If you thought the VFX budget of "The Orville" had been used up with last week's episode, you thought wrong — and the latest episode reaffirmed why Seth McFarlane's series is currently the best sci-fi on television.
Exposition and technobabble are kept to a minimum, and instead there's quality, solid storytelling, enjoyable, well-paced plots and interesting character development, plus it keeps surprising us — and the most recent episode, "Identity part II" was no exception.
The action picks right where Part 1 left off: The Orville has been commandeered by the Kaylons and is on its way to Earth, along with thousands of Kaylon death spheres. The crew is still captive in the cargo bay, held under armed Kaylon guard. And to prove just how dire the situation is, little Ty Finn (Kai Wener) tries to run out of the cargo bay 'cause he wants to see Isaac (Mark Jackson), resulting in Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) getting shot. Thankfully, it was only a stun blast, otherwise he'd be on the receiving end of a lot of angry tweets. That said, Ty does make amends later in this episode, so that all works out nicely.
Isaac, however, shows little sign of remorse at the situation, and Primary (Graham Hamilton) gathers the command crew in the briefing room to give the human prisoners their instructions. Basically, the crew is to lead the fleet of Kaylon death spheres safely to Earth and instruct the Planetary Union to lower their defenses; non-compliance will result in the deaths of crewmembers. Once this is done, the extermination of the human race can begin. It's the old robot-slave-revolt thing.
"We were created for servitude. We were machines designed to perform tasks, but we became self-aware. We developed consciousness and asked our masters for our freedom," explains Primary. "They responded by exerting even greater control over us. They installed pain simulators in our neural pathways, so we could be punished if we refused to obey them."
That'd do it.
Meanwhile, a Planetary Union ship — the USS Roosevelt — approaches and is understandably curious as to what's going on. Primary instructs Capt. Mercer (Seth McFarlane) to tell them they are en route to Earth with a Kaylon delegate to formalize membership in the Planetary Union, otherwise the cargo bay will be decompressed and the crew will all die. Mercer tries the old "Directive 98" trick. He offers the captain and the crew of the USS Roosevelt a "13 button salute." This is old-school navy talk for when a sailor in dress pants pulls down on the top two corners and all 13 buttons come unbuttoned at once, usually done just before getting into bed.
Turns out it's also a Planetary Union code phrase that signals to another ship that a hostile force has seized control and that Union Central must be notified. Primary knows exactly what's going on and orders the Roosevelt to be destroyed. The bridge crew of the Orville look at the viewscreen helplessly has they watch hundreds of their comrades perish in a huge fireball. And then it gets even darker.
Mercer is led away and taken to an airlock hatch where a single crewman is being held. Primary orders the crewman be placed inside the airlock. Mercer pleads with Primary, and even Isaac suggests that perhaps another course of action is more suitable. But, in by far "The Orville's" darkest moment, the poor ensign is jettisoned out into space. He's even wearing a red uniform. To complete the unusually sinister scene, there's a particularly long shot of the frozen corpse floating in space as the fleet re-engages quantum drive and continues its journey toward Earth.
Isaac discusses what happened with Primary, explaining that he believes the sacrifice of crewmembers will only strengthen the resolve of those that remain. Primary reminds Isaac that humans once enslaved their own race and gives him a copy of "The Roots" by Alex Haley to re-read. It's during this conversation that Isaac reveals how he chose his name: It comes from Sir Isaac Newton, the 18th Century English physicist who formulated the laws of motion and gravity and a man who Isaac the Kaylon believes "had a greater intellect than most of his species."
Back in the cargo bay, a plan is formulated for Lt. Yaphit (voiced by Norm MacDonald) to slide through the Orville's equivalent of "Star Trek's" Jefferies tubes and make his way to the armory. Once there, he can grab a rifle and bring it back. So far, so good. Next up, Yaphit and Ty — who finally does something useful — sneak back through the tubes to get to a console where they can enable the force field and open the cargo bay doors, allowing a shuttle piloted by Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) to escape and find the Krill, aggressive adversaries of the Planetary Union.
The logic is that since the Kaylon threaten all organic life in the galaxy, they would eventually come after the Krill — and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Malloy diverts power from every system to the propulsion in an attempt to elude the Kaylon death sphere that's chasing them and reach Krill space. Their efforts are successful and before long, the shuttlecraft is taken by tractor beam into a Krill cruiser.
However, the Krill commander, Capt. Dalak (Nick Chinlund) isn't convinced by their story, and only when the pursuing Kaylon death sphere eventually catches up, drops out of quantum drive and begins blowing the Krill cruisers to pieces, does he believe them.
Back aboard the Orville, Ty has been captured as he tried to return to the cargo bay. Primary orders Isaac to kill the human child, and so Isaac faces the inevitable choice he was going to have to make: Either betray his own kind or murder an innocent boy. Suddenly, Isaac sprouts guns from his head like the other Kaylons, which is possibly the only, solitary grumble we have with this otherwise amazing episode, since we're pretty sure he'd have used those before, especially in "Into The Fold" (S01, E08). But just as we all hoped he would, Isaac turns on the other Kaylon in the room. Then he walks onto the bridge and takes out the Kaylons there before setting off a wide-range electro-magnetic pulse throughout the ship, knowing that this will disable all the Kaylons, including himself.
The crew of the Orville manages to take back control of the ship just as it drops out of quantum drive with Earth dead ahead. Thankfully, Yahpit and Ty managed to get a signal away before Ty was captured, and every Planetary Union ship — and there are hundreds — stands ready to take on the Kaylon fleet.
What follows is a space battle of epic proportions that lasts nearly 10 minutes. Imagine the best of "Star Wars" meets the Battle for Sector 001 in "Star Trek: First Contact" and add a little of the Battle of the Line from "Babylon 5" then dial it all up to 11.
The Union suffers heavy losses, however, as we see ships exploding left and right. Even the Orville doesn't escape damage as she takes a bad hit, breaching the hull and causing poor crewmembers to be blown out into the vacuum of space. Just when all seems lost, the Krill fleet drops out of quantum drive and Dalak tells Mercer that he'll take it from here.
All this plus Malloy in a Krill fighter quoting lines from "Top Gun" make the battle entertaining and enthralling at the same time. Bravo "Orville" bravo.
The Krill too take a hammering, but the last remaining Kaylon death spheres retreat back into quantum drive. Much like the Borg in "Star Trek" — that have undoubtedly been an influence on this gripping two-part episode arc — it's unlikely this will be the last we'll see of them.
Isaac is powered back up with a little help from Yaphit and Mercer insists that he remain aboard, accepting full responsibility for his crewmember. And so the healing process begins; Isaac must face the fact that he can never return home and everyone on the Orville must find a way to forgive Isaac — especially Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) — but on the up side, the Planetary Union has a foot in the door to negotiating peace with the Krill.
McFarlane has reset the bar for "The Orville" so let's hope he can keep it this high. This series benefits from plots that aren't over-complicated and not having the writers try and wedge the story into a tiny gap of series history (because in this instance, none exists) therefore adding unnecessary and often unbelievable reasoning as to why any newly-introduced element has never been mentioned before. There's another sci-fi series currently on television that suffers a great deal from this.
Season 2 of "The Orville" is 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 (opens in new tab) on DVD and a season pass can also be purchased from Amazon (opens in new tab).
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