The Orville: 2.04 Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes
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The Orville's heart comes from its love for Star Trek, honouring rather than mocking the franchise from which is draws inspiration. The second season has seen this embraced more than ever, from Bortus returning to his home planet for a ritual (a loose play on Spock's return to Vulcan in Amok Time) in season opener Ja'Loja to the appearance of two Star Trek doctors in last week's Home. Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes seemed to take its cues however from something far more recent; the first season of current Star Trek series Star Trek: Discovery (a spoiler warning for those who haven't seen the debut season yet).
The first season of The Orville saw Captain Ed Mercer undercover aboard a Krill warship; The Krill was an episode that played up the Klingons of this show (though there's more than a hint of the Romulans in their ship design and Jem'Hadar in appearance). Delving into the culture and beliefs of this warring alien race, we were introduced Michaela McManus' Taleya, who found herself betrayed by Ed when his true intentions were revealed. McManus returned as a seemingly new character, Lieutenant Janel Tyler in the season two opener, a recurring member of the crew and love interest for Ed. Given that the character of Teleya meant McManus was in full make up, there was nothing to suggest this was The Orville using the actress in a different role. No one could have suspected she was still playing the SAME character.
The shock reveal after Ed and Janel were captured by the Krill while on a romantic get away almost felt like a trite coincidence or direct copy of the 'Klingon designed as a member of the human crew' storyline from Star Trek: Discovery. But I think Seth MacFarlane, with his obviously deep passion for Star Trek, had us all fooled. Given her the surname Tyler, the same surname as Shazad Latif's 'Klingon disguised as a human' Ash Tyler, suggests his willingness to homage even the current run. I'm almost expecting something along the lines of Star Trek: Discovery season two to pop in (hopefully) The Orville's third season.
And this wasn't the only homage to Star Trek this episode; Ed's blue top for his getaway had a distinct design as Kirk's casual burgundy tops from the Star Trek movies. And Gordon's simulation training had a hint of the Kobayashi Maru about it. Not to mention his bluff in reflecting an attack back upon the Krill attacker was distinctly similar to Captain Kirk's bluff in 60s Star Trek episode The Corbomite Maneuver.
There was a nice balance of A and B plots this week; continuing on from the new romantic relations established in the season opener. Ed opened up to ex Kelly about his new relationship with Janel, developing the mature, endearing nature of their own relationship post-marriage. Of course the moment they planned their romantic get away they were going to be either a) captured or b) crash land on a planet. MacFarlane went for both as they were captured by the Krill and Janel tortured as they tried to obtain Ed's command codes; it was a nice bit of tension played without unnecessary laughs. The reveal that she was actually Teleya was a genuine but welcome surprise, elevating the episode from the more obvious 'protect the one he loves or the mission' storyline that this could easily have fallen into - another little Star Trek: The Next Generation homage too in her being a stellar cartographer, a role fulfilled by Picard's doomed romantic love interest Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren in season six's Lessons?
The attack by new aggressive alien race saw Teleya and Ed escape the burning ship and crash land on a planet, forcing the Krill warrior to work with her human captor. This offered some good action as they escaped their pursuers and some nice exploration of his character as she laid out his weaknesses, something he threw back when commenting on her race's religious xenophobia. I like that she survived the crash and that he gave her back to the Krill rather than keep her a political prisoner; it opens up the door for some deeper exploration of the conflict and believes between humanity and the Krill, something which all the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation did with the Klingons.
The B plot with Gordon taking the command test lacked some believable momentum but had some good humour and heart as Kelly surmised that he only wanted to progress to feel better about himself (and pick up chicks). The psych and simulation tests added some laughs to the episode and we got to see what makes Kelly such a good leader as she guided him to the realisation that he has a lot to be proud of.
The focus on Kelly, Gordon, Ed and Janel / Teleya meant other characters got little screen time; poor Isaac didn't get a single line - he needs some much needed screen time this season. It seems too that we're getting a new and permanent replacement for Alara soon - Patrick Warbourton's Lieutenant Tharl got a humours scene walking onto the bridge in sweat pants but probably doesn't have the depth to sustain the series. I'd be happy for more comical appearances though.
Between this episode and Home it feels as if The Orville has got its groove back and I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing how the Krill are explored in future episodes. Perhaps Ed and Teleya's love of Billy Joel and Raiders of the Lost Ark will pave the way...