The Orville S01E02 “Command Performance” REVIEW

The Orville S01E02 “Command Performance” REVIEW

0 comments 📅21 December 2017, 13:04

Air date: 21 December 2017 on FOX in the UK 
Writer: Seth MacFarlane
Director: Robert Duncan McNeill

Essential Plot Points:

  • Bortus visits Ed in his quarters and explains that he has laid an egg. This is how Moclans reproduce and, in order to hatch the egg, Bortus will need to sit on it for 21 days. With that in mind, he requests a leave of absence. Ed, who is slowly figuring out how to talk to people, grants it.
  • On the bridge, Alara picks up a distress signal from a nearby ship under Krill attack. Ed puts the ship on red alert and orders Gordon to get them there. They arrive and find the situation is much worse than the crew, or we, had thought;
  • The attack is over, everyone’s fine. And Ed’s parents are aboard.
  • After a hideous extended bit involving diverticulitis (Ed’s dad has it, Ed does not), Ed and Kelly head over to the freighter. On the way, they chat about their past and Ed makes it clear he thinks Kelly did the right thing. They would never have worked. Kelly is…okay with that. Less so with the imminent meeting with Ed’s parents. She orders a cannabis brownie from the replicator and holds onto it ‘just in case’.
  • They dock, step through into the freighter and…it’s a square, door-less room. There’s a flash and they disappear.
  • On the bridge of the Orville, Alara, in command for the first time, watches in horror as the freighter disappears and is replaced by a hologram projector. As the bridge crew look to her for guidance, she sprints down to Bortus’ quarters and asks for advice. Bortus, naked and sitting on his egg, sets her straight. Alara downs a shot of tequila, pukes, goes back to the bridge and gets to work.
  • She orders the projector brought aboard against the recommendations of the other bridge crew, She’s adamant that this is their only lead and so, Gordon begins guiding it into the shuttle bay.
  • The buoy is booby trapped and explodes, seriously damaging the ship and injuring several crew members. Alara is not having a good day.
  • Ed and Kelly wake up. In their apartment. On Earth. They can’t get out and no communications work but it’s home…sort of. With nothing to do, the pair relax and try and enjoy their unexpected ‘holiday’.
  • Back on the ship, Alara is overseeing repairs and visiting the injured in sickbay. She’s riddled with guilt and opens up to Doctor Kincaid. Claire, because she’s awesome, offers to be Alara’s Yoda. She won’t tell her what to do but she will act as a sounding board.
  • Isaac has been searching the area and detects the residue of an energy trail. It fired immediately before the ‘ship’ disappeared and he’s pretty certain it’s a transporter. Alara asks him to trace it to it’s destination and neither one of them like what they see…
  • Neither do Ed and Kelly who wake up to find their view has been replaced by the truth. They’re exhibits in an alien zoo and there’s no way they can get out. As the audience presses in, their fellow inmates across the way console them and tell them to get comfortable. No one has ever escaped…
  • Back on the Orville, Alara briefs Earth. Ed and Kelly have been kidnapped by the Caliban, a ridiculously technologically advanced alien race that the Planetary Union have studiously avoided. That will continue, and Alara is ordered to bring the Orville back to Earth where it will be assigned a new Captain and XO. Ed and Kelly are being abandoned. Alara, disgusted by the order but feeling she has no choice, executes it. A furious Gordon is relieved of duty when he refuses to lay in the course.
  • Ed and Kelly’s sweet, not-quite rekindled romance is going very south very fast. Under constant scrutiny, the pair have reverted to the worst aspects of their relationship. Ed drinks in the morning, Kelly eats too loudly and the pair are really starting to feel the walls closing in.
  • Alara, isolated and furious, realizes her entire crew aren’t speaking to her. She goes to the mess, downs more tequila and reverses the order; they’re going in to rescue Ed and Kelly, orders be damned. The crew, overjoyed, scramble back to work.
  • Isaac has a plan. By reverse engineering the hologram generator that fooled them he’s able to make the Orville appear to be an X ship. With the disguise in place, they make it to orbit. The Caliban are intensely arrogant so Isaac, whose race is also intensely arrogant and advanced, will do the talking while Alara will act as his ‘pet’.
  • The Zookeeper isn’t remotely interested in giving the humans up. Alara was prepared for this and she and Isaac tell him they’re infected with Y disease. The Zoo has a policy for that and the Zookeeper triggers their Euthanasia Protocols, meaning Ed and Kelly’s apartment is swept with lasers that close in on them. At the last second, and not before Ed squeaks out Elvis’ last words, Alara makes a deal to get them back.
  • Later, back on the Orville, Ed gives Alara a commendation for valor. At the reception, he congratulates the Chief of Security for her good work and reveals that he and Kelly rescued the small child who was being kept in a nearby cage. The crew ask Alara what she traded in return for Ed and Kelly and she tells them that Gordon gave her the idea…
  • In the Zoo, we see Real Housewives playing to rapt audiences as the Zookeeper looks through thousands and thousands of files of old reality TV shows…
  • In his quarters, Bortus hears a crack. he calls his mate in and they watch as their child hatches.
  • Their female child…


After a deeply rocky opening episode, ‘Command Performance’ is both a big improvement and a surprisingly effective examination of the show’s central problem; striking a balance between comedy and drama.

What works this week is the drama, because it feels personal and nuanced. Alara’s first time in command is a great idea for the show to explore and Halston Sage rises to the task of being the first cast member to get a spotlight episode very well. Alara, here, is far more than the super strong plot device from last week. She’s a fundamentally good person, and good officer, who struggles to close the gap between those two just as the show struggles to close the gap between its two genres. It would have been so easy for this entire episode to be an extended joke about women in command and instead it’s almost a nuanced, fun and kind story about a young officer rising to the occasion.

We say almost because the two plots this episode continually get in each other’s way. Our initial horror at the ‘Ed and Kelly process their feelings again’ plot quickly fell away. MacFarlane and Palicki build on that easy chemistry that was hinted at last week and you absolutely buy them as both a former couple and best friends. There’s even a hint of this being the room the relationship needs in order for them to move on with their lives. The slow shift from near intimacy to “IS THAT YOU BREATHING?!” Hints at the sort of pathos-heavy bottle episode everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Scrubs has done and done very well.

But every time it builds, we cut back to Alara and the crew. And every time Alara’s plot spikes, we cut back to Ed and Kelly. Drama cuts to sitcom cuts to drama cuts to sitcom and neither are given the room they need. The end result is an episode that feels both choppy and rushed and that’s a real shame because there really is something special here. Weird as it sounds, we honestly wish this episode had been a two-part story. The first, focusing on Alara and her time in command and the second a bottle show with Ed and Kelly. That would have been a brave choice, served both plots better than a one-off and would have marked The Orville out as something truly different.

Instead we get this episode where neither plot has room to breathe. It’s a real shame too because there’s definitely some good stuff here and The Orville is definitely improving. But, until it works out how to be both serious and funny, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Good:

  • Ed is about 15,000% more likeable this week. MacFarlane, like any actor, takes a while to settle into the role and he’s already starting to turn Ed into someone way easier to root for. He’s still a resolutely schlubby occasional asshole but you can see him starting to square how he is with how he needs to be, especially in that opening scene with Bortus.
  • Likewise Halston Sage, who carries pretty much this entire episode, is great. She hits the exact right balance between Alara being fundamentally decent and hard working and wanting to do the right thing by everyone. The script does her no favours at times but she still makes it work.
  • The script still isn’t great but, overall it’s a massive improvement over ‘Old Wounds’. Yes our hearts sank in the Ed’s parents scene but that was the point. It’s like setting up a Lwaxana Troi episode and taking a sudden left turn into a bottle story. It works, really well and if the scripts continue building like this then the show’s going to hit its stride exactly at the 6-8 episode mark.
  • The buoy explosion is a nice piece of stakes-raising. The Orville isn’t that big a ship and it, and its crew, are fragile. There’s a real sense of jeopardy there that Trek often struggles to hit consistently and The Orville lands it really smartly here.
  • Penny Johnson Jerald is fantastic as the veteran Doctor here quietly helping out her younger friend. It would be so easy for the show to make her a Guinan-like secret magic alien and we desperately hope it doesn’t. Claire as an experienced officer who’s a point of calm in the middle of the show works brilliantly.
  • Ed using Kermit the Frog as his leadership model is both the most Seth MacFarlane thing ever and absolutely in keeping with the aspirational science fiction the show is trying to be. Kermit’s a great leader, emotionally honest, screws up a LOT and never stops trying. If that’s the kind of Captain Ed ends up as then the ship and the show both are in good hands.
  • Alara checking in with the damage control teams and the injured is pretty much this show to a tee. Even under the terrible jokes and weird narrative choices, it has absolute faith in its characters and takes great pains to show they’re fundamentally good people. It also marks her out as a good captain when she gets her own ship. because we’re calling it, Alara is the Orville’s Sulu.

The Bad:

  • The entire diverticulitis scene. We know it’s a Bit. We know that’s the point. It’s still awful.
  • What the Hell was up with Adrienne Palicki’s makeup this week? We’d never normally comment on this sort of thing but it was so prominent, all the time, it was actively distracting.
  • Lots of jokes, very few landing. Malloy and Lamarr in particular have no rhythm yet, despite the show trying to make them its default double act.
  • The zoo plot is almost something really clever, turning the characters in a sitcom into the characters in a second sitcom who know they’re trapped. The show never does anything with it though besides some rushed bickering between Ed and Kelly. It feels weird saying this after last week but we’d actually really liked to have seen an entire episode in the zoo. It would have given them a chance to dig into the relationship, explore both characters and what happens to them under duress.
  • Ed and Kelly rescuing the kid but leaving everyone else there makes no sense at all. They’re explicitly told that one inmate has been there 30 years, they know for a fact no one is there out of choice and they just… leave. Also given how hard Alara and Isaac had to bargain to get Ed and Kelly out what did they do to get the kid?

And The Random:

  • The Planetary Union has a very… interesting attitude to it’s neighbours. The Caliban being quarantined because they’re highly advanced and mildly sociopaths is pretty much the least Star Trek thing possible. As is leaving two highly trained officers to die in an alien zoo.
  • Given their fellow inmates are on screen for maybe three minutes, those are some really nice alien costumes. We wonder if we’ll be seeing those aliens again soon…
  • Holland Taylor, who cameos here as Ed’s mom, is pretty much Hollywood royalty. She’s best known as Evelyn in Two and a Half Men but her career is decades long and crammed full of brilliant performances. She’s also a major part of upcoming Stephen King adaptation Mr Mercedes.
  • Jeffrey Tambor, who cameos here as Ed’s dad, is also pretty much Hollywood royalty. As well as Tom Manning in the Guillermo del Toro Hellboy movies he’s been a major part of Arrested Development and won a flotilla of awards for his work in Transparent.
  • Robert Duncan McNeill picks up the directing baton from Jon Favreau this week and runs with it. He’s a veteran TV director and he knows a fair bit about this neck of the woods, given that he played Tom Paris for seven years on Star Trek: Voyager.

Review by Alasdair Stuart

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