'The Orville' season 3 episode 2 tips its hat to classic sci-fi horror

The Orville ship warps across space in "The Orville" Season 3, episode 2 "Shadow Realms"
Capt. Mercer takes his crew into uncharted Krill space in "The Orville" Season 3, episode 2 "Shadow Realms" (Image credit: Hulu)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "The Orville" season 3, episode 2

You may have just recently been reminded if you embarked upon a rewatch of Seasons 1 and 2 before now that the second season finale was made up of a thrilling alt-universe two-part story arc. While Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J. Lee) is mucking about with a snow-cone maker time travel device in the episode "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" (S02, E13), a gravitational wave encountered by the Orville amplifies the temporal field generated by said time travel device and in that instant, the spike in field energy was enough to transport Cmdr. Kelly Grayson's (Adrianne Palicki) past self into their present.

An attempt is eventually made to return Young Kelly Grayson from whence she came, but the mind-wipe given to her by Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) doesn't stick and as such, the two-part time-travel tomfoolery continues in the second installment entitled "The Road Not Taken" (S02, E14) as we see an alternative universe resulting from a simple, straightforward change in history — Young Grayson does not go on a second date with Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane). Turns out that the Kaylon attacked Earth and the USS Orville, under the command of someone else, failed to prevent the invasion. "Half the known galaxy wiped out by those people … because we didn't go out again," Mercer says solemnly, after learning of these events.

Facing impossible odds and certain death, the timeline is finally restored after the wreckage of the Orville is recovered from the bottom of the ocean. A stronger mindwipe is applied and when Young Grayson wakes up back in her apartment to a ringing phone, she agrees to a second date with Ed and thus everything is restored. Or…is it?

A dinner date on the USS Orville from "The Orville" on Hulu.

New statistic for future starship specification manuals, how many Michelin Star restaurants are onboard? (Image credit: Hulu)

Fans of "The Orville" had pondered, before season 3 premiere aired last week, whether or not there would be any evidence of a slightly changed universe between the second and third season. One such superfan, Todd Lehman, noticed that, in last week's episode, "Electric Sheep" (S03, E01) during the flashback scene with Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) and her friend Amanda (Amanda Joy Erickson) as the USS Quimby is destroyed in the Battle of Earth against the Kaylon, they are wearing season 3 uniforms and not season 2 uniforms. 

To which, Tom Costantino, co-producer on the show, replied on Twitter, "I would be lying if I said this conversation didn't come up over the last 37 months." So, there you have it. Maybe…we'll see a few more obvious indications in forthcoming episodes, or maybe we won't see any at all.

Related: 'The Orville' season 3 premiere shows this sci-fi series is a tour de force

This week, the crew of the Orville is assigned to collect Vice Admiral Paul Christie (John Read) from Outpost 35 and transport him to rendezvous with a Krill vessel. Once there, the Admiral will begin negotiations to allow Planetary Union access to the Naklav Sector, which could act as a vital trade route to the other side of Krill territory. However, there appears to be quite a lot of history between Vice Admiral Christie and Dr. Finn and in fact, it turns out they used to be married. Evidently, this was before she had her two annoying brats adorable children, Ty (Kai Wener) and Marcus (BJ Tanner).

An Orville officer looks into an alien object in "The Orville"

Did you not read the mission briefing? Page 17, paragraph six, "Don't stick your face into anything alien" (Image credit: Hulu)

The Naklav Sector contains an area known as the Kalarr Expanse, an area that even the Krill dare not enter. "The Anhkana warns of Shadow Realms. Gateways to the depths of the underworld, where demons lie in wait to possess the souls of those who dare to stray within their reach. They corrupt all that is holy. Within their grasp, even the most righteous can be forced to commit unspeakable acts of depravity," we are told.

Once inside the Kalarr Expanse, the Orville detects a distress call and they soon find a very, very alien looking spacecraft. While on the inside it looks like a cross between the Predator's ship and just about every alien ship in "Stargate SG-1," the outside is stunningly otherworldly. At this point it's also worth mentioning the orchestral accompanying score; Seth MacFarlane's love of quality and classic music is well known and that's one indisputable element every single show of his excels in and the "The Orville" is no exception. The music in this episode is seamless blend of both Jerry Goldsmith's scores of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and "Alien," plus James Horner's score to "Aliens." These nods are subtle, but they're there.

We also get to see the new Orville shuttles in flight for the first time too and they maneuver much like the gorgeous Raptor recon and rescue craft from the reimagined "Battlestar Galactica," which is cool. However, upon the first visit to the alien spacecraft, no one is wearing environment suits. Honestly, Lesson One of exploring a derelict alien outpost is always bring a packed lunch. Lesson Two is always wear a environment suit! It doesn't matter if the air is "breathable." At least on the USS Enterprise and every other Starfleet starship since the mainstream adoption of molecular transporters circa 2160, they had sub-atomic bio-filters to screen out potentially hazardous microorganisms. (The USS Orville doesn't have transporters. Thankfully.) And to top it off, the Vice Admiral gets too close to an alien ... wall mount and waddaya know, it ejects some sort of spore. <facepalm>

The Vice Admiral suffers from an alien virus on "The Orville."

Do you want a deadly alien virus on board?! Because this is how we get deadly alien viruses on board (Image credit: Hulu)

Following this catastrophic breach of common sense, the poor admiral — who was trying desperately to kickstart a new relationship with Dr. Finn — begins to have his DNA rewritten, which, if you've ever watched David Cronenberg's masterful remake of "The Fly," you should know is not going to end well. In an interesting twist, the distress beacon that was originally detected begins broadcasting a new signal, the coordinates of the outpost. Moreover, we later learn that it wasn't a distress beacon being transmitted in the first place at all ... it was a mating call.

An away team returns to the alien outpost, this time wearing environment suits, naturally, to collect spore samples for analysis. Meanwhile, on board the Orville, Vice Admiral Brundlefly has escaped the medical bay and is running amok on the ship. It shuts down power to the whole vessel and thus begins the more "Alien"-style hunt for it. Unfortunately, it can also infect other crewmembers and it does so, with carefree abandon. There's some of "The Thing" in there and we'd argue a bit of "The Manster" along with a few other classically terrible horror B-movies of the late 1950s.

When "The Orville" makes gestures of respect to other sci-fi movies or TV shows, it's exactly that, a gesture of respect. That was part of the package from the very beginning. This show is a love letter to all of science fiction; it's not just the immediately obvious parody of "TNG," as some outlets still refer to it. The "Star Trek" universe however, has an awful lot more to draw upon, 56 years' worth, to be more precise, so when the writers/showrunner/executive producers of that show decide to borrow from other sci-fi IP, it's a different kettle of fish. This episode also bears noticeable similarities to the "TNG" episode "Genesis" (S07, E19) and both episodes were scripted or co-scripted by Brannon Braga.

Ugh, this is going to make putting in my contact lenses so much more difficult, plus will they even still fit?

Ugh, this is going to make putting in my contact lenses so much more difficult, plus will they even still fit? (Image credit: Hulu)

The crew are able to dispatch most of the creatures, using a synthesized flu virus that they seem to be vulnerable to, but Finn tries to locate and prevent the termination of Vice Admiral Brundlefly by using his old wedding ring, which is made of Xelayan sunstone, to find him. Tragically, he's more ... er, thing now, than human, but they are able to reach him and, with an inbound vessel of distinctly alien configuration, it's just in the nick of time. Finn threatens Vice Admiral Brundlefly with the virus and it agrees to leave the Orville and travel to the incoming vessel.

There's a nice end scene with Finn and Isaac in one of the many Michelin Star five-star restaurants that seem to abound on the USS Orville and you almost expect her to produce her old wedding ring, also made from Xelayan sunstone. But ... she doesn't, nicely suggesting in an understated way that perhaps she got over her former flame much earlier than he ever did.

Rating: 7/10

The first and second seasons of "The Orville" are available to watch on Hulu and Disney Plus 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.