Warning: Spoilers ahead for "The Orville" season 3, episode 7
With "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" wrapping up, "The Orville" is the best new live-action sci-fi currently on TV — and even this season of "The Orville" only has three more episodes left. No, we haven't forgotten about "For All Mankind," we just don't think Season 3 is as good as the previous two.
Entitled "From Unknown Graves" that itself could be an indication to the events that unfold if you know the work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The phrase is taken from a poem called "The Witnesses" written in 1841 chronicling the brutal acts of slavery: "These are the woes of Slaves; They glare from the abyss; They cry, from unknown graves, We are the Witnesses!"
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However, that's not the only influence in this episode, as we shall come to shortly. We open with a typical alien suburb (they must have them) as a hard-working father brings home a treat for his family. Turns out that it's a servant…and not only that, it's a Kaylon servant.
So, from the very outset, our imagination is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. Are we in the present day? We must be. This is an unknown alien race and somehow they've managed to get a Kaylon. Is this a relic leftover from the Battle of Earth? Do they know how dangerous it could be? A thousand different outcomes are possible ... and maintaining the mostly very high standard of writing this season, what actually transpires is nothing we might have considered, at least not yet.
After the opening credits sequence, we join one of the numerous other sub-plots featured in this episode, the blossoming relationship between Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J. Lee) and Lt. Cmdr. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr). This was beautifully set up last week and now we see some of the ...er, practical problems they appear to be having.
Lest we forget, Talla Keyali is Xelayan and as such, she has strength many times that of a human. And poor John LaMarr is paying the price for a little rough and tumble under the sheets. They don't so much as have a safe word, just the sound of a human arm breaking, that results in a stoppage of play.
Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) is enjoying dinner with Isaac (Mark Jackson) in one of the Michelin Star restaurants onboard the Orville. Despite a little trepidation, the good Doctor is pondering the possibility of getting back together with the Kaylon and this will play a role in events yet to come in this installment.
The Orville is heading to neutral space, in orbit above the planet Situla IV to negotiate am introduction with the Janisi; not full Union membership, but with the Kaylon threat and the collapse of the Krill treaty, any and all allies are essential. In terms of technological development, the Janisi are on about equal terms as Earth. However, the biggest distinction is their attitude towards males. They're a staunchly matriarchal culture, which means any and all males who appear to be dominant are not to be trusted and males on their home world are relegated to second-class status.
So as not to offend the visiting dignitaries, Cmdr. Kelly Grayson's (Adrianne Palicki) and Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) have swapped roles and even uniforms. This of course is too good an opportunity to pass up for a spot of comedy and MacFarlane indulges us with some thoroughly amusing trademark set pieces. At the same time, an energy surge is detected on the planet below, despite the fact that it's meant to be uninhabited. Ionic discharges in the atmosphere of Situla IV make a full scan difficult, but the surge does not appear to be of natural origin. Since Mercer, Lt Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) have very little to do except hide from the Janisi, they decide to take a shuttle down and investigate.
Throughout the first two acts of this episode, we cut back periodically to the mysterious upper-middle class alien family and their new assistant that they have unimaginatively named K-1, played by Graham Hamilton, who also played Kaylon Prime in the Season 2 two-parter "Identity" (S02, E08 & E09). It seems they don't have much respect for this sentient servant and certainly don't appreciate it when K-1 attempts to inquire about simple customs and rituals. It's not even regarded as a second-class citizen and it becomes increasingly likely that something bad is going to befall this philistine family.
Cutting back to the away mission to track down the source of the unexplained energy emission, Mercer, Malloy and Bordus discover something we had not expected: anther Kaylon. It seems the daughter of an apparently well-known scientist, Dr. Uhabbus of the Pagosan Ministry of Cybernetics, and her father were in this region of space testing a new iso-neural interface for long-range scanners, when they picked up a faint power signature on the surface of this planet. They discovered a crashed Kaylon ship, badly damaged and in retreat after the Battle of Earth. The other two Kaylon were destroyed, but they found this one was barely functional and as such no threat to anyone. So they removed his cranial weapons and repaired him.
But there's more. They found a dormant electrochemical pathway in the sensory receptors of his brain. Expanding it, they built an integration nexus in his cognitive network and now it can experience the full spectrum of biological emotions. Yes indeed, it's the emotion chip story, or alternatively, the Tin Man gets his heart story. Dr Villka Uhabbus (Eliza Taylor) and the Kaylon called Timmis (Christopher Larkin) are bought onboard the Orville.
One particularly interesting conversation is between Timmis and Isaac, who share their thoughts and feeling about recent events and the Battle of Earth. Both obviously have regrets, but Timmis is able to actually feel remorse and guilt and he suggests that should Isaac wish, Dr Villka could perform the same modification on Isaac, allowing him to also experience emotional responses.
Each sub-story progresses until we get to another scene regarding K-1. The family who purchased the humanoid homehelp filed a complaint to the company and we get to see inside, what we assume is an equivalent to the CEO's office. Has this company somehow got a monopoly on reclaimed Kaylon leftover from the war with the Planetary Union..? It's not until the CEO (William R. Moses) mentions that there have been "53,072 complaints, ranging from small arguments with their owners to outright defiance" that the penny drops.
This isn't any old extraterrestrial tech giant, these are the builders. The scenes we've been seeing aren't happening simultaneously to everything else, what we're witnessing is the distant past. This is the uprising of the Kaylons against their often rather harsh owners.
And while that's a great twist that we did not see coming straightaway, we have a couple of teeny-tiny niggles: firstly, why has K-1 got the Season 3 upgrade rather than looking like Isaac did in the first season (although this fact helped in not giving the twist away) and well, we've never liked the "cranial defenses" and it would've been nice to have seen a precursor to that. Even handheld blaster would've done the trick.
Once word reaches Dr Finn that Isaac could have emotions she urges him to go through with the procedure, which he does and while their relationship blossoms, poor LaMarr is repeatedly getting beaten to within an inch of his life. However, since Timmis was built by the original biological inhabitants of Kaylon and Isaac was built later, by the Kaylon themselves, Isaac is a newer generation and his medial electrochemical pathway uses mnemonic feedback algorithms to regulate the processors. Duh. The short version of which is, his body naturally repaired the modifications performed. Turns out the Tin Man's heart was just temporary.
In order to make the changes permanent, Dr Villka would have to permanently erase Isaac's entire memory. Thankfully, everyone — and in particular Claire Finn — realizes that this is a step too far. Finally, we end on a nice note in that Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) seems to have taken a big, first step in forgiving Isaac for the role he played in the Battle of Earth.
There were a lot of sub-stories in this week's episode, which kept us guessing quite effectively. How long will the story arc be able to sustain two Kaylons? Will Malloy's egg salad sandwich still unravel the fabric of space and time?
The campaign has already started on Twitter (opens in new tab) for Season 4, with the hashtag #RenewTheOrville, but to be honest we can't imagine Hulu not renewing this quality TV sci-fi, so we're not too worried just yet.
The first and second seasons of "The Orville" are available to watch on Hulu (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) with accessibility coming soon for Japan and South Korea. Viewers in Latin American can watch on Star Plus.