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Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Orville 1-04: If the Stars Should Appear (Quick Review)

Episode:4|Writer:Seth MacFarlane|Air Date:28-Sep-2017

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing some quick thoughts about The Orville's fourth episode, If the Stars Should Appear. Here's my first thought: the name sounds like it was found in a box of unused Star Trek episode titles, and I hope there's a few more left in there for later episodes because it's great.

This seems to be have been the second episode filmed, but it was held back to fourth because... I dunno, maybe it's terrible and they didn't want to scare people off early. It's not uncommon for series to film episodes out of order though, Doctor Who's always doing it, so I'm not going to read too much into it.

It's another episode credited to creator Seth MacFarlane, which means he's written four in a row now (no matter what order you put them in). I'm sure he'll let someone else have a turn eventually. The director's Trek veteran James L. Conway, and Memory Alpha tells me he's responsible for classics like DS9's Duet and Way of the Warrior, Voyager's Death Wish, Enterprise's Broken Bow and Next Gen's... oh shit he did Justice? The one where Wesley falls into the flowers? That's a contender for being the worst episode in the worst season of the entire run! Well, it was from season one; the poor guy was doomed from the start.

This is a quick review without that long recap I usually do, I'm just going to jump straight into SPOILERS and opinions, so you'll probably want to have watched the episode first before going any further.

If the Stars Should Appear is a story about three things: the suppression of inconvenient facts to sustain the status quo in the face of impending catastrophe, blowing shit up in space, and the crew's ongoing relationship issues.

The crew are still talking about Ed and Kelly's divorce, Alara's been scaring her boyfriends off with her super-strength, there's tension between Bortus and Klyden, and Yaphit's still lusting after Dr. Finn. Though Yaphit's scene plays out as if his scene in About a Girl hasn't happened yet, which is weird because the Bortus scene clearly comes after his child is hatched. There's some temporal weirdness going on which I'm going to blame on scenes (possibly) being shuffled around after this was (presumably) moved from the episode two slot to episode four.

Aside from that opening scene, I think this story would've been better coming after the pilot and before Command Performance, mostly because it gives Ed and Kelly a chance to get out of the ship and do some space hero work. We would've gotten to see how well Ed does as a commander first before he was taken off to the space zoo and Alara was forced into the job.

And it turns out that Ed's not actually a terrible Captain Kirk, as he finds the rebels, rescues his first officer, solves the mystery and saves the day! In fact, the whole crew proved themselves very competent this episode, with Claire saving Alara's life, John coming up with the plan to save the other colony ship, Kelly using her Agents of SHIELD training and knowledge of Friends to resist torture,  and Bortus showing he has more sense than anyone in 50 years of Star Trek by dropping a communication buoy to let the boarding party know why he ran off. Though I'm not impressed with Issac trying to steal both Alara's and Gordon's thunder by potentially being stronger than her and a better pilot than him! I get that being better than everyone is his thing, but they can't have two pickle jar openers on the ship, and did he not see Gordon hug the donkey like 50 times in a row in the pilot?

It was nice to see him get more screentime this week though, as they finally let him off the bridge set to play with his little tricorder. By the way, if you look really really close on its screen, you'll see that they've composited in a picture of what he's pointing it at (a little cabin in this case). It's such a tiny little touch that no one would ever notice unless they looking for something to take a screencap of to break up a huge wall of text.

The main plot is about the Orville crew investigating a ridiculously huge ancient starship that's drifting towards a star, and it's great to see them out on a (fake) planet, enjoying the scenery, making an ass of themselves in front of the locals, and coming across some suspiciously modern looking props. It started to remind me of a recent Doctor Who two-parter called World Enough and Time, with the forest inside a spaceship, but it turns out that it's more of a For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky situation (there's a proper Star Trek title for you). The society that's formed onboard has lost the knowledge that they're riding a giant metal turtle through space, partly due to the dictatorial theocracy suppressing any attempts to question their 2000-year-old beliefs in the creator Dorahl.

It's all set up to be a tale about the evils of religion, but it's more about the stupidity of a government shutting down opposing ideas when there's evidence to support them, especially when that evidence starts pointing towards bad things coming down the road. Yep, it's The Orville's climate change episode, though it doesn't beat you around the head with it or get overly preachy. It doesn't even say that their religion was entirely wrong, as Dorahl really did exist, but instead of being God, he turned out to be LIAM NEESON! The episode's got plenty of awe and wonder in it, more than most 90s sci-fi felt comfortable indulging in, but the captain's log was the part of the story where my jaw hit the floor. Mostly because of how quiet they kept his cameo. I had no idea he was going to appear, none whatsoever.

The episode also features Space: Above and Beyond's James Morrison and Prison Break's Robert Knepper, but there's no surprises from either of them as they're both playing the roles you'd expect. Knepper hasn't always played assholes though, as he actually showed up in Next Gen season one as Deanna Troi's fiancĂ©! Another Next Gen veteran paying penance here for enabling its first season.

So the Orville crew come in, show them the log, open the roof and reveal the truth, with considerably better results than their attempts to change minds in About a Girl. This is where the title comes from, as Dr. Finn reveals when she quotes from Shakespeare's Emerson's Nature:
"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!"
Hopefully the Union crew that comes over will teach them how to get the sunroof open every night from now on, because they did a terrible job of preserving the memory of stars for their descendants the last time around. I liked that the leader was fairly unreadable in his reaction to seeing the night sky for the first time, as I couldn't decide whether he was feeling anger, or shame, or awe, or maybe even panic at the realisation that he's surrounded by a mob that likes to kick people caught spreading 'lies' to death when they get worked up. I hope those guys do well on the rest of their journey though, and they don't arrive at their destination only to find that their people back home discovered FTL in the meantime and colonised the world years ago.

It's interesting that there's zero mention of any rule that prevents the crew from interfering with another culture; they just walk right up to people and tell them they're from a spaceship. Then again these guys are from a spaceship too, and it's in distress, so maybe a rule like that wouldn't even be relevant. Next Gen had a bizarre interpretation of its Prime Directive at times, with the crew determined to let entire planets die to save them from the unimaginable horror of maybe knowing that spacemen exist, but Captain Kirk would (and did) interfere all over the place if the alternative was letting a culture get wiped out and I can imagine the Union thinking the same way.

My overall opinion of the episode is that it was a fairly reasonable imitation of mildly entertaining, self-aware, tongue in cheek, Sliders/Stargate: SG-1 style science fiction. Trouble is that it's getting so close to it now that it's entered the uncanny valley and that makes it more obvious when it doesn't quite meet expectations. I feel like they nailed the sci-fi story, and the comedy's letting them get away with the shifts from awe-inspiring effects shots, to cheesy mid 90s TV, to gritty violence, to dad jokes in a lift, and back again, but the jokes still aren't clicking with me as often as I'd want it to. I mean I'm not expecting golden age Red Dwarf from it, but I feel like it's struggling to match Doctor Who and Legends of Tomorrow. Though I'm totally on board for more of this; looking forward to next week.

The Orville will return with Pria. It'll return on TV anyway, I don't know if I'm going to write about it yet. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures... I dunno, it's either more Star Trek: Discovery or Babylon 5's GROPOS. My plans are not as solid as they once were.

If you've got anything you want to say about this episode of The Orville, or my website, or something else that's relevant, then the comment box down is an excellent way to share this information with the world.

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