One of The Orville’s most explicitly comedic characters gets his moment in the sun with a familiar, nuanced episode about the lingering animosity of war.
While last week’s action-packed “Identity” two-parter was a welcome bit of space spectacle for The Orville (including a show-stopping space battle the likes of which we don’t often see on network TV), such universe-shattering events demand some time to stop and pick up the pieces. Sure, the Kaylons were routed by the surprise intervention of the Krill, but what does this ceasefire between the Union and its deadliest enemies mean? Is peace possible between two races so fundamentally different? And what about the people who are so invested in
Hot off the heels of the Battle of the Kaylon (as Union Admiral Perry (Ted Danson, who, based on his delivery, isn’t all that invested in the space gobbledygook he has to say) calls it), The Orville is dispatched to a neutral planet to meet with a Krill ship, where they’ll meet with Krill diplomats to sign the Lot-Fi Pact – a preliminary agreement to solidify their temporary
But when they get there, they find the Krill ship firing on a shuttle escaping from the ship, which the Orville scoops up. Much to their surprise, it contains two bloodied, injured humans: Union pilot Orrin Channing (MacKenzie Astin) and his daughter, Leyna (Ailey Kei), who’ve spent two decades in Krill prison camps. Naturally, the Krill want them back – they accuse Orrin of having destroyed five different Krill ships in terrorist attacks – and won’t sign the Lot-Fi until they do. Making matters even more complicated, Orrin’s an old buddy of Gordon’s (Scott Grimes), to whom he owes his life after a horrifying flight accident.
In a show that started out as much more explicitly comedic, only to smooth out its goofier edges over time, Gordon Malloy has remained The Orville‘s most outwardly comic character. Most of the time, the show’s attempts at casual, half-cocked dad humor comes from Gordon making some kind of slacker space-bro crack of the type we typically expect of MacFarlane’s output. To his credit, Grimes is the kind of person who can pull it off – he’s got experience, after all, having voiced Steve Smith on American Dad! for so many years – but it chiefly works because Gordon’s the perfect case study for The Orville‘s casualization of space travel. “What if Sulu was more like O’Brien, but you also weren’t sure if he bothered to shower this morning?” is a helluva character concept, and Grimes has long been able to make it work.
With “Blood of Patriots,” though, we learn a lot more about what makes Gordon tick, and Grimes clearly relishes the challenge to flesh out this previously-underserved character. We know a few things about Gordon: he’s a laidback kind of guy who doesn’t take things too seriously, but is fiercely loyal to his friends, especially Ed (who got him the job in the first place because, let’s be honest, he’s the only one who can put up with the guy’s quirks). Here, though, we get to see some cracks in Gordon’s armor: in reckoning with Orrin’s return, he finds himself torn between his principles and his sense of obligation to a friend who literally saved his life when they were young. Grimes mines a surprising amount of nuance from Gordon in this episode, fleshing out a man typically characterized by his dopey bluntness.
The episode doesn’t dig too deep into the broader themes behind Orin’s motivations, but they do speak to the ways in which hate and grievance can calcify in our hearts and minds.
You see, it’s quickly revealed (and no great surprise) that Orrin is, in fact, behind the attacks on Krill ships. The woman he brought with him isn’t his silent, traumatized daughter Leyna (she died in the camps,
Even after Gordon decides to hatch a plan with Talla to feign cooperation with Orrin’s plan to draw him out and prove his guilt, he’s clearly torn up about it, trying to give Orrin every possible opportunity to stop. (While the show tries to depict this heel-turn as genuine for a second, it doesn’t totally surprise.) It’s worth it, though, to give Gordon a chance to see that even his goofy, earnest optimism can’t turn someone as hard-wired into hate as Orrin. In the end, all Gordon can do is force Orrin’s hand into detonating the bomb himself, forced to exit the shuttle and tumble through space before the Orville can pick him up.
The episode doesn’t dig too deep into the broader themes behind Orrin’s motivations, but they do speak to the ways in which hate and grievance can calcify in our hearts and minds. For him, the idea of brokering peace with the Krill is a slap in the face to everyone who’s died at their hand; Gordon, meanwhile, sees it as an opportunity to make their deaths mean something. To his credit, Astin plays both sides of the Krill POW with surprising complexity – turning on the charm when he’s around Gordon and the other crew members, but curling his lip into an embittered sneer when the subject of the Krill comes up. He’s a man radicalized into incredible hatred, and he’s compelled to do something violent with it; seeing that fall through the eyes of someone as innocent and sensitive as Gordon makes it feel all the more tragic.
Most refreshingly, Gordon’s journey finds a way to circle back around to his close friendship with Ed, which has often taken a sideline this season in favor of focusing on Ed/Kelly and the other characters. At first, Gordon detects some jealousy from Ed about Gordon reconnecting with a man he’s known even longer and more closely; by episode’s end, Ed even admits it, and it’s for some enlightening reasons. “When I’m sitting in that chair, I’m always wondering, ‘Do I deserve this? Should this be someone else?'” he says. “But I can’t vocalize that to anyone else, because they would lose confidence.” Apart from Kelly – with whom things are “complicated,” he admits – Gordon’s the only one to which he can safely express that doubt.
It’s that sense of impostor syndrome that sets the Orville crew apart from the clean-cut utopians of the USS Enterprise, and what makes Ed and Gordon’s friendship so compelling. They’re two guys who are good at their
Yaphit(Norm MacDonald) gets a medal for his heroism in the Battle of the Kaylon! Good for him; he’s earned it.
- What about Leyna? Last we see her, she’s locked up in guest quarters under a force field. What are they going to do with her? I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll just forget about her in the next episode.
- Talla’s also got MVP status this episode, and is quickly rising through the ranks to become one of The Orville‘s stronger ensemble members. Between her guarded interactions with
Orrin,and her heart to heart with Gordon in his quarters over drinks, her headstrong shrewdness is proving to be an incredibly appealing addition to the cast. By now, she’s clearly differentiated herself from the nervous upstart Alara; Talla’s been around the block a few times, and won’t take any crap from anyone. And the way she dispatches Laina is pretty great: “You ever met a Xelayan before?” *lays out Laina in one blow* “…You have now.”
- In sci-fi alum news, the Krill ambassadors are played by John Fleck (from Deep Space Nine, Enterprise and a host of other sci-fi alien roles) and Robin Atkin Downes (Byron from the fifth season of Babylon 5). Fleck’s always been a rather reptilian actor, so his supercilious cadence is right at home with the Krill.
- Dann’s still pretty annoying, but I’m at least down with his idea for Casual Fridays on the Orville.