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Orville Episode 1: We Witness — a Robotic Resurrection!

In this final look at Episode 1 of Season Three, we see how love for a robot, unexamined, entails a loss of sense and meaning

After I rolled my eyes for what felt like twenty minutes, waiting for the writers to quit wasting time with the whole “Isaac is really dead! We mean it!” routine, somebody finally realizes that there is a way to save the poor robot’s life.

Apparently, the robot has a backup, of a backup, of a backup file buried deep inside his brain. The engineer, LaMarr, is fairly certain he can reconstruct Isaac’s programming using this secret backup file. If this sounds lazy and contrived to you, you’ll love this next part.

Remember Charly, the girl who was super hateful to the robot at the beginning of the episode? Well, apparently, she is the newest high-ranking member in the crew, despite her age, and the reason for her fast rise to the top is that she can see in four dimensions.

Now, I don’t know if Seth MacFarlane realizes this or not but, according to Einstein, the fourth dimension is time.* So apparently, the crew of the Orville have met the omniscient almighty, and its name is Charly.

No one explains how this four-dimensional sight works. It’s no different than saying “by the power of the gods… ” So, by the power of the gods, Charly is going to help reconstruct poor Isaac’s brain because she can see in four dimensions and that is supposed to help… somehow.

Much drama ensues between the time Ed asks Charly to help save Isaac and the time that she actually does so. Suffice to say, she doesn’t like Isaac because of what happened with the Kaylon betrayal and therefore doesn’t wish to help him. But she changes her mind because Marcus, Dr. Finn’s eldest son, finds her and asks her to help. He feels bad for telling Isaac to die — only to have the robot follow orders a little while later. Thus, she changes her mind and helps LaMarr with the “repairs.” The real reason for this waste of time is to establish Charly’s arc. Omniscient beings blessed with four-dimensional sight are just too good for this world.

Anyway, Isaac wakes up, says thanks to Charly, and she storms off in a huff because — of course she does. It’s not like her character’s a stereotype or anything.

The rest of the events in this episode are pretty underwhelming until we reach one of the final scenes. Dr. Finn is sitting with Isaac because she is the robot’s counselor. I mean, really, Dr. Finn shouldn’t be the robot’s counselor because they’ve been dating recently. That would constitute a conflict of interest. Actually, it’s the conflict of interest for a counselor but… moving right along…

Dr. Finn asks Isaac why he killed himself. Isaac explains in his robotic tone. He had reasoned that, since the ship hated him so much, overall efficiency had dropped. So he thought that it would better if he killed himself after giving some final advice in order to bring the efficiency back up to normal levels. Of course, the doctor refutes this, and asks Isaac to come to her if he has any more suicidal thoughts. He agrees, and that’s it. The episode is pretty much over.

There’s an odd clash of themes during this final scene, as well as in the episode overall. The writer wants us to take Dr. Finn’s passion seriously but also wants us to believe that Isaac really can’t feel anything. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Thus this last scene simply doesn’t work.

If Isaac can’t feel anything, and there’s no possibility that he can feel in the future, then all the crying and wailing and lamenting for him is silly. It’s like a child mourning over a toy at best, and an adult crying over an appliance at worst. If Isaac is so temperamental that he is willing to kill himself, although he doesn’t feel anything, then there might need to be some new Union rule that tells everyone to be nice to their robots, otherwise, they might conclude that the only way to maintain efficiency is to kill themselves. That could prove annoying. This is what I meant by calling Isaac potentially stupid in the previous review. If the robot is so temperamental that it offs itself every time the crew shows displeasure, then that robot is, by definition, a faulty machine.

The central point of the story arc between Dr. Finn and Isaac needs to be whether or not Isaac can grow as a synthetic being. Only after promising some kind of character growth to the audience can you risk having the character commit suicide. To do that, we would need to hear characters arguing over the nature of Dr. Finn and Isaac’s relationship. Some characters may think their relationship fine and others may find it ridiculous but all these characters need to present their opinions in a relatable way. That was the real magic of Star Trek. Keeping that dynamic is one of the best ways to give proper homage to the old series.

Avoiding that dynamic creates a ridiculous scenario. We hear Ed prattle on about Isaac being as real as we make him, as if he’s no different from a stuffed bear, which makes the situation laughable. Perhaps, some people find the notion of reality as subjective idealistic but, in dramatic terms, it makes the crew seem like petulant toddlers weeping over a ruined toy. You didn’t see the cast of Star Wars crying every time C-3PO or R2-D2 were shot because they were robots. We liked them well enough, but nobody cried over them. Unless you address the question of life, then the writer — even if it is Seth McFarlane — can’t justify the cast’s grief.

I don’t know if the writers were trying to build some sort of “love is love” narrative around this episode or what, but the message didn’t land for me. The Kaylon are a new species. Very little is known about them. Very little is known about Isaac. The whole ship should be wondering what Isaac even is. If he’s just a robot, how did he override his programming? If he can override his programming, why didn’t he do it sooner?

Seth MacFarlane knew that the relationship needed some strife and tension to justify the story, but he neglected the question of life. That turned the conflict into a question of moral culpability for the robot when the whole issue of culpability is contingent on the robot being alive in the first place. Therefore, the script for this episode morphed into a circular, silly, and at the same time, very boring scenario because it was almost impossible to figure out how much I should care about what’s happening. This was not a great start to Season Three.

And now on to Episode 2.

*Note: Concepts of four-dimensional space, like the tessaract, are pure mathematics.

Here are Parts I and II of my review of Episode 1: Should we love or hate an intelligent robot? Or care at all? In Season 3 of Orville that becomes a serious question. Is there more to Isaac the robot than metal? But how is that even possible? ? And why isn’t the question addressed?

and

When a robot commits suicide — an elegy for what? What’s frustrating about Episode 1 of Orville, Season Three is that robot Isaac’s claim to personhood is not ambiguous so much as confused and contradictory. We’re not supposed to “judge” Dr. Finn’s conflicted love for the robot. But that means not asking the obvious: Good heavens, is she dating a TOASTER?


Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Orville Episode 1: We Witness — a Robotic Resurrection!