Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 6: Krill

This week The Orville continues to improve, and demonstrates that it's much more than just a spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This week's episode finally brings back the Krill, the enemy aliens who were introduced in the series' pilot but haven't been seen since. It gives us some much needed background on the Klingons, er, I mean the Krill and their culture, as we find out their society is eerily similar to our own.

At first glance this episode, in which the Krill refuse to tolerate any race not blessed by their god, seems to be making a comment about Middle Eastern religious extremism, specifically Muslims. Scratch a bit deeper though and I think it's actually commenting on ALL religions— even Christian fundamentalism! Think about it— over the centuries there's been more blood shed in the name of the Christian God than for any other reason. Heck, the Krill temple even looks amazingly like the inside of a Christian church!

The religious angle gets abandoned halfway through the episode though, as it switches gears and becomes a morality play about casualties of war. Mercer's forced to killa ship full of Krill in order to save a human colony. It's not quite the victory he hoped for though, as his actions inadvertently make future enemies of a group of Krill children. Mercer's realization that violence just begets violence was legitimately chilling, and something I never expected to see on this show.

Krill is the first episode that's not written by series creator Seth MacFarlane. It was penned by David A. Goodman, who's written and produced many of MacFarlane's various animated shows. Goodman's also a Trek alum, as he wrote several scripts for Enterprise (and even an episode of The Golden Girls!). 

SPOILERS!

The Plot:

In Ten Forward, er, I mean the crew lounge, the bridge staff discovers Bortus can eat virtually anything and hilarity ensues. Suddenly their good time's interrupted as they're called to the bridge. A Krill Battle Cruiser is attacking a human colony on Castor IV. Captain Mercer hails the ship and orders them to cease fire. The Battle Cruiser complies, but unfortunately it turns and begins firing on the Orville.

Mercer uses some fancy tactics to obscure the Krill vessel's targeting scanners, then unexpectedly unleashes all torpedoes on the enemy ship, destroying it. Even better, Kelly notices a Krill shuttle floating in the wreckage.

Admiral Ozawa arrives on the Orville, and has a plan for the captured Krill shuttle. She says the Union knows very little about the Krill, except that they're extremely religious, and attack human colonies because they see it as their divine right. She says they need to understand the Krill better in order to have a lasting peace, and the only way to do that is to obtain a copy of the Ancana— the Krill bible.

Union intelligence believes every Krill ship has at least one Ancana on board, and Ozawa wants one. She orders Mercer and Gordon to take the stolen shuttle, use it to infiltrate a Krill ship and steal a bible. Mercer's less than enthusiastic about this insane plan, but agrees.


The crew preps the Krill ship in the shuttle bay. Suddenly a Krill soldier enters, holding a gun to Mercer's head. The crew tries to diffuse the tense situation, but the Krill starts laughing and suddenly morphs into Gordon. Mercer explains that Isaac helped develop sophisticated holographic projectors to disguise them as Krill. The projectors will even fool the Krill sensors.

Kelly tells Mercer and Gordon to be careful. They take off in the shuttle and head for the nearest Krill ship. On the way, Mercer reads up on the enemy race. He says the Krill Homeworld is surrounded by thick clouds that obscure 96% of their sun's light, meaning the planet's shrouded in perpetual darkness. Plot Point!

They dock with the Krill ship Y'kar, and are met by Captain Haros and High Priest Sazeron. Mercer and Gordon can't think of suitable Krill names, so they introduce themselves as "Chris" and "Devon."

Sazeron is instantly suspicious, wondering how they survived when everyone else onboard the ship was killed. Just then a bell sounds, and Sazeron says it's time for services. Mercer and Gordon follow everyone into a chapel, where they sit next to a female Krill named Telaya. She introduces herself, and says her brother was on the Kakov, the ship the Orville destroyed. This makes Mercer uncomfortable, as he realizes his actions had very real consequences for the Krill.

Sazeron leads the service, praying to Avis (yeah, Avis), the Krill god. As part of the service, Sazeron holds up the head of a human captured in a raid, saying the man believed he was entitled to the resources of his colony world. Sazeron says the human was not touched by Avis' divine hand, and is therefore unworthy. He then stabs the head a dozen times or so, horrifying Mercer and Gordon. Mercer spots a copy of the Ancana on the altar.

After services, Mercer and Gordon sneak into the chapel. Mercer starts photographing every page of the Ancana, which is easily a foot thick. Suddenly Sazeron enters and catches them. They make a lame excuse and leave. Sazeron eyes them suspiciously.

Sazeron asks Haros to post a guard on the chapel, saying he doesn't trust "Chris" and "Devon." Haros agrees, and orders a guard. Mercer and Gordon sneak back into the chapel and finish copying the book (I guess?). While they're doing so, their holographic generators glitch and stop working, causing them to revert to their true forms. Uh-oh.

Just then a guard enters the chapel and snoops around. Mercer and Gordon somehow elude him and run back to their quarters, where they fix their holo-disguises. Mercer says their holograms were disrupted by a massive power source two decks below, and of course they decide to investigate.

They track the power source and discover the Krill are building a massive neutron bomb. Mercer invites Telaya to dinner to pump her for more info. She claims that anything not Krill doesn't have a soul, and they'll be carrying out the will of Avis when they use the bomb to kill the human colony of Rana III.

Gordon wants to leave immediately and warn the Union, as they've completed their mission and apparently copied the 50,000 page Ancana. Mercer says the mission's changed, as they need to sabotage the bomb while they're already here. He theorizes they could board their shuttle, then use their holo-emitters to remotely detonate the bomb inside the Krill ship. Gordon uncharacteristically points out that they came here to try and make peace, but now they're talking about killing everyone on board. Mercer says there's no alternative.

On their way to look for tools, they're approached by Telaya, who wants them to speak to the class she teaches. They reluctantly agree, and enter the classroom full of Krill child trainees. One asks Mercer how many humans he's killed, while another wants to know why the Union doesn't believe in Avis. Telaya reminds the kids that humans have no souls.

Back in their quarters, Mercer's unnerved by the incident, and tells Gordon that colony or no colony, he's not blowing up a ship full of kids. Just then, Coja, one of Telaya's students, enters and starts asking questions. He wants to know where humans are from and why they don't look like Krill. Mercer explains that it's perpetually dark on Krill, hence their pale skin, while on Earth the sun's UV rays cause some humans to be darker. This spurs the old "Random Comment Inspires A Brilliant Idea" cliche, and Mercer tells Coja to get the hell out. See?

Mercer asks Gordon if it's possible to turn up the lights inside the ship and amplify the UV spectrum. Gordon says yes, even thought there's no way he could possibly know how the internal mechanisms of an alien ship would work. Gordon says that would fry the Krill, who are basically "space vampires," while he and Mercer would just get a bad sunburn. 
Told you that was a Plot Point! 

Gordon brings up the matter of the kids, and Mercer says they could round them all up in the classroom and blow out the lights inside, saving them. Gordon sets up the overload, and activates a ten minute countdown. Unfortunately he's then captured by Sazeron, who confiscates his holo-emiter. He shuts it off, revealing Gordon's humanity, and takes him to the Captain. Mercer returns to the classroom and sees Coja's missing. Just then an intruder alarm sounds. Mercer begs Telaya to keep the kids inside the classroom, and runs off to look for Coja.

Mercer runs through the corridors, pursued by Krill soldiers. On the bridge, Haros questions Gordon, who claims they're on a mission of peace. Haros doesn't believe him, and stabs Gordon in the leg— the same leg he had regenerated just last week.

Just then the ship arrives at Rana III, and Haros launches the bomb. Mercer finds Coja and returns him to the classroom, just as the lights flare up. All over the ship, the Krill collapse as they're burned alive and killed. I guess when Gordon said they'd be "fried," he wasn't kidding!

Gordon sees the bomb heading for Rana III. Luckily he knows how to fire a torpedo on an alien ship, and destroys the bomb at the last second.

Cut to the Orville towing the Krill Destroyer back to the Union. Mercer meets with Telaya before she's taken to the brig. He tells her the children will be returned to their families on Krill, and promises she won't be harmed. She says she finds that hard to believe, since he just murdered her entire crew. Mercer says their mission was one of peace, but the Krill were planning on wiping out Rana III, leaving him with no choice.

Telaya asks Mercer why he saved the Krill children. He says because they're just kids with their whole lives ahead of them. He says they're not his enemy. Telaya ominously says after they saw what he did, they will be


Thoughts:
• A short little disclaimer here before we start. I wasn't all that impressed with The Orville at first, but I quickly grew to like it over the past month or so. I liked this week's episode a lot as well, even though I'm about to rip it a new one. 
That's because it's entirely possible to like something while simultaneously pointing out its flaws. I can enjoy the episode while admitting it's far from perfect. OK, on with the review!


• When the crew finds out Bortus can eat anything, they have a field day offering him various items. Gordon runs to the replicator, er, I mean the synthesizer and asks it to materialize "one cactus plant." Woah, wait a minute... that means the Orville's synthesizers can create life!

This opens up a HUGE can of worms, one I don't think the writer quite thought through. Conjuring up a bowl of cereal or even a cooked sirloin steak is one thing. Creating a living cactus plant is quite another! And that's just what happened. No one would ever ask for a dead, simulated cactus— they'd want a real, living, growing one!

If the synthesizers can indeed create life, then the people in the 25th Century can keep their pets forever. 
I'm assuming it works by scanning an item and storing it in its memory, so it can create a copy later. So when you first get a dog or cat, just stick it in the synthesizer and scan it. When the pet inevitably dies, all you have to do is order up another one! Sure, its memories would be a few years out of date, but hey, you'd still have Mr. Barkers back!


Why stop with pets? Build a bigger synthesizer and scan your kids! If one dies, just make a new copy! You could even scan yourself and live forever (sort of— a copy of you could live on long after you were gone).

As I said, I think the cactus thing slipped under everyone's radar, and they didn't quite think through the implications.


• Alara hands Bortus a drinking glass to see if he can eat it. He picks it up and delicately takes a big bite out of it, chewing the glass shards and swallowing them.

Sorry, Orville SFX Guys, but that had to be the WORST LOOKING fake glass I've ever seen. It didn't even look like a glass— it looked like it was make out of sugar or something.

• When the Orville encounters the Krill Battle Cruiser, Mercer orders Alara to hail them and immediately starts addressing the ship. Alara sheepishly stops him, admitting she's not opened haling frequencies yet!


OK, the joke was kind of out of place in what was a serious situation, but it was still pretty funny. It took a decades-old sci-fi convention— one we saw over and over on every Trek series— and turned it right on its ear. I guess Alara's just not as quick at opening frequencies as Uhura or Worf!


• Once again I gotta point out that although the Orville certainly looks cool, it's a terribly, terribly designed ship. Near the beginning of the episode, Bortus fires all torpedoes at the pursuing Krill Battle Cruiser.

Note that the rear torpedo tubes are on each side of the main (only?) shuttle bay. That means the torpedoes have to fly between the three engine rings in order to hit their target! 

Jesus Christ! Surely there's a better spot for the launchers— one that doesn't risk blowing up the goddamned ship every time they're used!


• This week we get our first ever look at a Union ship besides the Orville. Admiral arrives on the Olympia, which must be some sort of heavy cruiser. It has the same basic layout as the Orville (complete with three engine rings), but is much, much larger.

• Not a nitpick, just an observation: Do you think it just might be possible that the Orville's Ten Forward, er, I mean crew lounge is a redress of the corridor set seen in this episode?

This isn't something unique to The Orville, as all the various Star Trek series constantly reused their sets over the years. Heck, it's not just Trek— ALL shows have done this at one time or another. Sets are expensive and time consuming to build, so it makes sense to repurpose them whenever possible.

• Gordon holographically disguises himself as a Krill and enters the shuttlebay, pretending he's holding Mercer captive. He completely fools the crew, causing him to double over with laughter. I've listened to Gordon's next line twenty times, and it sound for all the world like he says, "Oh man, your faces were f*cking priceless!" I'm sure the censors didn't actually let that slip through, but boy does it sure sound like it. Maybe he said "freakin."


On the other hand, over on Star Trek: Discovery this week, they actually DID drop the F-bomb for the first time in the fifty one year history of the franchise. In fact they did it twice. Sigh... Congratulations, CBS! You finally figured out what was missing from the Star Trek formula. It's not well-written scripts, likable characters or complex moral dilemmas— it's profanity, and lots of it!

• After boarding the Krill ship, Mercer and Gordon introduce themselves as "Chris" and "Devon." I'm betting the "Chris" alias was an obvious Family Guy reference.

• The Krill in this episode all have slightly different features such as chin horns and cheek ridges, which makes it easier to tell them apart. 

The makeup's done by KNB EFX Group, which is apparently taking cues from Michael Westmore, who created alien prosthetics for all the modern Trek series. Westmore did the same thing with the Klingons, giving each of them all subtly different forehead ridges.

• James Horan plays Sazeron, the Krill High Priest. Horan's name should be familiar to fans of modern Trek, as he's guest-starred on ST:TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise.

• The look of the Krill makeup seems to have been tweaked slightly since the pilot (just like Alara's look). When we first saw them they appeared to have solid black eyes with glowing white pupils. It was a cool effect, and made the Krill look even more alien.

For some reason, all the Krill in this episode have plain old solid black eyes. So what happened to the white pupils? I have a feeling that was probably a CGI effect and turned out to be too expensive to use in the long run, so... solid black eyes it is. Too bad, as I really liked the white pupil look.

One last thing about eyeballs. The holographic Krill versions of Mercer and Gordon, er, I mean "Chris" and "Devon" have distinctly human-looking eyes. Luckily for the two of them the other Krill either didn't notice this physical anomaly or were too polite to mention it.

I'm assuming the makeup team left their eyes alone to help the audience recognize which Krill were Mercer and Gordon.


• How's this for some really hardcore nitpicking? Mercer and Gordon use holographic projectors to disguise themselves as Krill soldiers, right? But when Mercer's talking to Captain Haros, he tries to cross his arms and can't, as his thick Krill gauntlets get in the way. 

Wha...? I thought the holograms were just images projected around their bodies. Apparently they're somehow solid. They'd have to have some kind of substance, or else Mercer would be able to cross his arms, and it would probably look like his gauntlets were melding into one another. 

Told you it was hardcore!

• It was certainly lucky for Mercer and Gordon that the Krill speak perfect, unaccented English, and their alien computer systems and ship controls are all instantly understandable!

OK, the "Aliens Speaking English" thing is something we're just all going to have to accept and ignore. It's happened in every Trek series ever aired, and every attempt to explain how everyone's understanding everybody else always ends up making things worse. So I'm willing to give 'em this one.


The Krill computers and screens are a different matter though...

Apparently Mercer has absolutely no trouble reading and comprehending this page from the Ancana.

Or this Krill control panel.

I suppose I could be really generous here and propose the idea that the holographic projectors that Isaac whipped up for Mercer and Gordon also automatically translate spoken and written Krillish into English and vice-versa. After all, it's a sci-fi show with advanced tech.

Of course none of that can explain this. When Gordon rigs up a timer to crank up the lights in the Krill ship, for some reason it uses Earthly Arabic numbers.

As I said, this is something we all just need to accept and forget about so we can get on with the story.

• Some more hardcore nitpicking: Coja, a curious Krill kid, asks Mercer where humans come from. Gordon then points to a bright star outside the window. He says if Coja used a very powerful telescope and looked just to the left of it, he'd see Earth's star.

That's some good star charting there by Gordon. They're likely many, many, MANY light years from Earth, and all the familiar constellations are likely to be scrambled and look completely different from what Gordon's used to. That means he's somehow calculated his position in the galaxy and figured out where Earth is, even though he's too far away to see it. I guess he really IS the best pilot in the galaxy!

By the way Gordon, it might not be a good idea to tell a member of an enemy race that hates all other life forms how to find your home planet. Just saying.


I wonder if that seemingly innocent little scene was a bit of foreshadowing, and will come back to bite the Orville crew in the ass?


• Mercer mentions that in their first encounter with the Krill, the aliens never took their helmets off outside in sunlight, and theorizes they may be highly susceptible to UV rays.

I went back and checked the pilot episode, and by god he's right. They take their helmets off inside the science lab, and one appears helmetless in the Orville's shuttle, but when they're outside those helmets stay on the entire time. Either way, well done!

I don't know if the Krill's aversion to sunlight was planned from the beginning, or if the writer of this episode got lucky and it just happened to work out perfectly for him.


• One last bit of hardcore nitpicking before I stop. Mercer gets the bright (heh) idea to crank up the lights inside the Krill ship, which will bathe it in UV light and "fry" the Krill.

Why the hell is that even possible? If you were a race that had a deadly aversion to sunlight, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU EVER INSTALL UV LIGHTING INSIDE YOUR SHIP? It's like being allergic to bee venom and then wearing a hive on your head.


By the way, when Gordon said the increased UV lighting would "fry" the Krill, I assumed he meant it would cause them intense discomfort and incapacitate them. Nope! He literally meant FRY. As in cook until dead.

• Now that (almost) everyone on the Y'kar is dead, I guess Mercer can just pick up the real Ankana and hand it over to Admiral Ozawa. 

I'm kind of wondering how the Admiral's gonna react to Mercer's actions here. He wiped out an entire ship full of Krill on what was ostensibly a mission of peace. Yes, he did so to save the Rana III colony, but still... This incident probably isn't going to help the peace process.

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:

There were only a couple I spotted in this episode. The biggest one of course is Avis, which is not only a 20th Century car rental company but the name of the Krill god as well. Somehow Gordon has not only heard of Avis but is intimately familiar with their marketing slogan as well! Impressive! Maybe Avis is still around in 2419 and rents flying cars?

On their way to infiltrate the Krill ship, Gordon listens to The Midnight Special by Credence Clearwater Revival.

• 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 Orville has a fire suppression system, just like the Enterprise-D did. Unfortunately the Orville's catches fire! Com-O-Dee!

Ever since the Krill appeared in the pilot they seemed familiar, but I could never quite figure out why. This week it finally dawned on me— they look amazingly like the Jem'Hadar from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Jem'Hadar were cloned soldiers grown by the Founders, a civilization of shape-shifting aliens from the Gamma Quadrant.

The idea of crew members going undercover as members of an enemy race is nothing new, and was done many times in the various Trek series over the years. Captain Kirk was altered to look like a Romulan in The Enterprise Incident. Picard and Data did the same in Unification Part I. Counselor Troi also masqueraded as a Romulan in Face Of The Enemy. Commander Riker and Troi posed as Mintakans in Who Watches The Watchers. Riker disguised himself as a Malcorian in First Contact (the TV episode, not the theatrical movie). Worf and his human brother disguised themselves as a Boraalians in Homeward. Over on DS9, Major Kira posed as a Cardassian in Second Skin. There are probably many other instances, but those are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.

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