The Orville: 2.06 A Happy Refrain
One thing I love about The Orville is the humanity and realism of character motivations and reactions - even if they are heighted a little for comedic effect. This latest episode was all about human reaction and emotion and didn't need a big sci-fi mystery or drama to keep the audience hooked.
A Happy Refrain was all about Claire and Isaac and the first date between the wise Doctor and emotionless robot. Having built a connection following the shuttle crash back in season one's Into The Fold, an episode that was pure Star Trek: The Next Generation, this season has hinted at a romance between the two - or at least Claire's feelings for Isaac. As an emotionless robot sent to study humanity for potential entry into the Union, Isaac has neither the capacity or desire for a love story.
What unfolded was an incredibly sweet - and cringe-worthy - affair as Claire realised that she had more than just a passing fondness for Isaac. He might have brought her a banana because she gets cranky if she doesn't eat, but it revealed a sweet understanding of her that she was lacking in her life. With a nice bit of girl chat with Kelly (and later Tally - Jessica Szohr is settling into her new main character role nicely), she realised that she could have more.
Cue talks of emotionally-cut off men and dating from the trio and John and Gordon giving Isaac dating tips. There was a good dollop of rom com going on without becoming too soppy or too silly; Gordon being the third wheel in John's date with 'it's not serious, is it?' Ensign Turco, Ed and Kelly's differing discussion on his romantic gesture of a cake in their past, Gordon and John pushing past each other to get to the bridge to spread the gossip of Isaac's date with Claire, these were all genuine and funny moments that elevated the episode and gave everyone a little share of the screen time.
Except Bortus, who had his own wonderful sub plot where he got a moustache. No further analysis needed. It was ridiculous and I loved everyone's reactions to it, particularly the Mochlan himself.
But this episode was Claire and Isaac's and this was a genuinely sweet story that finally gave Isaac something sweet to do while developing Claire's character too. It was awkward as hell too but is there anyone who didn't love Isaac turning up in his threads to take her on their first date? Being a vastly more intelligent robot, he someone managed to get away from stalker mode by downloading even known fact about her. It did become a little unsettling when Claire got in much deeper; after all he was fully open that this was another one of his social experiments. Using the holodeck - sorry, environmental simulator - for a sex session was a surprising twist, though of course we had seen Bortus utilise it for his addition back in Primal Urges.
This was the first time we saw the man behind the metal mask as Mark Jackson appeared on screen as a human simulation of Isaac, to enable them to share their first kiss. While it was a little worrying just how caught up all this Claire had become, knowing he couldn't reciprocate the feelings, it offered a genuine heart to Isaac's character in the same way we all grew to love the equally emotionless Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Ending the experiemnt by forcing a break up - wearing some rather tragic white briefs and vest over his metal body - was both sad, disturbing and very, very funny, leading to another of The Orville' rather awkward office banter talk on the bridge as the crew made their feelings over the break-up felt with underhanded comments that Isaac couldn't possibly understand. But the real magic was in the reveal that Isaac's interactions with Claire had actually shaped his programming, making her as essential to his daily life as he was to her and her kids. The big gesture moment as he played Singing In The Rain and made it actually rain for Claire on the bridge was lovely and uplifting. In his own way, he actually cares for the doctor and the episode ended with me having genuine hope for them. Just how this strange relationship is explored moving forward will be interesting to watch.
A Happy Refrain might have been the best episode of season two yet, giving Penny Johnson Jerald and Mark Jackson something great to get their teeth into, in a sweet, heart-breaking and incredibly awkward and very funny storyline.