It was the moment she said she was cold. I don’t know if it’s that Lt. Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus) just felt more like a plot point than a character from the start, or if consuming decades of pop culture trains you to detect the Chekov’s Gun from even the most innocuous statement, or if you’re just very attentive to The Orville’s IMDB cast page. Whichever of those is the case, it was the moment said she was cold and Ed draped his jacket around her shoulders that confirmed my suspicion she was some sort of alien or spy or alien spy. What I wasn’t expecting was by the time the episode revisited the scene by having Ed carefully draping his jacket over Teleya’s head to protect her from the being incinerated by the sun; it was a wholly earned and well executed moment.
“Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” was an excellent callback to last season’s episode, “The Krill”, where Ed and Gordon disguised themselves as the titular aliens, boarded one of their ships and killed nearly the entire crew. One of the few survivors was Teleya, a school teacher who formed a bond with Ed. The episode smartly left her fate open-ended and now, finally, she’s returned. It turns out Lt. Janel, the dark matter cartographer brought on board during the season premiere, was a deep undercover Krill agent, tasked with seducing Ed, agreeing with his opinions on “The King and I” and “Taxi Driver”, and facilitating his capture by the Krill. I was disappointed in the climax of “The Krill” last season, because killing everyone on board with the light switch felt like a solution chosen because it was easy, instead of something clever or thoughtful. But that decision has returned dividends now hat Ed is forced to confront his actions. It was an episode packed with pathos, betrayal, spaceship battles, and orcs with laser guns. All in all, pretty good stuff.
To celebrate their relationship going public, Ed and a disguised Teleya decide to go on a vacation together. A trio of Krill fighters sniff ‘em out and they’re tractor beamed aboard a massive cruiser. The captain demands Ed give up his password the Krill can use to access Union data. If he doesn’t they’ll torture his girlfriend. They even supply a handy race-specific pain chart so Ed knows just how bad it will be. But alas, Ed relents only to discover the whole thing was a ploy, and Teleya had actually undergone a very handwavy procedure to pass as human and infiltrate the Orville. That dramatic reveal is conveniently punctuated by an unexpected attack by another militant species at war with the Krill. The invasion forces Ed and Telaya to find an escape pod and jettison to the nearest planet.
The strongest character work the series has done so far comes from the two as they trundle across the alien planet. The strength of their dynamic, especially thanks to a strong performance from McManus, is that it’s not the standard odd couple scenario where two people who initially hate each other find out that maybe they have more in common than maybe they thought? After all, these are a couple of people who’ve already been through some heavy shit and a couple of betrayals together. What makes it work so well is how the relationship builds on the real connection they’ve formed, despite each taking turn being completely deceitful about their roles. Ed is hurt and still searching for some sincere connection between the two, while Teleya is furious at the man who killed her family and colleagues. But she’s also gotten to know him really well. The best scene comes when the two are taking shelter in a cave. Ed keeps trying to get Teleya to confess to some sort of bond between the two, and she spits contemptuous observations back at him. She’s wielding her advice like a weapon, and while it’s meant to be hurtful, it’s also accurate and surprisingly constructive. Other than their interpersonal dynamics, Ed also ruminates on religion, and how, confronted with a galaxy of other life forms for the first time, species tend to either drop their faith or double down on it and become zealots. Such is the case with the Krill, who Ed eludes to having been far less violent in their beliefs before space travel.
Faced with escaping out into the sun, Ed gently places his jacket over Teleya and the two make a run for it. They get to the mountain peak with their lives and trust intact, if not a little strained, and safely return to the Orville.
Elsewhere, Gordon finally got an overdue b-story, and it was fine. He’s low on confidence and decides to take command courses under the excuse of expanding beyond just being a pilot. Other than one entertaining bit where he keeps seeing indescribable depravity in Dr. Claire’s Rorschach holograms, and another kind of funny bit where he tries to fend off a simulated Krill attack by extolling the virtues of our healthy diets, it was a perfectly serviceable and unmemorable filler about learning to love yourself a little better. Presumably he does. He gets a date at least.
Back aboard the ship, Kelly tries very strenuously to impress upon Ed that his decision to let Teleya go free will likely cause massive fallout and potential legal repercussions with the Union. He chooses to do so anyway, in hopes that the connection the two have is strong enough to help nurture a greater dialog with the Krill. It’s a risky thing, trying to maintain a romantically tinged relationship between a show’s lead and a bat-faced space albino. The earnest sincerity can come across as cheesy, even more so when one of the pair is covered in mounds of monster make-up. But as an allegory to demonstrate that we will never move forward as a species if we can’t look past those superficial things that may otherwise give us pause? Well, that’s just good science fiction.
- I’m trying and failing to come up with a reason why Teleya had to give her gun to Ed to fend off the space orcs. Was her visibility so hampered by the jacket? Do Krill have poor vision in the sunlight? Ah, well. Whatever.
- I’m really curious what kind of critical response a mostly enlightened 25th century guy would have to Taxi Driver. It would be like reading The Canterbury Tales in A.P. English and needing to have every single line explained to you.
- “Man. I liked you a lot better when you used contractions.” A fair observation by Ed to Teleya.
- I’m not the biggest fan of Billy Joel, or the show’s non-stop 20th century references, but closing the show with “She’s Always a Woman” was solid.