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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Orville 1-10: Firestorm (Quick Review)

Episode:10|Writer:Cherry Chevapravatdumrong|Air Date:16-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm writing a quick review of The Orville's 10th episode, Firestorm. So quick in fact that I'm just going to say SPOILER WARNING then get on with it. Also CLOWN WARNING.

Firestorm is the Halloween episode you want, three weeks after you want it.

It starts with the Orville caught in a mysterious space storm for some reason, and as it knocks the ship around a chunk of whatever's up above the ceiling lands onto poor unfortunate Lt. Payne. Out of the two super-strong crewmembers on the bridge, Alara's the one called down to get him free, because a roomful of engineers apparently can't figure out how to turn the artificial gravity down. Well okay maybe it's not that simple, but you'd think they'd have some heavy lifting gadget lying nearby... or a metal rod. Anyway, Alara gets an explosion in her face and freezes up, allowing a second bit of ceiling to land and finish the job. This whole intro is surprisingly low on jokes and it doesn't get any more laugh a minute once the crew gather for his funeral. Payne's the first Orville crewmember to die I believe, though someone did come perilously close back in Into the Fold when they spilt soy sauce on their pants. Alara's hit hard by her failure to save him and she doesn't understand why she hesitated, so the rest of the episode is about her trying to deal with her guilt and self-doubt... until it becomes about the crew's nightmares trying to eat them (but is actually still about her).

The trouble with writing a science fiction TV series is that whatever clever premise you come up with, Star Trek's done it already. They did your hypothetical story concept on Next Gen, then did a new twist on the idea for Voyager and then they ripped off that Voyager episode for Enterprise. And in the unlikely event that Trek let that hypothetical idea of yours slip right by them for 700+ episodes, you can bet Stargate already did something with it. So while I was watching this I spent the whole time thinking 'oh they're doing the other half of Lonely Among Us, no wait it's Where No One Has Gone Before, oh it has to be Distant Voices... unless it's The Thaw?' But then it turned out to be a holodeck episode instead, which hadn't even occurred to me, despite the fact they threw in a scene at the start that takes place in the simulator as an obvious clue! I blame the episode title, as it sneakily misdirected me into thinking that the storm must have been the source of the mysterious events rather than the spark that sets off Alara's personal crisis.

Though the episode did play fair, as once it secretly switches to the simulation there's no more exterior shots of the ship and it never shows anything that Alara couldn't witness herself. Well, aside from when it gives the twist away early by cutting to people in the simulator control room, but after Gordon was eaten by a spider and the ship was abandoned I wasn't going to believe anything that happened anymore anyway, and the writer probably knew this. At least after the conversation in the control room I knew the actual stakes and the story could get back to Alara facing her own demons and passing her own self-inflicted test.

Plus one thing Star Trek never did in 50 years was show the other side of the holodeck simulation like this! We finally get to see how it moves the floor to keep the occupant in the middle of the room as they walk around. It's going to be interesting giving the episode a second viewing now that I know from the start that half the main characters are up here looking down on what their holograms are doing. In fact, they should get the actors in to record an episode commentary in character for just the simulated scenes, as if they're watching the simulation play out.

This isn't the first story this season about the security chief facing her insecurities, but it's not a retread at all. In Command Performance Alara conquered her fear that she couldn't do her job with the help of her colleagues' advice and a couple of shots of Xelayan tequila, but in this she conquered her fear by putting together all the phobias of the entire crew together into one simulated semi-plausible sci-fi scenario, then wiped her memory and faced them all in a row to make sure she didn't have any surprises lurking in her subconscious. It's a bit different. But I guess there'll be no more fear episodes for her after this one, seeing as she sent the last of her fears flying across the engine room with a metal beam (of course Isaac would make himself the 'superior enemy' in his program). That's fine though, as I don't feel unsatisfied with the quantity of nightmares we got in this story, with the clown, crazy possessed Claire, CGI spiders, and the cunning swerve where it seems we're going to get a scary sexy shower scene with Kelly, only for her to step out into a void instead. Plus there's good fear continuity, with Claire's acrophobia getting mentioned again, and the guy who had his leg cut off in his sleep having a fear of surgery. But the scariest bit for me was right at the end, when Alara had finally let herself off the hook and was going to bed... and then nothing happened. I knew thematically it'd make no sense to pull a final jump scare but I couldn't help dreading it anyway.

Alara also had to face a couple of aliens this episode, when she called up her disapproving parents to solve the mystery of her fear of fire. In the pilot we were told that she was fast-tracked to security chief on the Orville because there aren't many Xelayans in the military, and here we find out why that is. It's not the most respected job on her homeworld, due to Xelayans apparently being more scholarly types by nature who consider humans to be the hillbillies of the galaxy and Alara to be intellectually deficient by their standards. So it's no wonder why Alara's so driven to do her job well and get the crew's respect, even when she's not suffering from crippling guilt.

The episode also reveals that her dad is Robert Picardo, the holographic doctor on Voyager, and her mother... is an actress I recognised right away but couldn't figure out from where (I looked it up later though and she played the very first Vorta, Eris, on Deep Space Nine). Interesting how Picardo shows up during Orville's first hologram episode but is one of the few actors to escape playing one. It's also interesting that those flowers in the background haven't been crushed by their homeworld's immense gravity. I guess they must have super-strength too.

Any episode you can walk away from grinning is a good one, but this was surprisingly solid in all the other departments too. It took Alara's character development seriously, it got actually creepy at times, the music was right out of all my favourite 80s action movies, and it turns out that even the engine room set can look great if you light it right (or blow it up). Family Guy writer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong did great with her first script, and Star Trek writer Brannon Braga is actually pretty good at this directing thing. Plus the cast were all fantastic, with Bortus crushing it with every line he got, but that goes without saying.

But the best thing about this episode for me is that there was a proper rational explanation for everything that didn't rely on introducing a tear in reality or a noncorporeal alien that feeds on fear or some other cheesy eye-roll inspiring bullshit. I get enough of that from Doctor Who. Though that does mean that the classic Star Trek engine room fight between Alara and Isaac can only ever be my second favourite thing.

The Orville will return with New Dimensions. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Babylon 5's Acts of Sacrifice.

I would make a joke about my worst fear being not getting any comments, but then it might come true.


  1. This comment exists to protect you from your fears. I haven't seen this episode, or indeed any episode of The Orville, because I keep forgetting to check to see if it's on a channel I get.

    1. Thanks for saving me from my worst comment-related nightmare.

      If you do eventually start watching the series, I suggest you give it a few episodes before writing it off as being terrible, because they get much better at mixing in the comedy as it goes on and that first episode's kinda bad.