When it comes to bureaucratic decrees that seem to have no moral conviction for protecting its own, the Union really is the worst. Or maybe it’s Admiral Ted Danson who is the worst. First he orders Mercer to leave Grayson and Bortus to rot in an alien concentration camp in "All the World Is Birthday Cake." Now here he asks Mercer to maybe look for a way to send Orrin Channing (Mackenzie Astin), a Union POW who has escaped after 20 years of harsh imprisonment, back into Krill custody in the absence of any sort of extradition agreement, because it might soothe tensions ahead of peace negotiations. (Also, the Orville is sent to broker this agreement, because the Union has no one better. Not promising.)
"If Memory Serves" is an episode that takes the qualities that are hallmarks of Discovery and employs them to tell a satisfying story. Against all odds, they’ve taken these disparate elements — prequel backfilling, strange old worlds, retcons on classic characters, impressive production values, vibrant and stylish filming techniques, Red Angel timeline shenanigans, Section Freaking 31 — and stitched together an episode that ultimately works because of performances and emotional resonance. It’s an absorbing and immersive dialogue-heavy outing that’s also a breathless plot and an homage to the franchise. And it’s the first episode of this series to reach greatness.
"Light and Shadows" is a connective-tissue piece-moving episode, rather than the more episodic-blended-with-serialized outing that has more typified season two. It’s significantly better than "Point of Light," despite being only a brisk 40 minutes long, because it takes time to breathe and deal with its characters and — well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Klingons.
Connective tissue was what season one often lacked. Characters would drop off the map and then show up again under new circumstances, and it felt sometimes like we were missing entire episodes. Season two has been an improvement in this regard. "Light and Shadows" moves perhaps implausibly quickly in one regard: It moves Burnham from ship to planet to ship seemingly instantly.
Like with many resolutions to alleged status-quo-shattering cliffhangers, "Identity, Part II" fails to live up to its setup. Oh, sure: The episode builds to a prolonged ending battle sequence that doesn’t disappoint — a real humdinger of pyrotechnics that outdoes anything even remotely attempted on this series. (I don’t use the word "humdinger" lightly; it’s very possible I’ve never actually typed that word before.) As the Dude once said: And that’s cool. That’s cool. But the real question of this episode was how they would bring Isaac back (or indeed if they believably could) after he seemingly went past the point of no return by helping the Kaylon seize control of the Orville, killing a bunch of its crew in the process.
“The Sound of Thunder” is probably the most riveting episode of Discovery yet (and was well on its way to an elusive four-star rating) for its first three acts — before it then rushes through a final act of overheated drama that has some considerable problems. Overall, this is still a very strong and satisfying hour of this series that ends with a major change in the status quo for two entire species. But the shortcuts and missed opportunities on the way to the conclusion take some bloom off the rose.
For the most part, this is an episode that has the necessary elements, weight, and established backstory to stand alone and work on its own merits. But the episode also tries to tie this standalone story into the Big Serial Arc of the season involving the Red Angel, while incrementally moving that arc forward. While I think tying your serial arc into individual standalone stories is the right way to do a season-long arc (as opposed to the “10-hour movie” that leads to lots of narrative drag), the way they do it here proves to be one piece too many.