It’s rare to be able to say that a show is unpredictable. Most of the time a fan can guess how an episode may turn out or what twists and turns can happen along the way. They may not be right, but they will be close. The Orville is a series that has traversed so much territory in its short two season run that you really don’t know what will happen week to week. The Orville Season 2 finale demonstrated just that as a time travel mishap reset the entire series. Compliments to Seth MacFarlane and company for a great second season, but more over, I am very happy to continue watching for season 3.
Crafting a Universe
The most valuable part of The Orville is this universe is all new. This series positions itself against Star Trek: Discovery. The two series released on Thursdays within hours of each other, with Discovery on streamer, CBS All Access, and The Orville airing on TV, on Fox. Although Discovery gets solid ratings, many in the Star Trek fandom feel unimpressed with the series. For many Star Trek fans The Orville works as an example of what Star Trek should be and could be, if CBS wanted it this way. Discovery is structurally more in line with the the fare of streaming services. The Orville works within a more episodic structure avoiding the limitations of a singular story for the whole season. The series motivates story through character driven plots that have, only recently, began to interweave and create a larger story.
Living outside an established franchise, The Orville can never be wrong. This ship is free to meet any species, visit any planet, and explore the universe as they see fit. Discovery often works against the 50 years of Star Trek history and a majority of its established timelines. Fans are quick to be critical of missteps on Discovery, but The Orville gets to introduce fans to new ideas rather than try to complete fan service.
A New Enemy
The Orville offered many new stories this season. A large portion of this season was spent recalibrating the “big bad.” Through much of the first and second season the threat to the Union was The Krill. We now meet the Kaylon. Initially introduced as the home world of AI officer, Issac, the Kaylon quickly become a much larger threat than the Krill.
In a bit of brilliant storytelling, the episode, “Nothing Left On Earth Excepting Fishes,” shares Captain Ed Mercer’s (MacFarlane) romantic relationship with a lieutenant named Janell. We discover she is actually a Krill named Teleya looking to capture Ed to gain access to Union information. The plot offers a chance for the two to become friends after getting stranded on a foreign planet. For lack of a better term, the Krill are “humanized” for the first time to Ed and to the audience. Because of this, the Krill and the Union reach a cease-fire, later becoming fast allies during the Kaylon conflict.
The best episodes of the season are parts one and two of the “Identity” story line. When Issac turns off for no particular reason, the crew of The Orville take him to Kaylon for a diagnostic check. Turns out, his mission of collecting data on the Union is over and now Kaylons can decide what to do next. Originally, the question presents as whether or not the Kaylon will join the Union. Rather, they wanted to know whether or not biological life is worthy of preservation. This story turns to introduce the Kaylons as genocidal exposing caves filled with millions of skeletons buried under their cities. This is what is left of their creators. Now perceiving themselves as superior to all biologicals, Earth becomes their next target. The Union along with the Krill fight for Earth.
The space battle between all these forces is grand and cinematic. This competes with the scale of large films with layers of detail within this sequence. For the first time, we see the extent of Union and Krill ships and all are fighting the spherical Kaylon vessels. The Orville ship is front and center for the drama, creating an overwhelming and strong end to this story. Flipping the script on the Krill charted a course to this moment. Because the villainy of the Kaylon was unknown, the uncertainty crafted the unpredictability that brought these episodes to life.
Another main theme of this season was the increasing cultural differences between the standards of the Union and the Moclans. Bortus, a Moclan officer, his husband, Klyden, and their son, Topa, live aboard The Orville. Klyden has always shared his ideology as more in conversation with Moclus while Bortus has warmed to a more Earth-like kindness. The Moclans are an all-male species, strict in codes of conduct born from this baseline. Several episodes focused on the growing conflicts between Bortus and Klyden and later between the Union and Moclus. The inherent differences between the two groups and the new discontent may create an enemy of the Mocalns in coming seasons.
This drama falls into the allegorical category of science-fiction representing the conflicting values of any two cultures creating a potential chaos. A viewer can place whatever real-world cultural conflict they would like to parallel this story, but the approach allowed for a clear and consistent optimism. Captain Mercer and company strive for equality and fairness with any oppression or limitation viewed as wrong. They believe this conflict can be resolved, but as of now, it is only temporarily settled. The series has shared an ingrained optimism that is in stark contrast to the dystopia much of sci-fi has become. This story is dealt with through a huge amount of admirable diplomacy offering a welcomed, less aggressive perspective.
A Lot of Love
The last through-line of the season comes from love. With the series coming from the mind that crafted Family Guy it seemed unlikely The Orville would become a home to hopeless romanticism. Yet, this show has several moments and full-episodes dedicated to the relationship status of the crew. Issac and Dr. Claire Finn’s relationship is center stage in a Singing in the Rain tribute. Later again in the “Identity” two-parter as Issac betrays the crew. It is his relationship with Claire and her sons that ultimately help him fight his own people. In another episode, Gordon falls for a simulated girl care of an iPhone from 2015. While Ed’s brief relationship with a Krill puts him off dating for a while, but he still pines for Kelly.
“The Road Not Taken”
The two-part finale furthered the Ed/Kelly love story by making them the most important couple in the universe! Arguably a bit indulgent to give characters that much influence, but the story was again unpredictable. Following the malfunction of a memory wipe, an accidentally time traveling Kelly finds herself remembering a trip to the future on the Orville. On the ship she meets her future self, whom she finds disappointing. But, this gave Ed an opportunity to date young Kelly again. Once returned to her own time, these memories make her decide not to see Ed for a second date. Thusly, the two never marry, never divorce, and Ed and Kelly and the crew never end up on the Orville together.
Because of this the Kaylon attack on Earth was successful and they have been scorching planets ever since. The finale becomes a Kaylon-dominating alternate timeline where only Kelly remembers how the world should be. After gathering the crew of the Orville and finding the ship at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, the group works to reset the timeline. The episode takes a strong stylistic change and becomes the dystopian world the series worked to avoid. The episode offers more Star Wars than Star Trek, which is a nice change of pace. This deep contrast further shares why the optimism of this world is so important to keeping the status quo.
Ultimately, Ed and Kelly’s second date defines the fate of the universe. Again, a bit much, but I like the belief in the power of love. The show pushes the agenda on romantic relationships as a way of exploring character’s true feelings, so don’t think this will end any time soon. Ed and Kelly are again reset to zero, so it remains to be seen if these two should stay friends or be together again.
The Sophomore Run
Overall, this season was a stronger than the first. Although many shows struggle to pull off promises made in season one, The Orville explores uncharted territory, more complex stories, and fulfills the goals of a longtime loved sci-fi genre. This may not be Star Trek, but this is The Orville more defined, bigger and better than ever. Some say this series deserves more recognition from the greater TV landscape, and that seems about right. With expert story crafting and departing from a now overused binge-able structure, this show is unique.
Want more Orville? Check out our reviews of the first four episodes of season 2!
Thoughts on Season 2? Share in the comments!