The Orville #13: Ja'loja

"Bortus, if you need any time off to make preparations, feel free to relieve yourself."
IN THIS ONE... The lives and loves of the crew as Bortus' annual pee ceremony looms.

REVIEW:
The Orville's second season eschews a big SF plot for character work, which is kind of bold, but also appreciated. Season 2 is, in fact, more character driven, and I am so invested in these characters by now, that I don't even notice something might be missing. A return to Moclus ends up being pretty uneventful in the traditional sense, and Bortus gets to pee unimpeded even by familial strife. It's a pretext, basically. His Ja'loja is to be followed by a party, and it's bad luck to not bring a +1, so various characters will be dealing with who to bring, and so on. In the process, character arcs are pushed forward, plot lines are set up (without us realizing without hindsight), and new characters are introduced. I AM impressed at how the various story strands intertwine to make the whole; you can't quite jettison anyone's story without impacting someone else's.

The big thing on The Orville is always going to be the Ed-Kelly relationship, and while he's finding refuge at the bottle of a bottle, she's moved on and is dating a school teacher aboard ship - Cassius. As you might imagine, Ed gets jealous and makes a fool of himself, and for all his "evolved ethics" Cassius is a bit bro-cody about it which leaves Kelly feeling cut off. What's beautiful here is that Ed loves Kelly so much, he's willing to help Cassius get back in her good graces rather than sabotage their relationship. Cassius being a teacher connects to Claire's eldest, Marcus (who's growing like garden weeds, though perhaps not as much as Topa who is now physically 8 years old), and Dr. Finn's challenges raising a rebellious teenager. She comes in conflict with the parents of a traditional "bad influence" who believe MARCUS is the bad seed (they get caught when Kelly and Cassius go to the simulator and find them drunk on hacked vodka, it all connects), but Isaac works it all out and scores a date to the Ja'loja party with Claire. He's the weird father figure the kids don't have - are you weirdly 'shipping them yet? Obviously, this is a relationship that started in Into the Fold (episode 8), and it's becoming something to watch for.

Being unlucky in love isn't just Ed's thing. This is the episode where Gordon Malloy is explicitly made to be a romantic loser who never got the girl unless she made the first move (I relate), including a stalker who, in the end, decided he was too clingy. He has a crush on another addition to the crew, black matter cartographer Janel Tyler, so gets help from John to get some kind of Mojo working. The dating simulator is amusing, and the zipper jacket ridiculous, but in the end, it looks like Janel wasn't designed to be a love interest for him, but for the Captain (see? it all connects). The crew member least integral to the story is Alara, who nevertheless pops up in everyone's story, either welcoming Janel aboard or connecting with Ed while we meet the ship's new bartender Olix or giving advice to Gordon or, and this is the bit that's thematically consistent, being sent on a fix-up with bulbous-headed Dann, a character that is cemented as one of the regulars here after causing enough of a splash in Season 1. He's lame, clingy, and a bad poet, everything Alara is not looking for in a mate. Notably, they go to a restaurant aboard ship (Mooska's) that isn't the mess hall... sure are a lot of opportunities for leisure aboard a Union ship.

If you love these characters, then the absence of the usual A-plot won't matter, and the humor is predominantly character-based, which is also good. Without spoiling things, I can say that at least four of the threads introduced here will fuel future stories and subplots for the rest of the season. I also want to give a shout-out to the way MacFarlane is world-building. In most Trek, you might see a big discovery in one episode, and then it never gets mentioned again. In The Orville, dark matter was discovered in Season 1's "Pria", and now there's such a posting as a dark matter cartographer. Similarly, the Orville and its shuttles didn't have cloaking ability until the cloaked transmitting station in episode 2. Though the show is telling done-in-one stories, the big picture status quo remains fluid. I like that a lot.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: Star Trek's second season also started with a crew member needed to return to their planet for a biologically-mandated ceremony in the episode "Amok Time". The map of the Battle of Terazed in the classroom looks just like Trek's official 3D map of the Alpha Quadrant. Dr. Finn's problem with her son being friends with a bad influence mirrors Benjamin Sisko's own when Jake started hanging out with Nog, but with very different results. You wouldn't know it, but Olix the rhinoceran bartender is played by Jason Alexander, who did appear in Voyager's "Think Tank"; his character appears in five episodes in Season 2. Coincidentally, the Enterprise's bartender Guinan, also played by a known star, started in TNG Season 2. Topa's growth cycle is akin to Alexander's (Moclans and Klingons are analogs, after all).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High -
Had it felt more momentous, I could have given it a High, but I'm very happy with the unfolding soap opera, thanks.

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