The first question that comes to mind when going to the Hulu menu screen and finding the new episode of The Orville is to ask if this is a new show.
Well, no. This show still has the same characters as seasons one and two, and it picks up from the storylines those seasons started, but in the three years since the last episode, the show has moved to the Hulu service and somehow became, perhaps, more dramatic?
First, the episode looks cinematic, sleek, and superb. This show is unrivaled when referring to the direction adventure shows go in terms of sound and visual effects, With a value that should give Paramount, which produces new, official Star Trek shows like Strange New Worlds and the Lucasfilm production Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is not just because this first episode opens with a space battle featuring hundreds of ships engaged in combat. There is also a superb sequence where Malloy uses a new mini-fighter plane, called the Pterodon, against a few drones; the scene is a thrill ride. The music and the sound are superb in this sequence.
Yet, the real improvements are the redesigned sets, the improved uniforms, the more focused story-telling, and tighter direction. Since its inception, The Orville was a fun spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show has always had humor, or at least wit, ingrained within its DNA. But the producers always put more into it than just the surface-level comedy that Seth MacFarlane animated shows like Family Guy are known for doing. He loves how Star Trek used science fiction for story-telling and allegory. To understand why MacFarlane has gone through the effort of making his own Star Trek competitor while under the Paramount umbrella, you need only to watch this episode. Here is an episode that leans into some heavy themes like bullying, prejudice, grief, and suicide and handles all of them with a deft hand. In other words, it does not take any of these themes lightly, but it also stays away from heavy melodrama.
The story involves the crew of the Orville becoming more and more uncomfortable having the robot Isaac on board the ship as a crew member. Isaac is a Kaylon, a robotic species that went on the offensive last season, and Isaac had a forced betrayal of the Orville crew and worked with them, at least until he could find a way to stop his race and help the Orville win the battle. Charly Burke, a new crewmember, when concerning the rest of the shipmates, “it’s too little, too late,” said Charly Burke. When Isaac realizes that his presence is a detriment to crew performance, he permanently deactivates himself. Charly Burke and his point of view are not wrong, yet Captain Mercer implores her to help when a way to reactivate Isaac becomes found. Show the galaxy that humans are different, he says, that we value life even when our enemies do not.
From this point on, we see how this suicide affects the crew. It is difficult for the doctor, Claire Finn, and her sons. A stand-out scene has an alien woman stating that, in her culture, suicide is a personal choice and should be respected, a counter to the fact that “no one chooses to be alive,” said Claire Finn. Yet, we know that this is not an alien perspective: it is a perspective that a minority of people even today share about suicide. That MacFarlane used this view and made it come from a member of an alien species, he was able to do what Star Trek has always tried to do: use science fiction as allegory and allow the viewer to look at such topics without harsh judgment.
The first episode of the new season of the Orville is a masterpiece of science fiction story-telling and promises a great season ahead.
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