As with Episode 2, Episode 3 of The Orville, Season 3, starts out with a great deal of promise only to completely fall apart at the end. However, I will say that — of all the episodes so far — the beginning of this story felt the most like Star Trek, in the sense that an anomaly shows up on the scanners, followed by a quirky scenario which promises a great deal of mystery to come.
The crew detects a civilization on a planet that was previously understood to be desolate. Ed, Kelly, Talla, Bortus, and Gordon all land on the planet to find a lush forest and a high school. They enter the high school and are immediately trapped in the building. Right away, the crew puts together the fact that they are inside some kind of hallucination or simulation.
The question is, how does this collective hallucination relate to the real world? When Gordon is beat up by some bullies, his wounds are real. I won’t lie; I found the idea of a trained member of the “space army” being roughed around by a bunch of high schoolers to be a little ridiculous. I mean, couldn’t he, at least, try to subdue them?
But no matter. The bullies make Gordon promise to pay some head bully. When the crew goes to confront the unknown threat on the football field, the bully turns out to be some kind of space troll.
They fight and during this encounter Gordon is almost crushed. Just as he is about to have the life squeezed out of him by the troll’s giant hands, his eyes go grey. Talla saves his life but the crew beats a hasty retreat. Afterward, he tells the crew that he felt something odd…
The crew gets away from the space troll and find themselves on a plane, which is, of course, crashing.
It’s easy to guess the plot from here. Each crew member has a near-death experience, followed by this odd “eyes going grey” sensation, until the last simulation: A giant door, straight out of the Middle Ages, appears before them.
They refuse to go through the door, and later find a device which is, they believe, projecting the large-scale hallucination. But, obviously, this device was a red herring, and they find themselves in yet another hallucination. It is one in which their entire ship is about to be destroyed by some Kaylon vessels.
Really, this twist should have been obvious to the crew. Rule number one about creating a holographic device: Disguise the holographic device.
Where the story fell apart…
Just as a Kaylon vessel is about to fly straight into the Orville, everything stops. And Talla turns into a creature who can only be described as Jigglypuff wearing a rainbow leotard. This creature’s look is not the best way to portray an ethereal being. The crew immediately asks what’s going on. And this is where the story fell apart.
The (formerly Talla) creature’s monologue starts out well enough. She explains the situation: Basically, the creature is immortal. She and her race wanted to know what death was like. So, they created a handful of fake scenarios so they could experience the crew members’ reactions to their own impending demise. Okay, makes sense. It’s cruel, but it makes sense.
Ed points out the cruelty of this practice to her but what follows is a pretentious conversation about philosophy that chews up the last eight minutes of airtime. Star Trek featured such conversations. But there were always characters acting as surrogates to provide an opposing point of view. Now, Star Trek’s writers often had their own opinion that they wanted to get across. But the show always tried to represent both sides of a debate, even if the opinion they didn’t like was framed as a straw man.
Here, the ethereal Pokémon commences to lecture the crew about how they are simply too stupid to understand her brilliance. Again, this was a typical trope for all-powerful beings in the Star Trek universe — but some of the characters always resisted. The crew of the Orville, however, takes the lecture like scorned students. It seems like the show agrees with every word the Pokémon says. And that is where things get disturbing.
The creature starts out by telling the crew that her race took the reins of evolution. I can’t say for sure what the writers meant, but that phrase is usually code for eugenics.
Think about it. How does one take the reigns of evolution?
Controlling the circumstances of birth would be the first option, either by terminating “undesirables” or by drastically altering the DNA of the life form in question. I mean, everyone knows that’s worked out just swell in the past. It’s not like governments end up castrating or killing all the poor people or anything… wait.
But, according to the Ethereal Pokémon, this process, whatever it really was, enabled the creatures became immortal. Apparently, the secret to immortality is hidden within our genes. If we could just clean up our dirty DNA, we wouldn’t die. Or maybe, they just got really smart and figured out how to break the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Who knows?
It gets better. She disguises her motives for wishing to experience death with a bunch of flowery language. But the bottom line is, her species is bored. It turns out that idle immortality is very dull. So they wanted to experience death for the novelty of it. She suggests that knowing what it’s like to die will stir some primal part of their psyche that will, perhaps, overcome their apathy. Sounds like something they could’ve fixed with more eugenics.
But, on that view, isn’t everything just DNA? Perhaps, they could wipe boredom from the gene pool. That would surely be easier than preventing death!
The crew must “outgrow self”
It gets even more ridiculous. The Ethereal Pokémon goes on to tell them that they outgrew their gods and nations — a petulant little shot at the portion of the population who values such things. Then she commences to tell them that they must “outgrow self”
I can’t think of a more colorful and poetic way to say “assimilation.” But assimilate into what? The universe of course! This sounds suspiciously like a religious concept, but her group has put all that pesky stuff behind them. So they must mean something else which can only be described as a complete loss of identity.
She tells them to ignore such labels as man, husband, captain, explorer because they are all irrelevant. And if they can do that, they can sculpt the cosmos.
So, there you have it, boys and girls. Practice eugenics, and abandon all forms of individuality so you can join the collective . . . I mean, the universe. I can’t promise you’ll be happy, but you’ll be too empty-headed to know if you’re unhappy. So, there’s that. But you still won’t be too empty-headed to wonder what death is like. I’m sure that will have nothing to do with the meaninglessness of your existence.
My wife had an excellent point when she watched this part of the episode with me. She said, just imagine if it was a man saying all that garbage…
Yes, for the purposes of this article, ask yourself: What you would think if a Borg was standing in front of the crew, telling them the same thing. You’d be horrified. Because, as secular as Star Trek could be, it still understood that there is something special about an individual human, and about being alive period. Every species has something special to bring to the table. That was the point of trying to make peace with the extraterrestrials in the first place.
But because this woman is painted pink and dressed in a rainbow leotard, with serene music is playing the background, we are supposed to take what she says seriously, and not recognize it for the horror story that it is.
Now, the last scene of this episode has everyone drinking in the lounge of the ship. This is where the cast should’ve had some kind of conversation about what they’ve just heard. It wpul;d have been an excellent place to add those surrogates who present opposing points of view. Instead, we get a generic conversation about immortality. Ed ends the episode by saying he wants immortality because he wishes to see what happens. The conversation doesn’t really go anywhere because, it turns out, the Pokémon’s lecture is the moral of the story.
Why you may as well skip this episode
Now, I’ve shown my personal bias about the message in the previous paragraphs. But it should also be noted that, from a writing standpoint, there is no way these characters should’ve taken anything this alien said seriously. She’s just put them through all kinds of torment, and they would be furious. Ed does make an effort to point this out, but the subject is glossed over in favor of the moral.
Furthermore, the Union would be freaking out because these all-powerful beings could mess with them at any time, and there is no known technology to defeat them. They’ve clearly shown their hostile intent, or at least, a profound sense of apathy that could be dangerous. And, supposing that the Union didn’t consider them a threat, wouldn’t they be tempted to ask them for help against the Kaylon? I mean, the Union knows where these being are, so why not ask them for help? You can’t just have an all-powerful race of beings who dwell on a localized planet within your universe, and not expect ramifications.
This episode was not only exhaustingly pretentious but it practically broke the Orville universe because now there is this all-powerful force that could wipe out either side at any time.
If you can stomach the last ten minutes of this episode, you might enjoy it. But personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. It does nothing for the plot overall. It’s a one and done deal. We’ve met this ethereal race, and now we’re supposed to just forget what happened. You’d do just as well to skip it.
Here’s my take on Episode 2: The Orville Episode 2: Bacterial assimilation? — it gets messy. A ship that crew members investigate turns out to be a deadly mixture of mechanical — and organic — material. Sadly, while the story worked until near the end, where there is no discussion of the moral dilemma the crew faces, which made it feel “B-movie matinee.”