Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 4: If The Stars Should Appear

This week The Orville takes another old sci-fi cliche and attempts to put its own unique spin on it. In fact I'm starting to suspect that's series creator Seth MacFarlane's game plan here. 

So far he's done the "Humans In An Alien Zoo" trope, and this episode features the old "People Who Don't Realize They're Inside A Colony Ship And Think It's The Entire Universe" storyline. Star Trek of course used both of these plots over the course of its run. 

Actually the concept of the "generational ship" was old when Star Trek used it. As reader Dr. OTR reminded me, Robert Heinlein used the idea in his novella Universe, which was published back in 1941. The concept can be traced back even further though, to Laurence Manning's The Living Galaxy in 1934!

If The Stars Should Appear isn't quite as good as last week's episode, but it's still pretty solid, and managed to take a couple of good jabs at organized religion and government. I was also amazed at just how much plot they were able to cram into a scant 41 minutes and 43 seconds!

Not as good as last week's ep, but solid. I was amazed at how much plot they managed to cram into 43 minutes.


In addition to cribbing storylines and elements from Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Orville's also borrowing from behind the scenes as well. This week's episode was directed by James L. Conway, who helmed various episodes of ST:TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise!

This was an interesting week in the world of TV sci-fi, as the new official Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery (or STD for short com-O-dee!) FINALLY premiered, at long, long, LONG last.

The new series was originally supposed to come out in 2016, which was the 50th Anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek. Unfortunately, due to CBS' incompetence and lots and lots of backstage drama and infighting, it barely managed to air in 2017.

I watched the two hour premiere of Discovery, and honestly found it lacking. It's not that it was completely terrible in fact if it were a brand new sci-fi series called "Space Journey" it might be tolerable. But as Star Trek it's a dismal and head-scratching failure.

Welp, it's official. Against all logic and reason, The Orville is a better Star Trek series than Star Trek: Discovery. I know I've been harping ad infintum about how much The Orville's swiped from ST:TNG, but at least MacFarlane seems to understand the basic philosophy of Star Trek's bright, shiny future. Much more so than the producers of Discovery do. I can't believe I'm saying this, but barring some drastic change in both shows, I'm much more interested in watching The Orville than I am Discovery.

Sometimes our universe can be a very strange and terrifying place.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
In the cold open, Bortus and Klyden are lying in bed. Klyden nags Bortus, accusing him of neglecting him and their newborn child. Bortus tries to explain that his position as a bridge officer demands a lot of his time, and Klyden knew that when he came on board. They both make valid points.

Bortus gets fed up and reports for his bridge shift early. Just then Isaac detects a large artificial mass nearby, and Mercer orders the ship to investigate. The crew's gobsmacked when they see it's an enormous spaceship the size of New York City.

Isaac says the ship appears to be two thousand years old, is non-functional and drifting through space. John extrapolates the ship's present course, and says in six months it'll collide with star J2837.

Mercer decides to investigate, and assembles an away team consisting of himself, Kelly, Isaac, Alara and Doctor Finn. They fly a shuttle out to the derelict ship and dock with it. Mercer can't get the airlocks to work, so Alara uses her superstrength to open them. 


Inside the ship they're amazed to see a vast Earth-like landscape, dotted with grassy plains, trees and streams. The blue sky is permanently lit by a series of lighted rings and an artificial sun in the center of the ceiling high overhead.

Doctor Finn says it's a "bio ship," whose interior is built to resemble a planet. Isaac runs a scan and detects millions of life forms. Mercer wonders why the ship's not sending out a distress call, since the engines are out and it's drifting toward a sun.

Mercer says they need to make contact with the natives and warn them. They split into two teams, as Mercer, Finn and Isaac head for the starboard side, while Kelly and Alara go to port. Mercer tries to call The Orville, but finds his signal can't penetrate the derelict ship's plot-contrivance hull.

Mercer and the others explore the immense wooded interior of the ship, and eventually come across a log cabin. Mercer knocks on the door, and an alien woman answers. She takes one look at the oddly-attired crew
 and their robotic companion and immediately slams the door shut. Mercer knocks again, and the woman's husband comes out and shoots at the intruders. Isaac stuns the man with his blaster.

The woman is horrified and asks what the crew wants and where they came from. Mercer tries to explain, telling the woman her ship is grave danger and they're there to help repair its engines or evacuate it. The woman has no idea what he's talking about.

Just then the woman's teenaged son Tomilin enters the room. He's amazed by the appearance of The Orville crew, especially Isaac. Mercer tries pumping Tomilin for info, but can't get through to him either. Isaac realizes that these people have no idea they're living inside a giant spaceship.

Tomilin asks Mercer if he and the others are from "Beyond." His mother immediately accuses him of blasphemy and tells him to shut it. 
Mercer asks what he means by "Beyond," and Tomilin says to follow him.

Meanwhile, Kelly and Alara walk through a large field. Alara complains that it's hard to have a relationship, because all the males on The Orville are weirded out by her superstrength. She says the only person who's not intimidated by her is Captain Mercer. Uh-oh... I smell a romance subplot brewing.


Just then a truck (!) pulls up behind them, and two armed guards get out. They demand their identification, but Kelly and Alara say they don't have any. Alara makes a move toward a guard, who shoots her in the chest (!). She rolls down a hill, seemingly dead. Um... isn't this supposed to be a comedy? The guards then knock out Kelly and take her away.

Tomilin takes Mercer and the others into the forest. He explains that his people are taught the word of Dorahl, the creator of the world. He and a few others have begun to question the word of Dorahl though, and suspect there may be more to the universe than what they can see. He takes them to meet with the Reformers, a secret group of Dorahl-doubters.

Meanwhile, The Orville receives a distress call from the transport ship Drian, which is under attack by the Krill. Bortus orders the ship to intercept the Drian, and hopes the Captain will be OK until they return. Before they leave, he launches a communication buoy into space to explain that The Orville's going on a rescue mission.


Back in the world-ship, Mercer meets with Kemka, the leader of the Reformers. He's happy to see the crew, as they confirm their suspicions that there's an entire universe out there. Mercer tells him his world's in danger and will be vaporized if they don't restart the ship's engines and alter course. Kemka says their leaders will be reluctant to listen, as the truth will prove they've been wrong all this time. He says Hamelac, First Guardian Of The Word Of Dorahl, will be especially hard to convince.

Just then, Mercer receives a distress call from a barely conscious Alara. He homes in on her signal and tells her they're on their way. Tomilin goes with them to act as a guide.

In a local city, Hamelac stands in front of his HQ, spouting the word of Dorahl to a handful of extras. He brings out a Reformer and throws him to the crowd, who literally beat him to death. Um... again, this show was advertised as a comedy, right? 


The two guards arrive and bring Kelly to Hamelac. Inside his HQ, she threatens him, saying if he doesn't let her go, there'll be trouble. He recognizes her as someone from "Beyond," and tells her she's going to be his guest for a lonnnnng time.

Mercer and the others locate the unconscious Alara. Doctor Finn uses her medical tech to extract the bullets and speed-heal her wounds. She wakes a few seconds later and gazes dreamily at Mercer (uh-oh). Thanks to her hardy Xeleyan physique, she's able to walk again in no time. She says she and Kelly were attacked by two armed men, who must have taken her. Tomilin says they likely took her to the city to see Hamelac.

Mercer orders Isaac back to the shuttle to bring backup from The Orville. Isaac returns, sees the ship's gone and reports to the Captain. Mercer says they'll just have to rescue Kelly on their own.

Meanwhile, Kelly tries to convince Hamelac that his world is a spaceship that's headed for disaster. He doesn't believe her of course, and demands she tell him where she's really from. When she insists she's from another world, he begins torturing her, demanding to know where the rest of her friends are.

Mercer and the others disguise themselves as bio-ship aliens and very easily sneak into Hamelac's HQ. Seriously, they knock out one guard and then pretty much have the run of the entire building. They burst into Hamelac's office, stun his guards and rescue Kelly. 


Mercer tries to convince Hamelac about the whole ship/sun/danger thing. Hamelac admits it might be possible, but says the public's not ready to hear the truth. Mercer says he thinks Hamelac's just not ready to give up his control over the population. He stuns Hamelac and they leave.

Kemka shows them a secret locked hatch in the side of a mountain. Isaac easily opens it, and they realize it's an elevator. They all pile inside, and the lift takes them up to the bridge of the bio-ship. Isaac diddles with a control panel and activates an ancient recording. An image of Captain Dorahl, who looks suspiciously like Liam Neeson, begins to infodump a bunch of exposition.

Dorahl explains that his people wanted to venture into space, but knew it would take hundreds of years just to reach the nearest populated world. So they built a massive bio-ship, where the crew could live, work and reproduce during the long journey. He said the third generation of inhabitants would be the ones to finally arrive at their destination. Unfortunately the ship was hit by an ion storm (space sure is lousy with those) and the engines were permanently damaged. Dorahl says that 
unless they find help, the ship will drift helplessly through space for thousands of years.

Mercer realizes that Dorahl's people lived and reproduced for thousands of years until they eventually forgot they were inside a ship. Isacc says the damage to the engines is easily repairable, and can be fixed in twenty four hours (so why didn't Dorahl do so?). He also says the upper portion of the ship is retractable, and Mercer orders him to open it. The "sky" of the ship then splits open, revealing a breathtaking view of outer space and causing much soiling of garments among Dorahl's descendants.

Kemka asks now what? Mercer says he'll contact the Union, which will send specialists to help them learn how to operate their own ship, and after that it's up to them. Cue uplifting music over a beauty shot of The Orville flying off to its next adventure.


Thoughts:
• At the beginning of the episode, Bortus and Klyden have an argument. Uh-oh!
I smell a breakup/custody battle episode coming up!

• Seth MacFarlane absolutely luvvvvvs Broadway showtunes, and insists on sticking them in his various TV series and movies. I was wondering how long it'd be before one popped up on The Orville. Well, not long! This week Klyden tries to cheer himself up by watching a clip of Sixteen Going On Seventeen from The Sound Of Music. So everyone who had "Episode 4" in the "When Will Seth Stick A Showtune In His Sci-Fi Series" pool, come forward and collect your winnings!

By the way, MacFarlane's released three albums (!) of swing and jazz standards, and actually has a reasonably decent voice. He even does a duet with Barbra Streisand on one of his albums!

• On all the various Star Trek shows, Starfleet personnel are bound by the Prime Directive. It's their number one law, which states that it's illegal to interfere with another planet's developing culture, even with good intentions.


Apparently the Planetary Union doesn't have anything like the Prime Directive. Mercer and his crew have no trouble saving the bio-ship, completely overturning their society and devastating their religious beliefs in the process.

• When the crew discovers the immense derelict, Alara asks who would need a ship that big. Gordon says, "Persian guy, maybe? Wants to show off at the club?"

In 1935, King Reza Shah issued a decree demanding that the world stop saying "Persia" and refer to his country by its proper name of Iran. Many countries ignored him though, and still use the term Persia to this day. 
Looks like they're still doing it in the 25th Century! 

• Isaac scans the derelict ship and says it has a tiny docking port. He says it'll be extremely difficult maneuver, and he's the only one with the skills and reaction time necessary to safely dock with it. Fair enough.

Yet when we see The Orville's shuttle dock with the derelict, it looks like a pretty straightforward maneuver. In fact it looks pretty much identical to the docking procedure from Episode 2. Either Isaac just likes to brag about his skills, or the effects team didn't have time to whip up a "difficult" docking scene.

• Mercer needs a new catchphrase when he wants Alara to use her superstrength to open a locked door. This is the second episode in which he's asked her to "open this jar of pickles for him."

• Foreshadowing Alert! Kelly and Alara walk along a deserted road inside the bio-ship. Alara says Mercer's the only man on The Orville who's not intimidated by her superstrength, and asks Kelly all sorts of questions about him.


Later when Doctor Finn revives her, the first person she sees is Mercer, and she gazes dreamily at him.

I'll bet my blogger's license that they're setting up an Alara/Mercer romance here.


• Another possible Foreshadowing Alert? When they're exploring the bio-ship, Isaac asks Mercer questions about human sexuality, in order to gather info for his "final report" to his home planet of Kaylon 1.

It would not surprise me if his superiors eventually order Isacc to report back to Kaylon, and we'll get the inevitable "Will He Or Won't He Stay" episode.

• I realize it's a large ensemble cast and this is only the fourth episode, but so far John LaMarr's gotten the shaft as far as characterization goes. So far the only thing we know about him is he likes drinking cokes on the bridge.

 Kemka offers Mercer some food, and when he takes a bite it's so awful he can't even swallow it.

Even though the scene's played for laughs, it makes perfect sense! In virtually every sci-fi series or movie I've ever seen, the characters will sample the local cuisine and it's always palatable to them. 

There's no way that would happen in reality! Hell, there are dozens of Earth foods I can't bring myself to eat (I'm lookin' at you, hominy!), so of course alien cuisine would likely taste terrible to humans. It could even be poisonous to us!

• When Mercer finds the wounded Alara, she has red blood all over her uniform. Yawn. I'd have expected Xelayan blood to be some exotic color.


• When Mercer, Alara and Finn infiltrate Hamelac's HQ, they're disguised as natives, complete with little brown dots on their foreheads. Does Doctor Finn really carry some kind of skin-altering alien disguise doo-dad in her tiny medical bag? Doesn't seem like there'd be room for something that specific. 

Maybe she just happened to have a brown Sharpie in her pocket and drew spots on everyone's faces.

• Wow, If The Stars Should Appear featured a surprise cameo appearance from actor Liam Neeson! And according to the previews, Charlize Theron's guest starring next week!. I guess something good came out of MacFarlane's dismal A Million Ways To Die In The West after all!

Patrick Stewart's done voice-over work in MacFarlane's various TV shows and movies. It's only a matter of time before he pops up on The Orville as well. The question is whether we'll just hear his voice or he'll actually appear in person.

• When Isaac discovers the bio-ship's dome is retractable, Mercer tells him to open it. I wonder how many of Dorahl's People dropped dead of heart attacks or went batsh*t insane when they saw the sky of their world literally split open and reveal an infinite universe beyond?

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
Klyden watches a clip from the 1965 film The Sound Of Music.

The word "dick" is still used as an obscenity and insult in the 25th Century . Actually I think this one has shown up in every episode so far. Seems unlikely people would still be saying that three hundred years from now. After all, no one in 2017 calls anyone a "swollen parcel of dropsies."

Mercer says they need to save the inhabitants of the bio-ship. Kelly answers, "What do we say to them? Hi, we live in the trailer across the street! We have jumper cables." Jesus, I'd hope mobile homes and dead batteries will be phased out by 2419!

Hamelac tortures Kelly, demanding to know where her friends are. She pretends to give in, saying, "There's a little coffee shop on Lafayette Street in Soho called "Central Perk." My friends are there. Just please... don't hurt the monkey." 

Doctor Finn quotes Ralph Waldo Emmerson. Eh, I guess I could see that. We still quote lots of authors hundreds of years after they died, so I'm willing to give 'em this one.

• THIS WEEK'S JAW-DROPPING STAR TREK SWIPES THAT MAKE ME WONDER HOW LONG IT'LL BE BEFORE CBS SUES THE PANTS OFF OF FOX:

The scenes of The Orville hanging in front of the colossal bio-ship look a lot like the Enterprise-D facing off against a Borg cube on ST:TNG.

Doctor Finn has magic medical wands that can instantly extract bullets and rapidly heal wounds, just like the ones Beverly Crusher used on ST:TNG.

This week's plot is very similar to that of The Original Series episode For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky. In that episode, the Enterprise discovers Yonada, a hollow asteroid that's on a collision course with another planet. The Fabrini launched Yonada ten thousand years ago to escape the destruction of their planet, and set out in search of a new planet. Over 
the millennia the Fabrini forgot they were inside a ship and believe it's the entire universe. Kirk & Co. encounter a High Priestess who prays to The Oracle, which is really a giant computer. Eventually they discover how to alter the ship's course, and send it toward a suitable new planet. Sounds pretty familiar, eh?

The People Of Dorahl (I don't think name of their race is ever mentioned) are classic ST:TNG budget-friendly aliens. They look exactly like humans, except for a pattern of brown spots on their faces.

In fact they look very similar to the version of the Trill as seen on Deep Space Nine. Was this a subtle little jab at ST:TNG's makeup effects? Or just a lack of imagination on the part of The Orville? You decide.

6 comments:

  1. The "generation ship" trope far precedes Star Trek. Heinlein might have done it first, in his novella "Universe" (which was adapted for NBC radio in 1951 and again in 1955, so it has a really long history in broadcast media).

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  2. You're right about that! I meant to say that in the review, but was in a hurry and forgot. These days if I don't write something down right when I think it, it's gone forever.

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  3. It's always been Seth's intention to do a serious sci-fi show with some humor. Fox is the one trying to sell it as a comedy. (They pulled the same crap with Firefly.)

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  4. Yeah, I read that he actually went to CBS and offered to produce a Trek show for them, but they turned him down.

    I'm assuming they said no because A. He's Seth MacFarlane, and they were afraid he'd make a Trek fart comedy, ala Family Guy, and B. They already had the sub par "Discovery" in the works.

    So apparently he just went back to Fox and said, "Hey, I wanna make a Trek show" and changed a few names.

    I think the weird drama/comedy tone turned me off the show during the first couple of episodes, but now that I'm used to it I actually like the show, and look forward to watching it each week.

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  5. Me too, though sometimes I think the "comedy" and/or "we're not 'perfect' people" aspects still get pushed a little to hard. I cringed at Malloy drinking on duty and almost crashing into another ship. Likewise when Kelly ordered basically a pot brownie from the replicator while also on duty. The bit about Mercer being possibly a borderline drug addict was way too far.

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  6. Yeah, I'm not a fan of the drug references either. Especially among what are supposedly military officers on duty.

    For now I'm chalking this up to them getting their bearings and trying to see what works. Hopefully they'll tone down the drug stuff quite a bit in the future.

    ReplyDelete

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