Hot on the heels of news of their Season 2 renewal, The Orville Season 1 Episode 8 serves up a riveting and emotionally wrought tale of survival.
Not only that, but we get a huge helping of backstory for our good doctor at the same time.
It's an ambitious objective to present two major conflicts simultaneously in the same adventure.
To reference my Grade 9 English class, we get both a "man vs. man" (although here it's "woman vs. moon-dwelling captor") as well as the "man vs. environment" (or artificial life form & kids vs. environment) classic battles.
After their shuttle is flung across the universe by a spatial fold (the literal "fold" referenced in the title) and then ripped apart before crashing onto a moon, Dr. Finn has to fight her way out of a captive situation on her own, fueled by the desperate need to find her sons.
Meanwhile, Isaac must process and adapt to being the sole caregiver for said boys in a hostile and unknown environment, peopled by roaming bands of feral flesh-eaters and irrigated with weaponized water.
Once again, The Orville pays tribute to various Star Trek tropes in a wholly novel combination. To hit the big ones:
(1) Holidays never go smoothly for our space-faring heroes;
(2) Shuttle craft transport might as well be an invitation for disaster;
(3) And kids! We've always got to have the kid(s) episode.
Isaac: Doctor, are your children always this combative?
Dr. Finn: Only when they're awake.
To address the Dr. Finn side of the adventure first, it is both heartening and terrifying to realize that parenting is exactly the same challenge in the future even with a mother as capable and resilient as Claire Finn.
Just as The Orville Season 1 Episode 3 gave us insight to Bortus' relationships and personal choices, here we get to shade in the personality and motivations of the Orville's most experienced and educated crew member.
That she chose single motherhood is both a pragmatic and elegant solution to not having to explain a dead or absentee husband. Isaac, efficient as always, gets to the bottom of that question in typical fashion.
Isaac: Where is your counterpart?
Dr. Finn: I don't have a husband.
Isaac: Was he destroyed?
Dr. Finn: No
Isaac: Did you grow to despise each other and terminate your coupling?
Dr. Finn: I chose to be a single mother.
Her affection for her sons is unquestionable and comes across just as genuine as her frustration with their sibling interaction. Isaac's observations of their behaviors are on-point but painfully tactless.
Isaac: Your commands have little to no effect on their behaviour. Perhaps you should reevaluate your method of controlling them.
Dr. Finn: Just what I need. Parenting tips from a talking hubcap.
By the way, anyone else notice how Dr. Finn suddenly manifested telekinetic powers to throw that tool at Isaac? I still wonder at the little continuity glitches (like Malloy's amputated leg on The Orville Season 1 Episode 5).
On the one hand, they could be an homage to the budget-and-time-shackled episodes of ST:TOS. On the other, they could just be dumb mistakes. For the time being, I'm going with homage. It's the kind of humor I could see Seth MacFarlane getting a kick out of.
Her captivity is an echo of Stephen King's Misery. Her jailer, Drogen, is portrayed by Star Trek quadruple-threat Brian Thompson who has appeared in THREE of the TV franchises AND the film Star Trek: Generations. It was smart to make him a serious threat with no humor or levity to the situation.
That Dr. Finn is also able to recognize that, behind the weapons and locks, he's lonely for company speaks to her deep understanding of people, a trait we've seen in very different circumstances when dealing with Yaphit's romantic overtures on board the ship.
The risks she takes to escape and reunite with her children are never beyond believability. However, I was left wondering at the end whether she would be able to deal with the fall-out of the trauma of her experience on her own.
Her own captivity combined with Ty's brush with death would be incredibly stressful. When she mentions that Ty will probably have nightmares for awhile, it feels like she may be talking about herself as well. And then when she deflects Mercer's request for details... where's an empathic ship's counselor when you need one?
Now, to back-track and examine the Isaac-centred plot, this is where the situations can be humorous even while the characters face uncertain odds of survival. Sort of Kindergarten Cop meets Alive.
Isaac's no-nonsense style of childcare gives rise to some laughs but if you examine his actions, they all make sense in the context of making sure the kids are as safe as possible without impeding his efforts to attract a rescue.
Marcus: Hey! You can't just leave us here.
Isaac: You are small and feeble. I will move at a faster pace alone. The weapon will increase your chances of survival by twenty-four percent.
My favorite moment is when he vaporizes the handheld game that is a constant source of discord between Ty and Marcus (as well as being a contentious item for Dr. Finn before boarding the shuttle) because it's something every parent wishes they could do at some point.
My second favourite might be his first attempt at telling a story.
Despite his purely scientific intention to observe familial relationships in action, it's a beautifully sappy and oh-so-Data-having-an-emotion sort of moment when he expresses his fondness for the boys.
Your children are unruly, disrespectful, volatile, and highly unpredictable. I am quite fond of them.Isaac
And I love a good double entendre so Claire's "Welcome to the family", bring Isaac into the figurative fold of her family was elegantly done. It's also neat that her sons would connect with the one crew member she will never need to heal or counsel.
The comic relief provided by the crew back aboard the Orville is forgivable if not totally necessary. The show isn't heavy enough by nature to not have a goofy "glory hole" joke or an excuse to play Barry Manilow. As divisive as his music might be.
Newton: Barry Manilow was an underappreciated genius of his time.
LaMarr: Then how come I want to throw myself out of the airlock?
Yaphit: I gotta say, watching your corpse drift away to this music would be so peaceful.
And Mercer's reasoning that most of space is empty so jumping through the spatial fold blind is a good gamble? The reasoning is weirdly sound. But I, personally, would've wimped out with Grayson's warning. You'd think the Orville would have probes for that sort of thing.
Typically, kid episodes are pretty low on the popularity scale in Trek. Alexander and Wesley got a pretty bad rap in ST:TNG and Nog and Jake were never good anchors on DS9.
Honestly, I didn't mind the Finn boys. Whether I need to see them again this season is up in the air though. Their relationship was exactly what it needed to be to cause the shuttle accident.
Marcus' apology to his mother was a touching moment even if the conversation went on a tad long considering Drogen could've returned at any moment.
And, one last thing, why did she have to hide back in her cell to ambush him? Couldn't she have hidden on the balcony, locked him in the cell, and run out? What she did was definitely more bad-ass but not quite in keeping with her admonishment to Marcus later that "They may not respect life but we do."
Celebrate the news of the renewal by commenting below with your favorite moments so far in the series. I know I have mine.
Where do you think they go next?
Whose backstory are you anxious to fill in?
And who else do you think has kids on board?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.