The Orville #18: A Happy Refrain

"We are without a doubt the WEIRDEST ship in the fleet."
IN THIS ONE... Isaac explores human relationships with Doctor Finn.

REVIEW: It's the one where Bortus grows a mustache! Ok, no, that's the most disposable subplot in the show's history. We didn't really need it, and the episode also doesn't have an "outside adventuer plot". It's about Claire initiating a romance with the machine being Isaac, and it doesn't need anything to get in the way. The focus on the dating is in fact quite strong, going so far as to show an entire piece of music played by the orchestra that does the music for the program during the first date. "Singing in the Rain" (not actual title, I know, don't at me) because important, tying into Claire's love of rain initially, and later being used to great effect in the climactic scene. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The comic potential of Claire dating a robot is obvious. Isaac is blunt and honest to a fault. He's highly literal (the flip the tables moment is shocking and laugh worthy). The incongruous situations is often ridiculous and I chuckled often. But it's also good drama and character development. What is it about Doctor Finn, a woman who apparently chose to have a family without a "mate" in the picture now falling for a machine? I was surprised by the absence of vibrator jokes, but also quite glad of it. She is warned early on that emotionally distant men (and can you get more distant than Isaac?) can break your heart, and it happens. Isaac only ever sees this as a research project, and this is obvious even to the audience. We're looking at this thing unfold and believing Claire indeed is personifying a "thing". He has integrated himself into her family as the piano teacher, but it's to study her kids. He helps her out on the job, because that is his function aboard ship. He brings her a banana not because he is thoughtful, but because it yields better work results. It's all computation without emotion. So we laugh - Isaac getting advice from LaMarr and Ed, but refusing it from Gordon; Kelly's reaction to Claire's revelation; the boys' gossip run to the bridge; Yaphit aghast; Isaac spouting all the trigger words to get her to break up with him - but Penny Johnson is so damn touching and real on her end of it, it's the drama and romance that wins out. And it's that section that Mark Jackson gets to play Isaac as a human, without the suit thanks to some advanced holodeck programming (Norm MacDonald also shows up as a human Yaphit and amusingly, Claire still thinks him repulsive). It's an odd effect, but an interesting glimpse behind the mask.

What Claire is going through is obvious. What Isaac is going is the real question asked by the episode. What is the machine equivalent of love? Having put an end to the relationship because he thinks he's experienced the entire arc, Isaac gets frozen out of Claire's life except in professional matters. In one devoid of emotional context, it shouldn't matter, nor would the crew's attempts to shame Isaac for his actions. But then he starts making mistakes normally impossible for him and finds that his subroutines were "used to Claire" and now miss her, glitching when re-routing around her accustomed presence. Or something. Data once said something similar about "missing" friends, and that's the take here. In normal episodic television, the characters might decide to stay friends or somesuch, but The Orville is braver than that. Instead, Isaac really does attempt to get the girl back and stages an epic romantic gesture on the bridge, making it literally rain to "their song". On a technical basis, he's better with her than without here, and that's how machines love. And damn it, it IS romantic and quite cute (and brilliant given what's to come), though my favorite bit is still a joke - Gordon's reaction to this as quoted up at the top. (Don't judge, Gordon, Lasting Impressions is coming up soon.)

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE:
The obvious connection is to TNG's "In Theory" in which Data attempted a romantic relationship, with similar scenes like Data asking the ship's Lothario for advice (Riker, for Isaac, it's LaMarr). Data getting facial hair was also a TNG subplot.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Possibly my favorite episode of the entire series, equal parts comedy and drama, and romantic too, eschewing the SF adventure of the week for pure character development and exploring ideas you can only do in science fiction.

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