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Monday, 9 October 2017

The Orville 1-05: Pria (Quick Review)

Episode:5|Writer:Seth MacFarlane|Air Date:05-Oct-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm rushing through another The Orville episode review. I have to get this finished and posted before they go and air the next episode.

This is apparently the fifth episode in a row written by Seth MacFarlane, so he's either pulling a J. Michael Straczynski-style feat of marathon script writing, or they've been forgetting to update the opening credits each week. Plus this is the fourth time they've gotten Trek veteran in to direct and this time it's Jonathan Frakes! He's one of the best Trek actors turned directors so I'm always happy to see his name show up. Plus it means that in a few weeks I'll be able to watch his episode of Star Trek: Discovery and compare the two series fairly.

Okay, past this point there be episode SPOILERS, so continue no further if that's an issue.

I had my concerns about this episode from the first time I saw its title listed on Wikipedia; it's never a good sign when an episode uses a guest character's name as its one-word title. I'm not saying they're all inevitably terrible, but let me list a few from the Star Trek series and see how many genuine classics you can spot: Miri, Bem, Sarek, Aquiel, Dax, Melora, Shakaar, Jetrel, Tuvix, Alice, Rajiin... I nearly wrote Gambit then; that'd would've been an interesting crossover.

But is Pria any good? Well, it has good visuals effects! I mean except for the shot of Alara opening the metal door. Aside from that it's just one beautiful space scene after another as the crew rescues the guest star from a comet plummeting into a star, gets stuck in a dark matter storm, dives through a wormhole and meets a weird-ass CGI fish alien. Very little of it looks entirely believable to me, but it all looks pretty so I'm happy enough. Plus there's the trip to the scenic racoon god homeworld in the holodeck, which we learn is called the environment simulator.

We get a bit more information about The Orville and its capabilities this episode and it's definitely a step above your average Starfleet ship. They can regenerate limbs in sickbay! The captain has a spiral staircase in his quarters! They can watch 20th-century television on the viewscreen to stave off boredom during bridge shifts and get everyone familiar with modern pop-culture references! Also, the ship's capable of exceeding 10 light years an hour. That seemed really slow to me at first, so I did a bit of maths and worked out that Star Trek's USS Voyager was flying home at around 1000 light years per year... the USS Orville, on the other hand, can cover that distance in just over 4 days.

It's just a shame that engineering looks a bit crap.

It's like something off an ultra-low budget sci-fi spoof sitcom, or Babylon 5.

The A-plot is all about the arrival of Oscar-winning Hollywood guest star Charlize Theron as the mysterious Pria, who ends up falling in love with The Orville writer Seth MacFarlane. So that's two A Million Ways to Die in the West co-stars he's talked into coming onto his TV series so far. Ed starts to fall in love with her, Kelly starts to become suspicious, and I started to lose interest as the episode settled into a comfortable rut for the next 15 minutes as all three of us waited for the other shoe to drop.

The way I saw it, there were only two likely outcomes: Kelly turns out to be right, there is something going on with Pria, and Ed's being played, or Kelly turns out to be wrong, Pria's entirely on the level, and she manages to ruin Ed's chance of romance with her paranoia and jealousy. Either way the relationship was doomed from the start (because Charlize Theron's not going to be a recurring character) and either way poor Alara was going to end up getting shouted at for searching a guest's room without good cause. That was a really dumb move she made there... she should've searched or scanned their guest when she first came on board.

But things got a lot more interesting and unpredictable once it was revealed that Pria was a time traveller and the crew of the Orville were meant to have died. That woke me up a bit. Plus I liked that she was more complicated than just a villain, as she really had fallen for Ed and she'd actually saved all their lives... possibly. We never did see any proof of that.

I feel like they could've gotten to the reveal faster and then spent more time dealing with the consequences though. Like the crew could've discussed the morality of changing the future a bit more, seeing as from Pria's point of view they're altering centuries of history just by existing. Personally it seems to me that being able to change the future is the privilege of those that live in the present, that's the definition of free will, but I wanted to hear their opinions.

The paradoxes are messing with my head though. If shooting the wormhole makes Pria disappear because she without it she could've never come back in time, then what saved them from the dark matter storm and brought them to the wormhole that they just shot? And why did they shoot it? And will Ed find the teleporter next time he opens that drawer? More importantly, did Amelia Earhart still get rescued?

Actually here's a bigger mystery: how did Pria know so much about that Salem Witch Museum?

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Geordi... Gordon decides to teach Isaac about pranks.

It's not necessarily a great idea for a TV series to do a subplot about comedy, especially when that series hasn't got the best track record in that department. Star Trek: The Next Generation jumps to mind as a series that typically fell flat on its face whenever Data tried to learn about humour (like in The Outrageous Okona and Generations), so I didn't expect great things when this Next Gen inspired sci-fi series tried it with its own off-brand Data in an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes.

But to me, this is the first episode to actually pull off the drama/comedy mix that the series has been aiming for, with jokes that come naturally from the story and characters. In fact, I thought the comedy plot worked better than the serious sci-fi story for once.

And man I started fearing for Gordon's life the moment he invited a confused robot who's probably never heard of Asimov's three laws to 'do something to me I don't expect'. Though I assumed there'd be an escalation of pranks before things went over the line. Nope, Isaac went straight to cutting Gordon's leg off, to everyone's horror. Especially Gordon's, who seemed genuinely furious to be mutilated in his sleep; good acting there. I love that once he's calmed down though he admits that it was actually an amazing prank, instead of the episode pulling a Next Gen, where everyone acts like the funny thing Data just did wasn't funny (or vice versa). Shame about the poor leg cut continuity that spoils the scenes where his missing limb turns up.

For a moment I thought that the dark matter incident was going to be Isaac's prank, but I guess it would've been kind of dark and a little terrifying if he'd accidentally killed off the whole crew in the original timeline by taking a joke a little too far. Instead, he's the only one who 'dies' during the story, in a rushed and confusing series of events. So, did he wirelessly upload his entire memory into the computer in the moment before he got zapped? If so, how did that even help?

Anyway, in conclusion, this was a kind of slow, mostly ship-bound story all about Ed trying to get past his divorce. Again. The Orville at the moment is about three things: fun sci-fi, dumb comedy, and Ed and Kelly's failed marriage, and it could do with dropping the last one; it's not the rich vein of hilarity and drama that Seth MacFarlane thinks it is, not for me anyway. But I did like this episode overall; it was... likeable.

The Orville will return with Krill. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Star Trek: Discovery's The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry. Man, it's a crime that Trek doesn't put the episode title up on screen anymore; I wanted to see how they fit all that on.

This sentence you're reading now exists only to remind you that you can leave a comment.


  1. Wow, I have to agree with you about the Engineering set. It's not often a Star Trek: TOS set puts a modern one to shame. The bridge looks good, though. I like brightly-lit bridges with big windows and good color highlights.

    Um. I don't watch this show, so I'm pretty much done after commenting on the screengrabs.

    1. I'm 60-70% sold on the bridge, but I respect their fearlessness when it comes to using beige.