The Orville: 2.03 Home
Halston Sage's Lieutenant Alara Kitan was one of the most endearing characters in The Orville's first season; fierce, vulnerable and compassionate, she turned what could have been a clichéd character - an elf-like alien girl with super strength - into a three dimensional character. The Alara-centric Firestorm from the first season was one that highlights of the debut year. So I was excited to see where the show would take her character as she took the lead in the latest second season episode.
Unsurprisingly, Home was the best episode yet, but it also delivered the biggest surprise as it ended with Alana (and Sage) leaving the show. The replacement of Patrick Warburton's alien Lieutenant Tharl, with his second visible oesophagus and cool quips doesn't seem to have the depth and emotional connection of Alara (though Warbourton, a long-time collaborator with The Orville creator and lead star Seth MacFarlane, recently did some terrific work as Lemony Snickett in A Series of Unfortunate Events). On the surface, I liked him and his awkward lunches at his station.
However, Sage got a terrific story to go out on as Alara's time away from planet Xelayah saw her succumb to the effects of lighter gravity and a rapidly depleting strength. Facing the possibility of a family who didn't show their love or respect her and deteriorating health. Alara's vulnerability was exposed with a family of intellectuals that didn't value her role in the military and doted on her taller, brighter sister and her academic successes. For the first time, Alara looked smaller and weaker than everyone else, trapped in a wheel chair as she adjusted to her planet's dense gravity.
The Orville's nods to the Star Trek franchise have always come from the heart rather than out of mockery and it's nice to see not only Star Trek: The Next Generation vet Brannon Braga working on the show but guest actors too. Home gave us not one, but two Star Trek doctors in Star Trek: Voyager's Robert Picardo reprising his role as Alara's father from season one and Star Trek: Enterprise's John Billingsley as the mysterious neighbour turned villain of the piece.
Picardo got a much bigger role this time as Alara's disapproving father Ildis who couldn't fathom why his daughter would want to join the military. He played the right mix of arrogance and warmth, never coming across as cruel, rather a misguided father who couldn't connect with his daughter. Molly Hagan's mother Drenala played a similar function while Candice King's sister Solana had a good rapport with Sage's Alara, admitting her pride in her sister. But this was Sage's episode, conveying the conflict and exhaustion in Alara's condition without ever coming across as a victim.
Things changed apace as Alara and her family retreated the remote beach house and turned psychological mystery as the caretaker disappeared, Alana discovered the strange light in a vacant cabin and Billingsley's Cambrin turned up with his wife Floratta (Kerry O'Malley) with news of a break in. It was a great episode to show off Alara's natural skills as a criminal investigator turned action heroine in the thrilling twist as Cambrin and Floratta's true identities were revealed.
Billingsley played a psychotic villain well, switching from kindly to menacing at a switch of a hat as he demanded Ildis stick his hand into the vat of boiling liquid. In the space of twenty minutes, Home turned from medical mystery to family drama to crime mystery to psychological horror, complete with a couple of gruesome moments - the hand burning moment was nasty stuff and Ed having his legs crushed later on by the dense gravity was enough to make you grimace.
The dramatic shoot out in the beach house and the desperate attempts to drag Ed back into the shuttle after he was shot by Cambrin added some tense drama in the final act, before the episode turned things on its head again with a surprisingly emotional ending. Doctor Claire Finn finding a cure for Alara's condition was a clean fix to the episode's problem, making Alara's decision to stay on Xelayah and continue to reconnect with her family all the more surprising. Sure the tearful farewell was a little twee but The Orville is a show with a huge heart and I kind of felt it was earned.
The door was certainly open for Alara to return to the show in the future but as a final episode, it was a satisfying end to her journey on the show - as well as season two's best episode yet.