Friday, September 30, 2022

The Orville Season 3, Episode 8: Midnight Blue

This week on The Orville we get what may be the best episode of the season so far— and that's saying something!

There was a LOT going on in this episode, as it contained at least six or seven different plotlines. There's Topa's burgeoning love life, the return of Heveena and her Sanctuary, Heveena's underground railroad, Topa's abduction, torture and subsequent rescue, lots of political intrigue and even the Moclans getting kicked out of the Union! And don't forget a surprise redemption for a certain universally hated character! Whew!

Oh, and incredibly, there's an incongruous Dolly Parton cameo in there too, which absolutely shouldn't work but ends up being the highlight of the episode!

There's so much content here that it feels like we're watching a two hour movie rather than a one hour TV show.

Once again I get the distinct feeling that series creator Seth MacFarlane was planning on a thirteen episode season, but it was cut short by the pandemic and he was forced to cram several scripts into one.

This is exactly what happened in last week's misfire, From Unknown Graves. There the disparate elements resulted in a muddled and disjointed mess that was all over the place. Heck, that episode's "A" story didn't even kick in until the third act.

Somehow it all manages to work here though, as the disparate plotlines all jelled into a cohesive whole, rather than battling one another for dominance.

I gotta say I wasn't expecting another major Topa storyline so soon after her spotlight episode a couple weeks ago. And even though they've been hinting at the possibility for a while now, I didn't think we'd see Moclus tossed out of the Union already. Again, chalk up the accelerated storytelling to the truncated season, as MacFarlane had to start wrapping things up in the short amount of time he had left.

I also didn't anticipate Klyden's redemption arc this week either. I honestly thought he was gone for good, so his return here was a complete and total surprise. MacFarlane definitely subverted my expectations by taking the series' most reprehensible character and completely turning him around. 

In fact I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually kind of liked Klyden this week! Believe me, no one's more shocked than I am to hear me say that. His scenes in which he begged Topa for forgiveness and promised to do better were some of the most poignant we've seen in the entire series so far. 

I don't know how they did it, but the producers took what started out as a parody and turned it into one of the best dramas on TV. Nothing in TNG or any of the other modern Trek shows even comes close to the emotion on display here. 


The Plot:
Bortus meets Kelly in the Mess Hall for drinks, and tells her it's hard being a single parent. He says Topa has a crush on a boy, but won't tell him who it is. He says he doesn't know what to do, and asks Kelly to talk with her.

Kelly goes to Bortus' quarters for a chat with Topa. She admits there's someone she likes, but isn't sure if he feels the same way. She says her crush is funny and warm and shares the same interests as her (uh-oh!). Kelly says if they have that much in common, she should tell the boy how she feels.

Topa enters Engineering, where Gordon's talking with John. Topa asks Gordon if he'd like to have dinner with her sometime, and we realize HE'S the "boy" she's crushing on. Yikes! He completely misreads the situation and says he'd love to have dinner with her.

Topa goes for broke and tells Gordon she likes him, and he says he likes her too. Topa's face lights up at this, as Gordon FINALLY realizes what's happening. He tries letting her down easy by saying he thinks of her as a little sister, and will always have her back (ouch!). Topa's clearly disappointed and leaves.

Elsewhere, Admiral Halsey briefs Mercer on a new mission. The Moclans have a shaky agreement with Heveena's all-female Sanctuary, and are planning to inspect the place to make sure she's not violating any of their rules. 
Halsey wants Kelly and Bortus to be there during the inspection, to prevent the Moclans from causing trouble.

When Topa finds out about the mission, she begs Bortus to let her go to The Sanctuary to see Heveena, the most famous female Moclan of all. Bortus initially says no, but Kelly talks him into it, saying it could be life-changing for Topa to meet her hero.

Cut to Kelly, Bortus and Topa in a shuttle. They land on The Sanctuary planet, where they're met by a trio of Moclans led by Commander Kodon. He tells Kelly his men surveyed the Sanctuary and found it within the terms of their agreement.

Kodon then spots Topa, and thinks Kelly's trying to smuggle her into the Sanctuary— which is against the treaty. Kelly assures him that Topa's part of the Orville crew, and won't be staying. Kodan sneers at Topa, calling her a disgusting creature. Bortus moves toward Kodan, but Kelly orders him to stand down.

Kelly, Bortus and Topa then make their way to The Sanctuary. Topa's amazed to see so many Moclan females all in one place. They're led to Heveena's home, where she's listening to Dolly Parton's music. Heveena greets Topa, who's overwhelmed at meeting her role model.

Kelly and Bortus head out to inspect the colony, while Topa stays behind with Heveena. She tells her how much she admires her, and says she's read all her books. She thanks Heveena for speaking for her during the big trial that decided her fate.

Heveena says there'll be a double full moon that night, and invites Topa to their feast. Kelly and Bortus agree to stay.

During the feast, one of the Moclan females asks if Kelly and Bortus are mates. Kelly laughs it off, saying they're just friends.

Heveena shows Topa the luminites— firefly-like insects that flit around the colony and flash in different colors. She tells her the blue ones are rarest of all, and bring good luck to those who see them. She gifts Topa with a lava stone necklace and hangs it on her.

Heveena then tells Topa she's involved in a revolution against Moclus, and that she could play an important role in it. 
Topa's starstruck by Heveena, and is more than willing to help in any way. Heveena swears Topa to secrecy, and then admits she's violating the agreement by continuing to smuggle Moclan females into The Sanctuary.

She says her only means of communication with her agents is by messenger, but if she had access to a Union ship, she could help many more females. All Topa would have to do is occasionally relay an encrypted message to a contact on Moclus. Topa eagerly agrees without hesitation.

Heveena says she'll be in touch, and joins the others. Topa watches a swarm of luminites, and spots a blue one. She stupidly follows it, as it leads her deeper and deeper into the jungle. Suddenly she's captured by Kodon, who throws her into his shuttle and blasts off.

Back at the feast, Bortus notices Topa's missing. The entire colony searches the jungle for her. Kelly finds a necklace on the ground, and recognizes it as the one Heveena gave to Topa. Kelly asks what Heevena said to Topa. She lies and says they just chatted about inconsequential things.

Kelly suspects Kodon abducted Topa, so she and Bortus decide to follow his ship. Unfortunately Kodon's men sabotaged the shuttle. Kelly manages to hot wire it, causing it to blast dangerously into orbit.

Meanwhile, we see Topa held captive on Kodon's ship. She demands to speak to Bortus, but Kodon tells her to shut it.

Back on the Orville, Mercer tries contacting Kelly, but there's no answer. He orders the ship into the nebula to investigate. Charly reminds him that doing so will violate the Moclan agreement, but he tells her do it anyway.

Sometime later Mercer brings Heveena to his office, where he asks what happened to Topa. She says she doesn't know, and he demands she level with him. She finally admits she tried to get Topa to help her smuggle info. Mercer chastises her for taking advantage of a hero worshipping child, and says she's put the entire Sanctuary in jeopardy.

Mercer, Talla and Heveena talk with Admiral Halsey and explain the situation to him. Halsey says the best option is for Heveena to testify before the Union Council, admit she violated the Moclan agreement and provide evidence that Kodon kidnapped Topa. Heveena refuses, as doing so would destroy The Sanctuary and everything she's worked for..

Elsewhere, Bortus tracks Kodon's ion trail, and says his ship appears to be heading for the Zonari System. Kelly sets course and follows.

Mercer gets an idea, and orders Heveena to the Holodeck, er, I mean the Environmental Simulator. Heveena reluctantly does so, and finds herself inside a log cabin. Suddenly a holographic simulation of her hero Dolly Parton enters.

Overwhelmed, Heveena kneels before her. Dolly tells her to stop bowin' and scrapin,' and says she's happy to meet her. Heveena's manner then changes, as she realizes it's all an illustion and knows what Mercer's trying to do. Dolly says she may be a simulation, but she's based on the real thing. She then spins a folksy morality tale and sings a song, which convinces Heveena to do the right thing. She exits the Simulator and tells Mercer she'll testify before the Council.

Elsewhere, Kodon lands his ship at a secret Moclan base on a planet in the Zonari System. He takes Topa to an interrogation room, where a mutilated Moclan known only as The Interrogator enters. He begins torturing her, demanding to know the name of the traitor helping smuggle females to Heveena's Sancutary. Topa says she doesn't know what he's talking about.

Kelly and Bortus arrive on the planet, where they detect several buildings inside a large canyon. They set down ten miles away (literally!) and set out for the base.

Elsewhere, the Orville arrives at Earth. Mercer contacts Admiral Halsey and says he's bringing Heveena to the Council. Gordon asks to come along, saying he considers Topa his "little sister." For no good reason other than because the script say so, Mercer agrees.

Heveena testifies before the Union Council. She says she does so not because she thinks she's done anything wrong, but because Topa's life is in danger. Union President Alcuzan says there's enough evidence to launch an investigation into Topa's disappearance.

The Moclan delegates are outraged, saying Heveena's the one who should be investigated. They accuse her of smuggling female Moclan infants to her colony in violation of their agreement. The President says Heveena will pay for her crimes, but for now their priority is recovering Topa. The Moclans protest, and the Council erupts into chaos.

Meanwhile, Kelly and Bortus spot the secret Moclan base. Unfortunately the only way to get there is by jumping over a deep gorge. Bortus makes it, but Kelly falls and injures her shoulder. Bortus scrambles down and places a medical doodad on her to heal it.

Bortus thanks her for taking Topa under her wing, and says he considers her family. The two stare at one another, and for a second it almost looks like they might lean in to kiss. Suddenly the medical doodad dweedles and snaps them out of it. Bortus says she's healed, and they make their way to the base.

In the interrogation chamber, The Interrogator shows Topa a Krill baton, saying it's an "instrument of persuasion." He says depending on the setting it can cause mild discomfort or excruciating agony— even permanent neurological damage.

He demands to know the name of the Moclan traitor again. When she says she doesn't know, he jabs her with the baton, shocking her.

Kelly and Bortus sneak through the base, looking for Topa. They encounter resistance and engage in a shootout with several Moclan soldiers. Kelly detects female life signs ahead, and they run toward them.

The Interrogator exits the chamber and tells Kodon that Topa's given him the name of the traitor and the frequency codes he's using. Kodon orders him to kill Topa and dump her body in the canyon.

Just then Kelly and Bortus enter, blasters blazing. Bortus sees his injured daughter, turns to The Interrogator and delivers a savage beatdown to him. Kelly tells him to stop, but he ignores her. He grabs the baton and jams it into The Interrogator's good eye socket, blinding him and likely scrambling his brains as well. He grabs Topa and follows Kelly.

They make it back to their sabotaged shuttle and blast off. They're not out of the woods yet though, as Kodon and his forces follow in their ships. There's an exciting Star Wars trench fight in the canyon, and Kelly eventually manages to shoot down the Moclan fighters. They then somehow know to hightail it to Earth.

Back at Union Headquarters, Admiral Halsey, Mercer and several others meet with Captain Rechik and a couple other Moclan officials. Gordon's there too, again for no good reason. Halsey says the Council's made a decision, but the Moclans reject it, saying the Union constantly demeans their culture at every opportunity. The Moclans ask if the Union really wants to jeopardize its strongest ally with the Kaylon threat looming.

Gordon impulsively jumps up and says the Moclans always cross the line because they know the Union doesn't want to lose their weapons trade and lets them get away with it. He says they treat others like garbage, and when called on it whine that their beliefs are being disrespected. Halsey and Mercer both order him to sit down and stop talking immediately.

Later, the Moclan delegates accuse the Union of siding with Heveena, and say there's no evidence that they had anything to do with Topa's abduction. Right on cue, Kelly & Bortus enter with an injured Topa. An emotional Bortus hisses that the Moclans planned to murder his child, calling them butchers and liars.

The Union Council members all stand in support of Topa— with the exception of the Moclan delegation of course.

Sometime later, Heveena apologizes to Bortus for putting his daughter in danger, and says she expects no forgiveness. He tells her that's a reasonable assumption.

Halsey informs them the Moclans have been thrown out of the Union, and Heveena's planet is now a sovereign state under their protection. He says without the Moclans and their advanced weaponry, the Union's now more vulnerable to the Kaylon then ever before.

Later on the Orville, Doctor Finn tends to Topa's injuries. Talla enters with a surprise guest— Klyden. He asks Bortus if he can speak with Topa, and he agrees. Klyden tearfully apologizes to her, saying he headed for the Orville the second he heard she'd been kidnapped. He says he's sorry for saying he wished she was never born, and begs her forgiveness. He says he's proud to have her as a daughter as she forgives him.

Sometime later, Bortus, Topa AND Klyden are having dinner in their quarters. Kelly enters and says they'll be leaving Earth shortly. Bortus says he and Klyden have renounced their Moclan citizenship and are remaining onboard.

Klyden thanks Kelly for saving his daughter, and then unexpectedly invites her to have dinner with them. Stunned, she agrees.

This episode drops numerous hints at a possible Kelly/Bortus coupling. Man, I hope that's not where the writers are planning on going. I much prefer the two of them as friends and colleagues, bonding over their mutual love and concern for Topa.

• Kelly orders Bortus a tall, refreshing glass of Oppsada— the Moclan recreational beverage of choice, that grows into a parasite in the digestive system. We've seen it many times before on the show, in Mad Idolatry, Deflectors and Sanctuary.

• Bortus tells Kelly that Topa has a boyfriend but won't talk about it. He says, "Klyden was more adept at speaking with Topa regarding personal matters. It has been difficult now that he is gone." 

I'm betting Klyden was better at relating to Topa because he started out as a female as well. Bortus' statement also confirms that Klyden did indeed leave him as he promised he would if he approved Topa's surgery.

• Kelly stops by Topa's room to talk to her about her crush. Several things here:

First of all, man, dig that crazy example of Moclan sculpture next to Kelly! Looks more like something you'd find on Xeleya.

Secondly, Topa tells Kelly that the boy she likes is "funny." The second she said that, I KNEW she was talking about Gordon!

• Gordon's hanging out in Engineering for some reason, shootin' the breeze with John. Gordon tells him about his brother, who he says is a drunken loser. Wait, what? I thought the Union was a utopia, where everyone works to better themselves and contribute to society. Apparently Gordon's brother didn't get that memo!

One would think that by the 25th Century they'd have treatments for alcoholism and depression, but maybe not!

• Topa finds Gordon in Engineering and awkwardly invites him out to dinner. Note how EVERYONE in the department (even the aliens!) immediately gets what she's asking— except for Gordon, who's of course absolutely clueless. 

Now THIS is the affable and dimwitted version of Gordon we've all come to know and love on the show! The one who's nothing like the 
retconned super genius we saw back in Twice In A Lifetime, who could figure out how to use primitive 21st Century technology to send a message to a precise point in time and space.

Eventually Gordon understands what's happening, long after everyone else. Fortunately he lets Topa down easy, saying he thinks of her as a "little sister." Ouch! Looks like the friend zone is alive and well in the 25th Century!

I dunno, does it strike anyone else as a little inappropriate for Topa to be lusting after Gordon? The aforementioned Twice In A Lifetime established he's in his forties (even though actor Scott Grimes is currently 51). Topa definitely acts older and wiser than her years, but chronologically she's only three years old! We reeeeeally don't need the show to go there!

This brings up something about Topa that the show's kind of glossed over. I have no problem believing she could age to the equivalent of a teen in just three years. After all, she's a Moclan— there's no reason why they shouldn't grow at a faster rate than humans.

What I do have a problem with is Topa's MENTAL age. She not only looks like a teen, but has the intelligence and emotional maturity of one as well. I don't see any way that could happen in just three short years. It just isn't enough time for her brain to develop and learn from her experiences.

I freely admit this is a pretty deep nitpicking dive (even for me!), so I'll allow it.

• For some reason the title sequence doesn't start till the 9:30 mark!

• Admiral Halsey warns Mercer not to do anything to piss off the Moclans and upset the delicate peace between them and the Union. 

So naturally Mercer allows Topa to go on a highly sensitive diplomatic mission, and her presence ends up igniting a powder keg that causes Moclas to pull out of the Union.

It's clear that if Topa had stayed in the Orville where she belonged, none of this would have happened. Mercer may have singlehandedly destroyed the entire Union by approving a field trip! I bet there are days when Admiral Halsey wishes he's never heard of Mercer OR the Orville!

• Kelly, Bortus and Topa take a shuttle to The Sanctuary— the planet where Heveena runs a refuge for Moclan females. Note that the planet's tucked inside this gorgeous purple nebula.

OK, I'm no astronomer, but it seems to me like that nebula oughta be visible in skies above The Sanctuary.

Even if there's some scientific reason why it doesn't show up in the daytime, it DEFINITELY should be visible at night! Yet all we see is a plain black sky, dominated by two moons and dotted with a few stars. Whoops!

• Yes, I'm ragging on this for the eighth week in a row— now even Topa's standing up in the shuttle behind the pilots! Sit your ass down in one of those chairs already!

• After landing, Kelly and her party enter The Sanctuary. I love Topa's look of joy and wonder as she's surrounded by hundreds of Moclan females for the first time. It's gotta be an overwhelming moment in her young life.

• Topa's introduced to Heveena, her hero and role model. As she looks around Heveena's hut, she admires her makeshift shrine to Dolly Parton.

If you'll recall, Heveena was introduced to Dolly's music back in Sanctuary. Her anthems became the inspiration for Heveena's revolution against the Moclan patriarchy.

Note that the shrine contains a couple pencil drawings of Dolly. Did Heveena draw those? If so, the old girl's got talent!

• Heveena invites Kelly, Bortus and Topa to their Twin Full Moon Feast. During the festivities, we're treated to a group of women playing a reedy, ren faire version of Dolly Parton's Jolene. Ha!

OK, I get the joke here, but the gals' choice of song doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Heveena made Dolly the face of their cause because she's a strong female warrior who don't need no man to make it in the world. All well and good. 

The problem is Jolene ain't a femebnist ballad. It's about a wife begging a prettier and more confident woman not to steal her man away. Doesn't sound like very empowering, does it?

• Another Kelly/Bortus coupling hint: During the feast, a Moclan girl asks if the two of them are mates.

Bortus laughs it off and says they're just colleagues. He'd better! He knows all too well that being attracted to a female of any species is strictly verboten and highly punishable in his culture! In fact back in Deflectors, his old flame Locar confessed his attraction to Talla, was prosecuted for his perversion and sentenced to life in prison on Moclus! Holy crap!

• Heveena shows Topa the luminites— insects similar to Earth fireflies. Heveena says, "They are red, yellow, green, pink, orange, and white. And every now and then, you will see a blue one."

For a second I thought she was talking about Lucky Charms!

Plot Hole Alert! Heveena confesses to Topa that she's still secretly smuggling female babies from Moclus to The Sanctuary, which violates the treaty between the two entities.

Moclus isn't thrilled by The Sanctuary's existence in the first place, so when they inspect it they're likely to be pretty thorough, Heck, they might even insist on taking a census. Wouldn't they notice there's suddenly a couple hundred more Moclan gals in the place then there're supposed to be? Whoops!

Maybe Heveena sends all the new arrivals out of town during the inspections?

• There's some MAJOR Plot Trickery going on in the scene where Heveena gifts Topa with a lava stone necklace. Follow along here:

First we see a closeup of Heveena gives Topa a lava stone necklace.

Cut to Kelly, who turns to see what Topa's up to.

We then see Kelly's view of this sweet moment, as Heveena fastens the necklace on Topa. Note that there's literally NO way in hell Kelly could possibly see what the necklace actually looka like from her distant vantage point.

A bit later Topa goes missing, and the entire village searches the jungle for her. Kelly finds a necklace lying on the ground, and instantly knows it belongs to Topa. 

Yeah, I'm calling bullsh*t here!

I assume we're supposed to believe Kelly made this incredibly intuitive leap because she found A necklace in the jungle at all, not because she recognized it as the one Topa was wearing. It's still some weak and contrived writing though.

• OK, I'm VERY confused by the whole blue luminite thing.

After Hevenna leaves, Topa sees a rare and elusive blue luminite. She stupidly follows it deep into the jungle, where she's captured by Kodon and his men. They toss her into their shuttle and take off with her.

So many questions here.

First of all, what was up with the blue luminite? Was it just random chance that Topa saw one and followed it into the jungle and blundered into Kodon? 

At first I thought maybe he used a fake luminite to lure her. We get a closeup of it though, and it looks like a normal real insect. Was Kodon somehow controlling the luminite's flight path? Eh, I guess it's possible, but if so there's nothing in the episode to indicate it. 

And why was Kodon and his crew still chilling outside The Sanctuary long after their inspection was over? It appears he was waiting around on the off chance that Topa would wander into the jungle alone so he could snatch her up. What are the odds?

As unbelievable as it seems, it appears Kodon just got incredibly lucky and Topa walked right into his hands! If not for this stupid firefly, Topa would likely never have been captured and tortured by the Moclans, their secret base would never have been discovered and they wouldn't have been kicked out of the Union.

The fate of countless Union worlds was just decided by a bug!

• This is probably some Heavy Duty Nitpicking, but whatever. Kelly and Bortus race back to the shuttle, which still has its boarding ramp open. I know The Sanctuary's supposed to be a paradise with no crime and all, but what about the native animal life? Any kind of critter could have wandered in there!

Of course the real reason they left the ramp open is so Commander Kodon's men could easily get inside and sabotage it.

• Kelly says the Moclans damaged the shuttle's launch thrusters, so she just fires up the main engines and punches through the dense jungle and on into space. Jaysis, they're lucky the shuttle didn't smash into a tree and kill 'em both! It looks like it's going 500 mph.

• Oh for Pete's sake! Now the Moclans are standing up in their shuttle too!

• Topa demands to talk with her father. Kodon growls, "Tell me, little worm, were you this impotent before they cut off your kla'fash?"

Welp, now we all know how to say "dick" in Moclan!

More Heavy Duty Nitpicking: Is there a reason why Talla sits so uncomfortably in the captain's chair when she's in command of the Bridge? She sits ramrod straight, as her spine isn't even touching the back of the chair! Is she afraid she'll nod off if she relaxes a bit?

• Mercer brings Heveena aboard to question her about Topa's disappearance. So why are Heveena's hands noticeably lighter than her head? Who is she, trump?

• There's a REALLY big unanswered question in this episode, one that comes close to torpedoing the entire plot: Why the hell did Kodon kidnap Topa and take her to a Moclan black ops site for interrogation? Sadly, the episode's pretty vague as to his motivation.

Heveena kind of offers an explanation when Mercer questions her, saying, "I shared critical information with her. Somehow, Commander Kodon must have discovered this and taken her for questioning."

Wow. SOMEHOW he found out. But how? And when? He was nowhere near The Sanctuary when Heveena told Topa about her Moclan underground railroad. Apparently none of this is any of our goddamned business, as it's never explained. Shades of The Force Awakens and its "That's a story for another day" line.

This is a story element that reeeeeally needed to be fleshed out more, since it basically drives the episode's entire plot! As is, it feels like Topa gets kidnapped just because.

• Mercer asks Heveena what exactly Topa knows. She replies, "The name of our primary contact on Moclus and the quantum frequencies that we use to encrypt messages."

So who's The Sanctuary's contact? That's also a mystery for another day, as we never find out here. Since this is a TV show, it's gotta be someone we're familiar with, as an unknown party wouldn't make for good drama. 

Honestly I kind of wonder if it's Klyden! It wouldn't make much sense storywise, but he's about the only other Moclan we know.

• It's interesting to see how this episode paints the previously saintly Heveena in a pretty bad light. Back in About A Girl and Sanctuary she was a wise and beloved leader who was revered as a savior by her fellow females. Cut to this week, when she's suddenly turned into a ruthless opportunist who takes advantage of a hero worshipping child.

As despicable as her actions are in this episode, I honestly don't think she's necessarily turned bad. She's still a decent person at heart, but was simply blinded by her mission. She was so caught up in her quest to save as many Moclan females as possible that she let the ends justify the means. She's not evil, she just lost sight of her morals. It's a subtle distinction, but a distinction all the same.

• I loved the exchange between Heveena and Mercer as he quite rightly raked her over the coals for using Topa. Our boy Ed can speechify pretty darned good when he has to:

Heveena: "I gave Topa the opportunity to protect her own life as a female, and to protect the lives of all the others! It was her choice!"
Mercer: "Oh, Jesus Christ, Heveena, what the hell did you expect her to say? She worships you! She would do anything to please you, of course she's gonna say yes!"
Heveena: "I am as concerned about Topa as you are, Captain. But I do not regret enlisting her help. Our struggle for equality has always demanded risk and, if necessary, sacrifice!"
Mercer: "I respect your struggle. I really do. But don't advertise tactical opportunism as pious morality, because that's when you lose me!"

• Admiral Halsey tells Heveena the only solution is for her to appear before the Union Council and admit she violated the Moclan treaty. She strongly refuses, as doing so would mean the destruction of The Sanctuary.

Mercer then gets a brainstorm, and uses the Holodeck, er, I mean the Environmental Simulator to whip up a hologram of Dolly Parton, in what has to be the most bizarre cameo appearance in TV history!

Actually Dolly's appearance in a futuristic series isn't as incongruous as it probably seems. Parton's production company produced the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series back in the 1990s, so she's no stranger to fantasy & sci-fi properties!

Dolly— who of course is Heveena's idol— spins a couple of stories, sings a song and eventually convinces her to testify before the council. It's a fun scene, and it's clear Parton had a blast acting in it.

While Parton was more than willing to appear in the episode, making it happen was quite an ordeal. The episode was filmed during the height of the Covid pandemic, and Parton quite wisely refused to get on a plane and fly to LA (smart woman!). Instead she insisted her scenes be shot at her studio in Nashville. 

This caused quite a logistical challenge for the crew. They started by building a log cabin set in LA, where they filmed Heveena talking with a Dolly Parton stand-in. 

Once that was done, a skeleton crew consisting of Seth MacFarlane, executive producer Jon Cassar, Rena Owen (who played Heveena) and a makeup person took a private jet to Parton's Tennessee studio.

There a duplicate of the log cabin set was built, and they filmed Dolly interacting with Heveena. According to Cassar, the scene took little or no time to shoot, because Parton was a true professional who knew her lines and exactly what she needed to do.

Whew! A lot of trouble for such a small scene. But I'm glad they did it, as Dolly's appearance was the highlight of an already excellent episode!

• The Orville leaves The Sanctuary and heads for Earth. I love this shot of the ship interacting with the nebula gases. That's some beautiful CGI there. 

• If nothing else, this show's really good at visual shorthand. For example, you can instantly tell this is a Moclan shuttle just by looking at it.

• Kodon takes Topa into the Moclan black ops site. Note this crazy mixed up octagonal corridor.

Do you think it's possible it's a redress of the one seen last week in From Unknown Graves? Nothing wrong with that if it's true, as that's good, economical filmmaking!

• Topa meets the Inquisitor, who intends to find out what she knows. The Inquisitor sounded reeeeeally familiar, but I couldn't place his face. I looked him up and he was played by Noshir Dalal, who I've never heard of. He's done a butt-ton of voiceover work for cartoons and videogames though, so maybe I heard his voice in one before.

• The Inquisitor asks Topa who the Moclan traitor is. When she says she doesn't know, he strikes her hard, almost knocking her out of her chair. Definitely didn't think The Orville was gonna go there and show us a child being tortured!

This show's come a lonnnng way from it's beginnings as a wacky Star Trek parody!

• Kelly & Bortus arrive at the Moclan outpost and set down in the shuttle. Wait, what? I thought the Moclans sabotaged the shuttle's launch thrusters? Wouldn't it follow that the landing thrusters would be damaged as well? Aren't they the same thing? 

Seems like they'd have just as much trouble landing as they did taking off.

• In the long-standing tradition of all sci-fi movies and TV shows, Kelly and Bortus park their shuttle a good TEN MILES away from the secret Moclan base. They then waste precious time trudging across the bleak, treacherous landscape, and Kelly even ends up falling into a ravine and getting hurt.

C'mon, guys! I know they didn't want to land on top of the place, but their shuttle has a cloaking device! Surely to Thor they could have parked a little closer! If they'd done so, they could have easily rescued Topa BEFORE she was tortured!

• We're then treated to the most awesome shot in the entire series, as we get a full frontal view of the Orville coming out of quantum, with the Bridge crew fully visible inside the ship as it majestically moves by. Can you imagine if TOS and TNG had access to FX like this?

• On Earth, Heveena speaks before the Union Council.

That's not CGI, as the part of the Council chamber is played by a redressed Disney Concert Hall in LA.

• Once again the Union Council's filled with dozens of alien delegates. I posted a close look at most of them back in Sanctuary, so I'm not gonna repeat 'em here— check out that review to see 'em all.

• Union President Alcuzan returns this week to preside over the Council meeting. He previously appeared in Gently Falling Rain, and is once again played by Bruce Boxleitner.

So just how does the Union government work? They clearly have an executive branch, as we've seen a president, senators and delegates from various planets. 

Yet the Admiralty seems to hold a great deal of power as well. In fact up until just a few episodes ago it seemed like the military was running the entire government.

Is the Union secretly a stratocracy?

Even More Heavy Duty Nitpicking: As Kelly and Borus trudge across the planet, we see they're both wearing their stylish black stealth jumpsuits.

I get it— they're trying to infiltrate the Moclan base and don't want to be seen, so it makes sense they wouldn't wear their bright blue uniforms. Still, it struck me as funny that they're in a desperate hurry to rescue Topa, but still had time to change clothes!

And does the shuttle have a fully-stocked wardrobe full of various sizes of stealth suits? We've seen before that the shuttle contains a food synthesizer. Maybe it can whip up clothes as well. In fact that's gotta be what happened here.

• Yet another Kelly/Bortus coupling hint: During their ten mile trek to the Moclan base, the two of them have to jump across a narrow gorge. Bortus makes it, but Kelly falls and hurts her shoulder. Bortus applies a medical doodad to heal her, then tells her he's grateful for all her help with Topa and considers her part of his family.

For a split second it looks like the two might actually lean in for a kiss! Thankfully the medical doodad dweedles and snaps them out of it.

As I said earlier, I'm reeeeeeally hoping they don't go down this road and make Kelly & Bortus a couple. She's grown quite a bit as a commander and officer this season, so it'd be a shame if they saddled her character with a half baked love story. They're perfectly fine as friends. We don't need the two of them hooking up.

• The Inquisitor threatens Topa with a Krill Instrument Of Persuasion (aka a cattle prod). Naturally since it's of Krill design, it glows green when activated.

• Eventually Topa gives The Inquisitor the name of the Moclan contact and the transmission frequencies (although the audience doesn't actually hear this info). He then starts to kill her, but it interrupted by Bortus and Kelly, who FINALLY arrive after schlepping across the planet for an hour or more. A couple things here:

First of all, check out Bortus' face when he asks The Inquisitor if he's the one who tortured Topa. Chills! Someone's gettin' a beatdown!

Second, it's unclear at this time if The Inquisitor shared Topa's info with anyone else in the base or on Moclus. It's entirely possible he might have recorded it or transmitted the data while we weren't looking. Future episodes will tell, I guess.

Lastly, Bortus then beats the crap out of The Inquisitor, and jams the cattle prod, er, I mean Krill Instrument Of Persuasion into his good eye. For some reason, Kelly orders Bortus to stand down before he actually kills him. Party pooper!

At this point The Inquisitor's fate is up in the air. We know the Instrument was at full power, which he said could cause irreparable neurological damage. So he may now be a vegetable, or a blind, vengeful Moclan who wants retribution against Bortus. Honestly it could go either way.

• Kelly and Bortus then have to drag poor, barely alive Topa ten miles back to the shuttle! I'm not gonna let this one go, as it was absolutely nonsensical for them to park the goddamn thing so far away!

• We then take time out from our regularly scheduled plot for an homage to the Star Wars Death Star trench run. Don't get me wrong, it's an awesomely rendered and action packed sequence, but... it doesn't really add anything to the already jam-packed story. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it could have easily been cut without affecting the plot.

• Wow, Topa FINALLY sat down in the shuttle as they blasted off from the base! And all it took was for her to get tortured to within an inch of her life.

• Back at Union HQ, the Admiralty meets with a Moclan delegation— including Captain Rechik. We've seen Rechik before, as he first appeared in Season 2's Deflectors. He was just as big an asshole back then as he is here.

• Another Plot Trickery Alert: Earlier in the episode, Heveena agrees to appear before the Union Council on Earth. As she and Mercer are leaving, Gordon asks if he can tag along too, saying Topa's like a little sister to him (even though we've never seen any indication of that till now). For absolutely no good reason other than because the script says so, Mercer says OK.

Welp, now we know why. As the Moclans meet with the Union leaders, we see that incredibly, Gordon's sitting in on this highly sensitive, top secret meeting. Gordon. Who's a relatively lowly Lieutenant, not a captain, senator or admiral.

When Rechik demands the Union apologize to Moclus for accusing them of any wrongdoing, Gordon snorts and calls the Moclans out on their bullsh*t, saying:

Gordon: "Every time they cross a line, we let it go because we're scared to fight the Kaylon without them. And every time we compromise, they still act like they're the ones gettin' the shaft! You treat people like garbage, and then when you get called on it, you bich and you moan that we're not respecting your beliefs!"

It's a satisfying scene, as he's absolutely right and it's about time someone pointed it out. But it's also completely and utterly unbelievable. There's no way in hell Gordon would have ever been allowed to sit in on the meeting, and the minute he opened his mouth Admiral Halsey would have had him escorted from the room and thrown in the Brig!

I know, it's a TV show about aliens, but it still has to have some small amount of believability.

• Bortus & Kelly bring Topa to the Union Council meeting (at the exact perfect time of course), and he furiously accuses his Moclan brethren of conspiring to kill a child and then lying about it.

Man, Peter Macon as Bortus absolutely KILLED it this episode, displaying a powerful combination of a father's undying love mixed with unbridled fury. If this show doesn't win a boatload of Best Actor Emmys, then what what are we even doing here?

• Once again, Bortus gets the Best Line Of The Episode. After the Council meeting, Heveena meekly tries to apologize to him for using his child for her own agenda:

Heveena: "Bortus... I am truly sorry. I do not expect you to forgive me."
Bortus: "That is a reasonable expectation."

• We then come to the best and definitely most unexpected part of the episode (and possibly the entire series!), as Talla ushers Klyden into Sickbay. He tells Bortus that the second he heard Topa was injured, he took the first transport he could find back to the OrvilleBortus tentatively agrees to let him see her.

I love the way Klyden timidly peeks around the corner of Topa's room— almost as if he's scared (or ashamed) to enter.

Klyden then apologizes for the horrible things he said to Topa back in A Tale Of Two Topas, saying he never wanted to see her hurt:

Klyden: "Topa. The last time I saw you, I said some very hurtful things. I regret my words."
Topa: "I understand, Papa. It's okay."
Klyden: "No. It is not. You... were almost lost. Because of people who believed as I did. I... I... I thought I hated you. But even then, I never wished you harm. I simply... did not know how to live with you. I allowed a lifetime of prejudice to cloud my judgment. That must change. I must change. I want you to know that I accept you, Topa, exactly as you are. And I am proud... to call you my daughter."
Topa: "I love you, Papa."
Klyden: "I love you too."

Goddammit, The Orville! How the hell did you go from being a Star Trek parody to legitimate sci-fi drama that actually made me tear up? Jesus Christ!

And what a change of heart for Klyden! After two seasons of being a major asshole and the closest thing the show had to an actual villain, he somehow managed to completely redeem himself. 

I never thought I'd be so invested in the lives and loves of rubber-headed aliens, but MacFarlane made it happen. Well done, everyone involved!

And kudos to Chad Coleman here too, who— like Peter Macon— absolutely killed it in this scene!

• In the wrapup, Bortus, Klyden and Topa are eating dinner in their quarters. Topa says the teepok is delicious, and Klyden beams as he says he'll make if for her whenever she likes.

What's this "make" crap? We've never seen anyone actually cook on this show. All they do is stand in front of the Food Synthesizer and order something!

• Kelly stops by to give Bortus a report. Much to her and the audience's surprise, Klyden actually invites her to join them for dinner. It may not seem like it, but this was a HUGE moment, as up to this point Kelly & Klyden have actively hated one another. 

If these two can get along, maybe there's hope for the rest of us after all!

• Although we got sort of a happy ending here, the situation's actually pretty dire. The Council just unanimously voted to kick Moclus out of the Union. Without their weapons supply, the Union is now vulnerable to Kaylon attack. Who knows, the Moclans may even turn on the weakened Union now! I assume this situation will escalate in the next two episodes.

This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
Well, there's the whole Dolly Parton cameo. Other than that, I got nothin.' They seem to have toned down the references quite a bit this season.

This Week's Star Trek Swipes:
Nothing blatant this week, though there are some superficial similarities to a few TNG episodes.

Topa being abducted and tortured by the sadistic Interrogator is reminiscent of Chain Of Command Parts 1 & 2, in which Captain Picard was captured and held prisoner in a secret Cardassian base. He was also brutally tortured, as Gul Madred famously tried to convince him there were five lights on the wall behind him instead of four.

Kelly and Bortus' infiltration mission was similar to the one in Chain Of Command as well— right down to the black stealth suits.

The Union Council scenes— in which the Moclans demand Heveena be tried for her crimes against their planet— are reminiscent of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There, a Klingon Ambassador appears before the alien delegates and calls for the arrest of the "terrorist" James T. Kirk.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country also featured drama and intrigue in the Federation Council, culminating in an assassination attempt on the President.

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