The Orville

The pterodactyl effect

Minor actions having huge unforeseen consequences is a staple of time-travel stories. Pull on a thread, and you unravel the tapestry. "You go back before World War II and kill Hitler, and maybe you make everything worse," says Mercer, taking the opposing view of the conventional wisdom of the classic premise. In his mind, you just don’t make that supposedly obvious choice.

I enjoyed hearing that, because the "kill Hitler" time-travel scenario always sounds good on paper, but you truly have no idea what the downstream ramifications of doing that would be. If you kill Hitler and change the course of history, the results could be counter-intuitively catastrophic. Maybe now the Cuban Missile Crisis ends in global nuclear annihilation. At the very least, you are all but ensuring you will not be born. Maybe I’m selfish and we’re historically far enough removed from World War II to distance ourselves from that pain, but I happen to like the world as it exists today, and doing something as universe-altering as killing Hitler could mean I’m not only erasing my own existence in favor of that alternate reality, but creating a potentially worse one.

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The seven-year (sw)itch

“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” — a title with a repetition I must confess I don’t exactly understand the rationale for — is a high-concept sci-fi premise that produces a middling character episode focusing on a worn-out thread on this series, and exhibits no shortage of misguided character decisions. The episode is redeemed almost entirely by the subtle and nuanced performance of Adrianne Palicki, who wins this week’s MVP by taking some decent insights and strange sitcom situations and spinning them into sympathy-earning gold.

This episode is okay, but it’s a notable step down from what the series has done recently, and it relies on plot developments we see coming a mile away — but the characters for some reason choose not to. It unfortunately feels like the Orville falling back on old habits, as if the writers woke up one morning and decided to go shopping at the TNG Store, found the “Second Chances” kit on the shelf, brought it home, and then made their personal modifications during assembly.

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‘Sanctuary’ explores the politics of prudence

The issues surrounding Moclan culture have been slowly and steadily building since "About a Girl" last season, and have continued to magnify ("Primal Urges," "Deflectors") throughout this season. They reach a boiling point with "Sanctuary," which is an effective and involving drama that falls back on a number of classic Trekkian elements, including the impassioned public hearing and the tense diplomatic crisis.

While one could argue that we’ve perhaps seen too much of the Moclans over these first two seasons, I would instead argue that what the writers have done is build a solid arc across a series using an episodic format. I’m reminded of the way Worf’s discommendation arc and the Klingon civil war played out in the middle seasons of TNG.

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Thanks for the memories

The Orville crew opens a 400-year-old time capsule that was sealed in 2015 in Saratoga Springs, New York, and among the preserved relics is a smartphone, left behind — with all personal data intact — by a young woman. Once reviving the phone and powering it up, the crew discovers a treasure trove documenting a short period of a long-ago life.

“Lasting Impressions” is the sort of story that could likely be sold with a single-sentence pitch (which is the very definition of “high concept,” even though this story does not at all play like one), simply because of how many possibilities the premise opens up. This could’ve gone in any number of directions, documenting any number of fictional lives. That it picks the mundane details of a would-be romance is a testament to the writers’ faith in the concept.

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Orville’s ‘Patriots’ proves rather bloodless

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.)

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