The Orville #4: If the Stars Should Appear

"Captain, it seems we have encountered a dictatorial theocracy." "Great, those are always fun."
IN THIS ONE... The Orville encounters a generational ship, but its denizens have forgotten their origins.

REVIEW: I think this was originally planned to go out second (give or take changes made when they changed the order) and it shows. A lot of shows do a "second pilot" that repeats a lot of the information from the first pilot in case you're coming in late after hearing the buzz from the premiere, or to cement certain elements in the minds of the weekly viewer. If the Stars feels a lot like that. Bog-standard Trek plot in which information is re-delivered, like Ed and Kelly's divorce and why it happened, Yaphet puts the moves on Claire again, Alara is asked to open a jar of pickles, the Krill show up for good measure, etc. In addition, there's a reminder that Bortus has a mate and a baby, we see key technology at work (medical equipment and the shuttle's airlock), Alara talks about men finding her too intimidating to date, and Isaac drops a few facts about Kaylon. Claire's fear of heights will return, and Isaac is the one she hangs on to (watch for an evolving relationship between the Doctor and the one crew member who doesn't need to go to sickbay). Malloy and Lamarr are evident jobbers, but not again how the latter comes up with a solution, betraying the brains he will be asked to use in Season 2. There's a random space battle to show off the effects. So we're very much still in introductory mode here, and because of the episode order change, it feels like an unsteady step back.

As with the pilot, there seems to be less attention paid to the plot, but unlike the pilot, it takes up a lot more space. The first episode was about the characters, and they just needed something to do. If the Stars Should Appear is very much ABOUT its own plot, and it's a weak one. There's this whole civilization living for thousands of years in a ship's biodome, unaware they're flying through space. There's a religion dedicated to hiding the truth, and rebel thinkers who believer there's more to the world than what they see. Enter our heroes to change this society forever in the name of preventing their world-ship from drifting into a star. Trek by numbers, and I even had flashbacks (not good ones) to the "riotous" crowds often portrayed on DS9, where people are inflamed into standing there and pumping their fists by some lame demagogue. A good talk is all a smattering of 20 people needs to go non-verbal and violent. It's so ordinary that it feels more like a dull TNG rip-off (and remember when TV was full of those?) than a spoof/homage.

Part of it is that it feels undercooked. We get mention of Underworlders, but that bit of world-building never pays off. The time spent at the farm leads to the rebels, but is otherwise a gag about stunning a guy who comes after the crew with a shotgun. The leader of the society, Hamelac, lives in a building guarded by one guy, and he doesn't really know the truth, but doesn't want to find out because he's happy with the current order. At the end, when the heroes open the sun roof and prove there's more out there (no Prime Directive in the Orville universe), he stands there... defeated? Everybody acts like the fascist society is fixed at the end, but wouldn't there be a civil war? Unrest? Power grabs? Deniers? You can be frothed into killing a dissident in the street by a patriotic speech, but a total shift in world view doesn't create hysteria? It just doesn't work. We see too much inequity for it to remain unaddressed in that facile ending. And the Orville crew make a poor showing too. They are way too slow on the uptake, forcing Isaac to explain things that are pretty obvious to the audience already, and the cardboard aliens (a real waste of Space Above and Beyond's James Morrison and... LIAM NEESON?!) gives their victory feel naive. When Ed tells the dissident kid there's no real difference between the Orville and the world-ship, it's just terrible writing, absurdly keeping information from a character so he can have a reaction later. It's nonsense. And what can I say about the emerging theme of depression and solitude in the early scenes - Klyden Yaphet and Alara all have moments relating to it - is completely ignored by the A-plot. Nothing connects.

The one thing I really did like - but it creates tonal problems - was how badass Kelly was in this. The show dares have a female officer get savagely beaten and tortured, and it's actually hard to watch. Did they forget this was a comedy in which an robot keeps talking about dicks? Alara also gets shot and almost bleeds out, it's equal opportunity violence for the ladies. But Kelly resists Hamelac's interrogation and keeps snapping back with emasculating insults. I love her so much, guys. And I like the contrast with Ed. If she's the badass Union officer, he's more of a trickster type. An action hero he is not, and he's an awkward diplomat, but look at the way he gains entry into Hamelac's building. He's Bugs Bunny with a blaster.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: Quite clearly a take on "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky". Robert Knepper (Hamelac) was Deanna Troi's betrothed in TNG's "Haven"; he was creepy there too.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Unnecessary and really rather dull, and might have gotten an even lower score if not for Kelly's total badassery.

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