The Orville #16: Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes

"Are you doing this to pick up chicks?"
IN THIS ONE... Ed vacations with a Krill. Gordon tries the command test.

REVIEW:
I thought for sure we would see more of Janel, the Captain's new girlfriend, before revealing her to be a Krill plant, but she makes a sufficient impression in her two episodes that it still works. She looks so different as Teleya (a nice way to keep this personal, by the way) that on first airing, I had no idea this would happen.  Maybe if I'd kept tabs on the casting, but even then, people get recast as different species all the time. Regardless of the impostor angle, the metaphor here is that "make or break" trip new couples inevitably take. Take out the sci-fi plot, and you have all the classic arguments - when to leave the hotel room/cave, are we compatible, where is this relationship going, and of course, do you even have a soul?! And while this is happening between Ed and Teleya without her make-up (so to speak), it's also happening between the Union and the Krill, with Ed offering both an olive branch. Will it change things on a galactic scale, or are the Krill too set in their ways? (The introduction of an orc-like race apparently more powerful than they are may create the political will for an alliance more than Ed's gesture, to be fair.)

The signs were there, at least at the start of this episode, but they were easy to miss. Janel didn't have any kind of movie or music culture, but she could just be 25th-Century nerd with no interest in pop culture (in terms of the relationship, the red flag that it wouldn't work is that they have little in common). That the only movie Janel admits to liking was Taxi Driver is perhaps telling as well (though later, Teleya says the only one she liked was Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that she rooted for the Nazis). It's still a little hard to believe how deep her cover was, and that restoring her genome also restores her mode of speech. She didn't pick up anything at all? At least it's suggested they never had sex, though I imagine whatever fooling around they did do would have been repulsive to her. She's very committed to her quest for revenge - it is the will of Avis - and Ed at least wants her to be hiding her feelings behind that Krill anger and bravado. Needy as ever, he asks several times if any of it was real, and in that final ambiguous moment where she accepts the Billy Joel album and gives him one last expressionless look, it's Ed's POV that has Joel's "She's Always a Woman" play. We don't know what she's really thinking, but being in Ed's head space, it's a touching moment. Just don't ask why the Krill care about Teleya so much that they don't try to attack the Orville anyway.

The subplot is a completely separate piece, but it is nicely informed by the main story. Gordon suddenly wants more for himself than just piloting ships and asks Grayson if he can take the tests required to get into the Command division. Early one, there's a moment that exemplifies why I love Kelly (or Adrianne Palicki, really) and it's after Gordon makes his request and leaves. Bortus immediately opines "he will fail", and her wincing expression is just priceless. Gordon indeed does fail, whether it's his very amusing reactions to Dr. Finn's Rorschach test (his mind is too filthy even for himself), or his awkward attempt at diplomacy with the Krill on the holodeck. Two moments are crucial. One is when Kelly accuses him of only wanting to become a commander so he can get women a) because it ties into what Ed is going through and b) because it allows her to prop Gordon up as having "passed the test" in terms of charm. Palicki and Grimes in fact chose the airing of this episode to announce their real-world engagement. So that moment felt like it at least cracked the fourth wall (I could certainly never see their CHARACTERS get together). The other is his reaction to Ed taking a risk with his career and with fleet security by releasing Teleya back to her people. Kelly makes the point that risk... risk is our business--well, no, not in those words, but yeah, it is, it totally is. They leave it ambiguous as to whether he's still interested. I'm liking these story choices, personally.

In other news, Tharl is still security chief, but there's already someone more permanent on the way because he IS quite annoying. I mean, he's pretty chill, in a beach bum kind of way, but the jokes have run dry. I do still wish we could have seen him in ACTION. Oh well. A new face arrives next episode.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: Though the riff is on Enemy Mine, ST TNG did its own version with Geordi and a Romulan in "The Enemy". Quark and Odo had to go to higher ground in similar circumstances in "The Ascent". There have been many stories with infiltrators genetically modified to look like another species, but it's most recent and relevant example is Ash Tyler in Discovery only a couple years before this episde. Janel's last name is also Tyler(!). Deanna Troi also had trouble with the command test. Gordon tries to use something akin to the Corbomite Maneuver in his attempt. Trek alumn Brannon Braga co-wrote the episode.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Definitely a case of where someone has gone before, and recently at that, but I'm liking how much The Orville is focusing on character development rather than plot mechanics.

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