After a mostly mediocre episode last week, we were treated to a supercharged "Orville" last night. In Space.com's recent interview with Mark Jackson, who plays Isaac, he said that we would find out more about the artificial life-form from Kaylon 1 as the season progressed, and we certainly did in the first installment of a two-part episode entitled "Identity."
We wanted to learn more about his character — check.
We wondered if we'd see Isaac's homeworld — check.
We hoped we'd find out about his creators — check.
We dared to think about what was under his helmet — check.
And part 2 is still to come.
As the episode begins, we learn that Isaac's relationship with Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) is blossoming, so much so that they agree to tell her children, Marcus and Ty (BJ Tanner and Kai Wener, respectively). During that discussion, suddenly and without warning Isaac shuts down, so a plan is approved for the Orville to venture to Kaylon 1 to see if his own people can fix him.
We've mentioned before that incidental music is a favorite among the methods Seth MacFarlane uses to pay homage to great science-fiction TV and movies. We saw it — or rather we heard it — in "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes" (S02, E04) when more than passing reference was made to John Williams' score for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," for example. And as the Orville makes its approach through the atmosphere of Kaylon 1, a nod to Jerry Goldsmith's score to "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" can be heard with maybe just a pinch of James Horner added for good measure. (References to his iconic soundtrack scores, which include "Aliens" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," have been heard before in "The Orville.")
In fact, the whole sequence of the USS Orville slowly flying to its assigned docking port is a respectful tribute to the USS Enterprise's tentative journey to the center of the massive V'ger spacecraft in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" complete with similar aerial POV shots cut together with concerned looks from crewmembers. It's fun and works well — and on many levels — this is a planet populated by machines after all. [Where No Films Have Gone Before: The Complete 'Star Trek' Movie List]
Kaylon 1 itself loosely resembles the planet Coruscant from the "Star Wars" universe; the entire surface appears to be a giant city, with enormous towers of metal and glass rising from the surface and disappearing into the sky above. There are even hints of Cloud City from "The Empire Strikes Back" and the concept future-style of "The Jetsons," which complements the Kaylons' kitsch aesthetic quite nicely.
In this episode we're treated to a number of firsts for "The Orville," not just our first look at Isaac's homeworld, but also the first time we see the USS Orville make an atmospheric descent to ultimately dock, like a giant zeppelin, with one of the impossibly tall towers on the planet's surface. It's interesting to note that it has this capability.
Every fan probably had their own idea of what to expect on Isaac's homeworld: Would they have biological masters or even biological slaves? Turns out that, aside from some minor exterior design differences, the planet's inhabitants all look the same. The command crew meet with representatives from Kaylon 1 and are greeted with the lack of enthusiasm you'd expect at this point for Kaylons.
Turns out that Isaac shut down since it was decided his mission — to study human behavior while onboard the Orville — had been completed, so he is henceforth to remain on Kaylon 1. Naturally, this comes as a shock to everyone, especially Dr. Finn and her two children, since they've all become rather attached to him, as have the whole crew.
Despite some suspicious behavior from the Kaylon leader, called Kaylon Prime, the Orville crew reluctantly accepts these events and throws a farewell party. In fact, Isaac's behavior is also becoming suspicious, or certainly out of character. He's asked on more than one occasion if he wants to remain on board and refuses. Ty even draws him a picture, showing everyone together like a family, but Isaac ultimately discards it.
Ty remains upset — don't forget that Isaac has been teaching him to play the piano, so they had developed a special bond. He sneaks off from the still-docked Orville and sets out to find Isaac and return the picture to him, which he found cast aside on the floor of the ship's corridor. Wandering through the streets — and somehow avoiding detection from other Kaylons — he stumbles upon the catacombs beneath the city and finds mountain after mountain of skeletal humanoid remains that were once the planet's organic population.
Dr. Finn meanwhile notices her little boy is missing, and after Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) scans the planet's surface for signs of human life, Bortus, the worried doctor and Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) set off to retrieve him. When they do, Ty shows them what he's found. Capt. Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) sets off immediately to confront Isaac and Kaylon Prime and find out just what the blazes is going on.
We learn that the artificial life-forms were built by the planet's former inhabitants, and as is often prone to happen in these situations, the machines turned against their creators, resulting in Kaylon's very own Judgment Day. And the indigenous population was wiped out. No John Conner-led resistance movement here, sadly.
At about the same time that the crew learns this disturbing fact, they detect the rapid, mass production of what appear to be weaponized spheres on the planet's surface, the purpose of which is revealed when Kaylon Prime gives his menacing monologue, informing everyone that all organic life must be destroyed to protect their evolution. Clearly, Kaylons aren't "three laws safe."
Suddenly, every exterior hatch on the Orville springs open and an army of Kaylons march aboard, sprouting laser guns from their heads. This is nothing like anything we've seen on "The Orville" thus far; firefights erupt in the ship's corridors as crewmembers arm themselves in an attempt to repel boarders. Laser fire is exchanged in skirmishes on every deck and while a few Kaylons go down, the human casualties steadily mount. Before long, the ship is in enemy hands and the survivors are herded into the shuttle bay. The Kaylons, including Isaac, have control of the bridge and set a course for Earth along with a fleet of thousands of sphere weapons.
It's not clear yet exactly why the Kaylons want to attack Earth. One assumes it follows a similar principle as to why the Borg wanted to conquer Sector 001 — Earth represents the center of the Planetary Union, much as it does in "Star Trek" with the United Federation of Planets. Once Earth falls, the ability to effectively organize a large-scale defense is dramatically reduced.
It's still a bit harsh, though; you'd think the Kaylons would believe there was enough room in the galaxy for them and everyone else. Oh well, that's domination-obsessed, merciless, murdering robots for you. It is fun to watch all the actors portraying the Kaylons mimicking the movements and motions developed by Jackson over a season and a half.
It'd be funny if the crew have to rescue Isaac by resetting him — they stick the paperclip into the little hole in his back for too long and he jumps up and suddenly starts speaking Spanish, just like what happened to Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story 3."
"The Orville" certainly doesn't look as good as "Star Trek: Discovery" — the other significant sci-fi currently being talked about — but these enthralling, unexpected events involving characters that we have started to care about makes this a lot more memorable than the last few episodes of "Discovery," and that's a shame.
Season 2 of "The Orville" airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox in the U.S. It can be watched on demand on Fox Now and Hulu. It's also available on Fox.com in the U.S. In the U.K., it's on Thursdays at 9 p.m. GMT on Fox. The first season of "The Orville" is available to buy on DVD and a season pass can also be purchased from Amazon.