For most of this season, I’ve felt like the better episodes of The Orville have come from everyone but Seth MacFarlane. And then, he has to go and deliver what is probably the best episode of the series so far with “Identity, Part 2.”
This two-part installment felt like The Orville’s attempt at “Best of Both Worlds,” taking our characters to some dark, scary places all while facing the potential obliteration of humanity at the hands of robotic beings. And while the cliffhanger here isn’t quite up to “Mr. Worf, fire!” (to be honest, few cliffhangers are), it was still enough that I was glad I’d let episodes build up on the DVR and didn’t have to wait a week to see how it all played out.
MacFarlane and his writing staff pull a lot of threads into focus here, from the romance of Doctor Finn and Issac to the on-going conflict with the Krill to the revelation of why Issac was really on the ship to begin with. Watching as Issac and his robotic others revealed that Issac was there less to learn about becoming a member of the Union and more to probe for weaknesses and possible ways to destroy humanity really put the comment about his race being “incredibly racist” from the pilot into a completely different light.
And watching as Issac spent all of part one burning bridges with the human crew, I was beginning to wonder if and how we’d get back to Issac being part of the crew when everything was said and done. In a lot of ways, this echoed certain Next Generation storylines when a regular crew member (:::cough::cough:: Data ::cough:::cough:::) would take over the ship, only to still have a job the next week. I like that MacFarlane and company approached this with a need to hit the “reset” button but doing so with consequences for Issac and the rest of the crew. Issac is now cut off from his own race, but faces a big hill to climb in building back the trust of the crew and the Union. I also hope that Ed’s decision to make Issac his responsibility will come back at some point as the series continues.
This two-parter found The Orville at its most assured. It also showed a huge CGI budget for the space battles. I couldn’t help but wonder if “Best of Both Worlds” were made today if the battle at Wolf 359 would look something like what we got here.
And as good as the effects were, they were just icing on the cake for a solid story, good writing, and some nice character work. Even giving Yaffet a chance to be a hero was nice. And dammit, if I didn’t care about the fate of Ty when he helps the ship and is then captured. I liked that Issac’s decision to betray his race came because of his relationship with Dr. Finn and her family. Seeing this as the straw that broke the camel’s back was a nicely earned plot point.
I know you can’t have an epic space-opera like this every week. But if this type of engaging storytelling can be sustained, this show could find a whole new gear for the rest of the season and into a possible third season.
A few smaller points.
- I’m usually not a huge fan of Ed, simply because I’m not sure about MacFarlane as an actor. A lot of times, Ed comes across as too smarmy for me to really like him, but that didn’t happen here. The reaction of Ed when random crewman is spaced as a consequence for the attempted message to Union HQ hit all the right notes. And then there was Ed’s determination at the end of episode two to take stop the six ships that made it through from reaching the Earth.
- I like that we’re reminded that the Union has a LOT of ships out there. I recall the pilot said Ed got command simply because they had an abundance of ships available. I’m guessing that ain’t the case now.
- The look of Issac’s homeworld was creepy and satisfying. The whole first hour as the crew was given delay after delay while they decided whether or not to join the Union was a superb build-up. Again, it felt like the sense of dread that pervaded “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” the first time I watched it many years ago.