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Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Orville 1-11: New Dimensions (Quick Review)

Episode:11|Writer:Seth MacFarlane|Air Date:30-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm finally writing words about New Dimensions, the 216th episode of The Orville to be written by series creator and lead actor Seth MacFarlane. Well actually it's only his 7th, but seeing as this is episode 11 that's still a lot.

The episode was directed by script supervisor Kelly Cronin, who hadn't done a whole lot of directing before this, but then neither had Brannon Braga and he's done alright with the 216 Orville episodes he's helmed so far. Well actually it's probably more like, I dunno... 3? I can't be bothered to check.

Anyway there's going to be SPOILERS below this point, for this episode and earlier ones, as I'll be assuming that everyone reading has either seen the episode or doesn't care.

Yeah, that was a Seth MacFarlane episode alright. New Dimensions didn't just feel like a typical Orville story to me, it felt like an early Orville episode, from back when the mix of drama and humour was a little rougher, and Bortus wasn't crushing it with every line out of his mouth. Not that I didn't like the episode, I just didn't like it as much as some of the other stories we've gotten in the back half of the season.

It's another bottle episode for the most part, the third we've had in a row, and it's also the third we've had about a crew member losing faith in their ability to do their job. But for once it's not Alara! In fact there's two people struggling with self-doubt this time, thanks to Kelly recommending them for promotion, as Ed finally learns that she got him his job as captain and John is pushed to take on more responsibility than he's comfortable with.

The episode begins with the surprise departure of chief engineer Steve Newton and the surprise reappearance of Dann the elevator music man from Cupid's Dagger, who wishes he could pull off pranks as good as Gordon and John. It seems that Gordon has been learning from the prank master, Isaac, as here he removes part of Yaphit's body and secretly feeds him to Bortus. You'd think the guy would be more sensitive to this kind of thing after getting his own leg severed in his sleep. He's just lucky the poor blob man wasn't digested like everything else that's gone into Bortus' mouth (aside from a boot it seems).

Yaphit really has no luck this episode, because this prank sends him down to sickbay to stick a tentacle down one of Bortus' orifices to get his goop back. Meanwhile John's sent to Kelly's office, which leads to him being in line to steal his promotion to chief engineer! Yaphit's so confused by this he accuses them of being racist against expensive CGI characters, but the truth is that he's just not as bright as the biggest idiot on the ship.

In the most shocking twist of the series so far, it turns out that John's secretly the Wesley Crusher of the series, but he's been downplaying his intelligence his whole life because of the culture he was raised in. And he would've gotten away with it too, as neither Ed and Kelly ever thought to check his record until he went one dumb prank too far. So he's kind of like that Deep Space Nine character who I don't want to spoil. Plus that other Deep Space Nine character who I don't want to spoil either.

Playing the idiot is John's comfort zone and he does not appreciate being pushed to leave it, which  kind of adds a new layer to the scene in Minority Rule where he's encouraging his non-lawyer to assume that he's the dumbest son of a bitch he's ever met. The revelation seems to contradict the rest of that episode, as he's not smart enough to get himself out of his downvote situation by himself, but then the scientists they were sent there to look for weren't exactly idiots and they couldn't save themselves either. Plus I actually compared him to Wesley in my review:
"He Wesley Crushers himself into a crisis by screwing around on an alien planet before understanding the laws or culture, and then carries on being the dumb comic relief all the way to the lobotomy chair."
See, I totally called that he was Wesley Crusher! Right after mentioning that there was no sign of any hidden depth or resourcefulness from him during the story. Then he went and proved his competence in the very next episode, when he was essential for overseeing an overhaul in engineering.

Anyway, this plot leads to Kelly giving the audience a great explanation for how wealth and ambition works in The Orville's future, which is only slightly spoiled by the fact that she's supposed to be talking to John. It's basically the same as in the Star Trek universe, as the invention of replicators matter synthesis made everything effectively free, ending the need for money (except for buying land, services and loot boxes, though they skip over that bit). People here work to better themselves, as reputation has become the main form of wealth. You don't get a better job here to earn money, you get a better job because you want to be the best at what you do. It's weird how Trek has had 700 episodes to give us this explanation, but Orville's beaten them to it. Unless I've forgotten something (which isn't unlikely).

John doesn't give a damn about any of that though; he just wants to work, drink beer and pass out. So this episode pretty much establishes him as the opposite of Alara, who comes from a planet where intelligence is highly regarded and takes her security job extra seriously to get the respect she's apparently not quite smart enough to earn back home. But Kelly's determined to shove John into a role with more responsibility, despite the fact that he's pretty consistently demonstrated terrible judgment and Yaphit's right there all eager for a promotion. So he ultimately ends up as the Geordi La Forge of the series as well, getting promoted all the way from a seat at the front of the bridge to the engine room just in time for season two (LaMarr... La Forge... it's so obvious now!) I'm not 100% happy about this move though to be honest. Sure it's dramatically increased his chances of actually getting something to do in future stories, but it means that Gordon's lost his sidekick on the bridge. Judging by Next Gen, John will likely be replaced by various non-speaking extras, so Gordon will have no one to bounce jokes off anymore.

Meanwhile, Ed's plot is basically just him being a "whiny little bitch" again while he processes the new information he's got about Kelly getting him the Orville. Which doesn't make much sense really, considering that in the pilot episode he was told he was getting the job because they had too many ships and not enough people to fill the chairs, not because he'd actually earned it. In fact, I remember that the admiral's exact line was "The truth is, you're nobody's first choice for this job."

Fortunately, Ed eventually comes around to realising that nobody gets anywhere alone, that his ex getting him his dream job isn't the worst thing in the world, and that he's already proven to everyone he deserves it. Which he has, weirdly. In the last few months he's saved countless lives, won several battles against superior vessels, and recovered a Krill shuttle which he then used to steal a Krill warship. It's not a bad track record at all, especially considering he was fated to lose his ship and die months ago until he managed to change the timeline. In this story though, about the most inspiring thing he does is keep his dinner down when those around him are losing theirs.

Despite the title New Dimensions is a pretty character-driven episode really, with Kelly seeing a new dimension to John, and Ed being confronted with the fact that when it comes to himself his perception is 2-dimensional (Kelly's words not mine). But they do eventually visit an actual new dimension in the last third of the story for a bit of semi-thrilling space adventure, mostly involving them flying over a neon printed circuit board with the aurora borealis overhead and getting nosebleeds.

It's like the opening to a kids science series from the 80s down there. That's the best my poor brain can do to describe it anyway. My mind kind of shorted out when I tried to comprehend how they can be flying over anything in a 2-dimensional dimension and why it's the most colourful thing in space since Spaceball 1 went to plaid. But I always appreciate a bit of space drama and it was nice to see the crew working together to escape their bizarre doom, even if it would've been nicer if their planning involved less technobabble. I'm giving them bonus points though for remembering that they've got little mini spaceships on board that can take over useful functions when their main ship's damaged, which is something that often slipped the Star Trek crews' minds. I'm also giving them bonus points for not including a twist where it turns out that they've ended up inside a computer simulation somehow, which was my initial concern when I saw the landscape outside.

In the end I think my biggest complaint about the episode is that it's a little bit slow and dull. Plus Yaphit comes around to the idea of John becoming his boss real fast, like there's a scene missing, Claire's kids showing up for one scene to help Isaac was just weird in retrospect, and they called the Doctor's TARDIS a 'phone booth'. But on the other hand I liked that it was mostly about the crew solving a problem with no villain to fight, Gordon's reaction when Isaac adopted him as a pet was amazing, and I appreciated how it kept interrupting quiet scenes with a SURPRISE JUMP SCARE mid-sentence to wake me up. Any episode I didn't doze off during can't be all that bad.

The Orville will return with the season finale, Mad Idolatry. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Deep Space Nine's Second Sight. It's... not one of the series' all-time greats.

Thanks for reading my words, you should leave some of your own in the comment box below.

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