'The Orville' season 3 premiere sets out to show this sci-fi series is a tour de force

There are lots of gorgeous visual and special effects in "The Orville" Season 3, Episode 1, "Electric Sheep"
There are lots of gorgeous visual and special effects in "The Orville" Season 3, Episode 1, "Electric Sheep" (Image credit: Hulu)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "The Orville" season 3, episode 1

Can you believe it's been over three years since "The Orville" last graced our screens? Three years, one month and eight days, give or take. But hey, who's counting?

Space.com actually got a chance to visit the set in 2020, when principal photography was still being shot and just weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. We saw just how stunning the new Engineering set was, along with the new shuttles and so on, so we knew how amazing season 3 of "The Orville" was going to be even then, but we weren't allowed to whisper so much as a word. Sorry about that.

The first installment on Hulu of season 3, entitled "Electric Sheep" — for the obvious reason that will quickly become clear — is an awesome, action-packed, pumping powerhouse of an episode that also focuses mostly around Isaac (Mark Jackson) and the aftermath of the Battle of Earth. The time-travel tomfoolery and alt-universe escapades of the two-part second season finale aren't important at this stage, because everything returned to how it was supposed to be. More or less.

However, thousands of people died when the Planetary Union mounted a desperate last stand against the seemingly unstoppable Kaylon fleet. Only the intervention of the Krill prevented total annihilation of Earth. And clearly many still feel animosity towards Isaac for the role he played in that attack.

"The Orville" co-producer Tom Costantino showing how that incredible corridor sequence was filmed (Image credit: Hulu/Tom Costantino)

Straightaway, we dive headfirst into explosive action and we witness even more of that battle than we saw in the second season episode "Identity: Part II" (S02, E09). Somehow, in the middle of it all is Marcus Finn (BJ Tanner), the eldest son of Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald). There are mid-level vessels, heavy cruisers, everywhere you look, there are a hundred ships, all buzzing around each other like angry hornets. 

We zoom in, in an incredible VFX shot to a corridor onboard the Orville where explosions are breaching the hull left and right, crewmembers are getting blown into space and somehow, in the middle of it all is Marcus Finn. He barely manages to escape back to his quarters as Isaac also enters. His face suddenly transforms into resembling Venom when Marcus wakes up. It's a memorable opener to a season premiere.

The Orville is actually docked at a space station in orbit high above the Earth and is still undergoing repairs and a refit. The Engineering section has had a complete makeover, along with Isaac actually. The bridge and overall look and feel is much the same, with just a few tweaks here and there. However, the shuttles have also undergone a completely redesign and a new, Wraith Dart-like fighter has been introduced in what looks like the first collaboration between Krill and human technology. Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) takes it out in an incredibly and unnecessarily dangerous combat simulation test flight that inexplicably takes place in and around the space dock.

Left, Isaac from Season 2 and right, how he looks now; vastly improved and much more robot-looking (Image credit: Hulu)

Interestingly, there are no real sub-strands of plot in this episode, it all revolves around Isaac in one way or another. It all kicks off in the mess hall when no one wants to have him sit at their table. Then newcomer Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) — who replaces Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J. Lee) as navigator on the bridge following his promotion to Chief Engineer — sits down and shares her thoughts with the Kaylon.

Sadly, she lost her best friend, Amanda, during that attack and she doesn't hold back in telling Isaac her thoughts and feelings regarding his reinstatement onboard the Orville. Ensign Charly Burke is new to the third season, but immediately she fits right in. She has a little bit of an attitude, which will make perfect fodder for later episodes in the season.

Then a combination of someone writing "murderer" in red paint across an engineering console and a confrontation where Marcus Finn tells Isaac he wishes he were dead ultimately drives the Kaylon to commit suicide by using an EM amplification module to force a narrow-band frequency spike in his central processor, effectively frying his brain.

Engineering has undergone a substantial upgrade, using Moclan technology we heard about in Season 2 (Image credit: Hulu)

The rest of the episode is no-nonsense deep dive into everyone's prejudices towards Isaac as, at first it seems he was so thorough in the manner of his suicide, that he may very well be irreparable. On a side note, it's an amusing coincidence that there are so many exterior hull walks this week in sci-fi — the other being in the recent episode 4 of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." 

What's even more incredible is that to avoid a lone Kaylon vessel, the Orville dives into the atmosphere of a gas giant and releases a shuttle loaded with torpedoes to be detonated, thus simulating the destruction of the Orville — or "submarine warfare" as Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) puts it. Ejecting debris, oil, and even bodies from a submarine in an attempt to fool attackers into thinking it had been destroyed was a tactic used in "Operation Petticoat," "U-571" and "Run Silent Run Deep."

It is absolutely a coincidence, since space battles often tap into this sub-genre for inspiration and this episode of "The Orville" was filmed a long time before episode 4 of "Strange New Worlds" was even written. The fact that they aired within seven days of each other is nothing more extremely entertaining.

The environment suits aren't quite as cool as those on "Strange New Worlds," but we like 'em anyway (Image credit: Hulu)

This is a much more serious season premiere, especially when you remember the near-perfect Season 2 opening episode "Ja'loja," which was much more of a mix of subtle comedy, drama and even music, reflecting every quality "The Orville" has. However, there is enough here to remind us of those other elements and the music, oh, the music. The show's creator Seth MacFarlane is incredibly musically gifted — in addition to being a mind-blowing voice actor, writer, producer and so on — and he's a huge fan of accompanying orchestral scores and subtle nods to other sci-fi franchises can often be heard in the score to "The Orville." And this episode is no exception.

Turns out that LaMarr has an idea as to how he might be able to retrieve Isaac's personality and naturally Ensign Charly Burke is the only one who can perform the complicated task. Ultimately, everyone, including Marcus Finn and even Dr. Claire Finn — who, lest we forget had a relationship with Isaac last season — must reevaluate their feelings, both good and bad, towards the artificial lifeform and of course, we learn that even Isaac has feelings.

This is an extremely strong start from "The Orville: New Horizons" and we very much hope Hulu realizes the potential in this sci-fi musical/comedy/drama/thriller and keeps it going for many more seasons to come.

Rating: 8/10

The first and second seasons of "The Orville" are available to watch on Hulu and Disney+ in most countries and packages in the US start at $6.99 per month. New episodes of Season 3 will drop every Thursday. Viewers in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK can watch on Disney Plus, with accessibility coming soon for Japan and South Korea. Viewers in Latin American can watch on Star Plus.

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Scott Snowden

When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset...as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space.