The Orville #8: Into the Fold

"Welcome to the family."
IN THIS ONE... Isaac must take care of Claire's kids after a crash landing on an alien moon.

REVIEW: Into the Fold is really when I remember thinking I couldn't do without this show. It has fewer dumb jokes and leans more into character-based humor (if Data had an air of superiority, you could totally imagine him saying the same things in a TNG adventure), and the jeopardy and emotional content felt real. I've read MacFarlane thought the same and started pushing the show in this direction. It basically gave me the TNG feels, and watching it again, I still felt them. When the show does moral fables, it's really being TOS. But family stories (also the case in the early success of About a Girl) are very TNG. On that show, I resented a lot of the family-oriented episodes because the writing just wasn't strong, or the child actors (yes, including Wil Wheaton) weren't really up to the task (or were badly directed, possibly). Not so here, and this is where Mamma Bear Claire Finn became my favorite cast member.

It's almost odd that her two boys, Marcus and Ty, haven't been mentioned up to this point, but the family set-up feels quite modern. Claire never wanted a husband, but she did want children. And what can be done today can certainly be done in the Union's future. The boys aren't prodigees and skew much younger than Wesley and even Jake on Trek. They're unruly, they fight, they disrespect their mother, and they cause problems (in this case, life-threatening ones). They're real, and that's one of the ways The Orville gets its chuckles. How would real people behave and react in these situations. Where I find Claire more engaging than the similar Beverly Crusher (and at one point, I swear, we can stop comparing the two shows outside of Where Someone Has Gone Before), is that Bev was a worry wart in these situation. A mother hen. Claire isn't over-protective, but she'll fight tooth and nail for her kids. When she gets separated from them, she's ready to break all the rules to get back to them. She overcomes her fear of heights (described in If the Stars Should Appear) and shoots to kill when confronted with her captor and the cannibal plague zombies. When Ty lies dying of the local toxin, her pain and fear are palpable. Man, I love Penny Johnson so damn much.

But this is also a good Isaac episode. Left in charge of the children, ostensibly to observe their dynamics, he becomes a father figure to the boys. His questions expose the problems in the family, and makes the kids take stock of how they've been behaving (the rebellious Marcus especially - tweens, amirite?). He brings out the best in them, and Marcus gets to show he's a smart kid, and a brave one too. But neither of them is played like "oh, future Union officer for sure". They're real kids. What's nice is that this is a relationship that will continue over the course of the series. Their bond to Isaac and his to them even features prominently. For Claire, who kind of found the machine being irritating to this point, there's also a change of attitude that will lead to developments down the road. So this isn't just a strong episode in terms of action and character, but an important one as well.

Former Trek writer and producer Brannon Braga co-wrote (with Trek science consultant André Bormanis) and directed this one. Brian Thompson (Drogen) is a Trek stalwart, having played Klingons, Romulans, Dosi and Jem'Hadar in the past. Like Beverly Crusher, Dr. Claire Finn is a single mother with children aboard. Star Trek has of course done crash landing and alien infection plots (Final Mission and Armageddon Game seem the most relevant, though an unlikely officer taking care of kids may recall Picard's babysitting gig in Disaster; Enterprise's "Dawn" may also be an inspiration, it's the one where Trip is stranded on one many possible moons). Arboreus Prime seems to be the Union's answer to Risa.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not without its flaws (an establishing shot of night is shown after we're already in the morning, for example), but Into the Fold is an emotional action-adventure that services two key characters and "fixes" something TNG tried to do unsuccessfully, showing it has legs after all.


Tony Laplume said...

See, I didn’t really enjoy the Isaac/ Claire arc until the second part of “Identity,” when it became more than just a version of “In Theory” (one of my least favorite Data episodes). This one in particular was kind of a riff on what we’ve seen with Odo (“Shadowplay”) and Tuvok (“Innocence”), so in that regard I saw nothing original about it except adding depth to the arc (but a retro depth that did not sit as well for me as other elements of Orville revisiting the TNG aesthetic).


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