The Spool / TV
The Orville Recap: “Identity Pt. 1” Sets The Stage for Interstellar Conflict
The Orville gets Serious this week, with the first part of a two-parter that intriguingly complicates one of the show's most mercurial characters.
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The Orville visits Isaac’s home planet and learns more about his people’s true mission as the show continues to raise its stakes.


Season two of The Orville has been a curious beast – cutting back on the goofy Family Guy-level jokes and pew-pew space battles in favor of a softer, more sensitive workplace dramedy with no small number of Trekkian philosophical conflicts. The smaller, intimate stakes of those episodes have been rewarding in their own ways, to be sure, but “Identity Pt. 1” shows us what Seth MacFarlane and co. have been holding back for: an honest-to-god two-parter that promises to be action-packed while also heavily informing one of the show’s key characters.

A mere two episodes ago, The Orville opened up the discussion of Isaac’s (Mark Jackson) relationship with the crew in “A Simple Refrain” – how much is his romance with Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) borne of genuine affection for her and her two kids Marcus (BJ Tanner) and Ty (Kai Wener)? Or is it just part of his mission to observe human behavior and report back to his isolationist robo-world of Kaylon? After all, he plays holographic games with the kids, and seems to have fun with them, even though he continually calls them “intellectually inferior” (a statement he asserts has no malicious intent behind it).

But when he mysteriously shuts down, and the crew has no clue how to fix him, they get special dispensation to travel to Isaac’s homeworld in the hopes that they’ll know what to do. It’s a dicey proposition; no Union ships have set foot on the planet, and the (as Captain Mercer (MacFarlane) put it in the pilot) “legendarily racist” robots that call it home are still mulling over their membership in the Union. But when they land, and the Kaylons receive them, they’re met with an even more startling proposition – it was they who shut Isaac down. You see, Isaac’s mission is complete, so he no longer served a purpose. They’ll collate the data he collected and make their final determinations about joining the Union.

However, at the urging of Mercer and crew, the Kaylons revive Isaac. Unfortunately, in light of his completed mission, Isaac chooses to stay on Kaylon – a curious decision given his relationship with the Finns. “You found a home for yourself on the Orville,” asserts Claire, whose character has been admirably patient with his, shall we say, unique priorities in their relationship. But stay he will, so the Orville crew host an impromptu goodbye party (or “departure protocol,” as Talla (Jessica Szohr) puts it), one meant more for their benefit than his.

The Orville hasn’t shied away from darker material before, but hardly at this scale.

For the first half of “Identity Pt. 1”, the episode continues to pay off the small, but important character dynamics they’ve set up over the course of the season. It may seem like Isaac and Claire’s relationship has just started, but his familiarity with Marcus and Ty (Ty in particular) give them plenty of bittersweet moments when dealing emotionally with Isaac’s curiously unemotional goodbye. The central gag of Isaac’s character has long been his aloofness toward the crew’s affection: never is this more clearly realized then when Ty gives Isaac a cute drawing of the four of them to remember them by, only for him to drop it in the corridor.

The gulf between Isaac and his crewmates is made even clearer when Ty leaves the ship looking for Isaac, the crew’s ensuing search for the boy revealing a bombshell about Isaac’s people. After stumbling upon a large cave system filled with millions of bones (a very Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 moment, to be sure), the Orville crew learn the truth about the Kaylons: they were created by a sentient species of humanoids, which they in turn eliminated to stave off the cycles of peace and violence that comes with any civilization. After looking at Isaac’s data, the Kaylons see the same fate for the Union: “it would be foolish to ally ourselves with such destructive creatures,” Kaylon Prime says. To stave off the threat the Union theoretically poses, they decide to wipe out the Earth – boarding the Orville, rounding up its crew and setting course with a fleet of large, imposing particle weapons in tow.

It’s a chilling heel turn, and one that turns “Identity Pt. 1” from an intimate character piece a la Alara’s exit in “Home” into a stage-setting prelude to an interstellar war. The Orville hasn’t shied away from darker material before, but hardly at this scale: between Klyden’s bigotry in last week’s “Deflectors” and Isaac’s complicity in genocide here, the show’s taking some interesting chances with regards to even its most important characters. In the bright and sunny future of The Orville, even some of our heroes have some deep, deep skeletons in their closet, and some fascinating critiques of the post-scarcity society the Union has set up for itself. (Not to mention some deep, deep skeletons in their closet – literally, in Isaac’s case.)

And yet for all its bombast, the episode is still relatively grounded in character, the end result of Isaac’s uniquely distanced relationship with the crew. Obviously, Jackson’s not leaving the show, so Isaac’s heel-turn will likely get some manner of redemption in Part 2. (After all, he’s the only Kaylon who has blue lights instead of the imposing red of the rest of his people.) Perhaps his love for Claire and the kids will override his programming? Maybe Ty’s picture had more of an impact than we think. Either way, the fact that this shift toward Orville baddie feels organic and makes sense, even in light of the character’s affectionate presentation in the show, is a testament to the underappreciated character work the show has done so far.

No matter what, “Identity Pt. 1” works handsomely as the slower, more character-driven setup for what is likely to be a bombastic, take-back-the-ship action episode in Part 2. How (or even whether) we get Isaac back, and how he repairs his relationship with the Finns is one thing; the real question is how will the Union respond to this thorough rebuke of their philosophy?

Random thoughts:

  • The effects team really pulled out all the stops in this one, especially in the Orville‘s descent into the Kaylon city. The ship looks gorgeous with the planet’s sunlight gleaming off the chrome hull, and it’s cool to see natural sunlight peering through the bridge and corridor windows. It’s a small detail, but it helps the planet seem even more sterile and imposing (and the ship look more beautiful).
  • Mercer’s most pointed observation about the sterile environment of the Kaylon building they’re staying in: “Are there any, uh, chairs on this planet?”
  • Scott Grimes gets to sing! His goodbye serenade to Isaac during the party was just delightful; Gordon’s got pipes.
  • Bortus (Peter Macon) has had it rough enough this season, Talla; just give him a corner piece of the cake, for God’s sake!
  • As deliberately quaint as the Kaylon design is – its polyester jumpsuit-with-plastic-embellishments design deliberately evoking Golden Age sci-fi robots of the 60s – the big old laser guns that pop out of the evil Kaylons’ smooth heads is fairly imposing.
  • Claire’s eventual explosion to Isaac about what he thinks of the Kaylon’s murderous conclusions (“Answer me, you son of a bitch!”) is such a great moment of frustration for the normally cool-headed doctor. After all, she’s spent weeks excusing his behavior as him being literally wired differently; this crack in her patient facade shows she’s human.
  • Three guesses as to what color shirts the doomed Orville security personnel are wearing when the Kaylons go on their robot rampage.
  • We didn’t see Yaphit rounded up with the others, did we? Calling it now – Part 2 will see him going full John McClane/Lon Suder on the Kaylons next episode.
The Orville, “Identity Pt. 1” Trailer