The best of all worlds…
Last week’s episode ended on a terrific cliffhanger, with the Orville hijacked by the Kaylons and their fleet heading for Earth. The stake latest were higher than ever as Isaac’s race – revealed to be the Borg of The Orville – decided that all life forms had been sentenced for eradication.
Seth MacFarlane has openly worn his love for Star Trek in The Orville and Identity was no different; the show’s first two-parter took many of its influence from The Best of Both Worlds, so much so that I almost expected Ed to be transformed into a Locutus-style Kaylon speaker for the Union. But there were plenty of dark moments for the captain; his attempt to signal the captain of a fellow Union ship saw it destroyed by the Kaylon with all its crew, while the Orville engineer being spaced as punishment for Ed’s attempt at a warning was particularly grim stuff.
The lead up to the dramatic battle to save Earth was packed full of tense sequences and a dash of well needed humour. I loved Gordon’s reference to the pee corner after the entire crew had been locked in the cargo bay for hours. And for character usually just played for laughs, Yaphit got to play the action hero, sneaking through the very tiny ‘Jeffries tubes’ to sneak a gun into the cargo bay and then sending out a daring signal to warn the Union with little Ty in tow. When Yaphit took on the two Kaylon and slithered out grey and decaying I was genuinely shocked that he might be dead. Given the darker tones of the episode, that had just spaced an innocent crewmember in front of Ed, anything seemed possible.
The cuteness and endearing performance of Kai Wener’s Ty ensured that his part in the story was as engaging as any member of the crew as he bravely helped Yaphit to get the signal out. Far from being the annoying kid on the ship, I was genuinely worried when Yaphit seemed to die and Ty was brought before Isaac ready for execution. Fortunately the many studies in human behaviour and a connection to Claire and her kid ensured that Ty didn’t meet the same fate as others.
As for Isaac’s decision to betray his own people, his journey took a somewhat predictable, if still satisfying path. The seeds were sown with the reveal early that he was built after the original Kaylons had been enslaved by their organic masters. Given the departure of Alara earlier this season, I wasn’t so certain that The Orville wasn’t about to make another dramatic main cast change and his actions in unleashing the EMP to shut down all the Kaylons on the ship – Isaac included – certainly teased is heroic demise, sacrificing himself to save the crew. Again, Yaphit became a surprisingly essential part of the story, surviving his earlier encounter with the Kaylons and using his knowledge of their structure to bring out favourite robot to life.
MacFarlane packed a lot into the episode, not only building up to the thrilling battle as the Kaylons invaded the solar system, but also building on the groundwork with the Krill over the last two seasons. Kelly’s plan to steal a shuttle and travel into Kill space was a bold, surprising additional layer into the story, resulting in a nerve-wracking escape from the Kaylon ship and the second violent skirmish of the episode as the Kaylons destroyed two Krill vessels, proving Kelly’s point that the robotic race was a threat to all life forms. Nick Chinlund made for a strong secondary villain in Captain Dalak, who was all but ready to torture and kill Kelly and Gordon before he faced off and barely survived the encounter with the Kaylon.
Which brings the episode to the dramatic final act. This was The Orville‘s battle of Wolf 359, a fleet or Union ships engaged in a brutal space battle with the Kaylons while the crew of the Orville, regaining the ship after Isaac’s heroic actions, joined the fight. Star Trek: The Next Generation never quite delivered on its battles on screen – even the battle with the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds Part 2 was offscreen, leaving over the aftermath – but The Orville certainly delivered. This wasn’t a one minute battle, but a spectacular delivery of special effects and tense drama as Union ships were torn apart, people blasted into space as hull breaches tore through the Orville and a race against time as the Kaylon ships reached Earth.
The last minute arrival of the Krill fleet was a triumphant, satisfying climax to the battle. I was instantly reminded of the arrival of Klingon reinforcements in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s A Sacrifice of Angels, the greatest space battle Star Trek ever brought to the screen. The destruction and retreat of the Kaylons felt earned – defeated enough to end the immediate threat but enough to return as a recurring enemy in future episodes. And Gordon once again provided the well-needed humour, joyously tearing his way through the battle in the Krill fighter.
The Orville upped its game and the some over these last two episodes; season one showed that it was more than just a Star Trek spoof but Identity Parts 1 and 2 showed that it could be truly great television. How the rest of the season can top this, I don’t know. But I truly hope that the success of this story more than demonstrates that the show deserves a season three renewal. Because it really has found its feet and I can’t wait to see what happens next.