Multiple episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation involve Data or Worf going rogue, seemingly abandoning their lives in Starfleet only to see the light by the end of the episode and be assimilated back into day-to-day life on the ship with little or no mention of the incident or any consequences.
The Orville has been an homage to TNG since its beginning so the fact that no one on board has said much about Issac’s betrayal and then reinstatement in season two just feels like it’s the nature of the series. Until the third season premiere, which finally looks at the consequences of Issac’s decision not only on him but the various characters around him. In the end, “Electric Sheep” ends up feeling a bit like what “Family” was to TNG – the opportunity to examine the consequences of what could and should be a fundamental shift in a character’s life.
And yet, I can’t help but think “Electric Sheep” isn’t as strong an entry as “Family” was, though it was probably just as necessary to The Orville.
Issac’s ostracizing by the crew, especially the new character of Charly Burke (who has a legitimate bone to pick with Issac), works well enough and sets up some interesting questions and moral concerns. Seeing the crew struggle with their relationship with the artificial lifeform worked well as does the dichotomy of knowing how to feel when Issac decides his continued existence is harming crew efficiency and he takes his own life. I have to admit I didn’t necessarily see that coming, though I did like the choice. Also, allowing the episode to not be constrained by a running time because it’s streaming now allowed us to live in the grief for a bit longer. Seeing the crew’s reaction to Issac’s decision and the various points of view worked well and walked a fine line.
I do wish that same restraint extended to other areas of the show. Because Seth McFarlane is one of those creators who does better when he’s not allowed to roam free. As much as I liked seeing everyone live in the grief, I felt like there were some other “look, we’ve got new toys to play with” moments in other spots. One particular sequence is the introduction of the shiny new shuttlecraft and the games played to break it in. It also feels like McFarlane and company put in a lot of new exterior shots of the ship simply to show off the exterior of the ship and not to add to the overall story as a whole. (And this comes from a fan who loves and defends the Enterprise fly-by in The Motion Picture).
As with most things The Orville, it’s hit or miss for this fan. The parts that work, really work. The parts that don’t connect really take me out of it.
However, it’s fun to have this show back and I am looking forward to seeing where this season may take up.