded ideals and betrayal, and the nobility and loathsomeness that is required of him.
The other is of course Ensign Charly Burke, who agrees with Perry about using the weapon she helped design to “wipe [the Kaylon] off the face of the galaxy” but puts aside her prejudice against them and does her duty as a Union officer, sacrificing her life in order to prevent the destruction of the race that she blames for the death of her one true love. She was introduced this season as a main character, and received quite a bit of character development time along the way, only to sacrifice her life in the ninth episode of the season in order to save others. Hmmm, what other sci-fi character does that remind me of?
Beyond just these two characters, MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer has grown a bit as a Captain this season, and in this episode, he gets to be the voice of morality for the Admirals, a battlefield commander, a supportive superior officer, and a morally outraged former lover. This is a good episode for him.
- Admiral Halsey’s first name is Thomas—in “Shadow Realms,” he was called Tom, but this is the first use of his full given name
- Gordon and Charly sing Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” in the cabin scene, and if that’s really Anne Winters’ real voice, the girl can sing!
- The walnut-cracking scene in the cabin is a lot of fun; perhaps loud arguing is Bortus and Klyden’s love language?
- Bortus identifies two types of weapons signatures where the shuttle was destroyed, Krill and Moclan; but we only saw the Krill ship fire on the shuttle – just once, and the shuttle was destroyed completely; was there Moclan weapons fire that we did not see? Why?
- Ed Mercer calls the Krill-Moclan alliance, “Molotov-Ribbentrop all over again!” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the Soviet-German pact in the early days of World War II that shocked the world and made life frightening for the Allies; the pact was terminated less than two years later when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union; the pact was mentioned, though not by name, in the new novella, The Orville: Sympathy for the Devil.
- Where are these folks getting all these ships? With giant space battles in half the episodes this season, you’d think they’d eventually run out!
- The battle above Draconis 427 reminded me of the Battle of Minas Tirith in “The Return of the King,” with the sudden changes in fortune as new forces arrive.
- The Union “egress packs” are really jetpacks, which is very cool and retro sci-fi-ish
- Is Ed’s hair getting higher? Is it a case of Pike’s Peak envy?
- The Grayson/Teleya fistfight is a sequence we didn’t know we needed, but did.
- “The Union imposes its values on other cultures while refusing to confront its own hypocrisy. A governance of elitist fools.” Moclan ambassador.
- “Your weapons may be superior, but as tacticians, you leave much to be desired. I have studied your battle strategies. They are blunt and maladroit. You lack the cunning and intellect of the female mind.” Chancellor Teleya to the Moclan Ambassador.
- “My dad used to say, ‘Revenge is for children and savages.’” “Yeah, well, he never had his leg cut off.” Keyali and Gordon.
- “We believe the quality of mercy is mightiest in the mightiest.” Halsey, quoting Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1—this quote is also the source of the title for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ first season finale.
- “Trust us or be destroyed. It’s a simple binary decision.” Admiral Halsey.
- “There is always a weakness, Isaac. Your existence is proof of that.” Kaylon Primary with the sick digital burn.
- “So, here’s to you, Dad, and let’s get hammered.” Kelly is in control of her drinking and can stop at any time. Quit bugging her!
- “So what are we gonna stress about?” “Today? Hangovers.” “Ugh. No kidding.” Grayson and Finn, but they don’t have a problem—YOU have the problem!
- “True to his ethics even as he commits treason—what a noble creature!” Teleya about Admiral Perry.
- “What you call ‘representative democracy’ is a most inefficient form of governance.” “Maybe. But the one thing you can say for democracy is that all other forms of government are even worse. Over thousands of years and on countless planets, it’s the best system anyone’s ever come up with to ensure the strong don’t dominate the weak. At least, not for long.” Kaylon Primary and Admiral Halsey.
Be what I must be and face tomorrow…
So where does the show go from here, in the final episode of the season? I have no advance knowledge, so this is pure speculation, but consider this: Just like the latest season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, episode nine out of ten brought together the season’s character and narrative threads, faced off against the season’s “big bad,” and killed off a main cast character who wore a red uniform, eulogizing him in a very emotional final funeral scene.
So could The Orville follow the same pattern as Strange New Worlds go for their tenth and final episode? Could we be in store for some Time travel? What’s the title of the season finale of The Orville? “Future Unknown.”
We shall see. Oh, and Disney/Hulu? #RenewTheOrville.
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