By my own biases, I’m predisposed toward reviewing a television show more favorably if it features a cavern of skulls. But even if tonight’s episode, “Identity”, didn’t feature a seemingly infinite necropolis of human remains, it would still be one of the best episodes of the entire series. It had lots of small character moments, some really stunning set pieces, sharp dialog, legitimate questions about our projection of our humanity, and an actual, well-deserved cliffhanger. The Orville has a tendency to occasionally rush its ending. It’s a common problem with television pacing, and hardly unique to this show —but as things kept escalating closer and closer to the end of the hour, I worried that all the tension and build-up would be washed away with some sort of button press and hand-waving explanation. So when the “to be continued” flashed against the halo of Kaylon death spheres flying toward earth with the Orville at the lead, I was relieved that we get another episode to see how
this whole intergalactic army of murderous robots thing will play out.
It’s understood that we anthropomorphize everything: Animals, our most beloved possessions, our most hated possessions. It’s just a natural extension of our humanity to cast ourselves onto the world around us. And granted it’s not a huge stretch to project human traits onto Isaac. He’s humanoid, speaks well-mannered English, he came here specifically to learn about our humanity, and he holds his arms exactly like C-3PO, who is very emotional for a robot. But it has always been an open question how much, if any, of our mannerisms and quirks may have ingrained themselves into his programming. Because it bears repeating, unlike other androids who crew well-lit exploratory space vessels, Isaac has no desire to become more human. His best character trait is his absolute unwavering certainty that there’s not a whole lot about humanity worth assimilating. But then Isaac’s deepening relationship with Dr. Claire suggests, if not a change in his logic, then a reinterpretation of how that logic manifests and how there may be an underlying utility to empathy and interpersonal connection. I don’t think I’m going wild with the speculation to say that’s going to prove to be the case with next week’s conclusion to “Identity”, and Isaac will ultimately choose his lovable gang of goofy meat friends —but Marc Jackson does a good job of portraying Isaac so inscrutably, you never truly know how he processes his experiences on board the ship.
Dr. Claire presents to both her children that she and Isaac are dating, which earns an enthusiastic “Yay!” from the younger Ty and a more nonchalant “I knew it.” from the older Marcus. It was sweet how both the kids had positive reactions to the news. But the moment Dr. Claire and Isaac’s relationship goes public, Isaac flickers out and drops to the floor, completely inert. Without any of the technology or know-how to diagnose Isaac, (“Picture your mom trying to hook up a stereo.”, as Ed explains to Admiral Halsey), the ship gets permission to take Isaac to Kaylon 1 in order to seek help from his people. The scene where the Orville descends into the planet was the most gorgeous establishing scenes the show has created, despite Bortus’ insistence that the planet is “…not so impressive.” The towers emerging from above roiling layers of cumulus clouds evokes Star Wars’ Bespin, and even the living above the earth futurism of The Jetsons, which is kind of appropriate, given the Kaylon’s kitschy, 50’s sci-fi appearance. That awe-inspiring circuit board cityscape gives way to a barely repurposed office lobby interior where the team finally meets other members of Isaac’s race. I don’t know if it’s meant to be unsubtle foreshadowing that the other Kaylons all glow red instead of Isaac’s icy blue, or if it’s just a simple way of making sure his character remained distinguishable from the rest. I was hoping we’d get to see other varieties of Kaylons specialized for different jobs, but that’s probably not realistic for the show’s budget. On speaking with Kaylon Prime, the crew finds out Isaac simply amassed enough data from his time aboard the Orville to satisfy the parameters of his mission and was thus deactivated. Perhaps others have been more suspicious of Isaac’s vague diplomatic mission, but I’ve always just taken it at face value, as little as there was ever presented about it. But finally seeing the place Isaac came from, everything feels infused with a bit more menace than you would expect, even from a place as devoid of hospitality as a robot planet. The crew request Isaac be reactivated, and the Kaylons promise to look over the data he provided to decide whether or not they want to join the Union.
Dr. Claire is rightfully upset that Isaac won’t be returning to the ship, but she is unable to sway his decision. So the crew throws him a goodbye party. Isaac quotes Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech, then walks off and casts aside a picture Ty drew of him together with his family. In the process of trying to return the picture to Isaac, Ty bumbles his way to the catacombs beneath the city and discovers the endless ocean of bones that used to be the planet’s organic population. As it turns out, the Kaylons were made by the former planet’s inhabitants, but things didn’t work out super-well and as these things often do between robots and their flawed creators, break out into genocide. The Kaylons won the war, and no humanoids remain. The crew discovers this at the same time as they notice the rapid construction of a series of weaponized spheres on the planet’s surface. The purpose of the spheres becomes clear when Kaylon Prime informs the Orville that just like their own creators, the organic inhabitants of the galaxy will try and stop the Kaylons evolution. It’s a zero-sum game and therefore, humanity must be destroyed. And if a cave of bones weren’t hardcore enough, a bunch of Kaylons sprout guns from their heads and move to board the Orville.
We haven’t really seen anything like tonight’s climax on the series before with multiple lethal skirmishes taking place all over the ship. The crew members manage to take out a Kaylon here and there, but the loss is irrelevant in light of the seemingly limitless number of troops that continue to clomp aboard. The ship’s survivors are all gathered into the docking bay, as a team of Kaylons —Isaac among them— helm the Orville and direct it toward earth. Will the Kaylons succeed in destroying our beloved home planet? Will Isaac revolt against the cold, uncaring logic of his species and join us in wallowing in our capricious, often destructive emotions? Tune in next week to find out!
- While it’s much less flashy than landing on Kaylon 1, the simulation Ty goes to find comfort in was another great scene. With the lone tree in a vast, verdant field, it demonstrates a slightly more engaging visual composition than we see on what is otherwise a very blocky show.
- Isaac’s parting sentiment toward Ty and Marcus: “I have no doubt you shall grow to be competent and productive adults.”
- Not getting a corner piece with a flower on it really wrecked Bortus’ ability to enjoy the farewell party.
- Is the robot invasion of the Orville more or less scary because the Kaylons are so unfrightening? The Borg were super freaky, at least in part because they also turn you into Borg, but is it scary when the danger comes from a seemingly endless number of Mego action figure-looking assailants? I’d say either yes or no is legitimate.
- This is unrelated to the show, but my local news affiliate kept running a chyron for their top story throughout the episode tonight, which was “A ‘Ruff’ Morning for Two Dogs”. I’m mad at them and mad at the world.