“Ja’loja,” tonight’s premiere for the second season of The Orville, was a low-key outing completely lacking in dramatic set pieces, bombastic action sequences, or crazy, high-concept science fiction weirdness. And honestly, that’s great. Starting the season by focusing entirely on the characters and their relatively modest problems was a great pay off for all the effort season one put into developing the crew of the Orville into a group of people we care about. Enough, even, that we can have a sincere and emotionally invested opinion on whether one of their jackets has sufficient zippers to successfully facilitate making a date with a dark matter cartographer. By eschewing a big, gonzo opener in favor of a series of intimate character studies, The Orville is solidifying its identity beyond being a soothing Next Generation nostalgia blanket awkwardly fused to a juvenile, gag delivery vehicle.
Well, mostly. After all, overarching story tying together all the individual plot lines (and boy, there were a lot of plot lines this episode) is Bortus returning to his home planet for his annual pee. Since Moclan urination is such a rare occasion, it’s become codified into ritual (the Ja’loja of the title). It also presents one of the only remaining schisms with The Orville’s tone. Seth MacFarlane equally loves both bodily function humor and the enlightened ideals of Gene Rodenberry; he will set up a joke like an alien’s annual pee party, then have everyone work extra hard to behave like it’s not funny. That disparity wasn’t much of an issue here, since the whole bit was relegated almost entirely to the very beginning and end of the episode. It primarily existed to provide a framework for the crew’s relationship troubles. Ed is spending his time in the mess drinking bourbon and listening to “As Time Goes By” on a record player and pining for Kelley. Kelley is using Bortus’ Ja’loja celebration as an opportunity to go public with her new relationship. When she goes to discuss it with Ed, he misconstrues her intention and believes she, like him, wants to try to make their relationship work again. He repeatedly attempts to get her to tell him directly if she still loves him or not, which Kelly rebuts as being irrelevant. As far as she’s concerned, if the two were in a relationship, it would be impossible for Ed to make a decision that may endanger her life. That, Kelly argues, isn’t fair to the rest of the crew who wouldn’t receive the same consideration. Ed says that’s not true, and if they’re still in love, that’s all that matters. The show never really tries to present Ed and Kelly as having equally valid viewpoints. Ed is constantly depicted as being short-sighted and too-emotional. Though I may be biased in my assessment, since I still have no interest in the seeing the two getting back together. I’ve already said I think the show works better with the two navigating friendship than an on again/off again relationship, and that feeling still holds. Though Ed’s obsession with Kelly’s romantic life does lead to the episode’s best gag: As Kelly and her boyfriend Cassius(Chris Johnson) are canoodling in her quarters, a jealous Ed flies one of the ship crafts slowly by her windows so he can spy on the two making out. It’s nice to see how our petty natures will adapt to new technology.
Gordon really wants to ask the new crew member on a date, but has no idea how to approach women. He tells John that he’s only ever been with women who were into him first (he dated his stalker for five months before she broke up with him for being too needy), and he needs help talking to her. John sets Gordon up with a zipper festooned jacket and the advice to always go with one more zipper on your clothes than you’re comfortable with, and has him go through a few different degrees of difficulty in his (to me, very creepy) nightclub training simulator. Nothing about the whole scenario reveals anything we didn’t know about the characters —it was mostly just an excuse to get the two of them to hang out. Now that John has relocated to engineering, the show will have to be more creative in finding ways for the two to interact.
In the midst of everyone else’s romantic struggles, Alara is attempting to find some comfort in her own relationship problems. Just as she’s reached a place where she’s comfortable being alone, Bortus tries to hook her up with another officer on account of a taboo around attending the pee ritual single. The officer in question ends up being Dan, the big, round-headed lizard-like alien guy who spent a good portion of the previous season riding the elevator. Despite being off-putting from the start, Alara agrees to give him a chance, only to have Dan prove himself to be even more off-putting. He’s needy, tone-deaf, and writes phenomenally bad poetry — which Alara critiques with surprisingly well-constructed observations. At least Gordon likes it.
The sole non-romantic subplot concerned Dr. Claire having trouble with her older son, Marcus and his new shithead friend James (Jake Brennan). Before the kid even said a word, you knew he was a punk because he looks just like a cross between Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story and Randy from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. And sure enough, the second Claire tells Marcus he can’t go and hang out, James calls her a “pain in the ass”. Claire is struggling as a single parent, and fortunately, Isaac has continued to ingratiate himself into Claire’s family life and is surprisingly ever-present to calmly disparage her ability to parent. While it feels a little awkward that Isaac would just be over all the time like an overbearing houseguest, he has such a good dynamic with every member of the family I’m happy for any half-baked excuse to have him loafing around. Claire confides in Isaac that she feels like she’s losing Marcus as he becomes a teenager. It’s a poignant concern, but one that’s undercut as the tension between the two is framed solely as a consequence of James’ bad influence. It’s even more awkward as the conflict extends to James’ parents, who believe Marcus is the one causing trouble. Isaac’s computer savvy saves the day, proving in front of everyone that James was manipulating everyone and his parents get their comeuppance. So Claire is vindicated, but it doesn’t change the fact that Marcus is careening headfirst toward adolescence. Still, it’s a nice conclusion to the story that a grateful Claire asks Isaac to accompany her to the Ja’loja. The future of The Orville seems like a pretty chill place and if a single mother and her common-law platonic life partner robot want to raise a family together, I’m totally down with that.
In the end, a contrite Ed makes peace with Cassius and Kelly, Gordon completely fails to ask out the new officer, and everyone is able to attend Bortus’ special day. “Ja’loja” is a promising start to the new season. The humor is more integrated into the interactions between the characters and the show has a more natural flow because of it. No pee joke intended.
- Hi everyone! Welcome to coverage for season 2 of The Orville. Tonight’s episode was originally intended to be this season’s second episode –while next week’s, which was originally going to be the final episode of last season— was going to be the premiere. Normally, mucking around with a show’s episode order is infuriating, but in this instance I think it was a good call.
- I know I disparaged Bortus’ pee adventure, but goodness if it doesn’t raise a lot of questions. Apparently all Moclans have their own unique day? What does a years’ worth of urine look like? Is Moclan physiology so efficient that it takes them an entire year to accumulate what would just be a regular pee for us? Or is it some sort of super-concentrated acid that could melt rock? How long is a Moclan year, anyways? Should The Orville ever get big enough, this will all be outlined in insane detail in one of countless supplementary source books. Comment threads will get into contentious arguments about whether certain depictions of Moclans peeing break canon.
- Penny Johnson Jerald is so good. Her delivery of the admonishment, “Do you have anything else to say that does not reek of contrition” was top notch.
- Alara getting Dan’s text, “I miss you” within moments of excusing herself from the table was great.
- Fashion Corner: Oh, lord. The civilian clothes on this show are so bad. It’s like someone took all the fashions from Next Generation and filtered them through DeepDream. Cassius in particular was wearing such a spectacular series of awkward cuts and strange patterns, of increasingly bulkier v-neck sweaters and striped tunic ensembles that I could barely handle it.