The Orville #15: Home

"Open your stupid ears and listen: All I ever needed to hear from you was 'You can do it'. That's all. Just once. And-and maybe it would have been a lie, but I needed that, dad. I really needed it. And you know who said it to me instead? Captain Mercer, Commander Grayson, and everyone on the Orville. But not my own father."
IN THIS ONE... Alara returns home to recover her strength.

REVIEW: I want to talk about something and get it out of the way before getting into Alara's very emotional farewell episode, and that's how Xelayah, the best-looking planet in the galaxy, is complete nonsense. What we know is that it has extremely high gravity, which would crush a normal human, which gives its inhabitants mega-strength and toughness when off-world. Also, that they are a very advanced race, scientifically. It's Krypton, basically. Thing is, even if we accept the mega-strength idea, and that time away from the high gravity would atrophy muscles and bone density to human levels, the planet itself just does not believably conform to the high grav presented. It just looks so delicate! Buildings are filled with glass and ribbons, the ocean behaves even as ours does, moisture in the air creates cloud cover... There's no real thought given to how a higher gravity would affect either the physical world of Xelayan culture. Sure, they're very advanced and we might be seeing incredible feats of engineering, but we can't see how the planet's conditions would have influenced aesthetics going way back. Xelayah is magical in that we just have to assume everything there has a higher density, whether that's food, water, glass, or weather. It's pretty - love the cool riding animals and the flyover - but it doesn't feel real. That said, it really has no impact on my enjoyment of the episode.

I don't know why Alara (or more specifically, actress Halston Sage) had to leave the show (nobody really knows), but it may be because the writers ever only thought up ONE story for her. Even in her final episode in the main cast, Alara has to be exploring her insecurities. If Firestorm is the worst example of that, this is at least the best. Her sudden depowering brings issues that were likely settled right back, and by having to go home, she has to confront where those insecurities originally came from. Essentially, she's from a world of brainiacs (though there must be underachievers to make society viable, like that caretaker guy) or at least from a FAMILY of brainiacs, and had always been considered deficient by their standards. She seems clever enough by our standards, but had trouble getting through Xelayan school. Her sister is working on a PhD and her father is a renowned professor and lecturer, so she'd been a disappointment all her life. Even at their most supportive, her parents are still dismissive of her achievements, judgmental of her path, and "rooting for her to fail" (at least her sister IS actually supportive). This could easily have gone the sitcom route, but Robert Picardo is just too good at actor to be a caricatured "villain parent". My own potential "daddy issues" aside, siding with Alara as a matter of course, I found his reactions to be incredibly affecting. She's decided to punish him for never believing in her, and you can see it hurts. Rather obviously, Alara will get a chance to show what she's made of, disabled or not, her mind working on a mystery on the vacation island where they're staying, and saving her family from a pair of vengeful anti-vaxxers who blame Papa Kitan for academically destroying their son (intriguingly, their absolute faith in a son who was in wrong puts a broken mirror up to the Kitan family). The hostage situation is pretty harrowing, actually. Ed's arrival during this crisis is more distraction/complication than it is the cavalry, but notably, it allows Alara to treat her father the way she wanted to be treated, believe in HIM even as his cowardice is exposed. His final breakdown is heart-breaking.

We're used to these kinds of stories. Crew member is affected by something that will drum them out of the service, but by the end of the episode, a fix is introduced that restores the status quo. In this case, the crisis had Alara recovering faster than expected, or could have motivated her to continue working at a lower strength as she proved she could do it as a weakened slip of a girl. But then, the crew finds a way to create a graviton chamber that will allow her to keep her strength. Big twist: Alara decides to go home for the foreseeable future and connect with her family. By not playing it as a farewell episode, we're tricked into a state of shock. The final goodbyes are perhaps overtly sentimental, pulling almost too hard at the heart strings, but the actors seem so moved, I don't begrudge them the moment, extended though it may be. The final moment calls back to the jar of pickles referenced by Captain Mercer in the first few episodes. I'll admit that when I saw it the first time, a year since it was relevant, I wasn't sure I was placing it. Watching them in closer order, it's very sweet.

Who will replace her? Stay tuned. It is NOT going to be the elephant-trunked Lt. Tharl from this episode, played with surfer dude intonations by Patrick Warburton. He's good for a laugh or two - the show is really settling into the serious plot + jokey subplot structure - but probably not three.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: The maimed crew member who finds recovery difficult before a quick fix is found has been done with Spock and Worf, but emotionally, Alara's situation perhaps most resembles Nog's. Given how the Xelayans are the Orvilleverse's Vulcan analog (brainy and pointy-eared), Alara's difficult relationship with her parents, particularly given her decision to join the military, mirror's Spock's with Sarek. We've seen Robert Picardo in the role of Alara's dad before, but here he says Xelayah has plenty of doctors, which is a wink at his role on Voyager. It also proves to be prophetic when John Billingsley shows up at the episode's Xelayan villain - he was Doctor Phlox on Enterprise.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Gave me all the feels.

2 comments:

Ryan Blake said...

Technically I resent you for making me watch the Orville with these reviews but they are a lot of fun and they have reduced the 'humour' to make it a decent star trek show.

Anonymous said...

Ryan is right. I watched it last year at the suggestion of my "Trek-ophile" friend. I was expecting sexual and scatological humor but after it hit it's groove, it is good TNG! I have to admit, Seth McFarlane may be a genius.

 

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