I kind of feel like it would've been nice to air this one closer to Halloween with its horror-movie elements.
But kudos to The Orville Season 1 Episode 10 for successfully creating a truly creepy ambiance with this "haunted house in space" concept.
An Alara Kitan-centered piece, it is a powerful contrast to The Orville Season 1 Episode 8 which explored Dr. Finn's character.
Both scripts spotlight the survival skills of a core female protagonist but where Dr. Finn was driven by maternal instinct, Kitan is pushed by her own self-doubt and insecurity.
When she fails to save a crew member trapped under a fallen bulkhead because she's paralyzed by a sudden fire that ignites in front of her, Kitan shows her youth by deeply internalizing the guilt despite assurances that Lt. Payne wouldn't have survived even if she hadn't frozen.
Although Halston Sage is adorably petite, we've come to expect Lt. Kitan to exhibit easy strength and cool-headedness as the Xelayan Chief of Security. Romantic entanglements aside, we've just accepted her professional authority ever since her "Command Performance" in The Orville Season 1 Episode 2.
So when she tries to resign, we know that her reaction to the fire has shaken her confidence. Mercer shows his mettle as captain here, refusing to accept her resignation and suggesting she explore a possible psychological cause for her moment of pyrophobia.
It's awesome to see the confidence he has grown to have in her. (Also, thumbs up for no "pickle jar" reference.)
Our cameos-of-the-week are totally squee-worthy with Star Trek alum Robert Picardo playing Ildis Kitan and Molly Hagan of Herman's Head fame (for me, anyway) as Alara's mother, Drenala. Their relationship with their daughter is an amusingly cantankerous one.
Their conversation with Alara also gives us a glimpse into Xelayan culture which appears to value higher education and the cerebral pursuits over lives spent in public service. An interesting fact for a world where everyone is super strong by Earth standards.
Kitan: You do realize that there are planets where a military career is a very honorable thing? The humans view it with great respect.
Ildis: Well, yes. The humans. The hillbillies of the galaxy.
When the freaky stuff starts showing up, it's easy to start guessing at various causes. The plasma storm the ship experienced at the start, a possible alien intruder, drug-induced mass hallucination, all of these seem totally plausible.
With the movie "It" so recently released in theaters, the violent, disappearing clown is appropriately disconcerting. LaMarr's obvious coulrophobia may be humorous but the clown himself is downright scary.
Malloy: Was it like a circus clown or a hobo clown or what?
Kitan: What's the difference?
LaMarr: Hobo clowns are the most dangerous because they're hungry.
Kitan: I'm telling you, there was nothing human about this thing. I should've been able to snap him like a twig but he was strong... those fangs.
Malloy: Vampire clown
LaMarr: Shut. Up.
However, the most terrifying element has got to be Dr. Finn's sudden murderous and sadistic impulses. For those of you keeping score, this is the THIRD episode in a row where our good doctor is shown armed and dangerous.
I wouldn't be surprised if Kitan started avoiding sick bay altogether. After walking in on Dr. Finn and Yaphit doing the liquified nasty that one time and then being restrained by quadruple-reinforced cuffs this time... it's enough to develop a negative association at the very least.
Penny Johnson Jerald is getting some great opportunities to show off her acting chops here. I'm sure she's having fun having the sensible and reasonable doctor go a little (!) nuts. When Dr. Finn is being interrogated in the brig, it's clear that she's completely unhinged and it is goosebumpily delicious to watch.
Captain! Do you ever sit in your quarters and look out the window? Do you ever stop and watch the darkness out there? It's very, very dark in space. Looks so empty. But there are terrors lurking all around us in the infinite shadows. You can't see them but they're there.Dr. Finn
Arguably, Isaac's evil turn is the most dangerous threat Kitan has to face, effectively channeling her inner-Ellen-Ripley in the process.
As a Kaylon observer to the ship's crew, Isaac has always been a wild card in terms of loyalty with the potential to be reprogrammed for evil. But that might just be my biological bias showing.
When he appears to be the only one left on the ship with Kitan, the idea that he's behind it all doesn't seem to be as far-fetched as you'd think.
He could've programmed holographic simulations to appear, clown and spider androids to attack, flooded the ship with an airborne drug that he would be immune to... It all seems to make sense.
And then there's the big reveal that the whole crazy adventure has been a simulation that Kitan has to complete (and survive) to escape. In her final test, she faces the very fear that she felt was her weakness and flies a shuttle through flames to escape the destruction of the Orville.
The wrap-up feels a bit contrived but it's forgivable because, to paraphrase Captain Mercer, they "owned" the rest of it.
They set out to create a cabin-in-the-woods-type horror adventure and they successfully built the tension, introduced potential threats, played on lots of common phobias, and had some logical consequences.
At the same time, the jokes landed better here than they have in a long while. Peter Macon's deadpan delivery as Bortus kills me every time while Isaac's punchlines are getting sharper.
Grayson: This is going to sound like I'm talking out of my ass.
Isaac: Then please try to enunciate.
Of course, it's still MacFarlane's baby so we're never going to be far from a cheap laugh. But I figure a laugh's a laugh and there aren't many shows out there right now that are even attempting to do what The Orville is succeeding at most of the time.
With next week's break for Thanksgiving, it's the perfect opportunity to watch The Orville online and revisit your favorite moments from the season up to this point.
Did you guess what was going on before the reveal?
Did they hit your fear button with any of Isaac's programming?
What are the odds Dr. Finn has a weapon on the next adventure?
Have we heard the last for that "jar of pickles" line? (pleasepleaseplease)
And, finally, let me know if I was the only one who thought Nurse Park might've had it coming for the whole "drug a visiting ambassador with pheromones" thing.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.