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.
I’ll say this: Discovery is almost never boring. Even when it’s batshit-crazy bonkers, it’s pretty exciting.
Consider “The Red Angel,” which is equal parts respectable and loony, measured and overwrought, exposition-filled and visceral, and either benefits or suffers from numerous WTF moments — I’m not sure which. It advances the season arc by answering questions that raise more questions. It has substantial character work, but nearly all of it surrounds a single character. Guess which one. This is entertaining, but I can’t call it good. It’s a sci-fi potboiler.
The more I watch Discovery, the clearer it becomes this is a series that wants me to feel something above all else. I’m not saying it doesn’t also want me to think, or at least ponder its plots and puzzlements. But the creators of this show want me to experience it in a very immediate and visceral way, with scenes that are about emotions, conflict, camaraderie, action, peril, tension, and aesthetic and tactile conveyance. World building, problem solving, and intellectual debate are secondary.
The things I mentioned in the latter list are things I like about Trek. The things I mentioned in the former list are things I like about Trek that Discovery does more than any Trek series before it. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I like Discovery for what it is, even though I also long for some of the things it isn’t.
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.