For my mostly-on-time Orville post, I’m addressing episode eight, which featured a number of surprises.
“Into the Fold” is a title that refers not only to the plot device du jour but also to Isaac’s entrance not only into the fold of Claire Finn’s small family. This episode centers around a fairly hackneyed plot—the vacation that goes awry in the worst way possible, and if viewers expected this episode to be funny, well, they were sorely mistaken. National Lampoon in Space, this was not. Rather, Finn, her boys, and Isaac have to contend with separation, a water-borne toxin, and cannibals. Finn’s section of the shuttle gets torn apart, leaving Isaac in charge of the two boys, and while Isaac appears to be woefully unqualified to handle their fears, he steps up to the plate, despite some snarky comments regarding their fleshy inferiority. Finn, on the other hand, ends up kidnapped by a random denizen of the moon on which they have crash landed and must break away from her captor in order to save Ty, who is dying from exposure to the toxin before all of them are eaten and/or dismantled by the planetary natives.
I confess that I liked this take on the “shuttle crash” trope; the episode does a solid job of showcasing Penny Johnson Jerald’s acting chops as both harried mother and furious Mama Bear. Marcus gets a small maturity story arc, and Isaac gets an entrée into the emotional life of the Orville’s crew. In addition, the script gives us as viewers an insight into what human family life is like in the Union, and though we do see families in Star Trek, I think the Orville actually improves on its inspiration. Families in Star Trek have tended to fall into one of two categories—either there is a single parent situation due to the death or separation of one of the parents, such as Jennifer Sisko, K’Ehleyr, Greskrendtregk, and Jack Crusher, or the families are very nuclear, like Miles and Keiko O’Brien or Tom and B’Elanna. Thus far, the only divorced parent that I can remember is Bones McCoy, and even then, his daughter is mostly mentioned in the Animated Series. Finn, however, is a single parent by choice, which she explains to Isaac, and using Isaac to question Penny about the boys’ lack of father is an inspired choice because Isaac is the outsider. The implication being made here is that Finn’s choice to have children on her own is so normal that none of the rest of the characters even think to remark upon it. It’s also perfectly in line with Finn’s character. She makes it clear in the first episode that she chooses her posts, so her choice to become a mother, regardless of a lack of partner, is a perfect demonstration of Finn’s agency.
We see more of that agency in how she frees herself from captivity. Now, my husband and I watch the Orville and Discovery together, and usually, we’re both on the same page regarding what we’re watching in the episodes. For this one, however, we had radically different takes on Finn’s escape. I never doubted that Finn’s life was in danger while she was in captivity. Her captor forces her to eat on his schedule, locks her in a windowless room, and never asks her what she wants. He informs her that his is the only safe place on the moon and that he is the only source of safe food and water; he demonstrates the threat he poses by showing her his weapons. He refuses to let her contact her kids even though she has a device to do so; he bullies her into eating. I thought it was very clear that the show set him up to be yet another threat on the planet, so Finn’s use of deadly force to escape did not surprise me. It did, however, shock my husband who thought she should have demonstrated some form of gratitude as the man had saved her from the shuttle wreckage. I don’t know if it’s in response to our different lived experiences, but I didn’t think gratitude was warranted in this case. I think Finn clearly understood what her captor planned for her, and she reacted accordingly.
Portraying her strength in the face of that kind of danger is an amazing move for the Orville. Having Finn dominate her captor establishes in a very real way that once again, its female characters are not damsels. They’re just as capable of rescuing themselves, even without Kitan’s unusual strength. It’s a remarkably mature move, and it isn’t one that always gets made even in Star Trek. I think I’ll be discussing this episode further with my husband, but I’d be interest in your takeaways from the episode. Drop me a comment below.