The Orville #17: All the World Is Birthday Cake

"The stars don't lie."
IN THIS ONE... Meet new security chief Talla Keyali, as the Orville makes first contact with a planet ruled by astrology.

REVIEW: It's clear that Alara's departure wasn't planned because after an interim episode with no starring security chief, she's replaced by... another Xelayan? That seems self-defeating from a world-building point of view, but probably meant fewer rewrites on material already in production. Not to say Talla is anything like Alara except for the mega-strength. She's extremely confident, to the point of rashness and insolence, which weren't traits exhibited by the previous owner of that uniform. But y'know, we were told Alara was a rarity in the Union fleet. Because this is her first episode, Talla also has to be the one to figure out the solution even if it isn't in her wheelhouse. No real explanation for her Eureka moment is presented. I imagine an original script where someone else thought of it - maybe the underused John - because the episode didn't need to cater to Alara this much. I like Talla fine, but she's really been forced into a pre-existing part. (I should also mention the introduction of Ted Danson as a member of the admiralty - fun casting, but he isn't allowed to be funny here.)

The plot is about first contact with a planet that has just reached out with a CETI-like program. I love how exciting the crew is at this opportunity, they don't make it feel like routine at all. In Trek, the Federation does a lot of observation before officially visiting. In the Orvilleverse, they go in almost blind, handshakes blazing. They may want to rethink that policy. Utopia meets Dystopia in this classic "taboo-breaking" Prime Directive episode, where as it turns out, Kelly and Bortus having their birthdays "next week" gets them arrested and thrown into an internment camp. The mystery actually starts earlier when Claire witnesses unnecessary c-sections in a hospital, for fear of babies being born Giliacs. It'S enough for us to think the species has a dangerous, ultimate form, or something, but as it turns out, it's all superstition. Giliac is the cursed astrological sign. It's nice to see the characters work it all out (severally, since Kelly and Bortus are cut off from the rest), but when it comes to negotiating with the astrocracy, I feel frustrated by the arguments not made. Telling the locals their entire culture is wrong was never going to work, but how about explaining the constellations are completely different elsewhere so that the taken officers were actually born under a DIFFERENT sign? What about offering to take them off the government's hands - if you want to Orville to leave, why take responsibility for its "trash"? So many avenues not pursued...

Meanwhile, Kelly and Bortus are in an internment camp drama, with everything you'd expect from that. Cruel guards, the commandant especially putting the lie to the idea that Giliacs are somehow violent when he's a clear sociopath, whereas the prisoners are meek and accepting of their fates for the most part. We have the pregnant woman whose baby is ripped from her hands because it is born in the month that spawns leaders (no one-to-one allegory, but it should evoke what's going on with ICE in the U.S.). The violent escape attempt - at least Kelly knows how to run rings around the Prime Directive - and the ticking clock as our heroes face execution even as the crew creates a new star above to un-curse the Giliac constellation. Neat bit of thinking (scientifically, I'm not sure it works if it's a mirror - will it always have an angle on the sun?), but as the locals proclaim "change", we cut to a week later and a bit of celebration. Birthdays observes, POWs returned, new crew member has proven her worth. Except... That all seems too glib and facile and ending. Even of the Giliac are no longer cursed (and I guess they decided that was so even if you were born WHILE it had a dead star), this is still a caste society. Would that Giliac woman really be reunited with her baby who was "meant to be a great leader"? There's a lot of exposition in the final scene to make you believe in the happy ending and it just really feels like Union officers are naive.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: In "Justice", Wesley Crusher faced a severe penalty for breaking a law no one on the Enterprise understood, similarly turning friendship into enmity by their reactions. Some of the music is VERY reminiscent of pieces used in the original cast Star Trek films. The Regorian government building is played by the Oviatt Library at California State University, Northridge; it also once played Starfleet Headquarters. John Rubinstein (the First Prefect) has played several roles on Star Trek, including one of the '37s in the Voyager episode by that name, and Vulcan Minister Kuvak and a Mazarite captain on Enterprise. Robert Duncan McNeill (AKA Tom Paris) directed the episode.

REWATCHABILITY: The low side of Medium
- It will always have the introduction of a new cast member going for it, but All the World Is Birthday Cake has her enter through one too many plot holes.

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