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.
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.
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.)
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.
"Identity, Part 1" is the best and most involving episode of The Orville so far. That it holds that distinction and still is not enough to be called "great" (at least in my book) is perhaps a problem, but this series is still young and it occupies an admittedly odd space.
The Orville is generally too cavalier to be considered serious, yet too serious to embrace the idea of a true satire/spoof. It loves Trek far too much to lampoon it. So it occupies the land of a seriocomic homage, which can make its universe hard to accept on straightforward dramatic terms. That fact must be confronted here, where an existential threat comes off more like a really cool cinematic concept than something we truly believe.