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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Orville 1-08: Into the Fold (Quick Review)

Episode:8|Writer:Brannon Braga & André Bormanis|Air Date:02-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Into the Fold, the eighth episode of The Orville's first season. Of at least two. Because it just got renewed for a second season!

Now it just has to hold out for one more year and it'll reach the fabled season three, where Star Trek series get really good. Though sometimes it takes until season four, so Fox should probably hold off cancelling it until then just to be sure. Not that Fox actually kills off every sci-fi series early, it probably just seems that way because short-lived series like Firefly and Terminator had such a vocal fan base. And Dark Angel, Dollhouse, Space: Above and Beyond, Alien Nation... okay, I suddenly feel like checking Wikipedia to see how many of their science fiction series actually made it past season two.

Hmm, there's X-Files, Fringe, uh... Sliders. Man this series is so doomed.

This is one of my quick reviews so there'll be no epic screencap recap, just a few words on what I thought about it and a lot of SPOILERS.

Into the Fold is an episode written and directed by Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga, working with Trek writer/producer André Bormanis, all about Beverly Crusher and Data taking Wesley on a trip that ends with a shuttle crash. It's like they've been carefully transforming the series into Star Trek so gradually that CBS hasn't noticed and sued them yet.

One thing that sets it apart from Star Trek though is the visual effects of the shuttle crash, as the way it's torn apart in mid-air and the front section slams into the forest looks fantastic. It's a real step up from anything I remember seeing in a Trek episode, and I've seen a lot of shuttles crash in Trek episodes. Especially in Voyager, where the crew seemed obsessed with leaving shuttle debris on every planet in the Delta Quadrant.

Another thing that sets it apart from Trek is that the role of Wesley Crusher is played by two annoying brats so damn irritating that even a robot loses his patience with them. Then again I suppose no one's said that Isaac doesn't have emotions. He might get irritated by all kinds of stuff! Who could even tell with that face of his?

We get a little closer to finding out this episode as Isaac has finally gotten the starring role in his own A-plot! Plus Dr. Claire Finn has finally gotten the starring role in her own B-plot! Or maybe they're both A-plots, I don't know.

Claire's only one in the back of the shuttle when it splits so she's isolated from the others for most of the episode, with only a lonely survivalist to talk to. Shame he's a bit of a deranged kidnapper type who captures her and locks her in his bunker... which turns out to be up near the top of a skyscraper.

We haven't learned much about Claire so far in the series, other than the fact that she's probably the most sensible and competent of the crew (Isaac has his moments but there's always a risk he'll cut your leg off or vaporise your kids), and this episode confirms that yep she's sensible and competent. When Ed and Kelly were locked in a cell in episode 2 the best they managed was to get drunk and have a row, but Claire manages to find a way out all on her own.

It seems like she's chickened out on taking it at first (she is afraid of heights), but it turns out she was actually using her head. She figures out that her creepy captor wants... company, and threatens to die of an infection on him by slicing her own arm open to get him out of the building for a while. Then once she's in contact with a super strong robot who can come and save her, she deliberately withholds any information about her situation so that he'll protect her kids instead, leaving her in a position where she has to shove a knife into the guy's stomach, swipe his gun and shoot him dead with it to escape. Which she does. The moral of the story: always bring Claire on your landing teams. Never John or Gordon, always Claire.

We do finally get to see a flaw in her character though, as she seems determined to deliberately play life on Hard Mode. We already knew that she's a good enough officer to be on a Star Trek series, and she's slumming it on the Orville because she'll get more to do, but here we learn that she's also raising kids as a single mother! By choice! That came as a bit of a shock to me as I don't think she's even mentioned her children up to this point. I don't remember her ever having a problem with artificial lifeforms who think that they're better than everyone else either, but suddenly she's going all Dr. Pulaski on Isaac... for the first five minutes anyway. She's over it by the end.

The survivalist situation seems a little too much like the B-plot of a bad episode of 24, but I thought the episode handled it well, with an appropriate amount of tension. Also, it featured genre legend Brian Thompson as a menacing Klingon-lookalike who learned the hard way that even a doctor from an enlightened and benevolent alien race is going to put a cap in you if you lock them up and keep them from their sick child. I liked how the episode subtly indicated how much her kill count was weighing on her though, as she made sure her son kept his gun on the stun setting and wasn't all that eager to write up her report at the end. Of course giving a kid a gun and telling him to go open fire on people is still kind of dark, but the Claire side of the episode is meant to be. There's not a single moment of humour in all the time she's separated from her kids; no defiant wisecracks, no tension-deflating one-liners, nothing.

Isaac's side of the episode is much funnier though... well it's slightly funnier anyway, mostly because of his lack of tact (and his loss of patience with them fighting over that bloody Game Boy).

He comes across like a shameless clone of Data from Next Gen with a bucket on his head, but there's a fundamental difference between the two robots: Data's a tragic Pinocchio type who wants to become a real boy but never will be, while Isaac's just a curious alien who's studying organic beings for his other job. Isaac's not quite so innocent, he does take offence to people calling him a "talking hubcap", and he's not trying to be more human (because robots are better). So when he does things like hold Claire's hand it feels like he's genuinely trying to use what he's learned to comfort her, rather than mimicking something he's seen other people do.

Also Data was often very childlike, while Isaac's definitely more like a parental figure to Claire's sons. I actually enjoyed the scenes of him trying to deal with them, despite them being the most convincingly annoying children on television ever. I could really believe I was being annoyed by them, so the actors did a great job there. At one point the episode had me worried that Isaac would end up incapacitated somehow and he'd have to talk the two of them through saving the day, but thankfully he was on top of the situation the whole time. Though the younger, less intelligent one did prove his worth by giving him the idea to look for the mineral they needed. I also expected Issac's voice synthesiser to come into play later but it didn't really, well except for the bedtime story. I liked his first story better than Peter Rabbit though; it was amazing:
"There was once a doctor and her two children. They embarked on a recreational journey to a leisure planet. Their shuttle was diverted by a spacial anomaly and crashed into a mountain. The children survived with the help of a more advanced artificial life form. Their mother was missing or dead. The end."
Though they kind of spoiled the scene by having them both go to sleep with ration bars in their hands.

On the rare occasions that the story cuts back to the ship, the other characters are all joking about glory holes and Barry Manilow, and it becomes an episode of the Orville again. It really reinforces how most of the comedy in this series comes from the personalities in the crew, because when a funny character isn't on screen there's just no laughs. I thought the way the episode changed gears between deadly serious Claire scenes, occasionally hilarious Isaac scenes, and full Orville comedy worked though.

Plus I liked how the Orville scenes reestablished John's competence after he nearly got himself lobotomised in Majority Rule, by making him too important to drive the shuttle because he's needed to supervise the overhaul of the navigation system. I was expecting some kind of punchline as he screwed something up again, but he carries out every technical task he's given without grinding against a single statue. I figured that there'd be complications to them having to navigate without the overhaul being finished at least, but nope that caused zero problems either. Travelling 1000 light years into uncharted space... no worries at all. In fact, the only problem that the Orville crew really faced was someone spilling soy sauce on their pants and even then the main concern was that the guy was dumb enough to report it (they really do need to get better people).

That's probably the biggest flaw with the episode really: it's too damn straightforward. Afterwards I was left thinking 'Well that was an episode of television for sure, shame I've got nothing to write about it.' We were given a little bit of a twist with the reveal that it's a post-apocalyptic world and the water is infected with a bio-weapon, but I was expecting there'd be more to it than that. There's no social commentary, no sci-fi themes, no morals or messages (besides 'don't shoot people if you can help it'), and there isn't even much comedy. It's just about Claire's sons experiencing reality and coming together more as a family, with Isaac brought into the fold as their shiny metal space uncle. Still, it's not as sappy as it could've been, and I do like how they threw in a line at the end that they'll be trying to cure the whole moon instead of just leaving them to suffer. That earns it an extra half-point on its own. Shame I don't give scores.

Overall I'd say that this is a very... okay episode of The Orville. It's put together well enough for what it is but with the premise it has it was never going to be a stand out classic. I'm curious to see if the series' trend towards more drama and less humour continues, but this hasn't sold me on the idea of a more serious Orville.

The Orville will return with Cupid's Dagger. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Discovery's Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.

You can prove your superiority to other humans by leaving a comment in the box below.

1 comment:

  1. A very...okay episode. Nothing special. No sci fi themes, no morals or messages. Yup, sounds like Brannon Braga to me. I hope Orville keeps it's irreverence and not get too bogged down in trying to emulate Trek.