'The Orville' Season 3 episode 8 is a full, feature-length, mini-movie experience

The legendary Dolly Parton and actress Rena Owen, who plays the equally legendary Heveena
This is the longest episode run-time yet for "The Orville" with Season 3, episode 7 "From Unknown Graves" (Image credit: Hulu/Dolly Parton)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "The Orville" season 3, episode 8

Every now and again, every long-running TV show has a "filler" or even what's sometimes called a "bottle episode" — but while they're typically produced on a smaller budget and restricted in scope to use as few regular cast members, effects and sets as possible — that was definitely not the case this week. 

However, this week did feel like a giant melting pot where just about everything was thrown in, together with an impressive budget and almost feature-length, or mini-movie, episode was the result. Running at one hour and 26 minutes, that's an impressive length for a single episode of television; "THX 1138" is only 88 minutes, "Silent Running" is 89 minutes and "Invasion of The Body Snatchers" (1956) is just 80 minutes in run time.

Yes, "The Orville" is gearing up for its full-power descent into the Season 3 finale, so a momentary pause about before fully committing to the dive is to be expected, or at the very least, is quite common. And that's what this episode feels like, a little bit. There is still a lot to be entertained by and we'll get to that, but included this week are high-speed chases, emotional turmoil, torture, escape, close-quarters battle, reunification and yes, Dolly Parton.

And by all accounts, creator Seth MacFarlane is preparing to blow our socks off next week.

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We begin this episode with a revisit to the life of young Topa (Imani Pullum). Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) confides in Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), telling her that since Klyden (Chad L. Coleman) left, Topa has struggled to open up about her personal feelin, which provides a nice bookend to this episode – but more on that later. She admits to having feelings for someone she knows and Grayson suggests that she should tell this individual how she feels. As it turns out, it's actually Lt Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and there's a thoroughly entertaining exchange in engineering as a result.

Related: The Tin Man gets his heart in the episode 'From Unknown Graves'

It's been almost a year since the Planetary Union granted protective status to Heveena (Rena Owen) and her colony of Moclan refugees, as we saw in the second season episode "Sanctuary" (S02, E12) and was referenced recently in "A Tale of Two Topas" (S03, E05). Per the agreement, the Union Council and the Moclan government are each entitled to conduct an annual inspection of the colony to make sure both sides are abiding by its terms. Due to the Orville's history and familiarity with the colony, Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) assigns Commanders Grayson and Bortus to represent the Union. So, we're revisiting that particular chestnut before what could be a Kaylon-themed season finale.

Related: Malloy suffers an emotional ordeal in 'The Orville' Season 3 episode 6

We see the classic small-scale utopian settlement that's so familiar from shows like "Stargate SG1" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and young Topa is able to meet Heveena in person and gaze upon her impressive shrine to Dolly Parton. You may recall in the aforementioned episode "Sanctuary," Heveena is introduced to the music of Dolly Parton by Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and she dubs her "a great Earth poet" in the vein of typical MacFarlane humor.

Tell me, who doesn't have a shrine like this to the legendary singer/songwriter Dolly Parton at home..?

Tell me, who doesn't have a shrine like this to the legendary singer/songwriter Dolly Parton at home? (Image credit: Hulu)

Everything seems to be going swimmingly … and then Heveena approaches Topa and persuades her to join her cause. You see, despite the inspection to ensure that both sides are adhering to the agreement, Heveena has not been; she has continued to smuggle Moclan females off of Moclus, despite the potential risk of jeopardizing everyone. Aside from the fact that just about everything, including the mess sink, has been thrown into this installment, this part feels oddly false. Not only is Heveena taking a huge risk, but Rena Owen's delivery seems to have the feel of a disinformation ploy. Whether or not that was deliberate is unknown and frankly we were hoping this was the case since it could've added a whole new layer to the story. But alas, it wasn't to be.

Related: 'The Orville' Season 3 episode 5 revisits the Moclan gender controversy

Now, according to insider information (opens in new tab), this episode was one of several that were plagued by restrictions and scheduling conflicts due to Covid-19, as well as three pregnant co-stars. So this is more than likely the reason why this particular episode isn't quite up to the same exceptionally high standard as the rest of the third season.

Related: 'The Orville' Season 3 episode 4 takes its world building to a new level

Having agreed to help pass information along, Topa wanders too far from the tranquil encampment and gets kidnapped by the Moclan soldiers who were also in the neighborhood as part of the inspection. Again, this could've been part of a (slick, but slightly twisted and therefore more interesting) counter-intelligence move by Heveena, predicting and in fact relying on the capture of young Topa. But alas, it wasn't to be.

This episode features many gorgeous — and lengthy — VFX establishing shots of future Earth cities

This episode features many gorgeous — and lengthy — VFX establishing shots of future Earth cities (Image credit: Hulu)

Instead, the Orville gets involved and Heveena confesses to having broken the agreement. The Planetary Union gets involved — because they'd have to — and insist that she must testify at a hearing during which evidence of the kidnapping would also be presented. Meanwhile, Gryyson and Bortus take their shuttle and attempt to give chase to the Moclan kidnappers.

Related: 'The Orville' Season 3 Episode 3 scores a perfect 10 from us 

Mercer attempts to convince Heveena by recreating Dolly Parton's log cabin, along with the legend country music legend herself, in the holosuite. Aside from a teeny-tiny bit of de-aging CGI, that is indeed the singer/song-writing sensation herself who shares some profound wisdom and ultimately convinces Heveena to agree to speak to the Planetary Union council members … and we get a similar-ish situation to the episode "Sanctuary" once again. It's up to Grayson and Bortus now to rescue young Topa from being tortured in a secret underground facility. 

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

Moments before her rescue, there's a fun 'will-they-won't-they' moment between Grayson and Bortus and interestingly, Bordus doesn't kill the battle-scared Moclan who has been torturing young Topa. Only seconds before our gallant heroes storm the cell where she is being held captive, he confirms that he now has the name of the Sanctuary's contact on Moclus and the encryption frequencies. It remains to be seen if this will be revisited in a later episode.

Now totally blind, the Moclan who tortured Topa was allowed to live, will this threaten the sanctuary?

Now totally blind, the Moclan who tortured Topa was allowed to live, will this threaten the sanctuary? (Image credit: Hulu)

Thankfully they are able to rescue her which leads to a dog-fight/chase sequence — because didn't we mention already, this episode has everything — between the fleeing Union shuttle and three pursuing Moclan fighters. And right on cue, they produce the battered and tortured female Mochlan child for the Planetary Union council. Everything more or less resolves itself — at least as much as it possibly can — and then, in probably the most touching moment in this episode, Klyden (Chad L. Coleman) returns and even welcomes Grayson to eat at their dinner table, in obvious contrast to what happened a few weeks ago.

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

So, it seems like we're returning to some spectacular space battle sequences next week and of course since the Kaylon last attacked Earth, the Planetary Union fleet has had some upgrades, including the first collaboration between Krill and human technology resulting in those Wraith Dart-like fighters we first saw in the first episode of this season "Electric Sheep" (S03, E01). Plus, there are now two Kaylons aboard the Orville, Isaac and Timmis (Christopher Larkin) … Will that affect proceedings in any way next week? We will know soon enough.

Rating: 6½/10

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.

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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. You can follow Scott on Twitter @LorumIpsum.