In anticipation of tonight’s season finale, I wondered last week who was going to get punched in what would surely be a wiz-bang send-off. No one got punched. In fact, tonight’s episode was surprisingly anti-climactic. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a satisfying defiance of convention that the central problem of tonight’s episode ultimately managed to self-correct without any help from the Orville crew. The show has already done a couple of episodes where they address just how little a single ship’s crew can do in exerting massive change in a galaxy’s worth of entrenched social and political beliefs, and it’s apparently become a central theme. Kelly’s inadvertent creation of a religion in her name basically just delivered the anthropological equivalent of a flu and there’s nothing to do for it but to get plenty of rest and wait 2100 years for it to burn off.
“Mad Idolatry” is The Orville’s foray into tooth-based civilization creation. While studying a sun with a strange energy signature, the ship’s shuttle crashes onto a planet that mysteriously phases into existence. The crew notices a small community residing in the valley and Kelly goes to investigate. Despite her promise that she “won’t let them see me”, Kelly is immediately seen by the first people she comes across. A young girl stumbles in her rush to escape and suffers a deep gash on her forehead. Kelly, despite being warned against causing “cultural contamination” approaches the child and heals her wound with her equipment. The child whispers Kelly’s name to herself as the XO runs off to rejoin the shuttle. Back aboard the Orville, it’s learned the planet exists in multi-phasic orbit and thus spends time in another universe and reappears in ours after an 11 day interval. The crew returns to the planet upon its emergence from the other universe to find time has passed at an accelerated rate in the other universe and the small Iron Age community has moved forward hundreds of years to a pre-renaissance civilization. And what’s more, the dominant religion they worship is in Kelly’s name.
The thread framing this storyline is a focus on Ed and Kelly’s relationship. The two have begun dating again and their rekindled romance makes it harder for Ed to hold Kelly accountable for her actions on the phase planet. The show hasn’t been particularly aggressive about working pair’s relationship dynamic into the stories, and aside from the pilot and a few isolated incidents here and there, they get along really well. And I’ve been pretty happy with that. I like the two as friends. Them working together while trying to create a healthy friendship in the wake of their divorce is a lot more interesting to watch than the conventional will they or won’t they dynamic. Part of that is Seth Macfarlane and Adrianne Palicki’s chemistry feels very platonic. They play well off each other and have an obvious affection for each other. But every kiss feels flat. Granted, The Orville hasn’t really done much with romance this season, and what it has done, hasn’t been great. I’m hoping crew relationships are explored more in depth next season. But more than feeling the show doesn’t benefit from relationship drama, I’m generally less interested in storylines central to Ed. I don’t think Seth Macfarlane is bad in the role by any means, and I admire how willing he’s been to let Ed exist in the margins of a lot of stories this season. He infuses Ed with a sometimes dopey fallibility that brings a welcome layer of humanity to the part of intrepid space captain. When he explains to Kelly that he left her transgression off of his official report because he believes she did the right thing and that trumps Union law, it feels believable. Kelly worries he’s endangering his position out of affection for her, but we’ve seen Ed make similar decisions for all his crew. He’s definitely more in the Captain Kirk vein of disregard for ordinances he doesn’t believe help the spirit of the Union’s mission, minus the barrel-chested bravado. He just quietly does what he thinks is right. That said, I’ve enjoyed him most as a foil for the rest of the crew. His presence is strongest when he’s delivering a pep talk or awkward joke, and I feel the show sags a bit when he’s put front and center.
Despite Ed being reprimanded for his omission and commanded to stop interfering further, the crew visits the planet again in hopes of convincing the populace that Kelly isn’t a god. She was horrified by what was being done in her name. And the row of non-believers strung up on poles outside the city as well as the criminal trials where accused thieves where strung up to be bled out unless Kelly performed divine intervention were pretty dark. Her attempts to dissuade worship her name seemed pretty weak to me, but it was apparently enough to convince the Pope of Kelly Town who promised to share the truth with the populace. But after the crew departed, a power-hungry cardinal stabbed Il Papa rather than relinquish the control faith had provided him. When the planet returned 11 days and 700 years later, Kelly’s name was still on the lips of every scheming televangelist and holy warrior on the planet.
Kelly feels she didn’t have enough time to properly make her case, and concludes she’s going to have to go and remain on the planet in order to properly deprogram the populace. Isaac, on account of his near-immortality, volunteers to go instead. This is meant to be the big point of dramatic tension for the episode. Isaac will be gone for 700 years and there’s no guarantee what will happen when the planet returns. The payoff is surprisingly low-key. When the planet returns, a shuttle comes and greets the Orville. Two ambassadors beam aboard the ship along with Isaac …who is doing fine. Just fine, thank you. He went planet side, people thought he was weird, then they got used to him, and eventually they grew out of religion on their own while he just hung out and counted quarks.
I give The Orville credit for being completely, nakedly explicit about tonight’s theme. Religion is, at best, a tool humanity can utilize to reach a certain level of cultural development before it shrivels up and becomes an inert little vestigial trait, like civilization’s appendix. The future ambassadors arrive wearing blindingly pure Tron outfits. They are the white, holy light of reason in contrast to the dung-smeared peasants and their cruel faith. Halo and Eyeliner (I think that’s their names) rightly point out what was self-evident from the start. Even if it weren’t Kelly, the exact same stuff would be happening in another god’s name. Her presence may have shaped the details of the religion, but not our underlying need to believe. Faith is integral to our species and while it’s understandable she’d be horrified by the things done ostensibly in her honor, there really wasn’t a thing she could do about it. With everything else resolved, Kelly decides her relationship with Ed is a liability to his command and ends their romance. I’m sure that’s exactly where things will remain and we won’t be revisiting this again at all next season.
- Alternate title for tonight’s episode: The Book of Kells
- The best part about the Moclan species is how their taciturn nature is underscored by a deep and enthusiastic love of violence. That blade-through-the-hand hot potato game was pretty funny.
- Already John is standing alongside Isaac and delivering valuable science info-dump on the crew. It’s nice to see these small moments in his evolution as a character.
- If you ever need to steal clothes off of some stranger’s clothesline, I hope you find the exact number of gender-appropriate outfits hanging out to dry to better enable you and your crew in whatever shenanigans you’re engaging in.
- Also, I sincerely enjoy how the solution to the annoyingly frequent issue of disguising Alara’s alien nose ridges was just to smear a lump of shit across her face.
- Whoever the alien planet’s Michelangelo is, they managed a stellar job of capturing the cut and construction of a Union officer’s uniform on that statue of Kelly. What a detail-oriented oral tradition this faith began as.
- The Pope was both surprisingly easily convinced of Kelly’s non-divine status and ready to dissolve the faith and inform the people. It would be more upsetting that he was stabbed for it if he wasn’t also just fine with bleeding out a kid for berry theft.
- Fashion Corner: I liked Kelly’s asymmetrical paneled dress, though the material was too thick and felt-like. Ed looked like a Cardassian in his broad-shouldered, wide-necked shirt.
- And more broadly, I hope they refine the Union uniform a bit for next season. They look bunchy and ill-fitting. Everyone strains against their jackets like they just had a turkey dinner. I do like the little logo badges, though. Keep those.
- Thanks all of you for reading and commenting for this first season of The Orville! While I may not be as enamored of the show as a lot of you -as evinced by the passion expressed in the comments I read- I’m impressed with how well the show has righted itself from its lackluster pilot over one very short season. I hope that confidence is in place in the fall, and that the show just keeps getting better from there.