Airs Thursdays at 9pm on FOX in the UK
Writer: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong
Director: Brannon Braga
Yeah, this series gets better with every episode. Just look at the names attached to this one, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong wrote it – and she’s basically written most of Family Guy – and Star Trek veteran Brannon Braga directed. What more could you ask for? Seth MacFarlane, a self-confessed Trekkie of epic proportion, has absolutely nailed The Orville and in doing so, has reset the bar for the once-dwindling sub-genre of sci-fi comedy. Let’s face facts, this is the only successful sci-fi comedy out there aside from Red Dwarf.
Episode 10, “Firestorm” starts straight away with a tense scene as the Orville is struggling to make its way through a particularly bad plasma storm. Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) quips, “Looks like a giant screensaver…” and laughs at his own joke as we do too, but it’s not looking good when a giant bolt of plasma strikes the ship. There are explosions in engineering and significant damage to the ship.
Debris is falling all around the engineering deck and Lt. Harrison Payne (Tim Mikulecky) suffers a quite gruesome injury, MacFarlane-style, ’cause you know, that would happen. Chief Engineer Steve Newton (Larry Joe Campbell) calls the bridge for Lt. Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) to come down and help. She sprints down to engineering to be greeted by a room filled with fire, smoke, debris and general carnage. There’s a giant explosion between her and the injured crew man…and she hesitates, frozen with fear as this fireball erupts in front of her. Newton yells and Kitan snaps out of it…just as another giant piece of debris falls onto the already half-crushed crewman. So, that’s it for him – he’s not so much toast, but more a pancake.
Kitan rushes over, casually throws the section of fallen bulkhead over her shoulder (’cause she comes from a planet with a much stronger gravitational pull) and is distraught to see the dead man lying there, her nostrils flaring repeatedly, knowing that if she hadn’t hesitated, he might still be alive.
After the opening credits, we see Payne’s funeral taking place in the cargo bay. Newton gives an eulogy and there are some very sombre faces in the gathered crew in what could become an emotional scene, but MacFarlane defuses it slightly by having Newton say, “It’s funny that his name was Payne, because he probably died in a lot of it.”
Kitan heads to the holodeck to take her frustration out in a boxing gym simulation where she utterly destroys a punchbag as Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) and Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) look on. They both try to explain that the first injury Payne suffered would’ve killed him and if she hadn’t hesitated, she more than likely be dead too. But Kitan’s not having a bean of it and blames herself for his death.
Again, the emotional drama is cut off before it goes too far by Malloy and Lt. John LaMarr (J Lee) as they enter the holosuite dressed in full 18th century pistoliers costumes, wearing wigs and carrying flintlocks.
“Oh hey. We had the simulator at 3, how much longer are you guys gonna be..?” Malloy asks, with deadpan delivery.
“Yeah…um, can you give us a minute, OK?” replies Grayson in a matter-of-fact tone, trying to manage the delicate situation.
“Oh, that’s fine. Yeah, why even have reservations…” Malloy and LaMarr mumble sarcastically as they turn and walk out of the holosuite.
Kitan, fighting to hold back her emotion, refuses to listen to Grayson or Finn and goes back to her boxing holographic simulation.
At which point Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) enters…dressed in a full 18th century pistoliers costume, wearing a wig and carrying a flintlock, asking in an almost monotone manner, “Am I early?”
It’s trademark MacFarlane humour and yes, we love it.
Meanwhile, Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is struggling to write a letter of condolence to Payne’s parents and has got as far as “he was a really neat guy”.
Enter Kitan, who wishes to hand in her commission and she no longer believes she is capable of serving onboard the Orville or any other starship. Sage has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to play the Chief of Security with an abundance of lip-quivering emotion in this series and this episode is no exception. Her voice croaking, she practically insists, “Harrison is dead because I was scared!”
Refusing to accept her resignation, Mercer suggests she do a little soul-searching and perhaps even speak to her parents. Cut to Kitan chatting to her folks and – if you listen carefully – you can hear the sound of every Trekkie across the country simultaneously cheering as the enigmatic, the charismatic, the mesmerizing and memorable, the one and the only Robert Picardo cameos as Kitan’s father (her mum is played by Molly Hagan).
Following the usual peptalk questioning her decision to join the Planetary Union, Kitan asks her mother and father if there was ever an incident involving fire when she was a child that might have resulted in a fear of it now. Turns out there was.
Later, while walking along the corridor, Kitan sees a clown. Yes, a clown, which runs towards her and nearly knocks her over. She chases it and upon turning a corner, it has disappeared. Naturally, she’s deeply disturbed by this and strides towards the bridge where she demands to be placed in psychiatric care. Upon exploring why, the inevitable dialogue associated with scary clowns follows and while predictable and probably now considered clichéd, it’s still enjoyable.
However, what is refreshing is that a playback of security camera video footage from the corridor reveals that Kitan…did indeed see a clown. So now the crew are trying to determine what the blazes is going on.
“We’ll divide into teams,” Mercer says as the seriousness of the situation is reflected with dramatic background music. “Issac will remain on the bridge and continue to scan. All weapons are to be kept on stun. We want the clown alive.”
“Captain,” Malloy adds, “I think its only prudent to caution everyone to watch out for pies.”
Bortus and Kitan search the shuttle bay and the clown attacks. In the ensuing scuffle it gets accidentally vaporized, so nothing can really be analyzed. While walking back from the conference room Grayson suggests that she and Kitan go for a drink once they had a chance to change out of uniform. As Grayson opens the door to her quarters…a bottomless black void greets her and she falls, only just managing to cling onto the ledge of the floor. The Security Chief hears the screams and dives to the door, just catching Grayson’s hand as she looses her grip. Some seriously weird shit is happening onboard the Orville.
A trip to see the Doc doesn’t yield any further insight and she suggests everyone have a brain scan, but waddayaknow, this goes bonkers too; Kitan is held down against her will by quadruple-fortified restraints and poor Nurse Park is shot in the back by Finn. Just as the good doctor seems about to perform a multi-opti-pupil-optomy on the captive Xelayan, she breaks free of her restraints, crushes the neck of the doctor and throws her against the wall like a ragdoll, in a similar manner to the unfortunate end of Captain Antilles in Star Wars: A New Hope.
It appears though the quack wasn’t killed and she’s questioned in the brig, but she’s clearly not herself. Wiping the rapid foam from her mouth, she teases something about an imminent threat in a sinister, Dr. Lecter type way.
Further conference is needed, so the remaining sane senior officers meet to talk it through. Grayson postulates that perhaps the plasma storm did more than just structural damage to the ship. Maybe it’s frayed some boundary between reality and…unreality? At which point the room is suddenly filled with tarantulas. And then it isn’t.
Mercer suggests going back into the storm in an effort to work out what the hell’s going on. As preparations are made across the ship, Malloy and Kitan share a nice moment while they wait for a turbolift…which opens and out crawls a giant, drooling spider-like monster with equally giant fangs that chases them down the corridor.
It catches Malloy…and eats him. Whole.
By now, Kitan is close to cracking. Hey, you would be too. She runs to the bridge to find it deserted. No one is answering comms – any attempt to raise anyone, is being met with silence…plus the ship is hurtling toward the ion storm and Kitan doesn’t know if the deflectors have been raised. It’s not looking good.
She runs about the ship with a flashlight and pistol, as the storm intensifies. She finds only Isaac in engineering. Apparently, the ship’s power is offline so Isaac tries to transfer power from his portable scanner to provide enough juice to access the Orville’s logs and find out what happened to the crew. But once again, things are what they seem. Like one chapter after another of your worst nightmare, Isaac attacks Kitan and an entertaining fight ensues as these two, each with enhanced strength attempt to klick the crap out of each other. She runs to a weapons locker and pulls a rifle, blowing Issac away. The ship’s computer announces that the inner hull has been compromised and everyone must evacuate. Kitan runs down the corridor, lit only by the red emergency lighting, rifle in hand…as the camera zooms out a little and we can see the corridor is part of a simulation on the holodeck…and Mercer, Grayson, Finn and Isaac look on.
“Captain…we need to stop this now,” Finn says.
Kitan has exercised Directive 38 – no bare feet in the engineering section…no, wait, wait…38 – oh, that’s the ability for the Chief of Security to override all over clearance and only ever used if the captain has been compromised…or is really drunk. In other words, this whole nightmare has been some seriously twisted holodeck simulation and Kitan is locked inside it. One could even say it’s a little like the Stargate: SG1 episode “Avatar” (S8, E6) where Teal’c tests the virtual reality pods from P7J-989 and gets trapped inside a game.
Inside the simulation Kitan has run down to the shuttle bay and is battling with Isaac, who evidently wasn’t blown away. She makes it inside a shuttle and preps for take off as Isaac pushes a large container marked “highly flammable” in the way then shoots it, creating a wall of fire. Yup, you guessed it…she has to overcome her fear of the fire to fly to safety, escape and end the simulation.
Ultimately, we hear all the explanations, why Kitan didn’t know she was in a simulation, why it was created…and even where each of the different fears came from, as it seems everyone contributed a bit, but the most important thing is that everyone was OK. Aside from Lt. Payne of course.
While possibly not as good as some of the really original episodes (Majority Rule, Into The Fold and Krill – my personal favourite) and borrowing quite a bit from quite a few different series, it’s still funny, enthralling and well made, which makes it entertaining and something to look forward to each week. And that’s all we can ask.
Romping with a Retepsian ✓
• Incidental score featured more than one nod to Aliens
• Subtle references to Star Wars and Red Dwarf
Moclan gender law ✗
• Perhaps this episode was a little bit too much like previous TNG
• The holosuite has a viewing balcony..??! Creepy