“All Kidding Aside,” The Orville New Horizons Pulls Out All the Stops

The third season of the Orville, called The Orville: New Horizons, has finally finished its run on Hulu and, as of this week, will be available on Disney Plus for a broader audience to see. Throughout the show’s history, the Star Trek similarities are easy, particularly those on the surface. There is the data character in Isaac, the robot. There is the Worf-like character in Bortus, who delivers all his lines in perfect deadpan. The Planetary Union is a stand-in for the United Federation of Planets. Several plots also echo stories that aired over twenty years ago, when Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired. Some people might use these similarities as a way to critique the show (these could be the same people that eat up any new superhero material despite all of it originating with Superman, perhaps), but what is easy to overlook is the KEY similarity between Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville and those old Star Trek reruns, and that is a sense of optimism, and a moral code by which the main characters live by and all the shows plots are filtered through.

In an episode of the just-aired New Horizons (season 3), the crew of the Orville finds themselves in possession of a powerful weapon that could end a long-standing conflict with the robotic race called the Kaylon. Before this moment, the Union had no chance against this enemy, yet, when the weapon proves effective and the crew can see the debris field of thousands of Kaylon before them, no one is “happy” about this. That’s the whole point: in a time where it seems that other shows, like The Boys, Peacemaker, and Doom Patrol get their rocks off highlighting the violence that must (realistically, I suppose) come from superheroes in the real world, the Orville remembers to take a step back: it remembers to think and consider the morality.

This season, consisting of ten episodes, each clocking in at an average of an hour and fifteen minutes, featured incredible world-building, with the production stepping up to eleven thanks to budgetary increase (the show benefitted from moving from broadcast to streaming). The humor, though, has been scaled back but (thankfully) not lost. All the themes Star Trek of the past has tackled were accentuated in the current run, while other more difficult issues were also explored. In the first episode, Isaac, the science officer who’s a member of the Kaylons, attempts suicide when he sees growing resentment among the crew due to his presence. In the fourth episode, “Gently Falling Rain,” we see the need for compassion in the midst of a political shakeup that would upend the galactic playing field. While the episode’s space battles and big chases were exciting, one can only walk away from the episode wondering what will happen to a small child caught up in the fray when a coup causes an ally to break away.

That only scratches the surface of the themes explored. In the fifth episode, Topa, the child of Bortus and Klyden, learns that he had been changed to a male as a child in order to be confirmed to the bigoted culture of the Moclans that he is a part of. He now struggles to get back his former self. A few episodes later, this child is used as a pawn in order to make this bigotry public. As a result, the Moclans leave the Union, setting the stage for a battle that all will remember.

The season also introduced a new character, Ensign Charly Burke, who was left traumatized by the Kaylon attack. Her arc this season was profound: she got to know Isaac and the Kaylon very well, and she could see clearly that this intelligent race of machines had been enslaved. The show has used themes hinted at in great Star Trek episodes (like TNG’s “Measure of a Man”) and is able to explore those themes fully.

Let’s not forget the visual spectacle: the show is colorful and fun to watch, with effects that make recent Star Wars shows seem rather tame. Yet, some of the season’s best moments are not accompanied by any effects at all: just conversations among well-drawn characters.

What’s more, the season ends with a comedic episode that is a lot of fun. At present, no one knows if the show will be renewed (if you like it, watch it on Disney Plus… hint, hint), but even if it ends here, it’s a fitting tribute to the spirit of Star Trek.