Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 5: Pria

Welp, it's official— I'm now a fan of The Orville. I didn't much care for it at first, as the series' bizarre "Is It A Comedy Or A Drama?" tone was weird and off-putting. But now that I've had a chance to get used to it, I'm really enjoying the show.

This week's episode was written by Seth MacFarlane of course, and directed by Jonathan Frakes. Yep, that Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander Will Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Frakes directed various episodes of ST:TNG, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, as well as the Trek theatrical movies First Contact and Insurrection. So he's the perfect choice to direct a similar show such as The Orville.

MacFarlane turned in a surprisingly well-written episode this week, one that takes yet another well-worn sci-fi trope and gives it a unique spin. This time it's the old "Guest Star Who Turns Out To Be A Villain In Disguise And Takes Over The Ship" plot, that we saw many, many times on the various Trek series.

The first season of a series is usually the shakiest, as it generally takes the actors and crew many weeks to figure things out and hit their stride. I'm impressed that The Orville seems to have found its groove after just a couple of episodes. Kudos to MacFarlane, I guess, although the fact that he patterned the show so closely on ST:TNG might have had something to do with it gelling so quickly.

The only downside of the episode was the wonky temporal paradox at the end, which made absolutely no sense. 
But few time travel stories ever do, so I'm willing to give 'em this one.

Nice guest appearance by Oscar® winner Charlize Theron, who rarely if ever graces the TV screen. No doubt she and MacFarlane are fast friends after filming A Million Ways To Die In The West. As I said last week, at least something good came out of that dreadful film.


The Plot:
Apparently all's quiet in space, as the Orville crew watches The Junior Mint episode of Seinfeld on the main viewscreen. Isaac doesn't understand why the episode is funny, as it involves laughing at another's pain. Mercer tries to explain humor to him, but fails miserably. Gordon promises to teach Isaac about humor by playing a practical joke on him when he least expects it.

Just then the ship receives a distress call, and investigates. They discover a small mining ship has crash-landed on a comet that's being pulled into a massive star. The pilot appears on the viewscreen and identifies herself as Captain Pria Levesque, a beautiful blonde human woman.

Mercer assures Pria they'll do everything they can to save her. He, Gordon and Alara board a shuttle and fly off to rescue her. They manage to land on the comet, enter the ship, retrieve Pria and blast off the comet seconds before it disintegrates. Unfortunately the shuttle's caught in the star's gravitational field. Luckily the Orville uses its tractor beam to pull it to safety.

Back on the ship, Pria says she works for the Vega Mining Consortium, and her ship was attacked by a Krill Battle Cruiser. She managed to outrun it, but it drained her power and she crashed on the comet's surface. She thanks Mercer, saying she'd have died without his help. Pria says she could use a drink, and Mercer invites her to a cocktail party he's hosting for the senior officers later. A slight look of disapproval crosses Kelly's face.

A bit later, Isaac takes his station on the bridge, unaware that his head is covered with oversized Mr. Potato Head pieces, courtesy of Gordon. Naturally Isaac doesn't understand why this is funny. Gordon then says it's Isaac's turn to retaliate, which seems like a bad, bad idea. Isaac says he'll do his best.

At the party, Mercer discovers Pria grew up in Massachusetts, just like him, which seems suspicious to everyone but him. The two hit it off quite well, much to Kelly's chagrin. After the party's over, Pria enters Mercer's quarters alone and shamelessly flirts with him. She gives him a goodnight kiss and leaves.

The next day a suspicious Kelly does a google search for Pria, and finds there's no record of her in the Vega Mining Consortium. She reports her findings to Mercer, who brushes off her concerns, saying that mining companies typically keep spotty records.

Kelly then talks Alara into helping her search Pria's quarters. Not sure why she couldn't just do it herself, but there you go. They enter her room and snoop around, and Alara finds an odd metal bar under Pria's bed. Kelly tries scanning the bar, but it's impenetrable. Just then Pria returns to her quarters, and the two officers make a lame excuse and quickly scram.

Kelly and Alara report the metallic object to Mercer. He's enraged that they went behind his back and searched a guest's quarters without probable cause. Kelly says she doesn't think he's being objective about Pria, as he's blinded by her good looks and charm. She believes his lack of judgement is endangering the ship.

Just then the Orville's rocked by an unknown force, as something invisible is pounding the ship. Isaac says he believes it's a "concentrated dark matter storm," whatever that is. Pria wanders onto the bridge (which apparently has some pretty lax security) and says she can help. She tells them to flood the area with neutralized axion particles (ah, good old technobabble!). Isaac does so, and instantly they can see thousands of dark matter "bubbles" surrounding the ship.

Gordon (who you'll remember from previous episodes is "the best pilot in the galaxy") tries to fly the ship out of the storm, but is in over his head. Pria tells Mercer she's navigated a dark matter storm before, and can get them out. Kelly objects, but Mercer gives her helm control. She takes control of the ship and executes a series of fancy maneuvers, skillfully piloting them into the clear.

Unfortunately the storm completely knocked out the ship's communication array, cutting them off from the rest of the galaxy. Gosh, that's not suspicious at all! Mercer says they'll have to put in for repairs at Outpost 49, which is five days away. Pria says there's a Consortium Base just one day away, and they could repair the ship there. Again, suspicious! Mercer agrees and Pria gives John the coordinates.

Later Mercer and Pria go sightseeing the holodeck, er, I mean the "environmental simulator." They end up sleeping together later that night, as Mercer falls even harder for her.

The next morning, Gordon gets out of bed and promptly falls on his ass. He looks down and is horrified to see his left leg has been amputated above the knee. He hops to the bridge and accuses Isaac of cutting off his leg. Isaac emits a mechanical laugh and says it was his attempt at a practical joke. He points out that Gordon told him it was his turn to retaliate, and to do it when he least expected it. Mercer orders Gordon to sickbay to have Doctor Finn regenerate his leg.

Just then Chief Newton calls Mercer and Kelly to the engine room. He shows them a strange metallic object that's fused to the engine controls and can't be removed. Kelly says it's the same device she and Alara found in Pria's quarters. Mercer finally realizes Kelly was right about Pria all along.

They confront Pria in her quarters, and demand to know who she really is and what's going on. She realizes it's time to fess up, and says tells them she's from the 29th Century (four hundred years in their future). She says the Orville was supposed to be destroyed in the dark matter storm, and she came from the future to prevent that. Kelly doesn't believe Pria would travel through time just to save them. Pria says she didn't— she's only interested in the ship.

Just then Pria remotely activates the metallic device, and the Orville changes course. She tells them she's a dealer in ancient artifacts. She travels to a specific period to find ships like the Orville that are destined to be destroyed. She then saves the ship, takes it to the future and sells it to a collector for a handsome profit. By only targeting doomed ships, she doesn't risk altering the timeline. Kelly asks what happens to the crews of those ships, and she says they're free to live out their lives in the 29th Century. Um... that can't be good.

Mercer asks about her crashed ship on the comet, and she says it was all part of the act, to get them to trust her. She also knocked out their communication system so they couldn't radio for help. Kelly asks how she travels through time, and Pria says she uses a stable wormhole that people in the collecting business have learned to manipulate. That's where the Orville's headed. Mercer posts a guard on Pria's quarters (now that it's way too late).

Mercer apologizes to Kelly for not listening to her, and says he has an idea. In Engineering, Chief Newton uses an old school diamond-tipped drill to bore a hole in the metallic device. Isaac then inserts his metallic tendrils into the device, attempting to override it. It zaps him with a lethal blast of energy, knocking him across the room and "killing" him.

The ship approaches the wormhole, and Pria teleports to the bridge. Mercer says there are three hundred people on board with lives in this century, and begs her to let them go. She says she can't— they're technically all dead, and if they stay in the 25th Century, they'll massively alter the timeline.

Pria takes the Orville through the wormhole and into the 29th Century, where they're met by a Benzian ship. Pria and the Benzian buyer then haggle over a price for the Orville. Meanwhile, Mercer gets a message on his monitor that reads, "Would you like a Junior Mint, Captain?"

Mercer jumps to Gordon's station and restores helm control. Gordon turns the ship around and heads back through the wormhole, while Kelly beats the tar out of Pria. Once they're through, Alara takes Pria to the brig. Isaac then reveals that his "death" was all an act for Pria's benefit, as he transferred his consciousness into the ship so he could override the metallic device. He thought the Junior Mint comment would be funny, indicating maybe he's finally starting to understand humor.

Mercer meets with Pria in his office. He says Isaac believes if they destroy the wormhole, then they cement this new timeline in which the Orville survives, and that Pria will have no reason to ever travel back from the future. This makes absolutely zero sense, but let's just go with it. She reminds him this would also mean they'll never meet and spend the night together. He orders the ship to fire, and the wormhole is destroyed. Pria fades away before his eyes.

• For the third time in five episodes, Mercer asks Alara to bust through a door by saying, "You wanna open this jar of pickles?" It was funny the first time, but it's becoming kind of cringe-worthy now. He needs a new metaphor, stat. I dunno why this is bugging me so much, but it is.

• Pria goes through a wide array of costume changes during the episode, strutting around in a different outfit in virtually every scene. When she first boards the ship, she's wearing a black and red number that looks a LOT like the command uniforms on ST:TNG. Coincidence, or not-so-subtle little reference?

• There's a very cool shot in this episode in which the camera zooms in closer and closer to the Orville, until we can finally see in the windows of the ship! 

As the camera pans across the hull, we see into three distinct rooms before it settles on the cocktail party in the Captain's quarters. The first room looks like it's empty, while the second features two men talking or maybe eating at a table. In the third window we see what appears to be a man stuffing something into a black bag (?). Actually it's tough to tell just what he's supposed to be doing. Maybe he's a janitor? Or is he getting rid of the evidence?

• At the cocktail party, Mercer says he was born in Boxford, Massachusetts. That's such a random and obscure bit of info that I assumed it's where Seth MacFarlane was born. Nope! I checked and he was born in Kent, Connecticut.

• Also at the party we get to see the crew in their civilian attire for the first time. Note that Doctor Finn is wearing a little green number, presumably to match the ever-present emerald streak in her hair. Note that her duty uniform is green as well. Does she insist on always wearing green so her clothes don't clash with her hair?

• This week we find out that the Orville's engines have a "Dysonian powered quantum drive system capable of speeds exceeding ten light years per hour." Wow, that's much more specific than the somewhat vague warp factors of the various Star Trek ships.

Surprisingly, 10 LPH is also much, much faster than the Enterprise-D can fly. According to various ST:TNG reference sites, at Warp 5 the ship travels just 1.075 light years in a 24 hour period!

• Chief Engineer Newton makes his second appearance on the show this week. I get the feeling he's probably going to be a secondary character, one we don't see every week. That's quite a difference from ST:TNG, where Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge was constantly spouting technobabble about the ship's faulty engines every week.

Actually in Season 1 of TNG there was were several different Chief Engineer characters, who only showed up occasionally. It wasn't until Season 2 that Geordi was promoted to Engineering. I wonder if The Orville will follow this same pattern?

• In this week's B-plot, Isaac knocks out Gordon and amputates his left leg as a practical joke (!). We then see an angry Gordon hopping around, and his leg appears to have been removed just above the knee.

Later his missing leg falls out of a ceiling panel in Pria's quarters and plops onto a table. For some reason the leg is now wayyyyy longer than it should be, looking like it was removed at the hip! I'm betting the prop department made the leg first, and the CGI department didn't get the memo on just where they should paint out Gordon's leg.

One last thing about Gordon and his leg. After Isaac amputated it, he hid it somewhere on the ship so Gordon would have to hop around looking for it, which he said would increase the humor. So... did Isaac inject the leg with some sort of futuristic preservation chemical? If not, then it would be dead, decaying and way past the reattachment window. 
Good thing they have the technology to regenerate limbs!

• There's some wonky comedy pacing going on in the scene where Pria seduces Mercer. When she kisses him he pulls away, saying, "I actually got out of a rough marriage not too long ago. So I... I think maybe we should take this slow." Jump cut to Mercer and Pria in bed together, as he leans back and quips, "Or not."

Its a funny little scene due to the unexpected editing, but it's hopelessly unrealistic. Think about how this would play out in reality. Mercer and Pria are sitting in the holodeck, er, I mean the Environmental Simulator, and he says he thinks they should take it slow. They then probably talked for a while longer, eventually got up, walked to his cabin, kissed for a while, disrobed and then eventually had sex. And THEN he leans back and says, "Or not." 

See what I mean? In reality an hour or two probably went by before he finished his sentence.

This is an old, old trope that pops up a lot in TV and movies.

• It was nice to see some truly alien looking aliens for a change, instead of the usual humanoids with wrinkly foreheads.

• The biggest question I have about this week's episode— was Isaac's fourth quarter play part of Mercer's plan? I've watched that part of the episode several times now, and I'm still not sure.

To recap, after Mercer admits he was wrong about Pria, he says he "might" have an idea. Jump cut to Engineering, where he tries to blast a hole in the control device with a phaser, er, whatever they call their guns on this show. The beam ricochets dangerously off the device. The Chief then bores a hole into it with an old school drill, and Isaac extends his electronic tendrils into the device. It zaps him with a powerful burst of energy, throwing him across the room and "killing" him. Pria then takes the ship through the wormhole and into the future. Isaac then sends a cryptic text to Mercer, indicating he's alive and well in the computer and has deactivated the device. Mercer than regains control of his ship. Got all that?

So many questions! Was Mercer's "idea" just to try and blast the device? I don't think so, as that wouldn't be much of a plan. It would also be extremely dangerous, as he was basically shooting at the ship's engine! Not good!

Plus if that's all he had in mind, why was Isaac there watching? There'd be no reason for him to be in Engineering unless he was part of a larger plan.

But then why stage Isaac's phony death? Was that for Pria's benefit, so she wouldn't figure out what they were really doing? That would make sense, IF she'd been standing there watching them! But she was confined to her quarters and nowhere near engineering, so there'd be no reason for their little act.

On the other hand, if Isaac was in on the plan, why would he wait until Pria took them to the future to take control of the ship? To make it more dramatic? Why not immediately restore control the minute he uploaded himself and avoid a dangerous trip through the wormhole?

If Isaac's trick wasn't part of the plan, then Mercer's not as clueless as he seems. He figured out that Isaac was alive and well and living inside the computer in the space of a second— and worked it out just from the message, "Would you like a junior mint, Captain?" Impressive!

think Mercer's plan actually did involve integrating Isaac into the computer. After Pria's taken to the brig, Isaac says his algorithms were successfully transferred to the computer before the energy blast, which sure sounds like a deliberate action to me.

See? I'm still not clear on whether Isaac's role in the plan was intentional or not. If so, then it wasn't made clear and needed to be clarified.

• Once Mercer regains control of the ship, Kelly starts punching Pria, who she says she'd expect a sucker punch from a woman who cheats on her husband. An angry Kelly turns to Mercer and says, "You told her about that?" Mercer lies and says no, claiming Pria knows about it because she's from the future. Kelly thinks a second and then says, "But it's in the past."

Wha...? That... that doesn't make any sense. Why wouldn't Pria know everything about the Orville and its crew? It's all ancient history to her. Does Seth MacFarlane not understand how time travel works, or am I missing some very subtle bit of logic here?

• After Pria's captured, Mercer examines the teleportation device they found on her. She angrily says he probably can't wait to crack it open and see how it works, so the Union can have teleporation technology. Mercer says no, as he and his people have no interest in altering the timeline. He puts the device in his desk drawer for safe keeping.

How long do you think it'll be before we see this device again? In the season finale, maybe? It's definitely gonna come back somehow, or else Mercer would have destroyed it.

On the other hand, maybe the Orville crew will take a page from all the Trek shows and conveniently forget that they can now figure out teleportation. There’ve been dozens of Trek episodes over the years in which a piece of amazing new alien tech was discovered and then ignored.

• As with most time travel stories, the temporal physics in this episode don't make a lick of sense. OK, so Pria is a temporal antiquities dealer. She regularly uses a wormhole to travel to the past, where she steals ships or other objects and takes them back to the future, where she sells them to collectors. By only taking items that were doomed to be destroyed, she avoids altering the timeline.

So far, so good. That part makes sense.

However, at the end of the episode, Mercer meets with Pria one last time and discusses the wormhole she used to time travel. Here's what they say:

Mercer: "According to Isaac, as long as the wormhole exists, the quantum potentiality is open. Many sets of future events are possible, but, if we destroy it, we choose a path. There's no chance of us returning to your future, and the Orville goes on to live its life. Which means that Pria Levesque will have no reason to come back into our past."
Pria: "And you and I will never have met."
Mercer then destroys the wormhole and Pria fades away as if she'd never been there.

W... wait a minute. OK, so the Orville was supposed to be destroyed in the dark matter storm. Got it. But Pria came back in time and saved it for business purposes. Got that too. But then destroying the wormhole means she never traveled to the Orville's present, and she disappears. And somehow Mercer still remembers her after she's gone, hence his wistful expression as he stares at his empty office. Yeah, no. None of that makes any sense.

Even worse, if she now never came back in time, wouldn't that mean she doesn't save the ship? I don't see any way that scenario doesn't result in the Orville immediately winking out of existence.

Honestly I can't tell if MarFarlane wrote himself into a corner here and needed an out, no matter how nonsensical it was, or if the ending was a very subtle little comment on how time travel stories never make any logical sense.

• This has nothing to do with the episode, but it's something I've been noticing in sci-fi movies and TV shows the past few months. Whenever there's a CGI spaceship or creature or something flying past the camera, there are always a series of faint white dots that appear briefly on the screen whenever there's a bright light source. You can see a couple of them here in this screencap, just above the word "Executive."

They're not annoying JJ Abrams-type lens flares— instead I think they're supposed to look like the camera lens is dirty. I think this is meant to make the shot seem more realistic. After all, they'd be crazy to add fake lens schmutz in a CGI shot, right? That means they had to have filmed an actual spaceship with a real camera!

It's a very subtle, almost subliminal effect, and it honestly does work. And now that you know about it, you're gonna see it everywhere like I do, and you'll never be able to unsee it.

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
People still watch and understand Seinfeld in the 2419. Eh, we still watch, read and perform Shakespearean plays, and they're four hundred years old, so I guess it's not out of the question (not that I'm comparing Seinfeld to Shakespeare quality-wise, mind you!).

Mr. Potato Head is still around as well.

The phrase, "Go to hell" is still used in the 25th Century, but is apparently unknownt by the 29th.

Fist bumps are apparently still a thing in the 2419 too.

For the past few weeks now I've been giving the show crap for including all these anachronisms. As unlikely as it would actually be, the idea's starting to grow on me. Having the Orville crew speak and act in a contemporary manner makes them seem more human and relatable 

Compare this to ST:TNG, which attempted to show us how people would really act in the future. Sure, that might have been more realistic, but it make the Enterprise-D crew come off as sterile, dull and robotic.

This week we learn that the Orville's holodeck is called an "environmental simulator." They can slap any name they want on it, but it's still the goddamned holodeck in every measurable sense.

Pria bears a slight resemblance to the ST:TNG episode A Matter Of Time. In that story, a professor named Berlingoff Rasmussen travels from the 26th Century to the 24th, to study the Enterprise-D and its crew. During his interviews, he covertly steals several items of 24th Century technology. Eventually the crew discover that Rasmussen is actually a disgruntled inventor from the 22nd Century. He encountered a 26th Century time traveler, stole his temporal ship and now regularly travels to the future. He then steals future technology and takes it back to the past where he pretends to "invent" it and reap enormous profits. Captain Picard arrests Rasmussen, and the time pod is automatically recalled to the future.

Pria is also somewhat similar to Vash, a character who popped up on ST:TNG and Deep Space Nine. Vash was an unscrupulous archaeologist who ransacked ancient sites and sold artifacts for profit. Despite her bad reputation, Captain Picard fell in love with her for a time.

Pria's scheme, in which she only steals ships that are destined to be destroyed, nears a slight resemblance to John Varley's Millennium, which was a short story, then a novel and ultimately a low budget scifi movie. In it, agents from the future rescued passengers of present-day planes that were about to crash, and took them to the future to repopulate a desolate Earth. The movie Freejack had a similar plot as well.

When the Benzian ship tries to lock a tractor beam onto the Orville, Mercer tells John to modulate the deflector frequency as fast as he can. This is exactly how the Enterprise-D would always avoid the Borg tractor beams on ST:TNG.

1 comment:

  1. The mention of Boxford, MA struck me as interesting as well. I live in the town to the east of Boxford (Topsfield), whereas Andover (where Pria claims to be from) is to the west of Boxford.


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