The Orville S01E04 “If The Stars Should Appear” REVIEW

The Orville S01E04 “If The Stars Should Appear” REVIEW

2 comments 📅04 January 2018, 21:30

Air date: 4 January 2018 on FOX in the UK
Seth MacFarlane
Director: James L Conway

Essential Plot Points:

  • Bortus and Klyden argue over Bortus’s career. Klyden is feeling neglected, and Bortus is adamant that he knew what he was getting into. Klyden orders “depression food”, and watches The Sound Of Music. Bortus glowers at him and leaves.
  • On the bridge, Lamarr and Gordon are BORED. The Orville is mapping stars. Bortus arrives and dodges the crew’s questions about his home life.
  • They detect a huge object nearby and head off to investigate. It can’t be a ship, or a station, it’s too big. Except, of course, it is a ship. A colossal ship. One that’s over 2,000 years old. John detects that the ship will crash into a star inside six months. Ed, Kelly, Isaac, Alara and Doctor Finn head over.
  • In sickbay, Yaphit is sexually harassing Doctor Finn again when she gets the call.
  • On the way over they scan the vessel and realise it’s roughly the size of New York. They dock and discover it’s a bio-ship. There are countless life signs aboard and that means they have to be warned. The crew splits up to cover more ground and Ed, Isaac and Doctor Finn head off.
  • Yet MORE discussion of Ed and Kelly’s relationship ensues and thankfully we’re all saved by the discovery of a cabin with three lifeforms inside.
  • They knock on the door, and it gets slammed in their face. They knock again. A humanoid farmer appears and Isaac stuns him.
  • They go inside and apologise to the terrified farmer’s wife inside. Slowly it becomes apparent she has no idea where she is. She mutters about the “Underland” and “the word of Dorahl”.
  • Her son appears and it becomes more and more apparent that something is terribly wrong. The inhabitants do not know they’re on a spacecraft.
  • Elsewhere. Kelly and Alara talk about how Alara’s boyfriend broke up with her because of her strength. It inevitably turns into a discussion of Ed and Kelly’s relationship that, amazingly, isn’t actually terrible.
  • They’re interrupted by the sudden arrival of a truck. The soldiers who clamber out of it demand to see their identification, then shoot Alara and knock Kelly out.
  • Tomilin, the teenage son of the farmer, takes Ed’s team to meet the Reformers. Led by Komka, they’re a small faction who believe the world is more than they’ve been told.
  • The Orville receives a distress signal from a colony transport under attack by the Krill. With no choice but to assist, Bortus launches a communications buoy and races off.
  • Ed’s team learn that Dorahl is believed to be the creator of the universe and his mouthpiece, Hamelac, is a vicious tyrant. The conversation is interrupted by Alara, badly injured, calling in for help.
  • Hamelac, is, of course, the person responsible for Kelly’s arrest. She’s forced to watch him kill a Reformer. He instantly figures out who and what she is is and threatens her.
  • Ed’s team finds Alara and she’s close to death. Doctor Finn patches her back up and she fills them in on what happened. Tomilin figures out where she was taken and Ed asks Isaac to call the Orville for back-up. He finds the buoy and reports back.
  • On the Orville, the ship is going toe-to-toe with the Krill vessel. Some massively fancy shooting from John gets the job done but they need repairs and will be delayed an hour.
  • Back at the A plot Kelly is tied to a chair and beaten. She resists, until she’s injected with a truth serum that sets her nerves on fire. She screams in pain as Ed and his team, in disguise, storm in and make the rescue. Hamelac refuses to admit the truth, even as it becomes clear he suspects it. Ed and his team stun him and leave to find irrefutable proof of what the ship is.
  • With the Reformers’ help, they find it. An ancient door that leads to an elevator. They take it all the way up and discover the bridge of the ship. The Reformers are staggered – every single one of their beliefs made real.
  • Isaac accesses the final recording of the ship’s captain, Jorvus Dorahl. He, (WHO IS LIAM NEESON!!!!) explains that the ship was his planet’s first every exploratory vessel. It was a generation ship that was only ever intended to be in space for three generations. When a storm damaged the engines, the crew had no choice but to accept life adrift in space. Over time they simply forgot their past.
  • Isaac discovers that the damage is incredibly easy to repair. And that the ship has a “sun roof” designed to show the crew the stars.
  • They retract the sun roof and the entire crew, including Hamelac, realise the truth. With the Orville arriving, they explain that the crew can be taught to pilot the ship and at last, their voyage can be completed.


Another uneven episode this week, more so by a good margin than the previous episode. However, a good chunk of the problem here is that  The Orville has nailed its Star Trek: The Next Generation impersonation a little too well this time.

The central plot of this episode is the plot of several Trek episodes, and that’s the problem. “Generation ship that’s been marooned” is always good value but Trek, in the ’90s in particular, ran it into the ground. Everything from the minimal-prosthetic aliens to the convenient English speaking to the California hills location feels familiar. As a result the middle act drags very, very badly. It’s made worse by some of the least successful comedy in the show’s short history to date being inflicted on us up to that point. The weekly Yaphit scene in particular is becoming a real low point.

But then, something odd happens. The episode suddenly accelerates, finds its feet and does everything right all at once. Ed stops being a buffoon again, Kelly is given a moment of steely determination that has real emotional power to it and Alara and Doctor Finn get one too. By the time you hit the elevator joke at the ending there’s an actual lump in your throat. Not just because of the incredible events the crew spur on aboard the ship but because people who care about each other have been through something bad and come out the other side. You LIKE them. You’re happy when they win and that’s not something we’d ever have expected four weeks ago.

It’s also something a lot of ’90s Trek never managed once and it’s an undeniable achievement. It’s just a shame The Orville chose to get there through one of the most off-the-shelf plots possible. Worth it for the pay off (and LIAM NEESON!) but it’s an uphill struggle.

The Good:

  • Ed repeats the line from episode one, “Alara, you wanna open this jar of pickles for me?” Just without the whinging. Nice call back and a clever way to show character development. It’s sweet that this becomes something Alara notices and likes too.
  • Robert Knepper and James Morrison. Even if the plot is distinctly off-the-shelf, the sheer quality of performance carries it through.
  • The actual, real jeopardy of Alara getting shot and Kelly being tortured. Both of them lose no agency at all and both of them get moments of real emotional investment and character growth.
  • The little silent moment between Ed and Kelly when she’s rescued is great. As is the silent “thank you” between Alara and the Doc. You’re really getting a sense that this crew likes one another.
  • There’s some smart re-use of sets this week. Which is super nerdy we know but it’s always good to see a show know how to work within its limitations.
  • Every single thing Kelly says when she’s being tortured. Adrianne Palicki excels at bloody knuckled determination and what could have been a massively tasteless and nasty scene is a great character note for Kelly.
  • “We don’t mean your family any harm.”
    “We did just shoot his dad.”
    “Aside from shooting your dad we don’t mean your family any harm he’s only stunned.”
  • “For space is vast and very dark. And very lonely.” Liam freaking Neeson. He’s amazing.
  • Ed being revealed as the only starship Captain in history to not be a literature nerd is adorable.
  • Penny Jonson Jerald getting to deliver that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote honestly made us tear up.
  • If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.” – And there we go again.

The Bad:

  • The Bortus/Klyden opening sequence is crushingly unfunny. Likewise the John and Gordon banter.
  • The Yaphit scene. Oh God. Pay it off or make it stop.
  • The “disgusting” food gag.
  • The fact they help these people make colossal, society-rebooting changes and then fly off straight away is vintage Star Trek: The Next Generation. And not in a good way.
  • The plot. It’s well executed but this and the Mirror Universe are dead heats for the most over-used Trek tropes.
  • So… evil Orville episode by the end of the season then?

And The Random:

  • James L Conway directed for every ’90s iteration of Star Trek as well as shows like Smallville and Charmed. We’ll always love him for classic ’80s UFO-fest Hangar 18 though.
  • James Morrison, who plays Komka, the leader of the Reformers, is a frequent genre TV flyer. We will always love him for his work as Colonel TC McQueen on Space: Above And Beyond in particular.

  • Robert Knepper is also a frequent flyer in genre circles. He’s best known as Blaine’s dad in iZombie and as the villainous T-Bag in Prison Break.
  • Max Burkholder who plays Tomilin has previously appeared in The Purge, Parenthood, American Dad and Family Guy.
  • Liam Neeson is best known as the lead in the Taken trilogy as well as a vast array of other super punchy action movies. And remember, Liam Neeson does not sleep. He waits.

Review by Alasdair Stuart


  1. Keeper
    05 October 2017, 10:48 Keeper

    if you don’t like “Family Guy In Space”, then don’t watch it. It’s not really a sci-fi show. It’s a commentary on our species: we enjoy “entertainment” more than we even desire advanced knowledge. It’s in our DNA. It’s actually more funny that some believe otherwise!
    We give ourselves alot more credit than we’re worthy of.
    Sadly, our species will probably get smart enough to disdain our biological roots. And that’s not funny. Give me a Heaven where I’m kept as a happy pet for eternity, and I’m good. Don’t know about you.

    Reply to this comment
  2. jon
    04 October 2017, 00:57 jon

    You’re far to kind. “if the stars should appear” is the very definition of an idiotplot. A society goes from space faring to completely illiterate in under 2000 years, which i guess is to be expected; considering that they forget what a door looks like in the time it takes to go from home to that mysterious metal contraption jutting out of the ground. 2000 years with nothing to do but f*ck around and no one ever thought to take a cutting torch to the f*cking thing?!

    Also, for a show that’s purportedly about morals and hope for a shining tomorrow, did it not strike anyone as odd that the heroes use the same techniques as the crazy hillbilly cult leader autocrat, when he resists giving them what they want? For f*ck’s sake, they literally torture him for information after interrupting him torturing one of them for information. No irony intended. And someone got paid to write that! (perhaps that’s the real torture). And as bad as that writing is, somehow it’s not as bad as the teams journey to the bridge. Here is the (basically) exact script of that scene:
    -old man scrapes away vines from what is obviously one of the doors seen earlier on numerous occasions.
    -Android character (not data): “captain, this appears to be a doorway, akin to the one we used to enter the valley”
    -team enter, walks across a catwalk to the elevator opposite the door.
    -Android character (not data): “captain, this appears to be a lift of some kind”
    -team ascends in elevator
    **space left in script for seth to write in a hilarious elevator joke**

    -team arrives at the alien bridge
    -Android character (not data): “captain, this appears to be the bridge of the spacecraft”

    It’s honestly like the writer heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” and mistook it for “show AND tell”. Or maybe they just think people will feel smart if characters state the obvious as if it were some grand deduction. I’ve always found macfarlane’s writing to have a dismaying lack of respect for the intelligence of people in general, and his audience in particular. I’ve always felt him to be far to cynical in that regard, but if audiences actually believe the orville is essentially tng with jokes, then perhaps he is right to be.

    Reply to this comment

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