Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 8: Into The Fold

This week on The Orville we get another character spotlight episode. Actually it's a twofer, as it focuses on both Doctor Finn and Isaac. While it might seem like it's ostensibly a Finn episode, it's really more about Isaac, as he most definitely takes front and center.

Into The Fold is a perfect example of the infamous "Shuttle Episodes" that plagued all the modern Star Trek series. You know the type one or more characters takes a shuttle out for some reason, there's some kind of engine trouble, they crash on an unexplored planet and then spend the rest of the episode trying to survive until they're rescued late in the third act. 


Shuttle Episodes are also a cheap and hackneyed way to take two wildly disparate characters and put them in an isolated situation where they're forced to get along. 


Star Trek: Voyager in particular was notorious for overusing this particular trope. Every time a shuttle appeared on that show, it was guaranteed to crash on an uncharted planet by the end of the cold open.

As you can probably tell, I'm not a fan of these kinds of episodes, which is why I wasn't very enthused about Into The Fold. It's probably the worst episode the series has done so far, in my opinion. Fortunately it was elevated a bit by Isaac and his interaction with Doctor Finn's horrible kids. 

Best of all, I was impressed by the behavior of the Orville crew in this episode. For once everyone (even Gordon and John) acted professionally and performed their jobs efficiently as they searched for the missing shuttle. Even better, Doctor Finn and Isaac acted exactly as they should have in a life or death situation, and nobody did anything overly stupid. Amazing!

If Into The Fold seems more Trek-ish that most Orville episodes, there's a good reason for that. It was written by longtime Trek alumni Andre Boramis, along with Brannon Braga (who also directed).

Boramis was the "science consultant" on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. He also wrote many episodes of Voyager and Enterprise, the latter of which he also produced.

Braga started out as an intern on TNG in 1990, somehow moving up to the position of executive producer (!). He worked as executive producer and showrunner on Voyager and Enterprise, as well as working on Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. For a time he also dated actress Jeri Ryan, aka Seven Of Nine of Voyager fame. 


Braga's a controversial and divisive figure among Trekdom, as his work is very uneven. He wrote some of the best episodes of TNG, including All Good Things... (which one a Primetime Emmy and Hugo Award), as well as Cause And Effect. During his time on Voyager he also wrote Threshold (aka The One Where Captain Janeway And Tom Paris Turn Into Giant Salamanders) , which is widely considered to be the all-time worst episode of any iteration of Trek

His scripts were notorious for being filled with elements of body horror. If a member of the crew got transformed into a giant spider or was bitten by an oversized worm inside the transporter beam, it's a good bet it was a Brannon Braga episode.

Fortunately Into The Fold is nowhere near as bad as Threshold, even though a bit of Braga's body horror fascination does creep into the episode, as it contains a heaping helping of mutants suffering from a space disease.

Lastly, I'd like to give a special shout-out to actor Mark Jackson, who plays Isaac, the Orville's resident robotic lifeform. Jackson as Isaac absolutely stole this episode, which is all the more amazing considering he's pretty much emoting with a bucket on his head! Yet by using just the right vocal inflection, tilting his head at the precise angle and making expressive gestures with his hands, Jackson's able to give Isaac a distinct personality and a whole range of emotions. Kudos!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
The Orville's in space dock as the crew updates its systems. Doctor Finn takes advantage of the downtime to take her two horrible kids to an 
amusement park on Arboreus Prime. Her younger son Ty is excited about the trip, but older, surly son Marcus doesn't want to go.


In the shuttle bay, Finn loads the luggage into a ship. Marcus swaggers in playing a "futuristic" handheld videogame that looks suspiciously like an iPhone with an extra piece glued to it. She tells him this is family time, and he's not to bring a game. He shrieks, "You suck!" and somehow doesn't get backhanded across the mouth, as should have happened. His words will come back to haunt him later.

Kelly tells Finn that she can't spare John to fly them to the planet, as he's helping overhaul the shi. She assigns Isaac to fly them instead. Isaac's anxious to go, as it'll give him a chance to "observe human familial dynamics at close range." Finn's less than enthused by this development.

The shuttle takes off, and Finn's kids act like complete little assholes the whole time, which even the robotic, emotionless Isaac notices and points out. He asks why Finn doesn't have a husband, and she says she decided she wanted kids, but not a marriage.

Since this is a Brannon Braga episode, the shuttle begins vibrating as it encounters a "gravity shear" from a "spacial fold" ahead. As Isaac plots a course around it, Ty grabs Marcus' videogame (which he wasn't supposed to bring) and hurls it toward the front of the ship. It hits the control panel, causing the shuttle to head right toward the fold.

Right on cue, Isaac says the gravitational pull is too strong for the shuttle's engines, and it's pulled in. They fly through some sort of special effects tunnel and emerge a thousand light years away, which Isaac says is in "uncharted space." That doesn't seem right, but let's just go with it. 

Isaac notes that the hull's fractured and main power is offline. He detects a large planet ahead with a number of moons, some of which are habitable. Finn tells him to pick one and head for it. Not sure how you do that with no power, but there you go. Maybe they have secondary power.

The shuttle enters the atmosphere of the planet's third moon. The ship starts venting plasma, and Finn goes to the back to switch on the emergency technobabble reserves. Just then the shuttle hits the top of a mountain, causing the ship to fracture even more. Finn's half breaks off completely and lands somewhere in the mountains. Isaac's half— containing the kids— crashes in the middle of a forest.

Isaac tries to call Finn, but there's no reply. Marcus' knee is dislocated, so Isaac pops it back into place for him. Meanwhile in the mountains, Doctor Finn lies unconscious next to her half of the shuttle. Something comes along and drags her away.

Isaac determines the likely location of the tail section, and says he'll make better time if he goes alone. He gives Marcus a blaster, saying it'll increase his chances of survival by twenty four percent. He then goes off in search of Finn.

He finds the tail section, but no sign of Doctor Finn. Back at the front of the ship, the kids hear something rustling around outside. Suddenly a mutant humanoid grabs Ty and runs off with him. Marcus aims his blaster at the mutant, but it's shot by Isaac, who's returned just in time.

Back in space dock, Kelly informs Mercer that Doctor Finn's shuttle never made it to Arboreus Prime. Mercer orders John to set a course for Finn's last known coordinates. John asks how he's supposed to do that, as the ship's navigational array is sitting in a pile on the floor. Mercer says they'll just have to use old fashioned star charts. So, like... maps? They're gonna use a map of the galaxy, like they're driving on the interstate?

Back on the moon, Isaac tries to repair the shuttle. The kids start bickering again, and Isaac eventually has enough and roars at them just like Finn did. This takes the kids aback, causing them to stop. Isaac then says the shuttle wreckage is out of Dysonium, and they'll need more to scan for Finn and send out a distress signal. Isaac determines there's Dysonium in the nearby mountains, and says they'll all go look for some in the morning.

Meanwhile, Doctor Finn wakes up on a cot inside a locked room. An alien man enters and brings her a tray of food, telling her to eat. She asks where she is and where her kids are, but the man doesn't answer. He sets down the tray and locks her in. Finn notices a sheet of metal bolted over a window.

The next morning, Isaac, Marcus and Ty set off for the mountains. They're approached by three mutants, who demand Isaac hand over the kids to them. When Isaac says they're under his protection, they attack. Isaac easily stuns them with his blaster. He theorizes the mutants wanted to eat the kids. This terrifies Ty, who grabs hold of Isaac's hand. Isaac doesn't understand this behavior, but rolls with it.

Finn tries to pry the metal off the window. She stops when the man returns. He sees her tray's untouched, and demands she eat, because food is scarce on the moon. He tells her his name is Drogen, and she's very lucky he found her. When she says her kids and Isaac are out there somewhere, Drogen says it's not safe outside, and they're likely already dead.

When Finn asks what happened, Drogen explains there was a war, and the enemy put "Paloxis" in the water supply. Millions died, and the ones left became infected and sick. The food supply's almost gone, forcing the survivors to become cannibals. He says he saw what was coming and stored enough food and water to last a long time. And with that he locks her inside again.

Isaac, Marcus and Ty come to a shallow stream. They cross it, and of course Ty slips and falls in, getting a good mouthful of Paloxis-tainted water. Groan!

Meanwhile, the Orville's following the shuttle's ion trail, and sees it leads into the spacial fold. Mercer orders John to fly the ship in. It's a rough ride, but the Orville makes it through with only minimal damage. Unfortunately there's no sign of the shuttle. John scans the area and says there's a gas giant nearby with seventy two moons (!), thirty six of which can support life. Mercer says that's likely where the shuttle went, and they'll have to search the habitable moons one at a time.

Back on the moon, Isaac and the kids camp out for the night. Marcus feels bad for disrespecting his mother, especially since she could be dead. Isaac tries to comfort him. Ty talks Isaac into telling them the story of Peter Rabbit, but in Doctor Finn's voice.

In her cell, Finn manages to pry the metal plate off the window. Unfortunately she sees she's on the top floor of a building that's several hundred feet tall. Wa-wahhhhh! So much for that idea!

The next morning Marcus wakes up, and Isaac says they can start moving again. Unfortunately he sees that Ty's face is covered with sores, as he's suffering from Paloxis poisoning. 

Doctor Finn tries a new plan. She slices open her arm, then calls Drogen for help. He asks what happened, and she says she slipped and cut her arm. She says she has a medkit back in the shuttle wreckage, and asks him to go get it. He's reluctant to leave his "safe place," but she says if she doesn't get antibiotics, she could get an infection and die, and then he'd be "all alone" again. As she says this, she creepily strokes his hand. Drogen gets the message, and leaves for the shuttle.

As soon as he's gone, Finn pries the metal off the window and climbs out onto a ledge. She inches over to another window and climbs back into Drogen's little apartment. She rummages through his stuff and finds a large knife, plus her communicator. 

She contacts Isaac and asks if the kids are alright (hey, that'd make a good song title). Isaac says they're alive, but Ty's sick. Marcus tells her he's sorry he said she sucked. Finn tells him she understands that people say things when they're angry that they don't really mean. Really, we're doing this now? Could this wait until a less dangerous time?

Just then Broden returns, and Finn stabs him with the knife. He slams her into the wall, and she somehow grabs his holstered gun without him noticing. He comes at her again and she shoots him dead. She then uses her communicator, which apparently also doubles as a scanner, to find the shuttle crash site and rendezvous with Isaac and the kids.

Along the way, Finn's attacked by a mutant. She shoots him too, then takes a sample of his diseased blood. She heads off again, unaware she's being followed by a whole herd of mutants.

She makes it back to the shuttle and is reunited with the kids and Isaac. She examines Ty, but says there's nothing she can do for him here. Isaac takes the Dysonium he recovered in the mountains, uses it to power up the shuttle and sends out a distress signal. The power almost immediately goes out again. Isaac says there was only enough Dysonium to send out a short distress burst. 

He says if the Orville detects their signal, it could take them weeks to arrive at normal speed (he doesn't know the Orville also took a shortcut through the spacial fold). Finn says Ty doesn't have weeks. She says if she had the ship's medical resources, she might be able to use the mutant's blood to synthesize a cure. She says she can't just sit by and watch Ty die (heh). Isaac reaches out and holds her hand, a gesture which he apparently now understands.

On the Orville, Alara detects a faint blip from one of the planet's innermost moons. Hoping it's from the downed shuttle, Mercer orders Gordon to set a course. As the ship arrives at the moon, Alara scans the surface and detects the lifesigns of three humans and one artificial being. Bortus chimes in and says there are two dozen other life forms heading for Finn and the others. Mercer orders Gordon to take a shuttle to the surface.

The mutants begin converging on the shuttle. Isaac uses his superhuman reflexes to take them out one at a time, like he's in a videogame. For some reason, he says he needs help. Finn gives Marcus a blaster and tells him to help Isaac. Marcus shoots at a few mutants, but of course misses. Isaac tells him to concentrate, which apparently works, as he starts hitting them. 

Just then shots are fired from above, scaring off the remaining mutants. It's Gordon in the shuttle. Hooray!

Cut to the Orville's sickbay, where we see Ty's fully recovered. Doctor Finn says she was able to synthesize a cure for the Paloxis poisoning. Kelly says she's going to try and get permission from the Admiralty to distribute the cure to the mutants, if they'll let them help. Um... why would they not?

Finn visits Isaac in Engineering, thanks him for helping save her kids, and welcomes him to the family.

Thoughts:
• In the cold open, Ty enters Doctor Finn's bedroom and wakes her up by yelling, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY! MOM! MOMMEEE!!"


That had to be a Family Guy reference, from back in the days when Stewie would do the same thing to his mom Lois.

• The big revelation in this episode is that Doctor Finn is apparently a single mother with two young sons. That's definitely news to the audience! Funny how she's never so much as even mentioned them before now!

Over on Star Trek: The Next Generation they made a big deal over the fact that the Enterprise-D was one of the first starships in the fleet to allow children and families on board. Apparently the Orville allows kids too (especially now that Bortus and Klyden recently became parents), but doesn't make a big deal about it.


• The Orville's shuttle bay set is suitably huge, but whenever we see it there's always just one ship inside. I feel like there should be at least ten or twelve other shuttles parked in there. Surely it wouldn't be that tough to add a few CGI ships in the background? Maybe it's a budget thing. Or maybe we're supposed to assume there's a whole role of shuttles just behind the camera?

• When Marcus enters the shuttle bay, he's playing a futuristic video game. Doctor Finn tells him he's not bringing it, as this trip is for family time. He then groans and shuts the game off, with an attitude that makes you just want to smack him.

Note that when he holds up the game, it looks amazingly like a standard iPhone with a retractable piece of plexiglass glued to the side! That's a cheap and clever way to make a prop with practical animated effects, but... they could have disguised it a little bit better. At least put some sort of futuristic frame around the phone or something.


• As she's leaving, Finn tells Kelly that Doctor Parley will be able to handle any medical emergencies while she's gone. This makes perfect sense, as there's likely more than just one doctor on the ship.


• With each passing scene, the shuttle interior set seems to get a little longer. It looks pretty spacious before the crash, as there's room for six seats and some kind of little engineering alcove. After the shuttle splits in two, somehow each half seems to double in length! Funny how that happened, eh? Maybe the spacial fold "stretched" the ship (wink, wink).

• The spacial fold throws the shuttle a thousand light years from its original position, which Isaac says puts them in "uncharted territory."


Hmm. Somebody's math is way off somewhere here. A few weeks ago in Pria, Mercer boasts that the Orville is capable of speeds "exceeding ten light years per hour." That means they could travel a thousand light years in just four days! So if the ship flies in one direction for a hundred hours it'll be completely off their star charts? Does that seem right?


I think the spacial fold needed to throw them way more than a thousand light years.  More like a hundred thousand.


• In this episode we finally get a halfhearted explanation as to why the Orville crew can understand every alien race they encounter. 


When Doctor Finn wakes up in Drogen's cell, she demands to leave. He tells her that's impossible, and she's in the only "safe place" on the moon. She sarcastically says that her translator must be broken, because he has a different definition of "safe" than she does.


I'm assuming this means the Orville crew has some sort of tiny devices embedded in their ears that automatically translate any language for them. They may even have some sort of vocal implant to translate their speech for other races.


It's not a perfect solution, since whenever we see an alien its mouth seems to be synched up with the English it appears to be speaking, but... eh. At least they attempted an explanation, even if it's not a completely satisfactory one. I'm willing to give 'em this one and move on.


• This week's special guest star is Brian Thompson, who plays Drogen.

 You may not know Thompson's name, but you probably recognize his wide-mouthed face, as he's been in tons of sci-fi and action movies and TV shows. That's him next to a young, blue-haired Bill Paxton in The Terminator.

He's also no stranger to Star Trek, as over the years he appeared as various aliens in TNG, DS9 and Enterprise.

• At one point Isaac tries to repair the crashed shuttle, while Marcus and Ty argue and fight next to him. Hilariously, Isaac tells them their bickering is "highly distracting."


At first I thought this scene didn't make any sense, since Isaac's electronic brain no doubt allows him to process millions of tasks and operations at the same time. It would literally be impossible for him to become distracted. But then I realized that's the joke!  Finn's kids are such horrible little assholes that they managed to fluster and piss off a robot!


• When the Orville arrives at the moon, Alara scans the surface and detects Finn and the others. Bortus then chimes in and ominously says, "Captain, I'm detecting two dozen life forms converging on their location."

We then see a helpful shot of Bortus' map, complete with orange dots representing the mutants. Guess how many intruders its displaying? Twenty four, right? Nope! Try thirty three! Ah well. Maybe counting isn't Bortus' strong suit.

• When the mutants attack, Isaac tells Finn he'll protect the shuttle. He stands outside, impressively picking off the attackers one by one with mechanical precision.

For some reason he then calls to Finn and says, "Doctor, we are under heavy siege. I cannot repel them alone." I dunno, it looks like he's doing a damned fine job to me!

Obviously he didn't need any help, but the episode needed him to say that so Marcus could help and finish up hi redemption arc. 

• Doctor Finn hands Marcus a blaster and tells him to go help Isaac fight off the mutants. She takes great pains to set his blaster on stun, saying, "They may not value life, but WE do."

HAW, HAW, HAW! Good one, Doctor Finn! Try telling that to Drogen after you shot him to death for saving your life! Or to the mutant you murdered on your way back to the shuttle! You "valued" their lives so much it killed them.


OK, I get that she had no choice but to kill the mutant who attacked her, since he was planning on eating her. But it seems like she didn't need to straight up kill Drogen. He wasn't evil or a cannibal, and he really did save her life. Sure, he was keeping her locked in her cell, but I got the impression he was doing that for her own good, until she accepted her situation and stopped trying to escape.

I dunno. He was a lot bigger than her and had no intention of letting her go, so maybe she really didn't have any other choice but to kill him. Her line about "valuing life" still makes me laugh though.

• This Week's Best Lines— Almost All Of Which Belonged To Isaac:
Isaac: "Doctor, are your children always this combative?"
Finn: "Only when they're awake."
Isaac: "The older, less intelligent one seems to derive pleasure from inflicting damage on his younger, weaker sibling."
Finn: "He's a kid. They act up. (turning around to face the kids) OH MY GOD IF I HAVE TO COME BACK THERE ONE MORE TIME I WILL LOSE MY MIND! Knock it off!"
Isaac: "On my planet, if a program is not functioning properly, it is deleted."
Finn: "Well, that's always an option."
Isaac: "If you wish I will vaporize them."

Isaac: "I have noticed that many other families on the Orville include two parents. Where is your counterpart?"
Finn: "I don't have a husband."
Isaac: "Was he destroyed?"
Finn: "No."
Isaac: "Did you grow to despise each other, and terminate your coupling?"

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."

Ty: "It's your fault we crashed."
Marcus: "It is not. You're the one who threw my game at the helm."
Ty: "Well you shouldn't have brought it anyway. Mom said you couldn't!"
Isaac: "This conflict is highly distracting."
Marcus: "Well when we find Mom, you're gonna be in so much trouble!"
Ty: "You're the one that's in trouble!"
Isaac: "Cease. Immediately."
Marcus: "You're gonna be grounded for like, ten years. You're gonna be an old man by the time you come out your room!"
Ty: "I'm not! You're a liar!"
Isaac: "Children. Cut the crap right now. If i have to come back there one more time, I swear to god I'm going to lose my mind."
(note that Isaac's last bit is the exact same thing Doctor Finn said, only it works for him!)

Ty: (grabbing for Marcus' videogame) "It's my turn to play!"
Marcus: "You don't get a turn."
Ty: "That's not fair!"
Marcus: "You're the one who said I shouldn't bring it, so you don't get to play!"
Ty: "You don't get to make the rules."
Marcus: "Yeah. I do."
Ty: (whining) "Isaaaaaaac!"
(Isaac grabs the game from Marcus, hurls it in the air and shoots it with his blaster, destroying it)
Isaac: "The game is never to be spoken of again."
(the kids stand silently, looking stunned)

Isaac: "Marcus, you have not consumed your ration bar. Are you unwell?"
Marcus: "When we were leaving, I told my Mom she sucked. That was one of the last things I said to her." 
Isaac: "It is quite possible your mother is alive."
Marcus: (hopeful) "What makes you say that?"
Isaac: "There was no sign of blood or severed limbs in the shuttle."

Ty: "Mom used to tell us bedtime stories before we went to sleep. Can you tell us a story?"
Isaac: "I will do my best. Please adjust your bodies to a horizontal bearing."
(the kids stare blankly at him)
Isaac: "Lie down. There was once a Doctor and her two children. They embarked on a recreational journey to a leisure planet. Their shuttle was diverted by a spacial anomaly, and crashed into a mountain. The children survived with the help of a more advanced artificial life form. Their mother was missing or dead. The end.
Marcus: "Man, I hate that story!"

Doctor Finn: "The boys adore you. I don't know why or how you managed to keep them in line, but I'm sure as hell glad you did."
Isaac: "I simply adjusted my programming to accommodate their sibling dynamics and emotional responses. Your failed attempts at discipline were also instructive."
Finn: (shocked) "Well... anyway. I'll leave you alone."
Isaac: "May I make a final observation? Your children are unruly, disrespectful, volatile and highly unpredictable. I am quite fond of them."
Finn: "Welcome to the family."

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
There weren't many of them this week.

In Engineering, the repair crew listens to Barry Manilow while they work.


At one point Gordon sees the spacial fold and says, "Back at Union Point we called that a "glory hole."

• THIS WEEK'S STAR TREK SWIPES:
Wow, there's honestly too many to count. The entire episode is one big homage to my least favorite type of Star Trek story. There's the shuttle that immediately runs into trouble and crashes, the completely different characters who are forced to work together to survive, the crew members stranded on a technologically primitive planet, the main ship that's desperately searching for them, and on and on.

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