Airs Thursdays on FOX at 9pm in the UK
Writer: Seth MacFarlane
Director: Tucker Gates
Essential Plot Points:
- We see a young woman, Lysella, wake up, make breakfast and watch the news. The story calls for viewers to vote on guilt or innocence. She does so, choosing because one guy ‘looked funny’.
- We see both men in prison uniforms. One panics, runs and is shot and killed. The other is strapped into what looks like an electric chair. He watches the final vote tallies as millions of people decide if he lives or dies…
- The Orville arrives in orbit around Sargus IV. It looks very similar to Earth, is culturally similar to 21st century Earth. A cultural survey team went offline a month ago and the Orville has been dispatched to find out what happened. Alara, John and Claire are the team, led by Kelly. They are NOT fans of 21st Century fashions…
- On Sargus IV, we see that the entire culture is defined by up and downvoting. To the extent that everyone wears voting badges and every single social interaction is scored.
- They ask a news vendor if they’ve seen the two scientists. It’s the two men from the teaser. The vendor sells the team voting badges and gives them a lead.
- On the way there, John asks about why Alara broke up with her latest boyfriend. She admits ‘he danced weird’ and was ‘too grindy’. John asks just what ‘too grindy’ is by grinding on a statue. Kelly orders him to stop and they enter the cafe where they find Lysella. She’s a barista and explains they were ‘corrected’
- And then she sees John downvoted in the hundreds of thousands. The video of him grinding on the statue went viral. She throws them out and they’re instantly surrounded by a mob of people filming John.
- The team are surrounded. Kelly cancels the mission, calling an evacuation. Until John is arrested…
- On the Orville, Ed calls it in and, justifiably, gets chewed out. He argues that they need to go get him and that revealing the Orville would, potentially, be massively beneficial to the society. The Admiral thinks different; John’s on his own.
- John meets his public defender or what he thinks is his public defender. It turns out he’s actually his publicist. He explains that John got 1 million downvotes which means what he did was a crime. He has to do an apology tour, and if his downvotes stay under ten million, he’ll be free to go.
- If they go over ten million, he’ll be ‘corrected’. Or to put it another way, lobotomized.
- Kelly and the others are waiting for John. Ed briefs her and explains that they’re on their own.
- The team get five minutes with John, who explains everything. He panics when he finds out he could take permanent damage. Claire isn’t sure she could fix it either. And then, John’s apology tour begins…
- John’s first stop is on something that’s pretty clearly The View. It goes incredibly badly. Ed, watching the feed, is horrified that this is their ‘legal process’. Isaac is fascinated. No other planet has a government like this, an unstructured democracy. By the end of the show John has four million downvotes. Not. Good.
- Claire and Alara go back to the coffee shop to talk to Lysella. It goes from bad to worse as Alara is confronted by a member of the sect whose head dress she’s wearing. Unable to take it off due to her ears, it’s about to get very ugly before Claire pulls her away to lose the hat and disguise her.
- And then Lysella walks in and sees what Alara really looks like…
- They calm her down, buy her a drink and tell her everything. She’s surprisingly cool about it. She also reveals what happened to the scientists; they inadvertently didn’t give up their seat on a train for a pregnant lady. It’s clear from the photo that got them downvoted it was an accident but that didn’t matter to the Feed.
- She also tells them one of the men was killed and the other was sent home after being Corrected. They find the address, go there and find the scientist. He’s been lobotomized.
- John’s second apology tour stop off is, if anything, worse than that the first.
- Claire has evacuated the surviving scientist to the Orville. The damage is irreversible. They watch, helpless as John is downvoted even further.
- Kelly and Ed brainstorm and come up with something. The Admiralty said they couldn’t send anyone in. But they could bring someone out…Ed tells Kelly to bring Lysella up to the Orville.
- Ed asks Lysella to explain their world. She reveals they vote for everything from diet to medicine. She mentions the Master Feed and Ed decides to try and modify it to turn the public tide.
- On the surface, John is being taken for Correction. he panics, bucks and is dragged to the chair. The final vote will begin in 7 minutes.
- On the Orville, Isaac has hacked the Master Feed and is flooding it with positive images of John. His numbers start to rise, the downvotes start to fall and…
- at 9,999,996, his downvotes stop. John, newly free, tells them just what he thinks of them.
- On the Orville, Ed thanks Lysella and she bemoans the fact she can’t tell her people about all this. Claire suggests she tell them their world can get better and The Orville leaves.
- The next morning, Lysella goes throw the same routine. And this time? She turns the TV off rather than voting.
This is another episode of two very different tones. The good news is that, like ‘Krill’, the serious stuff works. The other good news is that there are several gags that land really, really well this episode.
The bad news is the show doesn’t seem to have figured out how to make John or Gordon a character. J. Lee has great comic timing but this episode that’s all he’s required to have. Like Gordon last week, John is a joke cannon. And just as incompetent.
The entire episode collapses the moment you put a trained contact team on the ground. Because John’s being an idiot, the episode happens. Without that, it doesn’t. It’s a mystifying choice that gets in the way of some needed character development, a great central premise and a really fun new character.
Lysella is the latest in the show’s line of viewpoint characters and she’s one of the best. Giorgia Wigham is given a full emotional arc across the episode and it’s one that’s aspirational without being preachy. There’s no ‘Put your phones down, young people!’ here. Rather, the transformative moment that all escapist fiction orbits; the idea that what we have is good, but we can dream better.
It’s subtle stuff, which is nicely backed up by some Black Mirror-like social economics. Also, the one running joke that absolutely lands is the episode’s repeated acknowledgement that…well…this one was pretty much just filmed in present day California. It’s wry without being smug, self deprecating without feeling cheap. It’s just a shame the other jokes aren’t as good.
That being said, this is an improvement on ‘Krill’. Even though it hits similar beats, and has identical flaws, the dramatic elements work better and the jokes that land, land solidly. It’s still a bumpy ride, but the Orville is getting there.
- ‘My God you guys look like unemployed backup dancers.’
‘You want to lead this landing party?’
‘No, I’m too shy to wear a croptop.’
- ‘I will personally…order him…not to hump things.’
- ‘Government by American Idol.’
‘What is American Idol?’
‘A form of entertainment on old Earth. People competed to see who had the best singing voice.’
‘I don’t know. It was a dark time…’
- ‘You always know what the Majority wants. That’s what matters’
‘You always know what the mob wants too.’
- ‘Name one thing she did.’
‘Save the…whale forests?’-This is the single joke in the entire The Chat scene that works.
- ‘How can you do this?’
- ‘What if people try and corroborate this information?’
‘Don’t worry. they won’t.’
- Penny Jonson Jerald and Halston Sage are great as a double act. This show is incredibly good at putting female characters in the spotlight and letting them work.
- Lysella’s beauty pass over the Orville is genuine and sweet and scored better than anything else the show has done so far.
- The fact that scientists screw up and get dead is something Star Trek, at times, has shied away from. The fact The Orville continually embraces the dangers of space travel, not to mention an Admiralty who are distinctly trouble shy, is a nice piece of differentiation between them and Star Trek.
- Much like the Gordon problem in ‘Krill’, John is required to be a moron for the episode to work. He’s unprofessional, insubordinate and does very little but cause trouble. And here’s the thing, it’s actually not the character. Like Gordon, John, at the moment, is nothing but a joke machine. They both need that turned around, and pretty soon now.
- The Chat is pretty clearly The View, infamous multi-hour long US talk show. Which for US viewers is a good joke and for everyone else is ‘…Oh yeah this was on Family Guy once…’
And The Random:
- As other reviewers have pointed out, the misunderstanding with Alara’s hat does the exact same thing as John grinding on the statue, just with much less incompetence. Kind of a shame we didn’t have something like that as the inciting incident.
- Tucker Gates is a veteran US TV director and producer who has directed for Homeland, House of Cards, Roswell, Ray Donovan, The X-Files, Alias and countless others.
- Giorgia Wigham is great as Lysella this episode. She’s previously appeared in Scream: The TV series, 13 Reasons Why and Son of Zorn.
Review by Alasdair Stuart