The Orville, Season 3 (New Horizons), Episode 310
Written and Directed by Seth MacFarlane
While the Orville picks up an asylum-seeker from a familiar planet, several crew-members’ relationships take significant steps forward. The Claire/Isaac relationship, Bortus and Klyden’s marriage, and even the Ed/Kelly dynamic get significant screen time, and there are important bits for Gordon and Lamarr. After a slam-bang action movie of an episode that seemed more like a traditional season finale, this episode is a quiet 81 minutes that is mainly conversation. It brings a sense of satisfaction to certain character threads that have occupied much of the three seasons of the show, but does at times feel like a collection of “B” stories in search of a central plot to carry them forward.
IF YOU DECIDE TO READ FURTHER, YOU WILL BE SILENT! NO COMPLAINTS ABOUT SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Easy as 1, 2, 3…
Classic television writing from the last few decades, including the Berman/Braga era of Star Trek, has utilized an episode construction with a central plot A-story, accompanied by a character-focused B-story (and maybe a C too), usually tied in thematically with the main story. This tried-and-true method works well with the A-story driving the episode and giving it a sense of direction. But “Future Unknown” faced a difficult challenge: how do you do a season finale following the Sturm und Drang and galactic stakes of “Domino”? Last week, I speculated that they might set up another season with a time travel episode, perhaps with a cliffhanger. Instead, Seth MacFarlane opted to focus on the season’s remaining character threads, playing it safe in case the series is not renewed. (Which, by the way, #RenewTheOrville, Hulu and Disney!)
The result is an episode that has a lot of great, satisfying moments, but doesn’t have a strong, forward-moving core that drives the story. With some shows, the characters are so interesting that you’d be happy to watch a full episode of them just sitting around, talking about stuff. To the extent that you feel that way about The Orville, you will like this episode. To the extent that plot and big ideas are what draw you to the show, you will be disappointed.
All about love girl, all about love…
If this episode does have an “A-story,” it’s the Isaac and Claire Finn relationship. The episode opens with Isaac going about his day aboard ship, to the sounds of the 1961 Oscar-nominated Henry Mancini song, “Bachelor in Paradise.” He walks the hallways, he fiddles with controls, he replicates a banana to give to Claire, all while the singer tells him to beware, that the lady wants something more from him. Along the way, we see Isaac propose to Claire, we see her deliberations, her acceptance, the bachelor and bachelorette parties, and the episode ends with Gordon singing a song at their wedding. So that’s the through-line for the show.
This relationship has been the most interesting in the show’s three seasons, and it’s good to have extensive time inside this process here. Isaac is spurred to propose after watching Bortus and Klyden renew their vows, Moclan-style, with a nearly-naked pursuit and tackle through a forest. He is derailed by some character-appropriate advice from John Lamarr, which leads to Isaac propositioning Kelly awkwardly, and to an amusing verbal beat-down from Claire to Lamarr, before getting back on track for the eventual nuptials.
Happily, there are fun moments along the way, like when a drunk (again!) Kelly, Claire, and Talla ask for a sober Ed’s opinion about the proposal (“You have been useful, sober man. You may go now” is the best line of the episode). Later, when Claire asks for Ed’s opinion on her wedding dress, he is less useful. Isaac inviting the entire Kaylon race as guests to the wedding, and all that follows is also pretty hysterical, and the debate about whether Bortus or Gordon should give the best man’s speech at the wedding is also quite amusing.
Sadly, we get to watch large portions of the bachelor and bachelorette parties, which I always find awkward, awful, and unfunny on television shows, but showrunners never seem to tire of. Perhaps I’m an outlier here, but I could go my whole life without ever seeing another bachelor party on screen, and be none the poorer for it.
Bottom line, this is an enjoyable, light story that would make an excellent B-plot in an episode, but doesn’t seem to have the strength to be the load-bearing structure in a science fiction story.
Lies, oh, lies…
The B-story that actually serves as the B-story in this episode is a return to Sargus 4, the planet from season one’s “Majority Rule.” In that episode, we learned that the Sarguns entire government is based on up-voting or down-voting other people’s behavior on a planetary scale. There, John Lamarr was captured on video dry-humping a statue of an important historical figure and is put on trial, barely escaping with his life thanks to the help of a Sargun native named Lysella, a barista whose help the crew enlists, even bringing her aboard the ship.
In “Future Unknown,” Lysella contacts the Orville via a stolen commscanner, asking for asylum. While Kelly helps her to acclimate to life in the Planetary Union, we get to listen in on the history of the Union, on the rationale behind the Union’s version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive, and on some of the Union’s significant missteps in their contacts with developing worlds. These are all interesting bits, helping to explicitly establish what has been mostly implicit until now in the show.
When Lysella doesn’t agree with the Union’s principles, and attempts to return home with stolen plans for advanced Union tech that she hopes will help heal her planet’s social divisions, the discussions along the way form the intellectual core of the episode. This thread is the “big idea” thread of the show. It is interesting, and helps strengthen our understanding of the larger culture of the Planetary Union, but all of it was alluded to earlier in the show’s three seasons, robbing this storyline of any powerful revelations. This is the sci-fi story of the episode, but it is not strong enough to function as an A-story.
I’m gonna teach you how to sing it out…
As with many episodes of The Orville, this one is underpinned by music. The opening is established with “Bachelor in Paradise,” Bortus sings some Elvis tunes in the middle (wait, so can he sing well, or can’t he?), and Gordon ends the episode with a beautiful guitar rendition of James Taylor’s 1977 “Secret O’ Life.”
Bottom line? For me, the sum of this episode did not exceed the total of its parts. While the quiet, conversational tone was a good change of pace from the “action movie every week” frenzy of season three overall, these various threads were not enough to form a cohesive story for me. It’s a worthwhile episode in a season where every episode has been at least okay and many have been exceptional.
- Isaac presenting Claire with a banana is an ongoing gag that got its start in season two’s “A Happy Refrain.”
- Bortus says that the Moclan renewal ceremony, the Kazh’gahl, will be performed “fully bare, thus unified with our natural surroundings, as we were at birth” but he and Klyden actually wear a metal-studded leather g-string that looks quite uncomfortable.
- During the Kazh’gahl, Klyden throws a rock at Bortus in what may be a visual reference to Star Trek’s “Arena.”
- Once again, Claire discusses details of her treatment of a patient with someone, proving that the Planetary Union does not have HIPAA laws.
- The drinking scene between Talla, Kelly, and Claire is a good one, but it leaves the problem of Kelly’s alcohol addiction unresolved.
- Gordon revisits the question of playing music on the bridge while on-shift, a topic that he first raised in an earlier episode that I have been unable to track down – anyone remember? Let me know in the comments.
- I liked that Ty and Marcus were watching the ship leave orbit when Claire entered their quarters – I would watch it too, every time.
- The sequences in the simulator are breathtaking, as always.
- The reappearance of the egg salad sandwich was expected, but appreciated, and the discussion. surrounding it was fantastic – and establishes that this episode takes place exactly three months after “Twice in a Lifetime.”
- Hallston Sage appears as Alara Kitan during the wedding in a cameo that was kept secret by delaying her credit until the close of the show; I was glad to see her.
- The Kaylon guests at the wedding, with their synchronized movements, had a very Star Wars, Imperial Stormtroopers vibe.
- “You won’t age. I will. Someday I’ll be gone, and you’ll still be here, unchanged. My death is an inevitable human reality. What will you do then?” “Perhaps I will select a new companion. And of course, I will continue to monitor the well-being of your offspring.” Claire, on the receiving end of Isaac’s sweet-talking ways.
- “I’ve lost two friends this past year because they said or did things that the Feed didn’t like. Everyone’s scared and paranoid because nobody trusts each other. And the only time anyone feels like they belong to something larger than themselves is when they’re part of a mass downvote. They can’t come together unless they’re targeting somebody.” Lysella, explaining Twitter culture.
- “You still don’t get the whole ‘small ship’ thing, do you, Mom?” Marcus Finn.
- “Isaac? The answer is yes.” “Acknowledged. I will begin to make the appropriate preparations.” Claire and Isaac.
- “Good morning, Commander. I wish to become intimate with you. If you are unoccupied, may we go on a date, followed by sexual conjugation?” “Pretty good, how are you?” Isaac and Kelly.
- “Lamarr! You and I need to have a chat. My soon-to-be husband is very impressionable. I assumed someone as smart as you would have deduced that by observation, but apparently not. If you ever again give Isaac a single tidbit of personal advice, even if it’s about what cologne to use, I will come down here and I will eat your little punk ass for breakfast with a glass of grapefruit juice. You got me?” Claire laying down the law.
- “You want me to be your best man? I’m flattered, but why me?” “All available data indicates that the best man must deliver a public address of a humorous nature. You are regarded by much of the crew as funny.” “I also possess this quality.” Gordon, Isaac, and Bortus.
- “What is…a marriage?” “It is a ceremony during which one organism acknowledges their intent to service another for the duration of their mutual existence.” “You describe enslavement.” Kaylon Primary and Isaac.
- “This is a goddamn weird-ass place we work in here, I tell you.” Lamarr.
And that’s a wrap on New Horizons
For what it’s worth, here is my ranking of season three episodes, with a star rating (out of five):
|305, “A Tale of Two Topas”||★★★★★|
|306, “Twice in a Lifetime”||★★★★★|
|308, “Midnight Blue”||★★★★|
|307, “From Unknown Graves”||★★★★|
|304, “Gently Falling Rain”||★★★|
|301, “Electric Sheep”||★★★|
|303, “Mortality Paradox”||★★★|
|310, “Future Uncertain”||★★★|
|302, “Shadow Realms”||★★|
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