"Majority Rule," while obvious and unsubtle, feels like a modern-day take on a Twilight Zone episode crossed with Star Trek: TOS. It takes the frequently employed "alternate Earth" approach of those series and gives us an alien society that’s essentially ourselves plus an exaggerated twist — and then mines that for an hour of whimsical social satire/commentary that our heroes find themselves mired in. This is consistently entertaining, albeit not particularly challenging. It alternates scenes of wry observation with others of grand absurdity. In both cases, I got the sense that’s what they were mostly going for.
The story presents us with a "pure democracy" in the form of an alien society that conducts all its legal proceedings (in particular, punitive criminal measures) through social media votes — up or down. Everyone is required to wear a badge with an up and down arrow (you can press someone’s badge with an up or down vote if they do something you like or dislike), and you can vote online to pile on for someone’s mild transgression that somehow ended up in the public eye. If you get more than 10 million down votes during the "judging window" (how the timing of the opening and closing of this window works is not really clear, but who cares), you are sentenced to a "correction" measure to fix your bad behavior — essentially a lobotomy that turns you into a docile mental simpleton.
“Chris” and “Devin” (Fox)
The Orville comes to the rescue of a Union colony under attack by a Krill vessel. Mercer’s tactical cleverness is able to outmaneuver the Krill’s superior firepower to win the battle and destroy the Krill ship. In the wreckage, the crew discovers an unscathed Krill shuttlecraft, which presents an opportunity for the Union: They can use the shuttle to send some operatives undercover as Krill crew members in an intelligence-gathering mission to learn about this mysterious enemy and their motives. Specifically, the assignment is to retrieve a copy of the holy book that guides the Krill’s deeply held religious beliefs, in the hopes that we might learn what drives their society. Mercer and Malloy take on this task — for which they are not particularly well equipped.
"Krill" is the best episode of The Orville yet. It’s the first episode that from start to finish feels like it’s living in its own skin and starting to build its own universe, rather than reassembling pilfered pieces from here and there. Sure, the plot (undercover characters pose as the enemy) is another take on a reliable standby, but that’s perfectly fine. I have no problem with new takes on reliable devices if the writers can bring a sense of energy or specificity. This is an entertaining, well-paced, breezy hour that works on the lightweight terms where this series lives.
When Pria (Charlize Theron, lured here I presume because she had so much fun with MacFarlane on A Million Ways to Die in the West, like Liam Neeson last week) announces to the crew that she is actually a time-traveler from the 29th century who came back to save and then steal and sell what was the doomed-to-destruction-had-she-not-intervened Orville, my mind immediately went to the con man in TNG‘s "A Matter of Time," and I blurted out to my wife, "Star Trek already did this episode too!" I realized in that moment that I had essentially become the annoying kid Dougie in the South Park episode, "Simpsons Already Did It." This plot was new to my wife; she’s never seen "A Matter of Time" or indeed any of the Trek plots that have been repurposed so far for The Orville. Maybe I just need to let it go already.
Granted, this is an ongoing liability with The Orville, which is that these stories can sometimes seem like reheated Trek leftovers and thus distract from themselves, even when that critique really isn’t fair (and it’s not here). "Pria" does enough of its own stuff to be its own thing, and it does it fairly entertainingly — a marked improvement over last week’s tepid "If the Stars Should Appear." Granted, it still sorely lacks conviction in its semi-dramatic intentions (and the sci-fi is fine if unambitious), but it’s a more enjoyable effort for sure, and possibly the most purely enjoyable Orville episode so far.
The Orville encounters a massive ship adrift that actually turns out to be a huge alien bio-dome — carrying passengers who think they’re living on an actual world. This spaceship, whose engines have failed, is now on a collision course with star.
If that premise sounds familiar, it is. I lifted the paragraph above directly from my review of TOS‘s "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" and made a few minor tweaks. This seems to be the approach MacFarlane takes with the broad ideas in "If the Stars Should Appear," which takes familiar Trekkian staples — including the world-ship and alien dictatorships acting out on ancient information that has been misinterpreted over generations — and recycles them without adding anything in terms of emotion or inspiration.
When Bortus’ and Klyden’s child is unexpectedly born female (something infinitesimally rare), Bortus asks Dr. Finn to perform a sex change to make the baby male so the child can thus lead a "normal" life as a Moclan. Finn refuses on moral grounds, Bortus appeals to Mercer, who also refuses, thus bringing to full boil a debate of gender identity from the Moclan point of view.
"About a Girl" is the best and most interesting episode of The Orville so far, even while it offers further proof — even more so than the first two episodes — that it’s the product of a past generation (1967? 1997?) transplanted to 2017, as if through a time machine. This is, for all intents and purposes, a Star Trek episode from another era — or a spiritual step-heir, or something. Is it a good one? Yes, although maybe not a great one.