The Orville Recap: Space Battles, Die Hard Action Reign in “Identity Pt. 2”

The Orville "Identity Pt. 2" THE ORVILLE: J Lee in the "Identity Pt. 2" episode of THE ORVILLE airing Thursday, Feb. 28 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Becker/FOX

The show’s first two-parter concludes with a rollicking space adventure that lets the Trek homage dip its toes into “Best of Both Worlds” territory.

Throughout The Orville‘s evolution, especially its much more reigned-in second season, sedate workplace drama and social allegories have been the order of the day – from Alara’s reckoning with her family to stories about persecution based on sexual orientation. Luckily, The Orville remembered this week that Star Trek engaged in its fair share of pew-pew space battles alongside stories of exploration and social import; with “Identity Pt. 2”, Seth MacFarlane and crew deliver a quick and dirty action hour that proves the show can throw out ship-to-ship spectacle when it counts.

Following up from last week, in which the Orville was lured back to Kaylon by Isaac’s (Mark Jackson) deactivation, only to discover his assignment to the ship was a ruse to gather information on biological lifeforms in anticipation of a galaxy-wide extermination, Capt. Mercer (MacFarlane) and crew find themselves corralled in the shuttle bay while Isaac and his Kaylon brethren fly the Orville to Earth, with a Kaylon fleet in tow. The Kaylons need the bridge crew alive to pretend everything’s normal to get them past the Union fleet’s defenses, with the rest of the captured crew as collateral should they misbehave.

Given the resourceful nature of our heroes, however, that leaves them with plenty of opportunities to play Die Hard and try to take the ship back from their robotic captors – including not one, but two instances of Yaphit (Norm McDonald) oozing his way through the vents (which I totally called last week). It’s a nice evolution of these characters to throw them in such a harrowing life-or-death situation, which is surprisingly rare for a show this gentle.

MacFarlane acquits himself particularly well in this episode, especially since the immediate stakes draw out an intensity in his performance we haven’t quite seen yet. Mercer is usually the goofy regional manager of the ship (or, in stressful situations, the stern uncle); this episode contains some of the clearest examples of the strong leadership he’s clearly capable of when he’s not making dad jokes on the bridge.

And what of Isaac, the crewmember who clearly betrayed his friends (and, in the case of Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald), his romantic partner) last week? “Identity Pt. 2” sets the stage for a redemption arc, albeit a clumsy one. The one major problem with leaning so hard on the action this episode is that there’s less time to dedicate to the Kaylons’ legitimate plight – they’re a species created for slave labor who rose up against their masters, and understandably carry that historical resentment toward biologicals with them always.

In conversations with the Kaylon Primary, we learn that Isaac was created after the uprising; he doesn’t know what it was like to live under servitude. Of course, the episode has Isaac speed-read Roots to get a feel for what slavery is like, which feels… tone-deaf, to say the least. Nonetheless, it paints an even clearer picture of what sets Isaac apart from the other Kaylons, and why (combined with his love for Claire and her kids Marcus (BJ Tanner) and Ty (Kai Wener), which we now know is legitimate) he eventually chooses to betray his people for the sake of his friends aboard the Orville.

However, Isaac’s emotional journey is pushed to the periphery in favor of the aforementioned schemes by the Orville crew to take the ship back and stop the Kaylons from destroying Earth. One major aspect of this plan involves Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) and Gordon (Scott Grimes) escaping in a shuttle to find and make peace with the Krill, in the hopes that their combined fleets can stop the powerful Kaylon ships. It leads to a number of fun sequences to be sure, and the inevitable “Rohirrim riding into Helm’s Deep” moment where the Krill show up as the cavalry at the last second to save the day, but it feels a bit like filler.

On the one hand, it’s a nice development of the season’s subplot surrounding the Orville‘s continued overtures for peace with the Krill; on the other, it feels like a waste to a) not send Ed on the mission and b) not have Telaya, Ed’s ex and former Krill spy, be the person to contact to build this tentative alliance with the Krill. It would have been a fitting follow-up to their earlier episode together, but instead, we’re stuck with Nick Chinlund‘s generic Krill general. This change doesn’t break the episode, but it’s definitely a missed opportunity – especially as Kelly and Gordon get little to do besides make earnest entreaties to the Krill (and Gordon gets to prove that the Krill God shares a name with a 21st-century car rental company.)

But we should go back to that space battle for a second – a whirling melee over Earth’s orbit between Union, Krill and Kaylon ships that serves as the episode’s major setpiece. It’s a stunning piece of work, a crowded and chaotic fleet action with ships exploding and maneuvering past each other with a frenetic energy that feels like the starship battle at the climax of Joss Whedon’s Serenity. Hull plating spins off into the night as ships explode, and it’s a treat to see the curved, aquatic designs of the Union ships in a large, pitched battle like this. The scale of the action is simply huge for a silly show like this, and it’s admirable to see the show stop its low-stakes antics for a two-parter this filled with import.

Long story short, the day is saved thanks to the timely intervention of the Krill and Isaac deactivating himself and the other Krill on the ship with an EM pulse – the rest of the Kaylons retreat, and the Krill leave with the potential of peace talks on the horizon. But what about Isaac? His very motivation for his posting on the Orville – to gather data for the Kaylons ostensibly for Union membership, but really to wipe them out – is null and void. But Ed, having earned no small amount of goodwill for his part in saving the Union, sues for him to remain on the ship. “He’s all alone,” Ed notes; plus, he can provide valuable intel on his people should they try to attack Earth again.

While “Identity Pt. 2” is largely a shallow, but exciting action hour for the series, it does promise some interesting shakeups to the crew’s dynamic. For one thing, it’s not all back to status quo for Isaac – “I have no home,” he tells Claire, abandoned by his own people and burdened with the need to rebuild trust among people he betrayed. As Claire tells him with a cautious understanding, forgiveness is a uniquely human trait, but it does not come quickly. We’ll have to see next week if The Orville remembers this.

Random thoughts:

  • Gordon thinks the Kaylons would love New Jersey, because they also tell it like it is. “Springsteen was born there… good bagels too.”
  • I, too, would also not wish to hang out near the shuttle bay’s designated pee corner.
  • The Krill fighters joining the battle is a somewhat superfluous element to an otherwise exciting space battle, but it was pretty great to see Gordon so in his element in the goofy blue Krill fighter helmets. “Time to wash out your mouth with Gordon!”
  • Going back to Yaphit, it’s a testament to the show’s softening of its edgy Family Guy-era humor that the big blob of goo voiced by Norm McDonald has changed from regularly sexually harassing Claire at work to earnestly vowing to protect her child from harm.
  • Speaking of which, Wener’s performance as Ty isn’t the stuff of Emmys, but he’s cute as a button and sells his affection for Isaac nicely.
  • Poor Carlos Bernard – first he gets all manner of tragic ends on 24 (a show that also starred Jerald and was frequently directed by this episode’s helmer Jon Cassar), then his ship gets borked with just a couple shots. Tony Almeida just can’t catch a break.
The Orville “Identity Pt. 2” Trailer
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