The Spool / TV
TV Review: The Orville Pulls a Discovery with “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes”
The Orville cribs a bit from Star Trek Discovery in an Ed-heavy episode featuring an enemy love interest in disguise.
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Seth MacFarlane’s Trek spoof winks and nudges at one of its sister show’s more ridiculous plotlines with an Ed-heavy hour featuring a Krill in disguise.


This piece was originally posted on Alcohollywood

With Star Trek Discovery‘s second season having finally premiered, it’s official: both shows are aware of each other’s existence, and are heartily leaning in each other’s direction for their sophomore seasons. Just as Discovery lightened itself up with quippier, cooler characters a la The Orville, “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” continues the FOX show’s commitment to taking itself a bit more seriously – even self-consciously cribbing one of season 1 Discovery‘s more controversial plot arcs.

As the episode begins, Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) has settled nicely into a discreet relationship with dark matter cartographer Lieutenant Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus); he’s clearly happy, and ex-wife and first officer Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) is understandably happy for him. To take their relationship to the next level, Ed, decides to take Janel on a romantic trip, but their shuttle is intercepted by the deadly Krill, who quickly take them captive and demand Mercer’s command codes.

When McManus’ character was given a low-key introduction in the season opener (the subject of a mild subplot about Gordon (Scott Grimes) getting the confidence to talk to girls), some noticed that McManus also played Krill teacher Telaya in last season’s “Krill”, one of the first season’s more assured hours. While a few joked about McManus’ characters being one and the same, it was a genuine surprise to see that The Orville actually went there – Telaya reappears on the Krill ship, revealing to Mercer that she was Janel, undergoing genetic surgery to look human, then got assigned to the Orville for a deep-cover mission to gain Ed’s confidence.

If it sounds a little familiar to a certain long-game plotline about Voq/Ash Tyler’s dual human-Klingon identity in Star Trek Discovery, you’re right on the money – hell, her human identity is literally LIEUTENANT TYLER. While the episode treats it with a straight face, it’s impossible to imagine this reveal as anything other than a nudge of the elbow to their sister show’s all-too-obvious twist. Even more miraculous, then, is “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes”‘ ability to make something of that twist, turning the betrayal into an episode about Ed’s ability to see the best in people, and his continued efforts to broker peace with the Krill.

Not long after Telaya’s reveal, the Krill ship is attacked by a porcine species they failed to truly subjugate, forcing Ed and Telaya to take an escape pod to a nearby jungle planet. There, “Excepting Fishes” turns into a handsome two-hander in which Ed continues to try to convince Telaya that their two peoples deserve to be peaceful, and appeal to the aspects of Janel he knows is inside her. It’s an intriguing, if simplistic, continuation of Telaya’s introductory episode, where Ed went deep undercover as a Krill to gather intelligence (in many ways, her subterfuge is just even Steven for his spycraft).

Rough stand-ins for the Klingons they may be, it feels like The Orville has a better grasp of Krill society than Discovery does their Klingons; the Krill genuinely fear dissent and diversity, their entire spacefaring race on a holy crusade to kill all non-Krill in the name of their god, Avis (yes, like the car company, “Krill” did all those jokes to death). Ed, meanwhile, is endlessly patient and kind, though wounded by Janel’s betrayal, constantly trying to talk his captor into working together with him to activate their distress beacon and be rescued. “If there’s a human in there, tell her I miss her,” he says to Telaya in one effective campfire scene where they trade ideologies. MacFarlane is still one of the weaker members of the ensemble, but this episode operates firmly within the gentle sincerity that he excels at. He even does less of the awkward sighing-at-the-end-of-every-line thing that irritates me so; good on you, Seth.

While The Orville owes a great debt to TNG, “Excepting Fishes” takes some time to honor OG Trek as well – right down to the location shooting at a woodsy area that looks not unlike Vasquez Rocks, where many a William Shatner double-handed fistfight was filmed back in the 60s. While simplistic, it offers an idyllic setting for Ed’s final gesture of trust toward Telaya – climbing to the top of the hill to set off the distress beacon, while the sun-averse Krill hides in a cave.

Even after their daring escape, Ed learns his lesson from “Krill” – choosing to let Telaya return to her people instead of sending her back to the Union for interrogation. But not before he hands her a thumb drive of Billy Joel songs – songs he tried to get Janel into before her betrayal – and an offer to resume movie night. Though this time, it’s not as a date: it’s to repair relations between two warring peoples. For a Trek knockoff, it’s a very relatable, everyman way to express Starfleet principles.

At this point in The Orville‘s run, episodes like this have become the norm, “Excepting Fishes” being the latest in a sustained run of handsomely presented, almost criminally genial odes to Star Trek. That may be its greatest weapon in its cold war against “real” Trek, however: as slick as Discovery‘s effects and production value may be, The Orville loves its characters, and wants you to love them too. They may not be all that complicated, but they sure are nice to be around, and that might just win the day if the time comes where there can be only one space show on the airwaves.

Random thoughts:

  • The show’s B-plot was slight, but charming, with Gordon expressing a desire to try out for command school (not unlike a certain red-headed Discovery ensign). Kelly is happy to school him, but his excessive casualness keeps him unprepared; he’s awkward negotiating with a Krill ship in the simulator, and a psych test by Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) has him reacting in utter disgust at each Rorschach test he gives (“Okay, that’s it, this is a hostile work environment!”). Unfortunately, in The Orville‘s joke-averse second season, this is what counts for humor, and it doesn’t quite land, however genial Grimes’ performances may be.
  • Tharl (Patrick Warburton) is still around, and still bugging the crap out of everyone on the bridge – he shows up to work in soaked workout clothes, and, according to Bortus (Peter Macon), “comes to the mess hall wearing…. sandals.” According to Kelly, their replacement security officer should come next week, so we’ll get to see Alara’s carbon copy successor next time.
  • One of the biggest gulfs in Ed and Telaya’s cultural understanding comes from her preference for Belloq over Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “They’re Nazis, they’re the bad guys!”