‘The Orville’ delivers an excellent drama on a real issue

"A Tale of Two Topas" tackles a current-day controversial issue using the classic Star Trek (TNG) style. It does so with heart, feeling, empathy, thoughtfulness, messiness, ugliness, and no shortage of emotional and plotted complication. It’s all the more effective because of its straightforward take on the material. This is an episode that demonstrates how properly existing at the vertex where the intellectual and the emotional converge can result in something pretty great.

This episode uses science fiction to just barely put a twist on a current-day issue. In this case, it’s the matter of gender identity as seen through Bortus’ and Klyden’s child, Topa (Imani Pullum) — born female but reassigned male (unknown to him), shortly after birth as a result of the deeply misogynistic Moclan culture. While Topa is shadowing Grayson to learn more about how the crew operates, he reveals to her that he has been feeling "incomplete" and "unhappy"; he has realized there is something wrong deep within himself. In a rather alarming development, Topa goes to Isaac and asks him what it felt like to be dead. Isaac explains that being dead was not unpleasant, because it was merely a state of nothingness. Isaac wisely reports the conversation to Grayson.

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‘Strange New Worlds’ goes full-on ‘Alien’

On the eve of Uhura’s cadet assignment ending and her announced intention to return to Earth rather than stay aboard the ship, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the disappearance of the USS Peregrine, which went down on an icy planet and stopped transmitting in the high interference of the atmosphere. The crew’s fate is unknown. Pike takes an away team down in two shuttles where they find the crash-landed ship. It turns out the crew members have been wiped out by the Gorn.

"All Those Who Wander" is a fairly straightforward and unpretentious sci-fi/horror B-movie that’s elevated by a major sacrifice and a final coda that deals with the emotional consequences of the aftermath.

The only survivors found on the Peregrine are a young girl named Oriana (Emma Ho), who is being protected by a member of the world’s indigenous species, whom the girl has named "Buckley" (Carlos Albornoz), and whose language the Universal Translator can’t decipher.

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Review: ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ fails to feel remotely necessary

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a major disappointment given its resources, cast, and the general goodwill that was built up from The Mandalorian. It’s easily the least of the Disney+ Star Wars streaming series so far, including the middling Book of Boba Fett, which managed to become way more fun in its second half when it essentially became Mandalorian season 2.5.

Between this and Boba Fett, one wonders how quickly the Star Wars Extended Streaming Universe will run out of steam or have the fans turn against it. The film franchise took just four years to go from "victorious comeback" to "temporarily shelved for retooling" thanks to the oversaturation with five movies in that short period. Is the streaming TV universe headed for a similar fate with so many projects on the horizon?

Obi-Wan Kenobi has all the signs of a show that was retooled from a movie script and expanded, needlessly, into a six-part series. It’s sloppy, full of weakly motivated and contrived scenes, and suffers — even more than I had predicted — because it has to leave intact a status quo that means nothing major between Episode III and Episode IV can happen.

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When it gently rains, it pours

On the eve of the signing of a treaty between the Planetary Union and the Krill, a delegation is invited to the Krill homeworld where the treaty is to be signed. The Orville will, of course, carry the delegation, and Admiral Halsey invites Mercer and his away team to attend the signing.

This invitation happens after we’ve already witnessed Teleya (Michaela McManus) — the undercover Krill woman who pretended to fall in love with a duped Mercer (see "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes"), and who is now a rising populist politician with a growing following — provides an ominous speech that begins Trumpian and works its way up to Hitlerian as she decries the treaty that’s going to be signed and promises that all who have taken part in its creation will be punished as traitors if she wins the election. The crowd screams and chants like a howling mob.

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Dire fantasy has an eleventh-hour redemption

"The Elysian Kingdom" is exceptionally odd, in that it’s such a plodding, boring, test-pattern of a fantasy episode for its first three acts before then becoming really interesting and moving and Trekky in its last act of impossible choices. This was well on its way to being the worst episode of the season before it redeemed itself at the eleventh hour.

That redemption brings it up a few notches, but I still can’t endorse this. I want to throw away the first 40 minutes entirely, in which the Enterprise, trapped in a nebula by a mysterious force, turns into a fantasy world where the crew have their minds hijacked and unwittingly play out the parts in the fantasy book that M’Benga frequently reads to his daughter Rukiya (Sage Arrindell). M’Benga and Hemmer are the only ones who retain their personalities and know they aren’t the characters in the book.

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