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The Orville goes big and goes home

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I’ll admit to feeling a little uneasy last week that The Orville would back out of its genocidal robot army storyline and turn the whole thing into a soggy cop out —like an alien trust exercise, or simulation malfunction, or bad mushroom trip. But those fears were utterly misplaced as “Identity Part 2” delivered both a level of spectacle and hard brutality that I honestly didn’t know the show had in it.

The show picks up exactly where last week’s left off. The Kaylons have commandeered the Orville, locked the crew onto the cargo bay and are heading towards earth as their first stop en route to culling all organic sentience from the galaxy. Just to set the dramatic stakes, Talla almost immediately gets shot square in the chest during a fracas. But she survives, robbing the show of the chance to go through Xelayan security chiefs like Spinal Tap does drummers.

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For an episode that centers around Isaac and his people, he remains mostly absent for the first half of the episode. Crew members try to get him to reveal some sense of connection he may have to the people he’s served with, but his answers are curt and evasive. From a narrative standpoint, robots make great characters with uncertain loyalties, since by design (robot pun) they’re inscrutable. Kaylon Prime informs Ed the only reason the crew remains alive are as bargaining chips to secure Ed’s compliance with their plan. This is tested when the Orville comes across the U.S.S. Roosevelt, captained by Ed’s old flight instructor, who is understandably unnerved by the massive fleet of glowing red death spheres following in tight formation behind the ship. Ed does a wobbly job assuring him everything is fine, but signs off with a coded warning. Unfortunately, the Kaylons have absorbed a lot of Union protocol and are immediately aware of the subterfuge. In the show’s first of many uncompromising moments, the ship is destroyed before it can escape. But even that isn’t as intense as the ensign brought to the airlock to be made an example of. Kaylon Prime chooses a crew member to be murdered as a punishment for Ed’s betrayal. Here we get the first real sense that Isaac is not wholly committed to his people’s actions as he attempts to convince his peers it’s logical to keep the ensign alive. Sadly, he doesn’t succeed and Ed is forced to watch as the man is sucked out an airlock. It was both one of the darkest and well-framed scenes of the series as we see the ensign’s lifeless body spin in the void as the Kaylon fleet jump toward earth behind him.

In desperation, the crew formulates a plan to hijack a shuttle and go find the nearest help —the Krills. It’s a fun and unexpected wrinkle to add to the storyline; an unexpected chaotic element thrown into the mix. Kelly and Gordon manage to escape and do some crazy theoretical nitro burn to escape the pursuing Kaylon ship. While I understand outer space is only as vast as the requirements of the story’s plot, trying to build tension by claiming the maneuver robbed the ship of all but 15 minutes of air, and then immediately have three Krill ships arrive felt unnecessary. It’s outer space, man. You could have all the oxygen in the world and it’s still a frightening thought to be floating in the middle of nowhere in hopes that someone will just happen to amble by in their star cruiser. And given how much the show is trying to juggle in one episode, you know no one is just going to be sitting in place doing nothing for long.

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A cunning plot by the two smallest and grossest members of the ship —Yaphet and Ty— allowed for earth to amass all of its available fleet before the Kaylons arrive. It’s a meager amount, however, and no match for the invading fleet. Ty is captured in the process and Kaylon Prime orders Isaac to kill him in order to prove his loyalty. Isaac opts instead to rip Prime’s head off. Isaac sets off an EMP that deactivates every Kaylon — including himself— aboard the ship.

Thus liberated, the Orville enters the fray. And honestly, what a fray. The show has flirted with some ship-to-ship combat in the past, but nothing even close to this scale. It was dense, propulsive, and directed well enough that the action was legible the entire battle. Naturally, just as the Union is about to get beat down, Kelly, Gordon, and Captain Dalak and his armada arrive to mess shit up. And even cooler, the Krills release their individual fighters into battle. Naturally Gordon gets to pilot one. The tide turns, and the remaining Kaylon ships retreat to Kaylon 1.

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But beyond the simple, old-fashioned pleasures of watching massive space vessels blow up real good, tonight’s episode did a lot to expand The Orville’s world. The Union’s relationship with the Krill continues to deepen as Captain Dalak decides their brief partnership with humanity will require further theological debate. It’s kind of an off-hand excuse for why the Krill didn’t just take advantage of a severely weakened earth defense to conquer our planet, but the part of me bothered by that is small ——given that it’s a total narrative non-starter and also far outweighed by my enjoyment of the enemies teaming up to defeat a greater threat trope. And that threat is still out there, as well. The remaining Kaylon fleet escaped home, where the rest of the species are likely still advancing the war effort for galactic dominance. Where will they strike next? Can and will they try to reach out to Isaac in an attempt to bring him back into the fold? That uncertainty, combined with the more nuanced situation with the Krill, helps to make the show’s universe feel considerably more textured and robust.

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As the Union fleet recovers from the battle, Ed and Kelly meet with Admiral Halsey to discuss Isaac’s fate. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people want to see him deactivate again, and permanently. Ed, naturally, defends Isaac and hopes to bring him back aboard the Orville. When Halsey suggests some sort of kill switch in case Isaac should betray everyone again, Ed wisely points out that’s the exact line of thinking that lead the Kaylons to murder their creators in the first place. Apparently, Ed’s argument was effective, because the next time we see Isaac, he’s back aboard the Orville, recording an image of the very distant world he figuratively and literally left behind. It’s a sentimental act from a being that has always eschewed sentiment. Isaac never explains how or why he came to believe so strongly that the actions of his people were so reprehensible to him that he would betray them. And I like that he doesn’t explain himself or offer a reason. If this were first season, I’d be more inclined to say they just didn’t think about it. But given the growth the show has demonstrated, I’m much more likely to give the benefit of the doubt that Isaac’s debutante foray into ethical philosophy will be an ongoing conversation. Dr. Claire finds him and discusses the concept of forgiveness. She’s beginning the process with him, but it’s nowhere near resolved. It’s uncertain, for everyone, what will come next.


Stray Observations

  • The Kaylons don’t appear to be a collective like the Borg. Each has their own unique identity and while they can communicate with each other freely, they don’t seem to be constantly plugged into each other like a network. One Kaylon can be killed without immediately alerting the rest.
  • In that vein, Kaylon Prime’s parting words to Isaac that he’ll always be alone would bear more emotional weight if we ever got the sense that matters to the Kaylon. You can’t curse someone with the weight of emotional pain when they often like talking about how they have no emotions. I do like the bits of flavor about the cruelty of their human masters and the possible effect it has on Isaac’s worldview that he was built after their extermination. I especially enjoyed Kaylon Prime’s command that Isaac needs to choose a new designation.
  • Kaylon Prime’s observations that humans have a long and well-documented history of being fantastically shitty to one another is pretty accurate. Him making Isaac read Roots was a bit much, however.
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About the author

Nick Wanserski

AV Club contributor, illustrator, insouciant oaf.