Adrianne Palicki pulls double duty in an Ed-Kelly episode that explores what could have been, and what might still be.
The Orville has had a long, strange road to get from the jokey, Family Guy-in-space sitcom/parody it started as to the relatively grounded, thoughtful show it’s become as season two wraps itself up. One of the show’s fundamental premises is as sitcommy as they come – what if the ship’s captain had to work with his ex-wife? Broads, amirite?!
Thankfully, like much of the rest of the show’s tone, the dynamic between former spouses Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) has largely subverted those early will-they-won’t-they expectations. By mid-season 1, Ed and Kelly cement themselves as a team who work together precisely because they know each other so well. Season two, on the other hand, has teased all season at the possibility of Ed and Kelly getting back together (a premise I’ve long since railed against), which left me more than a little nervous at the premise of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, an hour that finally brought the prospect of romantic reconciliation full circle. And you know what? Color me surprised, they pulled it off. Not only does this episode bring some much-needed closure to the Ed-Kelly friction, it also manages to ask some interesting existential questions about how our experiences shape us, and whether second chances are really worth it.
Throughout season two, Ed and Kelly have been navigating the rekindled sexual tension that hangs between them, especially after their own respective love interests were either broken up or, in Ed’s case, revealed to be Krill spies. Ed’s still got feelings for Kelly, bolstered by their close working relationship and their repaired dynamic. “Being on The Orville is like a whole other world for us,” says Ed, “it makes the past sound like a different lifetime.” Prophetic words, it seems, as a mixture of gravitational waves and Isaac (Mark Jackson) experimenting with Dr. Aronoff’s time device from the show’s pilot results in a young Kelly (also Palicki, sporting some sporty future-bangs) appearing on the Orville. This Kelly’s from seven years ago – the night after her first date with Ed, in fact.
Much like the Next Generation episode that likely spawned it, “Second Chances”, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” explores what would happen if you had a copy of yourself walking around the ship like it’s business as usual. After realizing they can’t send her home, and worrying about the implications of what would happen if they did given what she’s seen, new Kelly decides to seek out a posting on the Orville. At first, she makes fast friends with everyone (particularly Talla (Jessica Szohr) – after all, she’s “new here too”), but our Kelly bristles at the implications of her chumming it up with the crewmates she’s supposed to keep at a respectful distance. Not only that, Ed sees a chance to make things work with Kelly again by asking out new-Kelly; normally, that would breach all kinds of ship-wise, moral and existential rules, but MacFarlane’s script smartly centers the situation on Kelly’s wants and needs. At all turns, Ed’s respectful, reactive, and consistently asking for consent from both parties before proceeding.
The Orville has fine-tuned so many of its characters, it almost feels novel to actually focus an episode on Ed and Kelly’s relationship, and it’s heartening to see both MacFarlane and Palicki handle the material so deftly. MacFarlane himself has been the most limited of the cast members thus far apart from maybe Lee; luckily, he runs the show with a comparatively restrained ego, so Ed’s work has largely worked around MacFarlane’s strengths as an actor. But it’s nice to see him front and center like this, handling such an emotionally and philosophically complex situation with a marked sensitivity to both Kelly’s needs.
Still, it’s Palicki’s show through and through, and she mines a surprising amount of nuance from her portrayal of both versions of Kelly. As the episode argues, they’re the same person, but fundamentally different in so many ways; we’re all different people throughout our lives, and Palicki gives younger Kelly a greater naivete, an impulsiveness that naturally clashes with Kelly’s restraint. It’s also a great source for drama, as in one scene where they clash over whether to date Ed: “I know how this turns out,” says our Kelly. But alternate Kelly has some choice words for her older self, particularly given what her life has become: “you’re not married, you’re not a starship captain, you maintain a distance from your crew. There are three things I wanted in life, and you haven’t come close on one.”
More than a prism by which to view how Ed and Kelly’s relationship has changed, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” asks some intriguing questions about the ways our experiences change us. The two Kellys are fundamentally different people based on what has happened; even Ed, he admits, has changed, as he realizes when he can no longer keep up with the more energetic Kelly, and even backs down when new-Kelly propositions him. “I’ve already felt all of this with someone else.” As much as we might like to, we can never go back again – we’re just too different people. Even our failures can change us for the better; would Ed and Kelly get along as well as they do if they’d not gone through such a contentious divorce? Arguably, that sense of intimacy has saved the Union more than once, and made them better people as a result.
Even so, the dilemma is eventually solved when Isaac and LaMarr (J Lee) come up with a miracle solution that can send her back home. On the surface, this feels like a copout: just keep the status quo changed and live with it, cowards! But the scenario provides another chance to offer up some bittersweet closure on Ed and Kelly’s romantic life. There are some wonderful parting words – “I can’t wait to be you” – before she’s zapped back to her timeline. The closing minute offers quite the surprise, though: new Kelly, finding herself back in her own time, gets an early-morning call from young Ed hoping to follow up with a second date. “I just don’t see us working out. I’m sorry,” she says; I guess this answers the show’s earlier question of whether she comes from an alternate timeline or our own, as next week doesn’t see Kelly erased from existence on the Orville bridge.
What would happen if we could see how we’d turn out in the future? What would we tell our younger selves if we had the chance? Would we tell them to not make the same mistakes we have? Or do we reassure them that their foibles will lead them to become better people? Not only does “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” explore these questions with the show’s trademark gentleness, it makes sure the ship’s most important dynamic stays as strong and complicated as it needs to be. As the show barrels toward its second season finale (with the prospect of a third season still lingering in the air), this is another reminder that even in its slower moments – perhaps especially in its slower moments – The Orville is committed to earnestly exploring the emotional anchors of its sci-fi concepts.
- It’s still wild to me that this show still manages to visually dazzle even in ostensible bottle episodes. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is pretty much self-contained to the ship and the main cast (barring Norm McDonald’s Yaphit and a one-line wonder from Will Sasso as a bartender), but the setpiece in which the Orville crew have to evade the pursuing Kaylons by hiding in a Jovian ring still offered plenty of spaceship porn.
- I remain mad at Klyden (Chad L. Coleman) for numerous reasons, especially after last week, but seeing him and Bortus (Peter Macon) drunkenly boogie down in the simulator club (complete with bisexual lighting) was pretty great. “THIS IS GLORIOUS!” “THE NIGHT IS OURS!”
- Fox is still on my shit list for their “limited commercials” gimmick, which just means more, shorter commercial breaks (very generous of them to give me two whole scenes of the show before shilling for Geico again), but their shortening of the amazing title sequence is nigh-unforgivable. I know short title sequences are the norm now, but just let The Orville maintain the fine tradition of the minute-long titles! We can live without one more car commercial or ad for that obnoxious Kelvin-timeline Star Trek mobile game.