"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.
The most important dialogue in "Deflectors" comes near the end. "You know, the more I learn about the Moclans, the more I see that our differences go right to the core of our values," Ed says to Kelly. "How long can an alliance with a culture like that last?" It’s a good question, one that helps acknowledge a disconcerting pattern that’s been going on here across multiple episodes.
This is no less than the third episode of this series to detail Moclan culture as having some highly questionable qualities — forced gender reassignment in "About a Girl," divorce by murder in "Primal Urges," and now harsh prejudicial judgment for sexual preferences as seen here. A trend has emerged regarding the Moclans, and it’s not so hunky-dory. So this must be going somewhere, right?
I hope so, because something ominous seems to be building, and stands in stark contrast to the use of Bortus’ Moclan deadpan to provide the series’ best comic delivery.
“Saints of Imperfection” is Discovery‘s heaviest venture into technobabble disaster plotting to date. That this episode is fairly focused, well-paced, involving, and has some solid moments of emotion makes it easier to look past some of the dopier and/or insane things happening here.
But the episode’s big reveal would’ve landed better if the series’ creators and actors weren’t so good at spoiling their own show in the press. I’ve known for months that Dr. Culber would be returning from the dead at some point this season. Part of that is my own fault for reading any headline about this show when I should know full well the creators will give plot points away if it means promoting their show. But then they also put Wilson Cruz’s name in the opening credits at the beginning of the hour, so by the time we get to the reveal that the “monster” terrorizing the mycelium network is actually Culber — who has been trapped there since he was killed by Voq/Ash last season — we have already figured it out.
“An Obol for Charon” is perhaps the most classic take on classic Trek yet from Discovery. After last week’s “Point of Light” seemed to go in about 15 directions at once in its pursuit of various serial subplots, “Obol” is very disciplined in focusing on the exploration aspects of Trek within the confines of a ship-in-peril premise and a tighter — if familiar — plot and structure. The result is a very solid outing, particularly with its late revelations, but one that is somewhat held back by some quirks in execution.
After the first two episodes of season two seemed to serve as a sort of re-calibration of this series to be a little more contemplative and a little less frenetic, we now get “Point of Light,” which serves as the un-re-calibration and feels like a structural throwback to season one. This is a rushed, overly busy episode featuring no fewer than four plotlines, executed at variable levels of pacing and interest. In some cases, the goal appears to have been to quickly move characters from point A to B at absolutely all costs. In other cases, we seem to be on a stationary bike. In no cases is this absorbing storytelling like in “Brother” or “New Eden,” because it’s just too much spread too thin. It’s more along the lines of: Well, all that just happened. Tune in next week to see where all this is maybe going!